Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Drawing.” Part 1 of 2


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           A DRAWING: NUMBER 30
STANZAS..............................-           1
WORD COUNT......................-          38
THE LEADER........................-           THE STEINY ROAD POET
GENRE..................................-           VIRTUAL OPERA
LOCATION............................-           USA, UK, Australia, Philippines, S. Africa, Canada.
TIME......................................-           ALL HOURS OF EARTH’S CLOCK
TONE.....................................-           EXPANSIVE

“How wonderful that GS should come straight back at us with such a  statement about meaning after all our talk and musings in the last thread about in what way(s), how, or if, she [Stein] conveyed meaning.” Peter Treanor


The meaning of this is entirely and best to say the mark, best to say it best to show sudden places, best to make bitter, best to make the length tall and nothing broader, anything between the half.

That the Steiny Road Poet is still able to pull on her boots and move forward after processing long discussions like “Careless Water.” is only made more remarkable by the magnitude of big themes discussed in conjunction with “A Drawing.”.

Inside the ModPo Discussion Forum where all this Tender Buttons study is taking place, Steiny exclaimed, “I love how we mark through endless lists of possibility--river measurement, Hobbit bloodletting, midpoint (wisdom) of Sefirot, Super Bowl drawing, pen & ink drawing, a portrait of Moses’ Sister Miriam, until we get full and Dave [Green] quotes Rabbi Tarfon: ‘It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.’”

And should Steiny say that the Buttons never seemed to be sated on this discussion and kept coming back with more thoughts. So added to this list were associations with erections, comparative symbology (vinculum and solidus), lesbian lovemaking, contemporary French philosophy (including Écriture Feminine of Luce Irigaray), Egyptian myth of Isis, ordinal numbers, String Theory, the element Thorium, and who knows what was overlooked in this stream of ideas.

Here in part 1 of "A Drawing.", Steiny ipauses for those skeptical about the scope of this discussion. Steiny raised the question during this study session how deeply can we associate? Peter Treanor responded, “I think as deeply as we like or are able to. But I  think we can only say I think rather than I know with our associations. Best not to become association fundamentalists.” So, Dear Reader, be warned, that here there exists no gospel—no absolute truth—but plenty of Steinian circularity. Put on your boots, we are wading in.


best to say the mark… best to make the length tall and nothing broader, anything between the half.

Pictorially, Allan Keeton responded:
                                                                between the half

                                      Mark                  Twain

make the length tall and nothing broader

                          Tall tales
                                           &    b  r  o  a  d  

This caused Judy Meibach to scratch her head and so Steiny jumped in with a definition of mark that included:

6. Nautical
a.    A knot or piece of material placed at various measured lengths on a sounding line to indicate the depth of the water.

Allan also glossed his picture with:

between the half 
is the place between something that was whole,
but has now been cut (there's that cutting again) in twain.

Since mark shows up earlier,
I heard 

                 Mark Twain

being drawn forth from “A Drawing.”

Thus we see Stein taking a measurement, like a Mississippi boat captain tossing down a knotted line to see how deep and can he navigate through this part of the river.


As if this were a card game on one of those Mississippi riverboats, Mary Armour said,

“Like your Mark Twain, Allan, and raise you with JR Tolkien:

I will draw you, Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound. - Gandalf.

Hmm, Steiny joins Judy in puzzlement. Is this the groom Gertrude on her wedding night with bride Alice piercing the hymen?


Moving along, Peter pondered,
“There is so much to mark in mark. To mark and draw.

“And best best best best best, five times. Only one thing can be best surely, five things can’t all be best can they? Unless there is a bestest.

Best so sounds like Est, (east in French ) or the impersonal verb IS (from etreto be). Is she pointing us eastwards again? Or telling us that the meaning of THIS IS IS, it is, to be, to be is the meaning, to be est, entirely and totally be.

“But what/ how is best?
its best to say
             to say
             to show
             to make
             to make.. She says.

“And they are all ways of expressing yourself artistically, or just expressing yourself, to make something with meaning, to convey meaning.

“And what does she say to engage in these activities with? Mark, sudden places, bitter, length tall and nothing broader, anything between the half.

“So what are they?

Marks, (words/lines pencil/ink on paper)
Sudden places, maybe are  performance spaces, spontaneous occasions
Bitter, emotion(s) maybe
Length tall (height) breadth, three-dimensional space
Anything between the half, well, I don’t know about this, its very enigmatic. Between the half could be he ha, could she mean comedy? Humour? he ha what a laugh!

“Is she talking about ways to convey meaning, is she conveying meaning, is she saying the meaning is IS, to be, we are. Maybe these are the conclusions she is drawing in the drawing, the meaning she is meaning.

