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...)