READING LANGUAGE, READING GERTRUDE STEIN
[October 2001; text presented at the Gertrude Stein Symposium organized by Bevya Rosten, New York City. Indented italicized lines are Stein’s, from 1913-1923, taken from Ulla Dydo, ed., A Stein Reader (Northwestern University Press, 1993)]
A language tries to be free.
To think it through from the extremes or the exceptions, what better place to start than with Gertrude Stein.
The words don’t take the place of a prior reality. Material insistence triumphs, slipping and sliding beneath the sign.
Length what is length when silence is so windowful.
When no systematizing translation of the force of words back into their signifying prison-house is very likely.
Language is often considered exclusively mediating, ruled by conventional signs. But in reading Stein, the idealism of the sign can’t recuperate these energies.
I have resisted. I have resisted that excellently well.
Signs usually stabilized by customary use get shaken up by a materiality that miniaturizes its possible uses.
The normative confinements of grammar and narrative and self-expression give way to even more forceful and disabling vectors.
We get a language almost beyond linguistics.
We’re not looking through the words, with the trappings of perspective, once the language is no longer pointing, offering a stand-in, or a representative.
why do they have heaps of resemblance.
Not not not no.
Reconcile is a plain case of wretched pencils.
Usually, signifying works out of a situation of lack — and offers its idealized presences as compensation. But here, the meanings we construct are not compensatory.
Readers don’t peform some co-invocation of a lost or ever-receding presence. This isn’t reading as containment, or rollback, but as extension.
I fastened it with decision.
And so we resist.
Our reading experiences are unrepresentable.
I cannot repeat what I hear.
It involves a wayward and multiple attentiveness and response.
and a bracketed mischance.
Titles make a rejoinder.
I edged it.
Now we make mischief.
Doing away with illusions of naturalness, without nodding our head in recognition.
We have been baffled by harmony.
Thank you for the meaning of reading. Read aloud.
Leave eye lessons I.
Leave I. Lessons. I.
Leave I lessons, I.
Listen to the addresses.
The text’s social address:
Its immediacy to our senses helps to produce a Real, not to concoct an incorporeal simulacra of theatrical presence.
I wish bursts.
I meant to be told.
It’s an anti-overhearing.
Instead of pretending to offer an unmediated picture or a vista of what’s outside itself, it operates on us, sounds and resounds us, unmediatedly itself, publicly.
and really makes a lot of noise.
How does it sound.
How do you sound.
Clamor and clamor.
We honor its actual Force rather than a requiem for Lack or for Absence.
I know that anything is a great pleasure.
The machinery of words is productive, affirmative, transformative.
The writing is left to our devices — or to us as the device.
This is so gay.
We don’t go to these texts for criticism or evaluation of what we already have. It’s not at all like a critical removal of ideological blinders.
and after that I don’t think there is any need to notice
Its physicalities solicit us, debilitate us, reconstruct us. The comforting frames of reference we usually deploy get scrambled by tactile, visceral experience.
We can also have prejudices against voices.
We’re too fascinated to remember who we once were. A self-disabling complicity undermines any hope of personal mastery.
In my surprise I shall stammer.
A touching research is an over show.
Possessiveness gets disempowered. Things are happening too fast, too close, too disruptively. Our possessive gaze has been redistricted out of its promising electoral chances.
and the humbleness and the cut away
A near-automatism of impact shatters our familiar evaluative distance.
Self-reflection becomes the fragilest of after-effects.
I am impatient.
Please be restless.
I wish I was restless.
We are the scene that has always already changed.
We become the text’s prosthesis.
Not ego-centric. Not self-aggrandizing. But viscerally self-mutilating and dispossessive.
Let me express about the noise let me say that he is easily
Our idealizing self-portraits get remaindered and pulped.
The interior self (or self-enclosure) broken apart, psychological depth is no longer the priority. What replaces it is the physiological rambunctiousness of reading the surface —
and also permit me to assure you that coming again is not
as pleasant as coming again and again and coming
again and again is very nearly the best way of
establishing where there is the most pleasure the most
reasonableness the most plenty the most activity the
most sculpture the most liberty the most meditation the
most calamity and the most separation.
A radical immediacy in the back and forth navigations of reading language.
To stoke the pleasures of self-collapse, debasement, abjection.
Shall I be pleased.
Excite I do excite, excite we excite, how do we excite.
Cause an excitement.
This makes reading a bodily turbulence — of abject kicks.
The cause of an excitement is this, the language is not the
You are a frightful tease.
Instigating affects unavailable for cognitive processing, we become the targets of its force, its improprieties of the cravings of the flesh, not just the receivers of unifying phantasmatic gifts.
I saw an extraordinary mixture.
I can forgive that is to say chopping.
We were splendid about extravagance.
Bodily excitation, with no escape possible.
To unmind us — (with) the vulnerabilities of the flesh.
A synapse-centered reading — not to help them be centered, but putting them out of control.
The surfaces of the text don’t stay surfaces for long. They get directly under our skin.
a touching beat is in the best way.
the question is really a plague,
With rawer sensations, once the filtering, the pacifying, or the commodifying aspects are downplayed.
it has tiny things to shake
And all the more intensified and activated (or radioactivated) once their ‘pointing function’ gives way to the metamorphoses of preemptively physical sensation.
This is not a dear noise. It is so distressing.
We’re not volunteering for aesthetic contemplation — bathing in the aura, communing with long-distance voices.
Dream for me.
In dreaming of Mrs. Andrews as you did surprised me.
We’re not extended prosthetically with the help of transparent representation. We’re intensed, intensified, as the prosthesis of the text.
Presence isn’t simulacral and illusionary. It’s a literalized miniature at the level of individual words and phrases turned into vectors of speed and immediacy.
I went faster.
Indeed indeed we speed.
With our apprehensions and anticipations intact, but now at the micro level.
I shall choose wonder.
The sensational creams the familiar.
I am really surprised.
Self-confirmation or autonomy becomes unsettled by surprise, haunted by hard-to-track voicings.
Any voice is resembling.
Any voice is a reassembling. And a substitution.
Words have often replaced me.
and many many more, and many more many more many
I did not see arithmetic.
Language shifts, too quicksilver to help us situate ourselves (or our former selves).
and on the surface and surrounded and mixed strangely
Individual units of language engage their own referential excesses.
No longer routed through normative syntax, they undercut our own vantage of self-reference, slipping that anchor.
Maybe our identifications can fasten on the tiniest elements, but the leaps and gaps of the juxtapositions are too big to allow the bundlings of self-assertion.
We’re always teetering on the edge of disidentification, of imagining ourselves as a result of disidentifications.
I do hate sentences.
Do you mean to please.
Do please me.
The ‘authentic self’: that touchstone is discombobulated by the explosiveness of relation, the seductive or sacrificial strangeness of connections, the compulsive abjection that deterritorializes or exceeds us. It opens out.
Widening putty is not lonesome. It makes a door.
It is astonishing.
And asubjective, or postsubjective.
We’re too intimidated (and intimated) and implicated to be ourselves.
Now no more character.
it happened in the aggregate that they were alone.
What a system in voices, what a system in voices.
Interiority becomes a hedged bet, an order to sell short.
then comes the time for drilling.
Information drilling, database navigation:
Notably notably reading.
I like to be excellently searching.
Even when phenomenology can’t get off the ground.
And nor can a detached purely scholarly appreciation.
The source is lost in the glare — or in the noise or in the weird.
Our fascination doesn’t derive from evaluative judgement. It’s not about the historical positioning of Stein’s work, the way it operates in its original context.
The activism of reading this language right now helps to make most historical contextualizations irrelevant.
and the hurry in a nervous feeling
We get pleasure’s rollercoaster ride, a vertiginous transience in action, where the regulating grounds explode in a defiant unnaturalness.