Steiny jumped in quoting this from Peter’s thoughts:
the meaning of THIS IS  IS, it is, to be, to be is the meaning, to be est, entirely and totally be.

Then she said to Peter:
“I think you have nailed her insistence about being in the present moment—continuous present. This is what William James taught her about how the window of now is hard to achieve.

“Maybe there is also something here about physics. Einstein's Theory of Relativity (1905) combines space and time together. One explanation I read explained it this way: space is three dimensions and time adds the fourth dimension.”

Still caught up in what was between the half, Peter suggested the study group was again looking at the infinity called fractals. Steiny digging in deep lobbed out this big bomb:  anything between the half might fall into the gematria [kaballalistic number analysis] of the 5th Sefirot [kaballalistic Tree of Life], Gevurah, something the Buttons had discussed in pairing the fourth Commandment with “A Box.”. Steiny liked this possibility because Gevurah [restraint, judgment, power] is associated Chesed (loving kindness, mercy), God's 72 hidden names, and divine love for what he has created. Basically, Gevurah fits with this repeating best to, which seems like Stein trying to make a judgment on how to proceed.

Meanwhile Peter tinkered with The meaning of this is. What he saw was Isis but this was ignored in the heat of the larger Buttons discussion. Because this subject borders on Fourth Dimension conceptualization (as in the life of the mind), Steiny will come back to the Egyptian myth of Isis anon.


“I'm not a big sports fan,” Dave said, “but this clearly sounds like the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is a ‘drawing’ in the sense that it is a contest. Its purpose is to determine which team can hit the mark. Not just which team says they are the best, but which team can prove that by dynamic plays that suddenly get them big yardage and into the end zone. By making the other team taste the bitterness of defeat. By throwing long passes that are precisely targeted. And, of course, the half time show (what happens between the halves) is a lot of fun too. Or maybe Stein was thinking about the World Series since she was a baseball fan.”


Sarah Maitland Parks, Dave Green, and Eleanor Smagarinsky huddle over associations to drawings, particularly cubist drawings where multiple angles of a subject can be seen. Eleanor offered this riff on the biblical character Miriam:

“I see a portrait too, it's of a poet—Miriam. 
M is for Matthew & Mark, also Moses.
But Moses had a sister—Miriam.
M for meaning, M for mark.
Who makes a better mark on history, who has the better meaning?
Miriam was a leader, a poet, and a prophet.
Her name means embittered (MAR is the Hebrew root meaning bitter).
After the Red Sea split in two (halves) during the Exodus, Miriam wrote a poem and all the women danced and sang. ‘Song of the Sea’ it's called. Look how it has to be written by the scribe... like Allan's poems, form shows the content.
Her gift to the people was a moving well - it was her well, which provided the Children of Israel with water throughout their travels in the desert.
After Miriam died, the well dried up, all that was left was a rock. Moses hit the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it, and was punished by never setting foot in Canaan.”


As with all abstractions, sometimes the best next move is distraction and so Steiny made a party to celebrate Gertrude Stein’s 140th birthday but pretty soon Tamboura Gaskins wandered back to the study hall with these thoughts:

While the party goes on, I have been struck with a thought:


The meaning of this is entirely and best to say the mark, best to say it best to show sudden places, best to make bitter, best to make the length tall and nothing broader, anything between the half.
A drawing ==> an act of drawing ==> to move or pass, especially slowly or continuously, as under a pulling force ==> an erection

The meaning of this is entirely and best to say the mark, ==> Restructuring this phrase, “It is entirely and best to say that the meaning of this is the mark.” ==> Here, we’re being instructed to think of this meta-poetically: the meaning is in the mark, and the mark is the writing, the words, on the page.
…best to say it… ==> Go ahead, Alice B., say it…
…best to show sudden places, ==> Go ahead, Alice B., show how it is done ==> these sudden places are a sudden erection, a sudden ejaculation, a sudden orgasm ==> a drawing, or stroke of the penis, is best to show these sudden places

…best to make bitter, ==> Go ahead, Alice B., even if in doing it, I have to swallow a bitter pill
…best to make the length tall and nothing broader, ==> Go ahead, Alice B., arouse them…I know you prefer them long with not much girth
…anything between the half. ==>“half” when written as a fraction is one-stroke-two; the stroke is between the one and two, ergo “between the half” ==> the one and two represent the penis and the testicles ==> the stroke is the “drawing” that lengthens, but does not broaden  ==> “anything between the half” is a question here, perhaps; is there anything or anyone who might lengthen the stroke on the penis?  Alice, is there anything between the half?

