Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Little Bit of a Tumbler.”


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A LITTLE BIT OF A TUMBLER: NUMBER 38
WORD COUNT......................-           51
STANZA(S)............................-           1
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.....................................-           PREPPED


A shining indication of yellow consists in there having been more of the same color than could have been expected when all four were bought. This was the hope which made the six and seven have no use for any more places and this necessarily spread into nothing. Spread into nothing.

While this subpoem seems to indicate the confusion of 6’s & 7’s, it also seems well anchored to the root subpoem that begins Tender Buttons (i.e. “The difference is spreading.”) So the Steiny Road Poet optimistically believes the "shining indication of yellow" will yield light.

Topics associated with “A Little Bit of a Tumbler.” were flat-bottomed drinking glasses,
the Stein family relationships (Tamboura Gaskins pointed out there were seven births to Daniel and Amelia Stein but two died in infancy), gymnasts, intoxication, lock mechanisms, an off-balance person falling, a machine for smoothing and polishing semi-precious stones, and a quick sexual encounter.

Most of the study focused on possible grammatical strategies that Stein might have been toying with.


Using the word “four” as a methodological pointer, Sarah Maitland Parks came up empty on interesting four-letter words. The words been, more, same, than, have, when, four, were, hope, made, this, into “seem oddly bland when set one after another.” However, Eleanor Smagarinsky saw Sarah’s observation married with Tamboura Gaskin’s definition of “tumbler”—tumbler ==> def. (n), a part that moves a gear in a train of gears into and out of engagement as another way—as another possible way into Stein’s language play. Here is Eleanor working out the permutations of Steinian possibilities:

This "tumbler"— is it a part of language that moves a gear of meaning in and out of engagement? Is "a little bit of a tumbler" perhaps "a little bit of a word"?

"all four were bought"
So what if these four are the first four words of the poem?

"A shining indication of"

I see IN, IN, IN, ON OF.

Continue to read the poem:

"....yellow consISts IN there havINg been mORe OF the same colOR than could have been expected when all four were bought."

Stein's defining the phrase "A shining indication of" as meaning "having more of the same color than could have been expected." It makes sense.....a shining color seems to have more color than a non-shiny color!

The 6th and 7th words of the poem are cONsISts IN -- 
ON IS IN— are these little bits of tumblers which engage language?

The phrase "consists in" is "the hope which use for any more places." Again, Stein is defining "consists in" - when we say that something exists in a specific space, we are really tricking ourselves, hoping that the thing (word) has only one place (meaning)....but Stein won't allow us to trick ourselves. She shows us that language is never that simple - 

"this necessarily spread into nothing. Spread into nothing."



Eleanor also said:

“We've moved away from time now, and we seem to be in space. 
Something was bought—so we're in tender=barter=currency territory. 

“Like the game show, “Wheel of Fortune,” Eleanor asks:
Are we buying letters? words? their meanings? Does the sense of space here refer to the space between words or in words? in language? Do the letters have a numerical value?”

Steiny wanted to know if Eleanor was expecting to calculate a gematria value. She said,

“I'm just exploring the letters, no gematria or system. It feels like Stein is having some fun with exploring how her readers will try to find meaning in her objects, and the way we do that is to ‘position’ these objects (contextualise?) - IN history / society / biography / numerology / astronomy / theology / philosophy / linguistic theory etc. etc.

“So we try to find a ‘currency’ for the objects—a way to relate one word to another, or a set of words to a specific experience or fact.
When we say ‘a tumbler is a glass,’ this is a type of linguistic currency, equivalent to saying ‘an American dollar is 103 Japanese Yen.’"


Meanwhile Tamboura pointed out Stein’s actual use of these four prepositions: of (twice), in, for and into (twice).

This exchange sent Steiny to Stein’s Lectures in America because Steiny knew Stein had pretty decided ideas about preposition use. Here are some quotes from Stein’s Lectures:

 “I have told you that I recognize verbs and adverbs aided by prepositions and conjunctions with pronouns as possessing the whole of the active life of writing.”

“Moving is existing.”

“…I like to write with prepositions and conjunctions and articles and verbs and adverbs but not with nouns and adjectives.”

Later in Stein’s career she wrote this, an excerpt from “Patriarchal Poetry” (1927):

For before let it before to be before spell to be before to be before to have to be to be for before to be tell to be to having held to be to be for before to call to be for to be before to till until to be till before to be for before to be until to be for before to for to be for before will for before to be shall to be to be for to be for to be before still to be will before to be before for to be to be for before to be before such to be for to be much before to be for before will be for to be for before to be well to be well before to be before for before might while to be might before to be might while to be might before while to be might to be while before for might to be for before to for while to be while for before while before to for which as for before had for before had for before to for to before.

