July 1st, 2012 / 3:24 pm
Behind the Scenes

Summer Semester Reading List: Gertrude Stein

For those of you who might be interested, click through for the reading list I’ve assigned the students taking my “Major Figures in American Literature: Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Invention” course this summer.

Opening Essays
Stein – “How Writing is Written” (1935)
Stein – “Composition as Explanation” (1926)
Stein – “What Are Masterpieces And Why Are There So Few of Them?” (1936)
Marianne DeKoven’s “Experimental Writing” chapter from her book A Different Language: Gertrude Stein’s Experimental Writing

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)
+ “Testimony Against Gertrude Stein” by Georges Braque, Eugene Jolas, Marie Jolas, Henri Matisse, André Salmon and Tristan Tzara (Transition pamphlet, 1935)
+ Excerpts from Andy Warhol’s Popism
+ Marie Calloway’s “Jeremy Lin”

Stanzas in Meditation: The Corrected Edition (1932)
+ Ulla E. Dydo, “Stanzas in Meditation: The Other Autobiography” (Chicago Review, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Winter, 1985), pp. 4-20)
+ Excerpts from Susan Howe
+ Exceprts from John Ashbery

Ida (1941)
+ Cynthia Secor “Ida, A Great American Novel” (Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 24, No. 1, Gertrude Stein Issue (Spring, 1978), pp. 96-107)
+ Excerpts from Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn
+ Excerpts from Carla Harryman’s Gardener of Stars

Tender Buttons (1914)
+ Nicola Pitchford, “Unlikely Modernism, Unlikely Postmodernism: Stein’s Tender Buttons” (American Literary History, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Winter, 1999), pp. 642-667)
+ Excerpts from Harryette Mullen’s S*PeRM**K*T
+ Excerpts from Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire & String

[Previous reading lists I’ve posted include: “Introduction to Experimental Literature” and “American Postmodernism” and “The European Avant-Garde 1900-1945” and “20th-21st Century Experimental Short Stories“]


  1. reynard

      i like yr pairing of ida w brautigan and tender buttons w wire and strang but i am skeptical of jeremy lin w alice b, like i get it but man i dun no

  2. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Ditto on Tender Buttons and Wire and String pairing. 

      Was never too nuts about Ida. Always preferred Three Lives.

      Finally, seeing this makes me want to start a “We’re gonna read all of Making of Americans I swear to fucking God” club.

  3. reynard

      no way man three lives is like ida if it were written by martha stewart on methadone she was just trying to cash in early

  4. Anonymous

      You are assigning Marie Calloway in a college course, alongside Gertrude Stein? ROTFLMAO.

  5. Anonymous

      Could you post the assignments for this course?

  6. A D Jameson

      Awesome to see Tender buttons paired with Age of Wire and String. Best of luck with the class!

  7. lorian long

      try ida again, it’s gorgeous, and like any stein it’s a shapeshifter so always something different when u come back to it

      gunna check out that dekoven–someone mentioned it the other day and i was like, sounds good.

      no blood on the dining room floor??

  8. bartleby_taco

      know where i can find those stein essays? is there a definitive ‘stein essays’ collection?

  9. alan

      Nothing from the Janet Malcom or Barabra Will books?

      On a different note, the most enlightening work of criticism I’ve read on Stein is “The Structure of Obscurity” by Randa Dubnick.

  10. Christopher Higgs

      Thanks for the heads up on the Dubnick book, Alan, I haven’t read it but I just did a search and it looks really good.  I’m gonna check it out from the library tomorrow.

      The Will book and the Malcolm book are, I think, more biographical than I have time or interest in exploring this summer.  I’ve only skimmed the Malcolm book, after following the stuff over at Jacket 2 about it.  Seems interesting, for sure, but beyond my scope for this brief six week session.

  11. Christopher Higgs

      To my knowledge there isn’t a collected essays.  There should be, though.  That’s a great idea.  Someone should jump on that.

      Here’s a link to “Composition as Explanation”:


      “How Writing is Written” can be found in the new Yale edition of Ida.

      “What are Masterpieces..” is the titular piece printed in a collection of essays.

  12. Christopher Higgs

      Lorian, I would’ve loved to do Stein’s murder mystery, but there’s just no time in a summer session to cram it in.

      I love IDA.  I Do.  I really do.  It’s a magical book.

      If you’d like, you can email me and I’ll send you the pdf of the Dekoven. 

