Saturday, November 11, 2006

Gertrude Stein

Larry has been dipping his toes into the vast mannish ocean of Gertrude again. She's a deep one, she is. Hard to read. No light sandy beach material here. Brown mahogany studies and gas lamps. Famous paintings crowding the walls. Pince-nez or perhaps a monocle. Something to make you concentrate because Gertrude is nothing if not concentrated.

Distilled. What is the process of distilling? You keep running the same ingredients through the pipes, boiling and condensing, purer and purer, until what's left is the essence that intoxicates you.

That's what Gertrude did.

Not always. Her most famous work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, is a straightforward, fact-filled, gossipy kind of recounting of the early days of the Parisian artistic explosion at the turn of the 20th century. In other words, the kind of life that Alice and Gertrude and her brother Leo were certainly living. Like reading one of those British books about the royal family written by a former valet.

Other works are dense. Dense with repetition. But not exactly repetition. This is why you must concentrate because she repeats but not exactly. There may be a word missing. And when Gertrude removes a word, there must be a reason for it.

Gertrude is famous for writing, "Rose is a rose is a rose" which Larry has no idea what that means, even though his altered ego wrote about it once too. But there is the distilled essence of her endless repetition, and her injunction, repeated repeatedly in The Making of Americans to "begin again." Larry thinks it was also Gertrude who said about that town in California, "There's no there there." Exactly.

No distilled essence to tell you what it is. Which is what Gertrude repeatedly seeks.

You must be careful when reading Gertrude because she explores multiple meanings of words. This is part of her repetition as well. Take, for example, her portrait of Picasso. (After all, Picasso painted her portrait...with much difficulty, it is told. He never could get her face right. He worked for months. For months he worked. He worked and worked but the face would not work. Until he finally blotted out the whole thing and painted the mask as you see it above. And that became Gertrude's face, no other. She grew into that face...as you see it below.)

Larry wants to quote the first two paragraphs of Gertrude's portrait of Picasso because they admirably set up the rhythm of repetition and lay the foundation of a completely accurate depiction of who that old Picasso was and what he was about. They also demonstrate Gertrude's masterful play with multiple meanings:

One whom some were certainly following was one who was completely charming.One whom some were certainly following was one who was charming. One whom some were following was one who was completely charming. One whom some were following was one who was certainly completely charming.

Some were certainly following and were certain that the one they were then following was one working and was one bringing out of himself then something. Some were certainly following and were certain that the one they were then following was one bringing out of himself then something that was coming to be a heavy thing, a solid thing and a complete thing.


Crucial words here: following, working, charming.

Picasso was certainly charming. Women loved that short little fu...oops, did Larry write that out loud? Fact is, he was a little youknow. But women loved him anyway. Even the mannish ones like Gertrude.

Following. He certainly had one. In more than one sense. Picasso always had his followers. His entourage. Hangers-on. He was rarely alone. Even when painting. People came to watch him paint. Sometimes he put on displays for them. But other kinds of following too. He and Braque started a whole genre of painting. Cubism. Gertrude is sometimes called the "first Cubist writer." And Picasso's followers were all the Cubist artists who followed him. Certainly. Certain that there was a solidity to this cubic expression.

Working. Not many artists can match Picasso's output. In painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, lithographs. You name it. He probably did it. Worked it. Gertrude emphasizes throughout the short portrait (just over 2 pages, thirteen paragraphs, maybe 1000 words) that Picasso worked. Picasso's work defined him. Without quoting the entire portrait, Larry can tell you that Gertrude ultimately raises the suggestion that Picasso was a workaholic. Without his work he was nothing. Even when he had nothing much to say, he must be working. Completely working, as she says.

But work and working has another meaning: as in "This is not working." And Gertrude exploits that and gradually turns it around so that the final sentence of her portrait is, "He was not ever completely working."

And he wasn't. Many things in his life were messed up, particularly his long-term relationships. Just ask Dora Maar, the Weeping Woman. Just ask Françoise Gilot to whom, when she finally decided to leave him for good, all he could say was "Merde." So, in spite of working, he was not ever completely working. Not only that, as Gertrude implies, much of the time he was actually playing.

Gertrude. She was not playing with words. She was working them. Over and over. Until she got it right. Larry wonders what she would have done with a computer's cut and paste function.

(Which leads inevitably to William Burroughs...)

12 comments:

Bobby Bacon said...

For many years things couldn't be said. So words had double and a multitude of meanings. I know this because I managed to gut it out through highschool english. Hated shakespeare until I turned 40. Then I loved it...I was finally ready..

A rose is a rose is a rose.

and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar except when it's not.

And sometimes Larry is Larry except when he isn't.

