Monday, May 12, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Dog.", “A White Hunter." Part 1 of 3


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A DOG: NUMBER 50
WORD COUNT......................-           30
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A WHITE HUNTER: NUMBER 51
WORD COUNT......................-           6
STANZA(S)............................-           1 EACH
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.....................................-           JAUNTY BUT CRAZED

Fiction or non-fiction? Can we learn about A & G's relationship from these poems?” Eleanor Smagarinsky


A little monkey goes like a donkey that means to say that means to say that more sighs last goes. Leave with it. A little monkey goes like a donkey.


A white hunter is nearly crazy.


Because the dimensionality of this study discussion ran in so many directions and the Steiny Road Poet asked for help mapping it, Eleanor Smagarinsky devised a new way to approach the work The Buttons Collective accomplished. I call her sound file “Dog and Hunter Overture.” In approximately 20 minutes, Eleanor reads highlights of The Buttons commentary made over a period of one week mixed with excerpts from John Ashbery’s poetry. Given the begs-to-be-read-aloud aspect of Gertrude Stein’s writing, this creative approach meshes resoundingly with studying Tender Buttons.


Among the topics and approaches broached (Steiny’s initial list) were:
--Crazy lyricism (nursery rhymes)
--Pillow Talk
--Marriage Journal
--Stein Speak, Translation, System to Pointing
--Word play (anagrams, etc.)

and Eleanor’s preliminary list:
Allan's [Keeton] translation - "What makes us human?"
Dave's [Green] translation - "Metapoetic transmutation"
Allan's metapoetic poem in response to Dave's translation.
Eleanor's feminist response to Dave&Allan's metapoetic translations.
Karren's [Alenier a.k.a. Steiny] political/historical translation.

Astounded at the discussion, Eleanor said,

“I just scrolled through this thread and my head exploded. 

“A first thought—it feels like each of us has ‘translated’ the poems in a different way. Perhaps this blogpost could be set up as an ‘Anthology of Translations,’ so that each vision remains (as much as is possible) complete and unique. By breaking up each translation into its themes, we risk losing the vision for the detail.”

Peter Treanor who began the discussion on translation, scratched his head and replied,

umm....just a thought,  could the whole shebang not be cut and pasted with the more  off-piste stuff edited? It would retain the flow, but would it be toooo long and rambling?

“It does seem like an enormous and difficult task to condense it down when you read it, I really don’t know how you do it, Karren.

“People's themes is a good idea, but then we all fly off on so many tangents and have so many themes going at different times, but maybe we could do it and see what it was like. Maybe people could map out their own themes from their posts and we could have a final communal stitching/linking it all together at the end. Like a patchwork quilt.

“We could do with something like a Wikipedia page that everyone can post and edit into, to build it up, if such a thing is possible.

“I’ve never done anything like this before, writing up in this way, but I’ve got a bit of time on my hands and am up for giving it a go. Point me in the right direction, and I'll have a go at it!!”


The process of how the ModPo Massive Open Online Study Group of Tender Buttons works comes back into focus in this session. First, the Steiny Road Poet will relay part of a complicated exchange dealing with journals, translation, and close reading that evolved in working on “A Dog." and “A White Hunter." and then Steiny will turn back to a review on “A Substance in a Cushion.”.

Speaking to Eleanor, Peter commented:

“I didn’t know that a pillow book was an actual thing, and yet there it is in your grandfather's library.

More generally, a pillow book is a collection of notebooks or notes which have been collated to show a period of someone or something's life. In Japan such kind of idle notes are generally referred to the zuihitsu genre. [quoted from Wikipedia on The Pillow Book.]

“Seems to be a bit like what Tender Buttons is, a collection of notes collated to show a period of someone’s life. A marriage journal, but written in a foreign language.”

Eleanor responding to Peter:

“Pete, when you wrote ‘but written in a foreign language,’ I immediately changed my way of looking at TB, and it's compelling.

“So let's say that we view Stein's button-language as its own language (as you put it so eloquently), completely different to English...but at times ‘sounding’ like English. Many modern (& contemporary) poets play freely with different creative modes of translation into English, but they do that with ‘obviously’ different languages—like French or Japanese or Latin. Why couldn't we do that with Stein? But wait....isn't that what we of the Button Collective are, in fact, doing?

