Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 80


Yes, I am not alone in taking on the war-mongers against Gertrude Stein and her survival in Nazi-occupied France, with their many ignorances, lies and innuendos... For a while, I felt quite lost in a desert, with bullets coming in right and left from the blogosphere and online magazines, the latest fired like a cannon-shot from critic Phil Kennicott at the Washington Post. But now comments are floating in from She Writers (see the comment thread below the post) and others like a balm, and it's heart-warming and encouraging to hear that others are seeing what I am seeing, and saying so.

The cartoon is by German-Australian, trés Steinian, artist Gisela Züchner-Mogall (whose work can be seen in the present exhibition on Stein at the Stanford in Washington Art Gallery in D.C.).

Here are some other thoughtful, thought-provoking comments I received to my last blog post from both women and men and would like to share with you.

From brand-new She Writer Karren Alenier:

"Good going, Renate. Your comment is really on the money.

Did you ever see Mabou Mines Dollhouse? Nora & the other women are very tall (6 ft) and the men are all dwarves. I have never seen anything so hysterically funny. And your lead-in reminds me of this play."

More from across the ocean -- the main German publisher of Stein, Arche Verlag, in Zürich and Hamburg, Nikolaus Hansen, writes: "skandalös - und großartige Replik!"("scandalous -- and a brilliant response!")

From Stanford professor and Stein expert Marjorie Perloff:
" Stein was certainly misguided and no one ever claimed she had astute politics but what does that have to do with her great experimental writing?
The same people who excoriate Stein are often Heidegger fans—to me, incomprehensible vis-à-vis his real evil, his involvement in getting rid of the Jews beginning with his mentor Husserl."

From Carlos Lens, art and ballet aficionado in LA:
"As Ms Alenier states - these comments reflect more on the author than the subject itself.
I think it’s important to have the likes of “Kennicotts” write comments like these only to show how much insecurity, fear, ignorance, envy, misogyny, bigotry and homophobia still exist.
· “intellectually infantile” - Yes indeed - inventive childlike imagination unconstrained by limitations.
· “cheerfully amoral “ - AMEN to that! And whose morals is he referring to anyway?
· “profoundly insecure” – Name one singular great mind that is not. The lack of it would only be proof of hubris.
· “nakedly ambitious” – When did ambition become a fault? Would “hidden or deceitful” ambition be more virtuous?

As another great “queer” genius once said :
“The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius” – Oscar Wilde"

From Sharon La Pena Davenport (researcher for Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories):

"In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning." I am tempted to ask what Mr. K would make of these lines of poetry “This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/ This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper” from the canonical favorite of English Lit classes, T.S. Eliot. Eliot, a near contemporary of Stein, was after his meteoric rise to fame based on a few poems written in his 20s, politically conservative, flirting with fascism, and famously anti-Semitic. “What is still more important is unity of religious background; and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.” Free thinkers and Jews are undesirable in the Unity, which is England; one sees the results of that sort of provincialism in contemporary Britain. The sort of thinking that Mr. K indulges in is no less teeny-weeny in its philistine attack of Stein in my humble opinion."


From Prof. Amy Moorman Robbins, head of the Gertrude Stein Society:

"Thank you for including me in this post - the review is atrocious yet does the service of reminding us how vexed is Stein's reputation in the public imagination and the scholarly community."

From artist Joan Brady:

"Appalling little man...
All summed up in " Writing a sensational essay is always more about the essayist than the subject matter of the essay. "
No need to say more. He doesn't deserve another line.
Go, Gertrude!!!"

All this in a couple of days, what a harvest. I am humbled and grateful to everyone.
Stay tuned.

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Comment by Karren Alenier on November 4, 2011 at 6:08pm

Dear Renate,

I spent the day with Wanda Corn, Catharine Stimpson, Tirza Latimer and others who love and appreciate Stein -- the opening of the 2nd annual Feminist Art History Conference. Today's activities were all Stein and took place at the National Portrait Gallery. Your name was mentioned as well as your book. Lots of talk about Barbara Will's book. Wanda and Catharine said they appreciate Barbara's book. Wanda had invited Barbara to this conference. Cate said people like Kennicott all make the same stupid complaints and she listed them. She has made a study of such critics.

Comment by Renate Stendhal on November 4, 2011 at 12:31pm
I agree! Thanks Karren, I agree even if we don't agree about Barbara Will's inflammatory book, which is a huge part of the present Stein controversy. Janet Malcolm's Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice had a chapter full of hatred and malice against Alice, and now Barbara Will, who once loved Stein as an academic, has penned a hateful portrait of her that parades as facts. Post-modernist academics showed know best that "facts" are in the eye of the beholder and in the tone of voice of the speaker. I am trying to publish a longer study about this. For the tribe!!
Comment by Karren Alenier on November 1, 2011 at 3:06pm
Thanks, Renate, for rallying the community for Gertrude Stein. I believe one should never go into the woods alone -- travel with your tribe. As I have said before, I consider Gtrde part of my literary family and she has influenced me in many ways but I am absolutely certain that had I met her, I would have stuck to talking literature with her and not talked politics since we would have never agreed. Anyway family is family and we must stick together.

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