- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Gertrude Stein on Art, Writing, Reading, and More

 

Happy birthday, Gertrude Stein! Here’s a selection of quotes from her marvelous writing:

 

“Writing and reading is to me synonymous with existing.”

 

“Why should a sequence of words be anything but a pleasure?”

 

“I like the feeling of words doing as they want to do and as they have to do when they live where they have to live that is where they have come to live which of course they do do.”

 

“One does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure.”

 

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“All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation… You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.”

 

“A very important thing is not to make up your mind that you are any one thing.”

 

“I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way that I can do it. Everybody is a real one to me, everybody is like some one else too to me. No one of them that I know can want to know it and so I write for myself and strangers.”

 

“Laughter is not evaporating.”

 

“Looking is not vanishing.”

 

“The creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic.”

 

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“The whole question of questions and not answers is very interesting. Suppose no one asked a question.”

 

“[A] masterpiece […] may be unwelcome but it is never dull.”

 

“Nothing could bother me more than the way a thing goes dead once it has been said.”

 

“I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich.”

 

“Is it worse to be scared than to be bored, that is the question.”

 

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“If you can’t say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me.”

 

“You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting. Yes, before in a thought, but not in careful thinking. It will come if it is there and if you will let it come, and if you have anything you will get a sudden creative recognition. You won’t know how it was, even what it is, but it will be creation if it came out of the pen and out of you and not out of an architectural drawing of the thing you are doing.”

 

“You look ridiculous if you dance. You look ridiculous if you don’t dance. So you might as well dance.”

 

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“Whenever you get there, there is no there there.”

 

“After all everybody, that is, everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, is is separate from themselves, it is not real but it is really there.”

 

“If you can do it then why do it?”

 

“From the very nature of progress, all ages must be transitional. If they were not, the world would be at a stand-still and death would speedily ensue. It is one of the tamest of platitudes but it is always introduced by a flourish of trumpets.”

 

“Argument is to me the air I breathe. Given any proposition, I cannot help believing the other side and defending it.”

 

“The whole duty of man consists in being reasonable and just…I am reasonable because I know the difference between understanding and not understanding and I am just because I have no opinion about things I don’t understand.”

 

“A beauty is not suddenly in a circle. It comes with rapture. A great deal of beauty is rapture. A circle is a necessity. Otherwise you would see no one. We each have our circle.”

 

“It is always a mistake to be plain-spoken.”

 

“No sense in no sense innocence of what of not and what of delight. In no sense innocence in no sense and what in delight and not, in no sense innocence in no sense no sense what, in no sense and delight, and in no sense and delight and not in no sense and delight and not, no sense in no sense innocence and delight.”

 

“Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.”

 

“When I sleep I sleep and do not dream because it is as well that I am what I seem when I am in my bed and dream.”

 

“It is awfully important to know what is and what is not your business.”

 

“All the world knows how to cry but not all the world knows how to sigh. Sighing is extra.”

 

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”

 

“A writer must always try to have a philosophy and he should also have a psychology and a philology and many other things. Without a philosophy and a psychology and all these various other things he is not really worthy of being called a writer. I agree with Kant and Schopenhauer and Plato and Spinoza and that is quite enough to be called a philosophy. But then of course a philosophy is not the same thing as a style.”

 

“Disillusionment in living is finding that no one can really ever be agreeing with you completely in anything.”

 

“No one is ahead of his time, it is only that the particular variety of creating his time is the one that his contemporaries who are also creating their own time refuse to accept…For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause almost everybody accepts. In the history of the refused in the arts and literature the rapidity of the change is always startling.”

 

“A real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself.”

 

“Clarity is of no importance because nobody listens and nobody knows what you mean no matter what you mean, nor how clearly you mean what you mean. But if you have vitality enough of knowing enough of what you mean, somebody and sometime and sometimes a great many will have to realize that you know what you mean and so they will agree that you mean what you know, what you know you mean, which is as near as anybody can come to understanding any one.”

 

“Poetry is I say essentially a vocabulary just as prose is essentially not. And what is the vocabulary of which poetry absolutely is. It is a vocabulary based on the noun as prose is essentially and determinately and vigorously not based on the noun. Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun. It is doing that always doing that, doing that doing nothing but that. Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns. That is what poetry does, that is what poetry has to do no matter what kind of poetry it is. And there are a great many kinds of poetry. So that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose.”

 

“If you do not remember while you are writing, it may seem confused to others but actually it is clear and eventually that clarity will be clear, that is what a master-piece is, but if you remember while you are writing it will seem clear at the time to any one but the clarity will go out of it that is what a master-piece is not.”

 

“Picasso once remarked I do not care who it is that has or does influence me as long as it is not myself.”

 

“When you are writing before there is an audience anything written is as important as any other thing and you cherish anything and everything that you have written. After the audience begins, naturally they create something that is they create you, and so not everything is so important, something is more important than another thing.”

 

” The difference between a thinker and a newspaperman is that a thinker enters right into things, a newspaperman is superficial.”

 

“I like a thing simple but it must be simple through complication. Everything must come into your scheme, otherwise you cannot achieve real simplicity.”

 

“Human beings are interested in two things. They are interested in the reality and interested in telling about it.”

 

“A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears.”

 

“It always did bother me that the American public were more interested in me than in my work. And after all there is no sense in it because if it were not for my work they would not be interested in me so why should they not be more interested in my work than in me. That is one of the things one has to worry about in America.”

 

“And identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself.”

 

“It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

 

“One has to remember that about imagination, that is when the world gets dull when everybody does not know what they can or what they cannot really imagine.”

 

“The minute you or anybody else knows what you are you are not it, you are what you or anybody else knows you are and as everything in living is made up of finding out what you are it is extraordinarily difficult really not to know what you are and yet to be that thing.”

 

“I rarely believe anything, because at the time of believing I am not really there to believe.”

 

“A creator is not in advance of his generation but he is the first of his contemporaries to be conscious of what is happening to his generation.”
“A creator who creates, who is not an academician, who is not someone who studies in a school where the rules are already known, and of course being known they no longer exist, a creator then who creates is necessarily of his generation. His generation lives in its contemporary way but they only live in it. In art, in literature, in the theatre, in short in everything that does not contribute to their immediate comfort they live in the preceding generation.”

 

“Complications are always easy but another vision than that of all the world is very rare.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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