Thursday, March 5, 2015

Stepping Up Tender Buttons Objects: “A box.” subpoem 4

THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           A box: NUMBER 4
WORD COUNT......................-          78
STANZA(S)............................-          1reducing inflammation
Other TBO Study Links…….-              Link 1, Link 2      
THE LEADER........................-           THE STEINY ROAD POET

The ones who herd and the ones who are herded have indeed boxed themselves.” Pramila Venkateswaran

Is pin a stand-in for Alice Toklas? In that Toklas was a sticking point for Stein. Whether that is good or bad was something Stein debated with herself.” Karren Alenier

Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.

Working on the assumption that the first five subpoems of Tender Buttons establish the major themes (existence, appearance, gender, sexuality, morality, and union) and strategies that Stein employs throughout this long poem, the Steiny Road Poet cautions that every time a reader invests in certain expectations, Stein is likely to pull away from what seems to be the moving current. What Steiny means (as she stated in the introduction to the 2014 discussion of “A substance in a cushion.”)  is “A carafe, that is a blind glass.” seems to address existence (possibly Stein’s birth) and “Glazed glitter.” complements with a version of Stein’s adult existence, her subsistence (her means for maintaining her life)—what her career path looked like (the abandoned medical studies) and the anticipation of change. A substance in a cushion.” picks up the theme of change in daily living (existence) and subsistence (the failed medical career) and meditates deeply on appearance (what is seen, what is not). “A substance in a cushion.” plays with sweetness (sugar) and color as life changers, such that we, as readers, suspect the presence of a beloved who will come joyfully to Stein’s table, if not her bed.”


Therefore, subpoem 4 “A box.” with its negative vocabulary of rudeness, painful cattle, disappointing, strangely comes as a punch to the gut unless we step back to see this in the context of Stein’s metaphysical strategy. Steiny contends that this subpoem is part of Stein’s dialectic approach and it runs counter to what she has offered in the first three subpoems. Possibly this means Stein has lulled us into thinking that she is just examining her life so she can open up to the possibilities of love. Steiny sees pushback on the subject of love in subpoem 4.

To explain what Steiny means, she offers this explication de texte:

Out of kindness (substitute gender politics for kindness) comes redness (embarrassment, as in a flushed red face) and out of rudeness comes rapid same question (What are you thinking, making your life partner a same-sex spouse?), out of an eye comes research (as the research Stein did that she called Bottom Nature, which found Alice Toklas initially to be manipulative, deceptive, lying), out of selection comes painful cattle (choosing Toklas will invite judgment from the herd mentality). So then the order is that a white way of being round (because this subpoem is title “A box.”, this could be Stein saying this in no ordinary square box) is something suggesting a pin (borrowing from my colleague Peter Treanor “a pin” might be pointing at the word opinion) and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed (another reference to Stein’s Bottom Nature analysis) and see a fine substance (substitute sugar/Alice Toklas for fine substance) strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red (in semaphoric systems like highway and train  traffic lights green means go and red means danger/stop) but to point again.

So what Stein might be doing is playing devil’s advocate as one does in the dialectic process to see what she has gotten herself into by uniting with Toklas.


The 2014 Buttons Collective discussion of subpoem 4 “A box.” includes highlights of comments on: alchemy, cattle-oxen-cows-Golden Calf, word play, Tefillin, kaleidoscope.

Pramila Venkateswaran found a theme of alchemy counter balance with something oppressive like a dictator in this piece. Karren Alenier (a.k.a. Steiny) responded:

“OK I see the alchemy with the quadruple repetition of "out of." which is making a spell that brings.
--redness out of kindness, which indeed seems contrary given red might be anger.
--rapid same question out of rudeness: Could that be How can I be treated this way?
--research out of an eye: Could this be the judging eye of God or of perhaps a dictator?
--painful cattle out of selection: Could this be some kind of mistake, like God choosing the Jews and the Jews so scared when Moses leaves them momentarily to receive the Ten Commandments comes back and finds his people worshiping a golden calf?”

From the talk of transmutation of base metals to the more precious, Peter Treanor worked his word magic on Stein’s text:

“Is a box just a box? Or does it suggest being boxed in?

“A Box, is the A B suggesting Alice B?
In a bOX, ox is there and then cattle later. And what, if anything have cattle to do with painful selection? Natural selection? Or inbreeding? Or selection for slaughter later.  Oxen are selectively bred and trained by man to produce beasts of burden. 

“There’s kind and kindness appearing. Is this kind as in type and belonging to type (kindness) or is it as in being gentle or altruistic?

Being round and a round thing , what is round? Is it the shape circular or is it around as in proximity?

“Redness and rudeness are of a kind, they are very similar, different in only one letter U. And similar in some sense of meaning, as red can be seen as rude or associated with rude at times (red lights in brothels).

“But I wonder how much her red and redness refers to reading/rede

“Then there's rude and rudimentary. Rude, from Middle English (in sense 5, also 'uncultured'): from Old French, from Latin rudis 'unwrought' (referring to handicraft), figuratively 'uncultivated'; related to rudus 'broken stone'.. Both seem to point to an unwrought, uncultivated or basic state

“And is the pin (in suggesting a pin and is it disappointing) opinion? You suggest an opinion, it feels like it could be suggesting it here.
And is a green point (in so earnest to have a green point) agree(n)ment?

“There seems to be a lot of rapid questioning, seeing, researching, selection (deciding), and earnest analysis going on here. So opinion and agreement seem to be qualities that maybe or should be present.

“But the opinion and agreement seems to result in further pointing, not to red but to point again.
What is this pointing? Making points/ arguments?
Or sewing, needlepoints?
Or showing, pointing out?”

Peter’s discovery of ox as an element of bOX, encouraged Karren to remark: “This is precisely why I find Jewish teachings very strongly in the first five subpoems of TB Objects.  (Golden calf) But also in there is that sexual association—from Alice B's box comes cows, a coded word between Stein and Toklas for orgasms.”

Finally here are some random thoughts:

Michael A. Cohen: “There is point and disappointing and point again. A box has points on its corners. Taking away the points (disappointing) could result in a way of being round.”

Karren: “Stein was very concerned with order but it is more in the mode of re-order. I think she was re-making, re-ordering the 19th century according to her own plan. It was what the cubist painters—Picasso, Braque, Leger, Gris—were doing.”

Claudia G. Schumann: “Painful cattle could mean that sometimes sex is painful (in reference to ‘cow’ meaning sex in the code).”

Karren: …a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin—Stein could be referring to a kaleidoscope. In the moving lenses of a kaleidoscope, different images come out of the movement of the lenses.”

Judy Meibach: Stein’s box could be the prayer accessory called Tefillin. 

Karren: “I think colored and order are alphabetically related. There is an order in Stein's system to pointing where things are inserted—pointing as in filling in the gaps in the mortar as in adding the vowels in a Hebrew text. The pointing adds colors to that order.”

Contributors to this discussion included: Karren Alenier, Michael A. Cohen, Judy Meibach, Claudia Schumann, Peter Treanor, Pramila Venkateswaran

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