Friday, May 9, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Sound.", “A Table.", “Shoes." Part 2 of 2


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A SOUND: NUMBER 47
WORD COUNT......................-           18
STANZA(S)............................-           1
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A TABLE: NUMBER 48
WORD COUNT......................-           63
STANZA(S)............................-           2
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          SHOES: NUMBER 49
WORD COUNT......................-           42
STANZA(S)............................-           2
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.....................................-           OSCILLATING

I suppose the reason so many people dislike Stein's language is that she doesn't use any of the ‘dampers’ to which we are socially accustomed.” Eleanor Smagarinsky

I think Stein is giving us a peephole through the wall.” Karren Alenier


Elephant beaten with candy and little pops and chews all bolts and reckless reckless rats, this is this.


A table means does it not my dear it means a whole steadiness. Is it likely that a change.

A table means more than a glass even a looking glass is tall. A table means necessary places and a revision a revision of a little thing it means it does mean that there has been a stand, a stand where it did shake.


To be a wall with a damper a stream of pounding way and nearly enough choice makes a steady midnight. It is pus.

A shallow hole rose on red, a shallow hole in and in this makes ale less. It shows shine.

While Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Sound.", “ATable.", “Shoes." Part 1 of 2 dealt more with items of the physical world (such as animals, human body image, what sounds we imagine we hear from household objects, the physics of oscillation), Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Sound.", “A Table.", “Shoes." Part 2 of 2 deals heavily with things of the mind—philosophy, creative property (like The Red Shoes and Le Sacre du printemps) and writerly techniques.


Eleanor Smagarinsky kicked the discussion into a higher plane by discussing tables that vary in the number of legs they stand on and their variety of uses but then moved into a metaphysical discussion that employs tables and chairs to define reality and existence. She said “Philosophers discuss existentialism by using tables and chairs as examples” and then pointed to work by Sir Arthur Eddington who said two kinds of tables come to mind: the common sense table and the scientific table. Eleanor proceeded with a survey of tables in Section 1 “Objects” of Tender Buttons. What follows are excerpts from several subpoems with commentary from Steiny.

The change of color is likely and a difference a very little difference is prepared. Sugar is not a vegetable

A cushion has that cover. Supposing you do not like to change, supposing it is very clean that there is no change in appearance, supposing that there is regularity and a costume is that any the worse than an oyster and an exchange. Come to season that is there any extreme use in feather and cotton. Is there not much more joy in a table and more chairs and very likely roundness and a place to put them............

[Could that joy in a table and more chairs be about a renewed interest in living? That Stein has found love (sugar that is not a vegetable) and now sees what exists right in front of her in a domestic scene of furniture, which is re-emphasized in “A Table.”.]

More of double. 

A place in no new table...........

[In discussing “A Piece of Coffee.”, Eleanor and Steiny saw the “Coffee” table as a coming together place. Here in “A Table.”, Stein emphasizes stability and what can be seen as if this is a makeup table where one sees one’s self (more of double).]

Dirt and not copper makes a color darker. It makes the shape so heavy and makes no melody harder. 

It makes mercy and relaxation and even a strength to spread a table fuller. There are more places not empty. They see cover. 

[Periodic Table—a list of chemical elements—comes up in discussing “Dirt and Not Copper.”.  Over time, that table expanded as more discoveries of chemical elements were made. In “A Table.”, Stein weaves in hints of union with Alice Toklas (my dear, change, a revision of a little thing), such that one could stretch the periodic table to the monthly flow of womanly blood (period) and childbirth (a little thing).]

A large box is handily made of what is necessary to replace any substance. Suppose an example is necessary, the plainer it is made the more reason there is for some outward recognition that there is a result. 

A box is made sometimes and them to see to see to it neatly and to have the holes stopped up makes it necessary to use paper. 

A custom which is necessary when a box is used and taken is that a large part of the time there are three which have different connections. The one is on the table. The two are on the table. The three are on the table. The one, one is the same length as is shown by the cover being longer. The other is different there is more cover that shows it. The other is different and that makes the corners have the same shade the eight are in singular arrangement to make four necessary..........

