From Which Stein Times Nine.

By Brian Reed.

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Times Nine"

Gertrude Stein wrote in a variety of styles over the course of her career.  One can immediately recognize the difference between, say, the obsessive-compulsive prose of The Making of Americans, the voluptuous poetry of the Mallorca years, the pronoun-rich poetry of Stanzas in Meditation, and the storyteller's prose of the late novels. 

Viewed as a whole, then, her work changes over time.  These changes can seduce one into speaking of "evolution" or "development"--terms often used by critics eager to co-opt Stein for their literary-historical agendas, or (even worse!) by critics who wish to denigrate her early experimental styles in favor of the "transparent" prose of the autobiographies.  But such teleologies are foreign to Stein's own writings, which continually defeat, divert, distort, or ignore linear progression.  She preferred circles, and repetition.

I wondered if it was possible to "write through" Stein's career--in the manner of John Cage or Jackson Mac Low--in such a way as to (1) preserve the chronology of her writings and (2) to imply neither narrative nor or history but a "landscape" that a reader could inhabit.  (For this sense of "landscape," see the second of Lyn Hejinian's Two Stein Talks [Santa Fe:  Weaselsleeves Press, 1995].)

I came up with the following procedures.

  1. Select nine works by Stein from different points in her career.
  2. Choose congenial passages from each work of roughly eighty-one letters in length.
  3. Order the passages chronologically and number them one to nine.
  4. Eliminate all punctuation and capitalization.
  5. Divide each modified passage into nine numbered sections, each consisting of whole words totaling as close to nine letters as feasible.
  6. Generate a new passage by listing, in order, the words from the first sections of passages 1-9.
  7. Repeat step six eight more times, each time moving on to the next numbered section (2-9) to use as a source of words.  You should generate a total of nine new passages.
  8. Assign appropriate punctuation and capitalization to the new nine passages.
  9. Create an animated .GIF that cycles through these nine paragraphs, each paragraph lingering nine seconds.

"Stein Times Nine" was the result.  I consider the piece somewhat uncanny.  In it I can "hear Stein" speaking but I cannot identify which Stein is responsible.  Nor can I explain why many of the paragraphs seem to be telling recognizably Stein-like stories instead of dissolving into word salad.   "I meant to a circular imagining," the first paragraph says aptly--although this sentence, which sounds like a bit of wisdom from How to Write, is in fact stitched together rather arbitrarily from three other works.

Recently I have been writing about musical and painterly minimalism.  This "writing through" of Stein is a consequence of trying to think through antinomies in the minimalist war on narrative.  To commemorate this fact, in the animated .GIF I have positioned my nine paragraphs against the black-on-black grid pattern made famous by Ad Reinhardt. 


"A Valentine, and Very Mine."
From Which Stein Times Nine.

"A Circular Play.  A Play in Circles."  Stein Reader 326-42.  Page 328.
How to Write.  New York:  Dover, 1975.  Page 41.
Ida.  New York:  Vintage, 1941.  Page 35.
Lucy Church Amiably.  New York:  Something Else, 1969.  Page 12.
"Miss Furr and Miss Skeene."  Stein Reader 255-59.  Page 257.
Mrs. Reynolds.  Los Angeles:  Sun & Moon, 1980.  Page 154.
"Pink Melon Joy."  Stein Reader 280-305.  Page 288.
Stanzas in Meditation.  Los Angeles:  Sun & Moon, 1994.  Page 79. 
A Stein Reader.  Ed. Ulla Dydo.  Evanston:  Northwestern UP, 1993.
Three Lives.  New York:  Dover, 1994.  Page 91.


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