“If we agree that Stein's language is ‘foreign’ and is to be ‘translated’ into English, then our translation is limited only by our own creativity. And that, I do believe, is the story of the Button Collective.”


“…If we say/think that GS is using another language system (and she seems to be, or using an established language but in a different way), how would you go about deciphering it?

“I thought to myself where do you start with decoding/deciphering another language? What examples are there for this and thought too that she was as clear as hieroglyphics at times. So I wondered how they [the experts] went about decoding hieroglyphs. I found it really interesting reading the description of Egyptian hieroglyphs, especially from ‘decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing’ section onward, on the wiki-p page. It seemed to have lots of parallels to reading TB especially in the way that the glyphs can be operating on several levels and have different functions all at the same time.

It is a complex system, writing figurative, symbolic, and phonetic all at once, in the same text, the same phrase, I would almost say in the same word.[15] [quoted in Wikipedia on Egyptian Hieroglyphs.]

“I thought she [Stein] would like that as an idea. And It felt like how GS seems to employ words at times, or so it seems when reading her, is it a homophone, a pun, an anagram or all of these or what? 

“What they got (that led to them cracking the code), that we haven't, is a piece of parallel text in a language they knew that was the same as the  hieroglyphs so they could work it out.

“Stein loved a mystery, a good detective story (apparently), feels like she has left a huge one in the form of TB, but is there a key to unlocking it hidden away somewhere?”


“The parallel texts are The Button Collective threads—we aren't translating into English, but into a common language (Buttonish??), which is more accessible to the average English speaker. Our texts here, right here, are to be used by readers of this forum so as to reach their own English translations.”

Dave Green joined the conversation, first quoting Eleanor and then adding his own thoughts:

If we agree that Stein's language is ‘foreign’ and is to be ‘translated’ into English, then our translation is limited only by our own creativity. And that, I do believe, is the story of the Button Collective. [Eleanor Smagarinsky]

“Stein has created her own system of pointing, which is provocative because it is different from what we take for granted. But in trying to interpret and translate it, we end up creating our own systems of pointing, our Buttons threads. It's like a universe giving birth to baby universes through the process of cosmic inflation. And each new universe, while related to the Stein universe, is given a special twist by our unique backgrounds, personalities, and how we interact with each other. So we end up with a very rich multi-verse. 

“The other analogy that I think of is that TB is like the Torah and our threads are like the Talmud.”


“Karren, if we follow Dave's Talmud analogy, what you do when you write up your posts's like you're writing down our ‘Oral Law.’ Our Forum comments are conversational, even though we are ‘writing,’ the Coursera template makes it much more informal and ephemeral. It's very very hard to transcribe a conversation in an orderly and logical way, frankly....I still don't know how you do it. Your patience is amazing.”


Here is where Steiny pauses the Dog/Hunter discussion to reference Ten BUTS Thru Ten COMMS: CUSHION & SACRED NAME, a review session on “A Substance in a Cushion.”. In this past review, Eleanor tied the English word cushion to the Hebrew word kushiot, which means questions. In the close studies that religious Jews do of sacred texts, various obstacles present themselves. The process of kushiot has developed techniques for overcoming these obstacles. These techniques listed in the review discussion bear repeating:

--repetition (things told twice)
--missing information (very common in sacred texts)
--key words repeated 3, 7, or 10 times in one passage or story
--seemingly unnecessary information
--repeating comparisons and contrasts with small differences
--difficult words and grammar
--echoes from story to story;
--issues of moral behavior
--symmetry (words or verses in a symmetrical pattern)
--out-of-order sequencing

As Steiny exclaimed loudly once before, “Eureka! Kushiot is a catalog for how to approach Tender Buttons.”

And another thing she will enunciate carefully—Tender Buttons is a sacred text not to be confused with a scared test. In Tender Buttons, Stein was making her matrimonial Bible, her marriage journal, her diary of pillow talk, her bliss catalog of word pictures, her coded lesbian love troth.

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