  13. Christopher Higgs

      Here’s one aspect of my thinking,
      Reynard: Stein is all about embracing one’s contemporaneity, about being in the now, about
      fostering and encouraging artists making things in the present, especially
      those making things that others find irritating and stimulating. 
      “Jeremy Lin” is the a product of the present, the now, and is certainly irritating
      and stimulating.  

      Remember, at the time when Picasso and others were doing their wild things, the majority of
      people hated on it, didn’t think it was “quality,” didn’t think it
      deserved to be at the table with “the great masters.”  I feel
      like a lot of the criticism of Calloway’s work is very reminiscent of those old
      criticisms of Modernist works.  Picasso was not always Picasso, if you
      know what I mean. 

      Here’s a passage from “Composition As Explanation” that speaks to my
      thinking here:

      It is a natural phenomena a rather extraordinary natural
      phenomena that a thing accepted becomes a classic. And what is the
      characteristic quality of a classic. The characteristic quality of a classic is
      that it is beautiful. Now of course it is perfectly true that a more or less
      first rate work of art is beautiful but the trouble is that when that first
      rate work of art becomes a classic because it is accepted the only thing that
      is important from then on to the majority of the acceptors the enormous
      majority, the most intelligent majority of the acceptors is that it is so
      wonderfully beautiful. Of course it is wonderfully beautiful, only when it is
      still a thing irritating annoying stimulating then all quality of beauty is
      denied to it.

      Of course it is
      beautiful but first all beauty in it is denied and then all the beauty of it is
      accepted. If every one were not so indolent they would realise that beauty is
      beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not only when it is accepted
      and classic. Of course it is extremely difficult nothing more so than to
      remember back to its not being beautiful once it has become beautiful. This
      makes it so much more difficult to realise its beauty when the work is being
      refused and prevents every one from realising that they were convinced that
      beauty was denied, once the work is accepted. Automatically with the acceptance
      of the time-sense comes the recognition of the beauty and once the beauty is
      accepted the beauty never fails any one.

      Also, the gossipy aspect of Stein’s Alice B, Warhol’s Popism, and Calloway’s Lin is too
      interesting not to consider in relation and distinction, I think. 

  14. alan rossi

      you’re not (obviously) reading Three Lives in this class, but William Gass has just an amazingly beautiful and insightful essay about Gertrude Stein and Three Lives, particularly “Melanctha,” in A Temple of Texts.  he really breaks down her music and honors it like just about nobody else possibly could.  has little charts and stuff in the essay like kind of mapping her sentences, if i remember correctly.  the essay’s called “The Melodies of Melanctha”.  i’d be glad to pdf it and send it your way.  he also has a probably equally as interesting, if much shorter, Foreward to the Dalkey Archive version of The Making of Americans, again with interesting word graphs, etc. 

  15. Anonymous

      You oversimplify Stein’s Modernist project a great deal here. Stein most certainly was interested in doing more than making artistic decisions based on what “annoyed people.” Your entire argument here is ridiculous and not even historically accurate. Basically, you’re comparing the two based on how they were received by critics (or haters) and suggesting that Stein was a mere chain-yanking troll. Um, while Stein had detractors, she also had many notable supporters early on, like Sherwood Anderson. Who is supporting Marie Calloway, other than random people on the Internet? Name one important person. Secondly, what is she doing that’s new that would come close to comparing to what Stein did as a stylist? Complete hogwash. 

  16. alan

      Yeah, I figured it wasn’t your preferred focus, but biographical issues are THE hot topic in Stein criticism these days. In a whole course on her, however brief, I’d be surprised if they didn’t come up. The original Janet Malcolm New Yorker article might be a good thing to recommend to interested students who want to explore them.

      Anyway, thanks for posting this. I will check out the Cynthia Secor article.

  17. alan
  18. alan

      sexist, prudish, boring

  19. Anonymous

      I’m “sexist” because I think it’s silly to mention Marie Calloway in the same breath as Gertrude Stein, because sexists are known to stick up for the Gertrude Steins of the world? O-k-a-y.

  20. Christopher Higgs

      Thanks, Alan.  I went back and forth on including “Melanctha” (it’s the first Stein I ever read — it’s where I fell in love with her all those years ago, plus it’s the only part of Three Lives included in the Selected Writing text I’ve assigned), but ultimately decided against it because of the treacherously short time frame we have this summer.  I know that Gass essay well, and I agree with you that he breaks it down like nobody else.  I had forgotten about the Foreward to Makings of Americans, though, so thanks for reminding me of it.  I’m gonna grab it off the shelf now.

  21. herocious

       I’ve read some Calloway. I can see how she’s like Picasso.

  22. alan rossi

      ha, man.  i should’ve known you had all this covered.  anyway, looks like a great course.  have fun deeply. 