“Tamboura, I so like that way you've drawn connections here,” responded Mary Armour who had also broken away from the Gertrude’s birthday party, “I do think GS was so informed by a phallocentric  society in a way we perhaps might not be, or  at least we might  pose  fluidity and  clitoral and lipocentric metaphors as against that phallus. We're  post-Lacan [French psychoanalyst-psychiatrist Jacques Marie Émile Lacan], we know the lips moving against one another, the speculum of Irigaray [French feminist-philosopher-linguist Luce Irigaray], that the  realm of the Phallus as Father is not absolute. Gertrude was just beginning the undoing of that patriarchal mindset but she laid claim to it as a woman who wanted to be a man on her terms.

“A lesbian friend of mine  had a T-shirt she wore in the 1990s that read 'I  like penises so long as they're not on men.'”
When Steiny returned to the restarted study session, she suggested to Mary that not everyone knew the work of Lacan and Irigaray.
“Karren [a.k.a. Steiny], you're right—I'm dashing in and out and  scattering obscure references like dimpled bon-bons,” Mary quipped and then continued more seriously:

“For some years, side-stepping the temptation of essentialism, I read French feminists on  what is called Écriture féminine or 'women writing the body' and revelled in the  jouissance (orgasmic blissfulness) of Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Catherine Clément (The Weary Sons of Freud) and the great daunting writer and psychologist Julia Kristeva. I was  hoping to be  able to unlearn some of the  patriarchal bleakness of Jacques Lacan who influences many Francophiles and not always for the better. (William James, the lingering influence of  Charcot as well as the scientific laboratory at Harvard may have  damped GS's enthusiasm for the new study of human psychology in something of the same way).

“Many of the French  feminist theorists sought to reclaim the  womanly body for pleasure and creativity, to look at  writing through the body and Luce Irigaray saw women's sexual pleasure as something diffuse and proliferating in its multiplicity and  Otherness: " a woman has sex organs just about everywhere…the geography of her pleasure is much more diversified, more multiple in its differences, more complex, more subtle, than is imagined” by phallocentric ideologies.

“I find that GS moves back and forth, sideways and in all ways between options and understandings of a differently gendered body.”

Then Mary address issues brought up by Peter:

“Peter, when you speak about  gender and  geldings seen as entire, what it might mean to be unmanned and yet whole, to have survived the bitterness of cultural castration, to be a woman  sexually potent with an imaginary penis, we come closer to  why GS was able to  play with the notions of length, thickness, potency of  the penis, considerations that often evoke such anxiety about  sufficiency, amplitude and performance in heterosexual men. Whatever Gertrude has is enough to satisfy Alice, it is le meilleur (best) in le tailleur (measure), the best in the length, it is unexpected in sudden places and thrilling, it is 'measureless to man' and perfect in itself.”


While acknowledging the physicality of what Tamboura and Mary addressed, Peter rejoined his own musing on anything between the half in this way:

Half when written as a fraction is one-stroke-two [1/2]; the stroke is between the one and two, ergo between the half ==> the one and two represent the penis and the testicles ==> the stroke is the drawing that lengthens, but does not broaden ==> anything between the half is a question here, perhaps; is there anything or anyone who might lengthen the stroke on the penis?  Alice, is there anything between the half?

“This phrase has been puzzling me for a while, I liked the fraction idea and the notion that the fraction bar is ACTUALLY between the numbers of the fraction. So I looked up fraction bars. There are two types apparently, a horizontal one—(erect penis I guess) called a vinculum | and a forward slash / (very impressive erect  penis!), called a solidus. The fantastic thing about the solidus is it has many uses one of which is gender-neutrality in Spanish and Portuguese.”

So for example:

In Portuguese and Spanish, as well in other West Iberian languages, many feminine forms are very similar to the masculine ones, differing only by an extra desinence, usually an "-a". For instance, the feminine of "pintor" ("male painter" both in Spanish and Portuguese) is "pintora". These two forms can be joined together through a slash: pintor/a. Proponents of gender-neutral language assert that this composed form should be used when the sex of the person referred to is unknown or when a description fits both sexes. Traditionally, speakers of these languages (and others from the Romance family) employ the masculine form in this sense, even when the description is also suitable for a woman.

“I think the idea of conveying gender neutrality or ambiguity,” Peter continued, “seems to fit with GS's persona and gender ambiguity/ neutrality and seems to slot into the idea of an erect penis.  Love the fact that you found the solidus [Tamboura’s description evoked the solidus without naming it]. Even its name suggests engorged erectile tissue!”

Then the Buttons moved collective energy to discuss “Water Raining.” and “Cold Climate.”. That is, until Steiny stirred up some muddy water here on the topic of Isis. 

Boots on, brollies up. On to Part II.

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