So by abundantly using the preposition in “Patriarchal Poetry,” Stein moved language out of the staidness of expected grammar. That Eleanor has pulled out prepositions mostly from Stein’s nouns to ramp up the action of Stein’s actual prepositions offers a new way of seeing the moving parts—the gears of those little prepositional bits of a tumbler.

Tamboura had these thoughts on the grammar bits:

“It has just struck me cold that while the subtitles of Tender Buttons contain concrete nouns, most of the body of the work seems to be centered around abstract nouns cloaked in descriptive adjectives:”

Concrete Noun

Abstract Nouns

Descriptive Adjectives

Tamboura raised various questions about what Stein was attempting to convey or to effect—

Is it just a technique for connecting all of the buttons of Tender Buttons?  Is she saying more about the types of Objects that are of interest here?

“This makes me think of an analogy to abstract painting, but with words--the subject of the painting / poem is concrete, but the expression of the creative work is a sensorial abstraction.  I believe abstract art and expression would have been very influential in the late 19th century, around the time Tender Buttons was conceived.” 


One of the usual questions about Tender Buttons is why Stein used so many nouns.  Steiny believes the answer to this is intricately tied up with why she wrote the poem—it is a love poem to her partner Alice Toklas. In the opening of her lecture “Poetry and Grammar,” Stein writes,

“…a noun is a name of a thing, and therefore slowly if you feel what is inside that thing you do not call it by the name by which it is known.”

Here Steiny steps back and says, yes, one makes up a string of names which obviates the need for the original name. This is especially true of one’s “object of affection.”

Responding to Eleanor, Peter Treanor became rhapsodic:

Oh Eleanor, I like finding currency for the objects. Currency as in tender, but current as in now, and also flow. What do these words mean now to me , or now in this piece, and how do they flow with what has gone before and maybe after?

“And the little words (makes me think of leprechauns) are prepositions ( thank you for the on going grammar lesson!). So is GS proposing to us in this one?—with all those preposition positions. So are we now engaged in the piece, betrothed to the button? [The Buttons Collective call the subpoems of Tender Buttons buttons.]”

Steiny, taking her cue here, quipped,

Some comments from Peter here and other parts of this study session, regarding being proposed to, make me think ‘A Bit of a Tumbler.’ could in fact be a sexual come on, whether it be in the case of GS & ABT for life or for the moment.

“And look what we have before this subpoem—‘A Time To Eat.’ and this being a time for sex, no?”

Eleanor, taking a longer view,  saw tumbling dice and pointed the study group to the Rolling Stone Song that not only includes the word tumbling but also the phrase “all sixes and sevens.” Then she said Shakespeare also used the word tumble.

Here Peter promptly supplied this passage spoken by Ophelia (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5)

Indeed, without an oath I’ll make an end on ’t:
By Gis and by Saint Charity,
  Alack, and fie, for shame!
Young men will do ’t, if they come to ’t.
  By Cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, “Before you tumbled me,
  You promised me to wed.”
He answers,
“So would I ha' done, by yonder sun,
  An thou hadst not come to my bed.”

Then Peter, with opening and closing accents of Boy George singing “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” and Frank Sinatra crooning “New York, New York,” provided this close reading:

“All righty let’s get Anglo Saxon about this. So a tumble as a bit of a romp. It’s a common slang term in the UK for a quickie. A shining indication of yellow could this be pale skin in the sun or candlelight? My skin is looking yellow not pink in the lamplight now. And there is more skin on display than would have been expected, so was this an unexpected tumble? Um, then there are all fours, ahem, on all fours maybe? And bought, well maybe bought meaning purchase. Purchase as in getting a good contact. And six and seven as at sixes and sevens as the disarray of the passionate act, the frenzy? Or six as sex and seven as heaven. So the sex act resulted in such heaven that there was no need to explore any more places, zones (on the body) and the ecstasy that it produces was like spreading into oblivion or nothing-ness, It was so good she says it twice (like New York New York, which also starts by spreading (the news)), or maybe there were two orgasms, her's and Alice's. 
Tumbler also sounds a little bit like tumble her.”


One last flicker of thought, Steiny will add is that this subpoem could be a wistful ode to the gas lamps. At the time Tender Buttons was being completed, Leo Stein left 27 rue de Fleurus, the famous apartment he and Gertrude shared. Once he left, she updated the apartment by replacing the gas lamps with electric lights. Perhaps among the gas lamps were four particularly ornate glass enclosures—tumblers—that the sister-brother couple bought and maybe replaced six or seven less effective ones. What is known is that the place was very dark and it was so hard to see the art that visitors often lit matches to have a better look at the details.

So having served up the highlights of the Buttons Collective discussion on “A Little Bit of a Tumbler.”, Steiny picks up her lantern and moves on.

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