Repetion...Crimson and Clover over and over....

It is the one thing Politicans and Muscians have in common. Repeat lines over and over again until it sticks in our petites têtes.

Petites têtes is what my daughter's grade one french immersion teacher called her students. It was used with affection.

Gertrude I have never read but the rose is a rose is rose interests me. I will have to look her up...

Larry Keiler said...

Oh m'gawd! Mr. Bacon you are spouting esoterica for certain. How can you tell someone is of a certain age? Who really remembers Tommy James & the Shondells? 'Cep fer Mony Mony which the kids now have an obscene chant that goes with it. Crimson & Clover was one of Larry's favourite tunes back in the day, altho Crystal Blue Persuasion was even better. (When you listen to those early songs in sort of the order of their release, you clearly hear the evolution of recording techniques. It's interesting to do that. Larry doesn't know what that effect was that they used in Crimson & Clover, but it still makes him dizzy when he hears it.)

Larry did not yet smoke cigars...but soon....

Larry's grade nine English immersion teacher called his students donuts. And then threw the book at them.

X said...

Larry, I don't think you dipped just your toes into Getrude Stein - I think you dunked your whole body, your head too, your head and body, your head and body and toes, but not in that order,'cause that would be a duck dive. And if we go toes, and then head, and then body, well then, we have cubism...

Mmm... didn't Shakespeare say the rose thing... a rose by any other name is still a rose??? Or have I distorted all things holy, and got that WRONG!

The DT game show buzzer goes BZZZZZ, WRONG! When I first wrote that (before I edited) I wrote the game show buzzard. That's an interesting image... Grab the bird by the neck and bong his beak on the buzzer...

Larry Keiler said...

OK OK. Shakespeare said, "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Has Larry got that right?

Also, Larry believes that town in California was Burbank. Where Johnny Carson did his thing.

Larry once saw a buzzard on a back road outside of Gwulph. Well...a turkey vulture. Same thing ain't it? What's in a name anyway? Bong his beak on the bell and he squawks just the same.

"Squawk" is a hard word to spell. The rehabilitation program at the Yoni School must be taking hold. Larry's suddenly concerned about getting the word rite.

bobby bacon said...

Well MONY MONY has a special place in my heart because in a former life I worked for the Mutual of New York or MONY Life as we called it.

If I remember right I was in grade eight when Crimson and Clover came out..so around 68 or 69.

dovetalewriters said...

Me too like that song Crimson and Clover. Over and over...

And I think, "A rose is a rose is a rose," and A rose by any other name is still a rose, are two existing versions of the rose theme. "What's in a name. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet." I had not heard before. A newy to me, except of course the What's in a name bit.

I find Shakespearian language difficult. Hard to hear the music in it. The one play I super enjoyed, played so well by an amateur group, was Midsummer Night's dream. Very poetic. Also I have it in a beautifully designed and illustrated hardcover book. That so much helps the reading. Those school paperbacks lack stimulation.

I haven't read Gertrude Stein.Know the name, of course, by the power of repetition.

And how can one not remember: "Out, out, damned spot!"
and e-tute (sp?), and "Friends,..., and country men"? Those certainly carry the power of repetition.

Ha, ha, can't remember the word I replaced with dotted lines. Even the power of repetition gets sunk in senior moments. I can hear the rhythm, and I know it is two
syllables...

I give up. It's late and I am tired. Simon says still needs a walk.

w.t. said...

Oh man, that was W.T. I am messing up major.

Larry Keiler said...

Ah, wt, messing up Major Who? The Major in Catch 22 is called Major Major.

Larry remembers: Mark Antony said, Friends, Romans, countrymen! Lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

Of course, it was Caesar who said, "Et tu, Brute" when Brutus stuck him between the ribs.

Larry had an English teacher in high school who made a joke out of the Out damned spot line. It was Lady Macbeth cursing the dog after it doo-dooed on the carpet. "Out, damned Spot!"

Larry also finds Shakespearean language difficult. He doesn't read Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote plays. They're meant to be seen. Larry enjoys watching Shakespeare, because then he understands him, understands what they're all saying. It makes sense when you watch them.

As a matter of fact, Larry doesn't really read any plays at all. They always seem too flat, too dry. Larry needs someone to provide the acting and the sets for him. He can't make them up in his own head when he reads a play. So he likes novels better because they Phil n the Blanks.

(Phil n the Blanks is the name of a rock band Larry met many years ago in Kingston.)

wt said...

It's morning and my brain seems to be functioning again. Had an hour long struggle to establish my shortcut to Porchlight again, the only way I can connect. With Porchlight's help I deleted icon. Then in the middle of re-establishing, my computer froze.Had to start over. Phone back. Helper baffled by computer's behaviour. Try this, thry that...