[Philosophic argument seems to open the first three stanzas of subpoem 11 “A Box.” and its table-ness with its count of three is ponderous. So ponderous is this subpoem that Tracy Sonafelt saw this box as Tender Buttons and the table as the three-parts of Tender Buttons. What seems to be happening in “A Table.” is that Stein is announcing a writerly change, in fact, a more radical change coming with a birth (revision of a little thing) of new strategy that shakes the stability of the table the reader has become familiar with.]

A widow in a wise veil and more garments shows that shadows are even. It addresses no more, it shadows the stage and learning. A regular arrangement, the severest and the most preserved is that which has the arrangement not more than always authorised. 

A suitable establishment, well housed, practical, patient and staring, a suitable bedding, very suitable and not more particularly than complaining, anything suitable is so necessary........

[As Eleanor has pointed out chairs are companions to tables. Of all the furniture Stein chose to emphasize (and shall Steiny point out there is no subpoem for the bed, chest of drawers, buffet, lamp, etc.), chairs were a big and suitable topic about which the Buttons found an extraordinary number of things to discuss.

In Steinian analysis the word suitable can be broken into sui + table. The root of table is board. The root of suit is to follow. Sui brings to mind the Latin phrase sui generis, which means one of a kind and sui means of its own. Therefore sui-table might be thought to indicate a board of its own, where Stein is emphasizing that companionable chair that fits with a table that is not mentioned because it is a given. In the same way, “A Table.” points to its companion without naming it.]


Eleanor took the lead on “Shoes.” in her usual Joy-I-Dance (Jouissance) gusto. She said:

Karren, the minute you mentioned dance, I thought of ballet shoes. Bloody toes under the soft pink slippers, pounding away. And the story of ‘The Red Shoes’—in all its horrifying glory!!

“The perfect fit [for a pointe shoe is vital...especially if you're Cinderella after midnight, hehe.”

Eleanor also pointed out the association with the scandalous Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), which also features a young woman who dances herself to death, though in Le Sacre, the woman is a sacrifice during the spring ceremonies to ensure a successful planting season. The Buttons saw association with this ballet in their discussion of “In Between.  In “Modernism and Primitivism: Music,” a paper by M. Wollaeger, Eleanor highlights the following comment about Stein as well as comments made by Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:

Gertrude Stein on Le Sacre du Printemps [Note how Stein demotes the importance of the musical event, making the minors details of those around her in the audience just as important. Here again is what she claims to have learned from Cezanne: every part of the painting should be equally important.]: 

"Nijinsky did not dance in the Sacre du Printemps but he created the dance of those who did dance.

We arrived in the box and sat down in the three front chairs leaving one chair behind.  Just in front of us in the seats below was Guillaume Apollinaire.* He was dressed in evening clothes and he was industriously kissing various important looking ladies' hands.  He was the first one of his crowd to come out into the great world wearing evening clothes and kissing hands.  We were very amused and very pleased to see him do it.  It was the first time we had seen him doing it.  After the war they all did these things but he was the only one to commence before the war.

Just before the performance began the fourth chair in our box was occupied.  We looked around and there was a tall well-built young man, he might have been a dutchman, a scandinavian or an american and he wore a soft evening shirt with the tiniest pleats all over the front of it.  It was impressive, we had never even heard that they were wearing evening shirts like that.  That evening when we got home Gertrude Stein did a portrait of the unknown called a Portrait of One.

The performance began. No sooner had it commenced when the excitement began. The scene now so well known with its brilliantly coloured background now no all extraordinary, outraged the Paris audience. No sooner did the music begin and the dancing than they began to hiss. The defenders began to applaud. We could hear nothing, as a matter of fact I never did hear any of the music of the Sacre du Printemps because it was the only time I ever saw it and one literally could not, throughout the whole performance, hear the sound of music.