  23. lorian long

      holy shit i would love to read that essay–do u have a pdf readily available? if so: lorianlong@gmail.com. i’d be super grateful.

  24. lorian long

      thanx, chris!

  25. mimi

      there’s another lolo!
      she’s long and lean, i saw her on tv, jumping hurdles in her skivvies

      : )

  26. deadgod

      No, while paternalistic condescension has been shined on Marie Calloway at this site, and she’s going to be attractive to ‘anti’-sex scolds, your criticisms evince neither sexism nor prudery.  That’s alan compulsively ignoring the point.  Yeah, man, Bellarmine is the hot dialectics in googledemia these days.

      I would defend including Marie Calloway on this reading list, though.

      While Chris usually opposes “quality” to “effect” by way of preferring the latter as a conversational (or analytic) focus, using “quality” as a notoriety cudgel – as here – is maybe interesting.  (For me, the muumuuvian voice in “Jeremy Lin” was successful in making present a contest for power between Jeremy Lin and Marie Calloway.)

      But you raise the issue of making room in a college class for material unsorted by canon-formation, which inclusion, with some proportion, seems to me an almost undiluted Good.

      Chris’s parameter – outrage at perceived incompetence – is apposite; so, too, are a woman’s perspective, and, perhaps, style — not equality of influence or perceived skill!, but rather, some sifting of stylistic similarities/differences.  At least some of the few people who’ve read Marie Calloway enjoyed her writing – perhaps Chris did; I always wanted teachers to pimp for most of what they were teaching – .  And it’s less than 1% of the coursework, right?

      I think you’re making a bear shitting in the dining room out of a chicken crossing the road.

  27. Anonymous

      Because there’s a dearth of “non-canonical” writers to choose from, right? 

  28. deadgod
  29. Anonymous

      Alan: I want you to know this: Your response really pissed me off. You don’t know me. So it’s not a big issue for you. But whether or not you agree/disagree with Breece, I, for one, would’ve appreciated something a bit more substantial given that she/he took the time to put forward arguments with these neat little things called “premises.” What did you do? You walked by and spat on her/his shoes. Minimal effort. Really annoying. Why did you even bother? Did you have to let everyone know that you put so little thought into your response? It was breathtakingly awful. I want you to know that. Try harder next time. Or sit silently in the back of the class while the grownups are talking. 

  30. deadgod

      No, not “because there’s a dearth […] to choose from”; precisely because the non-canonical are not canonical and canons ‘live’ by virtue of their tolerance for mutation.  However long it takes for whatever viscous rigidities to form in it, the mutabilities of ‘the canon’ are the point.

      I agree – we’ve gone through this before – that Chris’s interest in not imposing “quality” on “effect” when seeking to register effects seems contrary simply to ‘reading’.  But, in the discussion on this thread, Chris nowhere asserts purchase on any polar opposition between “quality” and “effect” — I brought the contrast up here! –and ’til now, nobody’d said anything about “interpretation”.  Chris is just saying that angry denunciation sometimes turns to (slavish?) ‘love’; given other areas of contact between Stein and that internet story, Marie Calloway might be interesting as an object of disciplinary hate in the context of Stein.

      Again, I’m just suggesting a sense of proportion:  20 minutes of reading and maybe a half hour of classroom wrangling over this (for now) small internet-lit writer? whose style and story might be pleasurably connected to Stein’s achievements?

  31. Anonymous

      If this were Chris’s first ever post that mentions MC, I might be inclined to sympathize with your take, but it’s not (even though, according to him, we should live in “contemporaneity,” like pleasure-seeking aesthetes unaware of the past or future…must be nice).

  32. Anonymous

      The “hatred” directed at Calloway as a form of gendered “disciplining” might be interesting to explore in the context of Stein…if you’re teaching “Apples to Oranges 101.”

  33. lorian long


  34. alan rossi

      sure, just have to scan it.  will send it tonight sometime. 

  35. Alessandro Cima

      Does the course include information about Gertrude Stein’s collaboration with Nazis and her support for Hitler’s persecution of Jews? I am interested in those things and the apparent avoidance of those subjects.

  36. alan

      You know, you’re right. I didn’t treat that argument with the kindness and respect it deserved. What was it again? Oh, yeah: a female writer dealing with sexually explicit material = porn = stupid. Nothing sexist or reactionary there. And it keeps getting more interesting every time I see it. You only post it 20 or 30 times every time Marie Calloway’s name comes up, Breece. I mean, Robin.

