Sunday, March 20, 2011

a moment with a Gertrude Stein (about time)

Gertrude Stein gave a lecture in June 1926, first to an audience at Cambridge University and then, 3 days later, at Oxford. The lecture was later printed by Leonard Woolf and was then titled Composition As Explanation.

Stein's explanations are never exactly that. But she is talking about time and art... just as Hiroshige was (see yesterday's notes).  She is looking hard for an audience (this was before The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, when she found them) and in her search for acceptance, she says that the avant-garde writer or artist (with whom she obviously identifies) is not living in some different world... everyone lives in the world of the avant-garde; they just can't always see it that way.  She says that "the creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic, there is hardly a moment in between and it is really too bad very much too bad naturally for the creator but also very much too bad for the enjoyer..." I should have liked to hear her saying this that day.  [Picasso, her friend, was someone who was just such "an outlaw" and then, just as suddenly, a "classic." Stein tells the story, in the Autobiography, of a burglary at Picasso's Paris apartment... they took sheets and shirts and spoons... Picasso said he was hoping for a day when someone who understood its true value might come to steal the art]. 

Stein writes that "the only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends on how everybody is doing everything.... the only thing that is different is what is seen when it seems to be being seen, in other words, composition and time-sense."  If we could just "see" the work or read the writing as it it is first "seen" for what it is...  if we could understand "how everybody is doing everything," instead of dismissing it entirely at first.... I think Stein is saying that good art is a true reflection of the feelings of that artist's own time, but so few people, in the time period, can "see" it that way.  She says that "it is so very much more exciting and satisfactory for everybody if one can have contemporaries..." She wants her audience to share her "time-sense." I wonder about the reception she received; I think Stein's work always makes more sense when read aloud, so perhaps the reception gave her a few knowing contemporaries. I hope so.

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