Steiny debated whether to include Stein’s account of the men Alice and she saw at the premier of Le Sacre du Printemps. Because of the comment on Stein remarking about what Cezanne taught her—every detail of a painting should manifest with equal importance—Steiny decided the whole passage, which describes the behavior of Guillaume Apollinaire (whom the Buttons learned a lot about in “A Little Called Pauline.")  and the well-dressed stranger (Carl Van Vechten who rapidly became a critically important friend to Stein) provide gloss on how Stein writes. One of the mysteries of “Shoes.” is the word pus, which, indeed, gets equal play in this subpoem. In Stein’s greater lexicon, a word with a yuk factor like pus is rare.

Eleanor’s rationale for this long example goes like this, “Is Stein, in this poem, possibly painting a word-portrait of The Rite of Spring? Is pus referring to both the sound of the hissing and the criticism that the music and ballet received? Printemps becomes pus? A fetid Spring?”


Karren responded to Eleanor as follows:

“I like your theory that Stein is creating a word portrait of The Rite of Spring.

“I can see that wall with damper, stream of pounding way as the [Rite of Spring] audience trying to wall off what they didn't like. 

“However, I think a positive shift happens in stanza two. There is less inebriation (this makes ale less) and something shines.”

But Eleanor saw things more from The Red Shoes side:

“Well... truth be told... I only came up with my Rite of Spring idea through my exploration of the possibility that the shoes are ballet shoes. I know almost nothing about the history of ballet, but the dates seemed to make sense, and I got a kick out of seeing pus as using the P and S from ‘Printemps.’ The music and choreography were so new and raw at that time, it must have felt (to the shocked, conservative audience) like a festering wound on the body of classical ballet.

“If we're to take the dance metaphor to a logical conclusion, it really should be the ballet The Red Shoes. After all, Hans Christian Anderson's heroine couldn't stop dancing—‘a stream of pounding,’ and she did have a choice to wear the shoes, but not to stop dancing.

“That second stanza, in this reading, would then show a very negative shift—
A shallow hole rose on red, a shallow hole in and in
I read this as a reference to a shallow grave with a bleeding body in it. The girl in The Red Shoes dances in a graveyard, and I think makes a bargain that her feet should be cut off, rather than die.
this makes ale less. = "this makes a less" - i.e. a decomposing corpse.

“It shows shine.
I read this ironically now. She wanted to ‘shine,’ to show off—she was vain. At the end she serves as a cautionary tale to children about the terrible consequences of vanity. And there's the ending of the tale, as she goes to church and all is forgiven [a quote from George Mason University’s webpage on Children & Youth in History]:
Then the organ swelled, and the children's choir sounded sweet and beautiful. The bright warm sunshine streamed through the window into the pew where Karen sat. Her heart was so filled with sunshine – with peace and happiness—that it burst. Her soul flew up to God on the rays of the sun, and no one there asked about the red shoes."

Steiny thinks that Eleanor’s interpretation of The Red Shoes applies better to the ballet than the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. In the ballet, the protagonist Vicky dies without redemption by either jumping or being forced to jump by the red shoes from a balcony, but in the fairytale, the protagonist Karen has had her feet chopped off and goes with prosthetic wooden feet back to the church where much of her troubles began and is eventually redeemed by an angel carrying the peace offering—a bouquet of roses. Here is more of the story from the same GMU source used by Eleanor:

At that moment the sun shone brightly, and right in front of her, in white robes, stood God's angel, the one she had seen at night in the doorway to the church. But rather than his sharp sword, he carried a beautiful green branch covered with roses. He touched the ceiling with the branch and the ceiling rose high in the air – a brilliant golden star appeared where he had touched it. Then he touched the walls and they widened. Karen looked at the organ as it was playing, and she saw the old pictures of vicars and vicar's wives; the congregation sat in the ornate pews and sang from their hymnals. The church itself had come to the poor girl in the little cramped room, or perhaps she had gone to the church. She sat in a pew with the other people from the vicarage, and when they had finished the hymn and looked up, they nodded and said, "It was good that you came, Karen."

Steiny now sees stanza 1 of “Shoes.” as Karen’s church and church congregation as the wall that judges her—a wall with a damper a stream of pounding way—for making bad choices that cast her into a dark and infected place— nearly enough choice makes a steady midnight. It is pus.  Stanza 2 brings judgment of the angel who redeems the wayward girl from a shallow pauper’s grave— A shallow hole. The angel comes with roses to cover the stumps that no longer can be inserted into the red shoes— A shallow hole rose on red, a shallow hole in and in. What the angel has done has made her less sick and elevated her spirit to show her heavenly light— this makes ale less. It shows shine.