  37. Anonymous

      Alan, it might help if you understood the definition of “sexism,” which is the belief that one sex is inferior to another. I never suggested that porn is immoral or bad. I said it’s not new in 2012 (try to follow along with the thread). Porn is porn, and there’s nothing new or transgressive about a generic nude or money shot in 2012 with the sole intent to titillate, or a sensationalistic expose of boring sex with a boring, semi-well-known writer. 

      I’m certain some women who deal with “sexually explicit material” have something bold, transgressive, and compelling to say, while others don’t. It’s not that difficult to distinguish the real thing from BS, though, apparently in your gutless world of relativism, such distinctions don’t exist and anyone who attempts to make them is “sexist.” Ironically, you’re the one who wants to downplay judgments that focus on merit, always aching to play hero and assuming the worst. What does that say about you?

  38. Anonymous

      I never heard of that, but seems like a pretty modernist thing to do (avoidance of subjects)

  39. Anonymous

       frangible canonical fanatical caramel

  40. Anonymous

       fungible fantastical contextual tragical

  41. alan

      “I’m certain some women who deal with ‘sexually explicit material’ have something bold, transgressive, and compelling to say, while others don’t”
      Disingenuous. You presented “takes pictures with jizz on her face” as a self-evident indication of worthlessness.
      Thanks for repeating your awesome opinion on this matter for the 500th time.
      Sorry to everyone else here for giving you an occasion to do so. Won’t happen again!
      Don’t mean to “downplay judgments that focus on merit,” as you gracefully put it. Here’s one: you suck.

  42. Anonymous

      “You presented “takes pictures with jizz on her face” as a self-evident indication of worthlessness.”
      Because I assumed most of us had already seen the pic and previously said her work wasn’t “new.”  Moron. It’s also an image that’s saturated (no pun intended) by the porn industry; anyone who attempts to subvert it faces abnormal challenges and there was nothing there to suggest she met the challenge–nothing that made me thing it looked any different than a money shot I’d find on any random porn site. 

  43. alan

      “nothing that made me think she looked any different than any other money shot girl on any random porn site”


  44. Anonymous

      What do you mean, “context”? The pic does nothing artistically for me and many others. I’m sure it works artistically for you, though, since you seem to get worked up over any and all textual treatment of sex. Sex, changing oil, washing dishes–doesn’t matter to me, as long as the performance is on point. Porn is usually boring, especially images we’ve seen a million times already that are all doing the same mundane thing. You’re one of these types though who thinks sex alone is edgy (artistically speaking); only virgins who jack off twenty times a day or lazy people really believe this. 

  45. alan

      Believe me, Breece/Robin/et al., there is no need to elaborate on your sophistication. Your obsessive posts on this topic are a testament to your worldliness and nonchalant attitude.

      You may want to consider the idea that the work in question may intend in a couple of places to evoke pornography and yet remains distinguishable from pornography by… context.

  46. Anonymous

      Man, go finish your homework and get out of my face with that nonsense. 

  47. lorian long

      do u know if there is much published re stein’s influence on gass?? i’ve been going thru a gassy phase for like 6 months and it’s just now hitting me how much stein powers him

  48. lorian long

      seems like blood on the dining room floor would be right up yr alley. i took a ‘violence in 20th cent american lit’ course during my first year of grad school and we read dining room and it was prolly maybe the best thing i read in grad school

  49. deadgod

      Wait, Bombcake–I might’ve erred in defending you from the sexism/prudery charges.

      Pretty sure that the photo I saw of Marie Calloway with – we’re supposed to suppose – cum on her face isn’t “porn”.  Its non-prurience aside, if it’s a transgressive image, it’d not be sexually so, but rather, transgressively oversharing (which I take to be something like what Kate Zambreno has defended in Calloway’s stories)–and maybe interesting for that.

      But… ye-e-e-e-e-s:  [takes pictures of jizz on her face = porn] does = [female writer dealing with sexually explicit material = porn] + [porn = stupid].

      Your ‘mistreatment on the basis of gender’ and ‘affectation of excessive sexual restraint’ have been laid demure!

  50. Anonymous

      Yeah, okay, even though “porn” can also echo “pornographic” and images that could be read as simple-minded sensationalism (not necessarily sex or the porn genre). I made this qualification elsewhere. 

  51. deadgod

      A mystique of the word–as in Miss Stein’s case–is encouraged by the circumstance that one’s words will not be read.  […]  Not related to a reader’s understanding, the words turn toward one another in a mathematic of mutual connections.  “Toasted Susie is my ice cream,” wrote Miss Stein, and why not?  To so fit and pack and lock and arrange the words that when their capsules are one day broken open–perhaps after 50 years, on an unrecognized planet–they will affirm structured realities, like a watch that should commence ticking as though made yesterday, that seemed the aim and morality of style.

