“How irksome to have to explain my poem when I don’t know what it means either. This is the trouble with analysis in search of a prose meaning for what is not prose. ~ R.S. Thomas (when a friend asks him to explain one of his poems)
“This is the meta-Sonafeltic portion of my response. I find myself at a crossroads in this Steinian journey, my friends, and I am uncertain how to proceed. I have always taught my students to use a text-centric critical approach to the literary works we read and study. I have leanings toward formalism and New Criticism, but I don’t completely discount biography, authorial intent, and reader response. I just believe that the text is primary. ‘Show me your textual evidence,’ I tell my students. ‘Can you back that up with a textual example? What in the text supports that claim?’ I ask. I want them to follow a text down the interpretive road it carves out, not take the text by the hand and lead it with a map they impose on the text themselves.
“Exegesis also includes cataloging other literary genres seen in the text and analysis of grammatical and syntactical characteristics of the text itself. This is the approach that you are currently pursuing in looking at “A Seltzer Bottle.”. Correct?
“Next you discuss EISegesis, which, as you say, puts the way of looking at Stein’s prose poems into the psyche of the reader who pulls out associations from his/her bag of experience and imposes that on Stein’s collection of words. It is what we do when we stand in front of an abstract painting.
“In many ways the approach you have settled on synchs with the approach my friends who are graduates of St. John’s College of Annapolis embrace for analyzing texts. They read the Great Books and often in the original language. In their college curriculum, they don’t do subjects separately but they do insist that one can only look at the text before them and separate that text from the author and from the author’s living space. It is a way of looking and it often yields valuable and satisfying information.
“I have no objection to this approach and it will be and is valuable with difficult unyielding texts like “A Seltzer Bottle.”
“That said, Stein is difficult to separate from other works and from her living space because she threaded that into work. She was a prolific reader reading in wide ranging disciplines.
“While Stein did not write many personal things in her notebooks (literary journals), her work often contained details from her day. For example, I went to Yale to her main lit archive to research her relationship with Christopher Blake, a man still living who claims to be her last protégé. In fact there were things written about him that were in the form of Stanzas in Meditation and that he indeed seemed to be a writer she cared for deeply.
“Anyway I think the approach you prefer is valid and we will all learn much from it. I just don’t want to discourage other approaches and I know you are also NOT discouraging other ways of seeing, studying and enjoying Stein. Maybe this falls into a My Gertrude Stein like Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson.”