Well, here I am, with already a half worn out brain. And running out of time to do all the things I need to do, including voting and having no clue about who to vote for. Sometimes it is a disadventage when you don't get around to watching news and don't get a newspaper...

Can I move to another planet?

Spent a few days in the country. Away from city noise and demands. Aaahhhhh. Just the moon. No bright, too early, flashing Christmas lights offending your senses.

Eureka!!! That's it Larry, "Friends, Romans Countrymen, lend me your ears," etc.

wt hates those gaps in her memory.
They come and go. So unpredictable. Unpredictable is story of wt's life, lately.

wt has seen some Shakesperian plays. Always on a cheapy with seats in the back. That way wt. misses a lot of the spoken word. Sometimes it's good when ears don't hear too good. Some things are better not to be heard. But with Shakesperian plays it rather hampers, don't you think? 'specially when they talk from a round stage with their backs turned to you.

wt laughed. "Et tu, Brute". Of course! Horrible when the sound is in her head but the right letters won't come to surround them. If she wasn't a poet remembering rhythms, where would she be? Maybe in a peaceful nowhere? Wild!

Larry Keiler said...

Larry knows exactly what you mean about the gaps. Getting worse all the time. But what's worst is serial or compounded gaps.

Like, for instance, right now, and also a few weeks ago, Larry was trying to remember the name of that German actor, von something who played the Exorcist priest, and also played the knight who played chess with Death in the Ingmar Bergmann movie. He was trying to tell Suzy Homemaker. Couldn't remember the actor's name. (Still can't) But when he tried to explain to Suzy Homemaker which actor he meant, he also couldn't remember the damn name of that Swedish film director who made that movie, what's it called, about the knight who plays chess with Death.

Ingmar Bergmann & the movie was called The Seventh Seal, Larry believes. But back then, couldn't remember. Still can't remember the actor's name. Von something.

He's also had this experience repeatedly with a Canadian band, from Montreal, in the 60s who played one of his all-time favourite songs. He knows the name of the song...When I Die...but even now can never remember the name of the band. Fortunately, this one he can look up, cuz he downloaded the tune. Motherlode.

And yes, you can probably move to another planet, as long as you're prepared to have your ears pop.

w.t. said...

Wild Thing not seen "Exorcist" Wild thing read the book. So does not know movie actor's name. Does not even remember author of book. So probably if she had seen the motion picture, she still woudn't remember Mister Von's name. Ah, "What's in the name ?"

'The Seventh Seal' with Ingrid Berman rings familiar in wt. ears. Not seen movie though.

Once there was a motion Picture called "The White Cliffs of Dover".
Wild thing seen that one twice, long time ago when she still lived in Holland. Seems to remember that movie was about a woman with a mental (memory?)problem who was put under hypnotism untill the seventh veil was lifted. Then she was healed. Did she fall in love and married the hynotist? That bit fell through wt's memory gap. She suspect though that it was so.

You think it was the same story under a different title?

wt never looked for names of movie actors. Never thought of it. Maybe she was too busy reading under titles. Such movies were English spoken. There were very few real Dutch movies. Like it was in Canada for a long time. Everything art wise came from the States.Before WW2 music, movies, and technology came from Germany. Untill the Dutch started to claim their identity.

wt sometimes wonders why she had to emigrate from Holland to immigrate into same situations? Is there destiny to what, where and how we live? Inescapable destiny?

Maybe what wt saw in movies was so real to her that she never thought they were not the real, exact people. Wt remembers the time of just radio. During war her parents had only cabled-in radio. Three stations. Holland, Belgium, and Germany. Little wt with her petite tete believed that the people she heard speak were very little people, dollhouse size, who lived in that square box.
She never told anyone she believed that. She thought it was a fact everyone knew. So nobody got to correct her on that. She just grew out of it. Still never checked names of actors. Wasn't that interested in names. Not names of actors,not names or words of/in songs, not names of flowers, not names of cities and roads on maps... Just enjoyed things as were. When you spend time finding names you miss so much of what you can see/hear/sense. Right? It still rings true to wt.

Although one time hen she was on vacation in a isolated sea province of the Netherlands, here the most interesting entertainment was walking over to the faries that arrived, she did learn car names, like Studebaker, Wolsely, Fiat, Ford, Citroen, (Ugly duckling) Mercedes, Mini Morris... She knew all car names.

And one motorcycle name: Harley Davidson!!!

w.t. said...

Excuse my typos (trouble with my keyboard)and spelling mistakes,(Mrs.Dough dough) please.Should've checked one more time before publishing.

Major problems with my w W w2w2w2
2w2w2w2w or not printing at all. Wacky!