So here Steiny emphasizes that Stein had created a braid of scandalous ballets and folktale that comments on the situation she and her love Alice must endure as they dance the dance of socially unapproved matrimony in defiance of prevailing patrimony and all that male dominance entails.


Almost without pause, Eleanor had this idea that glanced off It shows shine and oscillated back to "A Table.":

“I'm remembering Lisa Congdon's illustration for 'A Table.':
There may well be an argument to be made for 'A Table.' being about a woman's dressing table, with all of its many connotations:

"Is it likely that a change. -- Our faces/bodies change from day to day.
"more than a glass even a looking glass"—Are you more than your appearance? Do you know your ‘true’ identity? Is there more to you than meets the eye?
"a revision a revision—Ah. Indeed. The daily application of makeup. Sigh.”


Dave Green returned the conversation to “Shoes.” with these thoughts:
The first stanza is about pounding the pavement during the work week, rushing here and there. It is always a long day (steady midnight). Your feet are hurting at the end of the day (it is pus).

“The second stanza is about the weekend where you're wearing different shoes and out in the garden planting things like roses. The stress level goes down and you feel less of a need to drink (makes ale less). The world and yourself start to shine as the dampening effect of the workweek fades away.”

Jumping right back in, Eleanor said,

“Dave—planting roses!! Of course. I like the way you bring us back to the physical objects and settings. You dig a shallow hole to plant a rose.

“I quickly googled "Alice B Toklas gardening" and found this this [passage from The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book that talks about Alice’s love for growing raspberries and roses.]

“ALE LESS = ALICE [Eleanor’s epiphany.]

“So is GS looking at A's dirty gardening shoes? Or is she thinking of the different shoes each of them the homemaker, the other breadwinner?

“But what do you reckon is the pus???”

Claudia Schumann mused:

“The word 'pus' is not a very pleasant word to me. Pus is what is left over after your body fights an infection. It is a protein-rich, yellowish-white, liquid.

“From Karren's first post:
In these three subpoems things have been beaten, shaken, and pounded. There is an undercurrent of violence if not instability.

“Infection can be very violent—your body is ‘beaten, shaken, and pounded’ while fighting the infection. So after all this violence, the result is pus. Also, infection is an 'instability' in the body. But I really don't know why GS would be talking about an infection??”


Like the best detective never giving up, Eleanor came back with another Alice epiphany even grander than ALE LESS = ALICE:

“The terms of their endearment reflect their respective roles. According to Souhami [in her biography Gertrude and Alice], Alice was gay, kitten, pussy, baby, queen, cherubim, cake, lobster, wifie, Daisy, and her little jew [sic]. Gertrude was king, husband, hubbie, Mount fattie and fattuski. They scattered love notes to one another around their house, signed DD and YD (Dear Dear and Your Dear).

“It's just missing one ‘S,’ and yet it's perfect code. What is beautiful to one person is disgusting to another....perhaps??”

Swooning, Karren pronounced Pus deep code for Puss-Pussy-Alice! Dave was right as rain to see Alice gardening, given the prolonged dream Gertrude and Alice had about have a country retreat. Even in Gertrude’s last days, they were out in the countryside looking to buy a country estate to replace the ones they inhabited during World War II.


And was the well dry with Eleanor after all this amazing work? No! Eleanor continued:

“If we bring in the previous theme of oscillation into this poem, then the ‘steady’ part of that clock could be the pendulum [In his extended discussion on oscillation, part of which is noted at the end of Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A Sound.", “A Table.", “Shoes." Part 1 of 2, Peter had referenced a video showing the unexpected behaviors of a pendulumIf we bring in the theme of vibration, then the ‘damper’ could be this (from Wiki):

—A device in various keyboard instruments for deadening the vibrations of the strings
—A mute for various brass instruments, see: Mute (music)
—A damper or sustain pedal, a device that mutes musical tones, particularly in stringed instruments

“Although I had originally thought it could refer to the ‘box’ of the ballet shoe:

“The ‘pounding’ might be the rowdy audience, or the power of the new artistic vibrations—Karren's gallumphing elephant. I suppose the reason so many people dislike Stein's language is that she doesn't use any of the ‘dampers’ to which we are socially accustomed. Funnily enough, dancers [like Mikhail Baryshnikov] make very loud pounding noises, for all of their apparent gracefulness.”