      The Pound Era

      [As a discharge of baffled energy, i]t lies on the page, a rectangular perfection, elements cycling and thrusting like connecting rods.  It might be a detail in a design for a prose locomotive.  Its monotony is electric, like Morse Code.  Pressed flat into ritual symmetries, that was how Miss Stein intuited twentieth-century language; and when she told Hemingway that remarks were not literature, she was enjoining him not to let a sentence escape from the system, and acquire a trajectory, and claim to be “about” something.  She was the Mondrian of prose, and her intuitions were often profound, even as her prose was often unreadable.  Her prose was resisting a drag toward lyric nostalgia.

      A Homemade World (on a passage from The Making of Americans)

      Kenner reads every written thing as though it were a contraption.  Sometimes and with some writers generally, that prejudice affords an advantage perspective.  In the case of Stein, I think he’s narrowly brilliant – ‘not letting a sentence escape from the system and be “about”‘ is sharp – , but, for me, he misses the mark of her building of hammer taps into symphonic orchestration.  She also, for her obscurity, seems to me always also to be “about”.

      Kenner’s wary condescension towards Stein is, in the context of his reading of other writers, also a disturbing example of sexism marring otherwise great criticism.

  52. alan rossi

      hi, i sent that pdf.  let me know if you get it.  the file’s fairly large.  anyway, there’s an essay in a book simply called William Gass by Watson L. Holloway and it discusses the influence a little.  it’s only like part of the essay though.  called “Omensetter’s Luck: ‘A Song Dancing in the Mind'”.  i know gass notes her as influence repeatedly in interviews.  there’s a collected interviews with gass called Conversations with William H. Gass; might be worth checking out.  i can’t remember if he talks about her in On Being Blue at all.  there’s another essay in Fiction and the Figures of Life, “Gertude Stein: Her Escape from Protective Language,” which i actually forgot to mention earlier.  that essay’s pretty rad too.  that entire book really.  be glad to pdf that one too but heading to really tired land now.

  53. reynard

      it is a good contemporary analog
      the whole situation

      actually calloway’s work is interesting to consider 
      in terms of situationism, debord &al

      her ebooks as apocryphal landscapes

      i thought of writing a post called ‘the new situationists’
      that just went ‘blah blah blawdy blah (interesting point)
      blah blah haha blah ha (intriguing aside prefaced by a 
      qualifying statement) also blah blah (see paragraph two,
      line five, where i explain how) blah nah nahnawnahnah’
      but i just thought like why

  54. deadgod

      I was kidding; alan’s equational paraphrase (which I put as an equation) is not accurate.  In your original scolding of Chris, you don’t attack Marie Calloway qua ‘woman’–you’re not being “sexist”, and you don’t attack pornography (which, again, I doubt Marie Calloway makes, even analogously) qua sexual propriety–you’re not being “prudish”.  That she’s a banal pornographer might be something a prudish sexist would say, and you might be a prudish sexist; there’s no logical compulsion to reach those conclusions, on the evidence of your rant at Chris, is my view.

  55. deadgod

      I was kidding; alan’s equational paraphrase (which I put as an equation) is not accurate.  In your original scolding of Chris, you don’t attack Marie Calloway qua ‘woman’–you’re not being “sexist”, and you don’t attack pornography (which, again, I doubt Marie Calloway makes, even analogously) qua sexual propriety–you’re not being “prudish”.  That she’s a banal pornographer might be something a prudish sexist would say, and you might be a prudish sexist; there’s no logical compulsion to reach those conclusions, on the evidence of your rant at Chris, is my view.

  56. Alessandro Cima

      Yeah, I know. Apparently, the Metropolitan Museum was forced by negative feedback to finally acknowledge this woman’s suspect history in their exhibit. Of course, initially they wanted to avoid the matter entirely and just show her works as if they are somehow suspended in an anti-reality field and have absolutely no connection to her actions in the world. The story of Stein’s behavior is usually presented as complicated and conflicted, but it should not be. It’s a very clear story really. You either placated Nazis or you didn’t. You either left or you stayed. Simple choices that this woman appears to have failed in making.

  57. Fall Semester Reading List: 21st Century Horror | HTMLGIANT

      […] reading lists I've posted include: “Major Figures in American Literature: Gertrude Stein” and "Introduction to Experimental Literature" and "American Postmodernism" and "The European […]