To please and to give pleasure.
Have we been loyal to our enthusiasm and have we been
And riches how often are there different ways of
We get more of an irrational contagion than a rational, architecturable distance.
The powers of individual reference and appearance may be heightened, even if some of the larger architecture of genre and narrative and overall subject-matter get deconstructed. Even if the larger shapes of discourse and signification are not the byproduct, a wide range of tiny specifics are being remanaged.
Dealing in accelerated authority.
The materiality of language is an inside, not an outside, agitator — both in the written words and in the reader’s flesh, taking notice or taking pleasurable hold. It materializes the social address which individual words and fragments of phrases could claim.
Please to please. Pleasure to give pleasure.
A fragmented, excessive and deidealizing literalism agitates our nerves.
We become — like the language itself — gratuitous.
Please please and pleasure.
To be pleased and to please.
If the literal is appearance, it’s not the appearance (or requiem memory-trace) of something that’s missing. It positively disarticulates us. It adds to us by making us more literal.
The text’s flux of sensation carries us into its affective arms, not back down to some reliably signifying structure. It upends the sign, but at the same time gives us a physical immediacy that replaces it, makes us not long for it so much.
Can you find pleasure in such a way.
Read me easily.
have any ache intentionally.
The prior context, neatly regulated by its discursive police, can’t contain these sounds, these rhythms, these glancing blows and shocking arousals. Here, more like visual or sound art, language works to confront us directly.
This makes mining such a loud noise.
To be next to it.
To be annexed.
To be annexed to it.
Reading encounters an assaultive physique, a shocking behaviorism of sensation, a tactile ferociousness or swoon of affectiveness that is drastically desublimating.
I dispose of you by being intimate and impersonal.
Reading this language calls for an intoxifying proximity.
Aren’t its speedings up and delays unavoidable, or at least impossible to keep at a safe, systematizing distance.
We get an extravagant physical intimacy, too close for comfort and precluding the usual theatrical perspective.
We’re caught up, compulsively.
The contact fetishizes.
I like to be excellently seized.
Paralysis why is paralysis a syllable why is it not more
I like to be excellently seizing.
We get charismatic presences that aren’t transporting, or auratic.
The pleasures it produces are not compensatory for lack.
They are multiplication tables, materially literalizing our wishes.
We’re paying attention almost involuntarily — bypassing the usual seats of normative judgement and adjustment.
In fact, maybe our ‘selves’ aren’t as interior as we think.
Four and nobody wounded, five and nobody flourishing,
six and nobody talkative, eight and nobody sensible.
Here, we approach the ‘positive’ powers of a viscerally embodied production, an experiential impact, a bodily metamorphosis.
This starts to resemble a technology for making reading more like surrender.
This isn’t ‘close reading’ (with its measured classroom distance).
This is more like bodily contagion.
Our participation is more mimetic, duplicating the codes and naming of the text.
Believe two names.
Decoding us, the text works like an MRI.
Identifications aren’t readily available, certainly not encouraged, except at the micro level — or maybe at the overall threshold level (where we could identify with the possible universes of significance the words evoke).
Not to honor the past — like representational distances tend to do.
The coming moment, in all its explosiveness or surprise, is what counts; we’re not just chasing the figures or ghosts of the past.
Do you all understand extraneous memory.
Evanescence — the text’s, and ours — is built into the disappearing acts of the syntax. Facing this ostentatiousness of physical sense, reading unfixes the temporality, makes it fluid — open to translation.
And under a more direct control than any contemporary gaze could allow.
It puts it on the control panel.
I believe in actual plenty in plenty of time.
Urgent action is not in graciousness it is not in clocks...
blessing instead of entirely.
are you willing to moisten rapid repetition with angular
I am losing my individuality.
It is a noise.
We were astonished by all languages.
Render yourselves further.
Render yourselves together.