Mary Armour responded:
“I like this, Eleanor—what are uncontained and noisy rhythms all about in Stein? She writes so often about the sound of her poodle Basket lapping water from his bowl, the waves pounding on the beach as she composes the piece on Picasso, the echoes of lovemaking.”

Karren Alenier [a.k.a. Steiny] called for clarification:

“I'm interested in this idea that Stein doesn't use any of the dampers we are socially accustomed to. Just to be sure we are on the same wavelength, Eleanor, what are some of the dampers we are socially accustomed to?

“What comes to mind in the theater is that people tend to shush noisy folks around them. That is a damper directed toward noise and is considered socially acceptable.

Pus is a damper and not socially acceptable but Stein doesn't hurl this at us, but just observes that what has come before is just pus. uggg. Should we think of that wall as infected?

“I think Stein is giving us a peephole through the wall.”

Eleanor rejoined:

“Ah...well... I was thinking of LINGUISTIC ‘dampers’— i.e. the use of familiar and comforting syntax and metaphor which lull the reader into feeling that he/she ‘gets’ the poem.

“Lyrical poetry is a kind of ‘damper,’ ensuring that the readers don't hear anything too loud/harsh/abrasive. Stein is all about taking the dampers off the language, and each word she uses feels like ‘a pounding way’ to new linguistic territory.

“....and a lot of readers find Stein's language disgusting, much like pus. My first experience reading Stein was so shocking that I did, indeed, feel physically nauseated. I have read that others have had similar experiences (and I reckon most ModPoers did, and therefore steered clear of the buttons). It's not the content of the words she uses, it's something about the strange newness of her language that throws most readers off-balance and makes them feel sick.”

Agreeing, Karren added:

“Wonderful, Eleanor. Stein uses linguistic dampers like the word pus. The 19th century writer was all about the lyric, the rose-colored vision. Xcept Stein's rose color could turn out to be blood and, worse, women's blood during that certain time of the month.”


Then Karren saw another way to look at “Shoes.”:

“Could the setting of "Shoes." be an inn?
“I see a wall with fireplace where the innkeeper and his wife might be working away even at midnight. Maybe someone has brought in some meat from a hunt and the meat must be pounded to soften it. Maybe the bloody meat is as tough as shoe leather.”

Eleanor responded: “Oh K, he's TENDERising  the meat. Pleasing.”

Karren continued:

The funny thing (at least funny to me) is that the elephant in ‘A Sound.’ seems like the possible meat and the table in ‘A Table.’ seems part of the furniture in this story about the inn.”
Excited Peter threw in his impressions:
“I think it was the tenderising the meat that did it, but now, it all seems deeply erotic to me. A stream of pounding, nearly enough (but not quite, go on, a little more, until I just can’t stand it), in the dark of midnight, a shallow hole, a rose on red (the red rose bud in the hood, (and its international rose bud awareness week too, how fantastic is that?) and in and in (further, deeper) the shallow hole makes ale less ( Alice). It shows shine (it makes her glow). 

As Eleanor’s grandfather emphasized to her: the only real property is the property of the mind, Steiny will close this session of Jouissance by insisting on a moment of motionless, soundless reverence for the sacred creation of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and how this work has brought together a group of people from across the globe to revel in this work and each other. The Buttons see that Stein mixes high and low culture in a very democratic way. The daily living is all fair game in her writing. This is why she exceeds the Modernists, most of whom were intellectual elitists. She continues to move out into the future because her concentration is on now and rooted in what we can reach out and touch. That’s why philosophers need to talk about tables and chairs. Stein reassures us that all things and ideas are connected.

No comments: