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For Your Consideration IV – Gass/Stein/Music

“Why hadn’t I known long before reading Stein–was I such a dunce?–that the art was in the music–it was Joyce’s music, it was James’s music, it was Faulkner’s music; without the music, words fell to earth in prosy pieces; without the music, there was only comprehension, and comprehension may have been analysis, may have been interpretation, may have been philosophy, but it wasn’t art; art was the mind carried to conclusions ahead of any understanding by the music–the order, release, and sounding of the meaning. Not just because of a little alliteration, the pitter-patter of metrical feet, a repetition like a chant, or rhyme concealed the way Poe’s letter was–in plain view–but because of complex conceptual relations made audible.” (128)

– William H. Gass, from “Three Lives” in A Temple of Texts

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3 thoughts on “For Your Consideration IV – Gass/Stein/Music

  1. “complex conceptual relations made audible” — I like that.

    Tender Buttons is one of my favorite Stein texts… here’s quite an intense complex of relations, a radical performance of metonymy:

    A BOX.

    Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.

    1. What a jewel. I wonder if “White Whale” influenced “white way.” Not that it matters, but that is an association I make.

      Boxes in poetry have a grand history. There’s Vasko Popa with all his box poems. Plath too?

      A couple of the more central Stein essays by Gass are “Gertrude Stein: Her Escape from Protective Language” from Fiction and the Figures….


      “Gertrude Stein and the Geography of the Sentence” from The World within the Word

      I’ve only read the first but there is a great couple of lines he has about art: “Art to be successful at nearly any time dare not be pure. It must be able to invite the dogs. It must furnish bones for understanding.”

      I’m still wrestling with this but I guess he’s bemoaning that the critics need to have a foothold on something or they will call it a failure, as they called Stein.

      1. Sure — Stein really casts a special kind of associational magic…I, at first, thought that “red” and “green” stood for “stop” and “go,” but then I read that the modern traffic light wasn’t invented until a few years after Tender Buttons was published…

        I didn’t know about Gass’ writing on Stein — glad to know about the essays.

        That’s an interesting metaphor…I’m guessing the “bones” for Gass are a contrast to a work of “pure meat,” (which is presumably consumed by the “culinary”–in Brecht’s sense of the term–critic). Bones as indigestibility…something to gnaw on.

        I will have to check out the Popa box poems… the box also seems an adequate analogy for the conventional stanza…I, myself, explored poetic boxiness via Joseph Cornell:


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