Why Quote Something If It Can Be Done: Misquoting Gertrude Stein?

Post # 11.

I stand accused of having done her wrong. A commentator with an interesting name commented on my blog post # 4, where I quoted "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."
Comment by Alice Toklas 1 day ago:
"You have joined the legions of those who misquote this FAMOUS quote. The actual line is "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." I am glad it has given you inspiration (I guess that's what you're saying...??) but your inspiration has come from your misunderstanding of the meaning entirely. Yes, Gertrude was brilliant but as is obvious still understood by very few."


Does the genius need such fierce protection? The commentator does not bring in the evidence for her case against me. She must be aware that this is a very old battle horse. There has always been the war of the roses, with the "Rose" faction quarreling with the "A rose" faction. I claim there was never much of a there there.
Gertrude Stein's rose appears repeatedly with and without the indefinite article. To know this, however, you have to have read a little more than "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas." Alice adopted "Rose is..." and had it printed on the stationary and anywhere else she could. As early as 1912, however, "A rose" appears in "An Elucidation": "Suppose, to suppose, suppose a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." In 1914, "a rose" shows up again in "As Fine As Melanctha", then in "Operas and Plays", then again in "Stanzas in Meditation." And it is enlightening to hear Stein during her lecture tour, 75 years ago, teaching her American audiences about her rose: "When I said. A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."
It seems obvious to me that for a writer who loved double and triple entendres and played with every possible language game, dropping the article would be fun, would be a pun. "Rose" would suddenly turn into a name (of a little girl in "The World is Round", in 1938), or hint at a color qualifier, or allude erotically at the past tense of the verb to rise when it comes right after "Lifting belly can please me because it is an occupation I enjoy. Rose is a rose..." (in "Bee Time Vine"). It can even push into a category apart to become a noun that refuses an indefinite article -- like modernism, for example, or nonsense. Why not?
But when you drop the article you lose something essential, you drop the clear intention of a definition in your statement. What is a rose? A rose is a rose... Stein was "no fool," as she told her American audience. If you intend to establish the definitive rose of the 20th century, you leave the article in the line.
Nevertheless, what a lovely heated passion springs forth again and again from this rose! Would Stein's rival James Joyce ever create such passion at this day and age? Ask yourself.

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Tags: #things we care about, Gertrude Stein, history

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Comment by Renate Stendhal on November 4, 2009 at 1:17am
I am always scared when Janet Malcolm takes on someone I care about. I have a very different understanding of Stein than she has. Lots of material she bases herself on is hear-say and I feel a lack of reading, really reading the difficult works of Stein. Her blindly buying into the speculations on Gertrude's alleged "frigidity" are ludicrous as she clearly hasn't read or understood the sexually ecstatic texts of Stein. See my blog # 12. I will go more into that in my next blog -- the "cliff-hanger!
Comment by Kamy Wicoff on November 3, 2009 at 9:48pm
I love the nerdiness. Also loved Janet Malcolm's book on Gertrude and Alice -- Renate (and Alice) what did you think?
Comment by Erin Hosier on November 3, 2009 at 7:47pm
This is a nerdy argument.

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