Friday, April 28, 2006

dekoven on stein

what did i find tipped into the GWU gelman library copy of marianne dekoven's a different language: gertrude stein's experimental writing (univ of wisconsin press 1983) -- a very heavily checked-out copy i might add, with a third due date slip pasted into the back flyleaf and 56 circulation and/or discharge date stamps on them (fairly regularly from october 1983 until may 4 2001, making me the first one to check out this book in six years and thus ending the noticeable drop off in interest in gertrude stein here at GWU) -- tipped in between pages 8 and 9, in the midst of which dekoven is making an argument about how the big deconstructive and reader-response critics of the day (jonathan culler, harold bloom, wolfgang iser) very much relied upon thematically paraphrasable texts and thus are in no position to come to terms with stein's work, resting near the top very cozy in the binding between these two pages, perfectly perpendicular to the text of the printed page is a thin strip of paper cut out from a magazine bearing, in a thick sans serif font about 13 point size, the words

          What should I pack?

from a quick look tho i can say without hesitation that in the 23 intervening years' worth of literary criticism since dekoven's a different language was published, i have not seen much that improves on this.
But what strikes the reader most forcefully about all of this writing [she cites passages from barthelme, joyce, woolf, burroughs, beckett and stein] is that it cannot be read in the normal way.... we cannot interpret any of them to form coherent, single, whole, closed, ordered, finite, sensible meanings, even several such meanings, without radically altering the nature and effect of the writing as it is read.

That obstruction of normal reading is, for the purposes of this study, the most important feature of experimental writing, including Stein's.... this book's... overall sense of experimental writing as an alternative language, which requires a different kind of reading and which opposes itself to the dominant patriarchal culture in definable ways, should apply to all experimental writing. (5)

it's very much what i'm trying to do in my work on clark coolidge's poetry, for example, where dekoven writes:
My aim... is not to interpret specific works, partly because interpretation defeats experimental writing (since if has no Meaning, no unitary coherence), and partly because the division within any experimental style into specific works is generally arbitrary, and often meaningless. What requires analysis, therefore, is the style rather than the work. (xv)

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