Saturday, November 8, 2014

Stepping Up Tender Buttons Objects: “Glazed glitter.”

THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          Glazed glitter: NUMBER 2
WORD COUNT......................-           45
STANZA(S)............................-           1
Other TBO Study Links…….-               Link 1, Link 2     
THE LEADER........................-           THE STEINY ROAD POET

Almost every analysis of Stein begins with rhythm analysis.” Mary Armour


Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover.  

The change in that is that red weakens an hour. The change has come. There is no search. But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometime, surely any s is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing. Certainly glittering is handsome and convincing.

There is no gratitude in mercy and in medicine. There can be breakages in Japanese. That is no programme. That is no color chosen. It was chosen yesterday, that showed spitting and perhaps washing and polishing. It certainly showed no obligation and perhaps if borrowing is not natural there is some use in giving.

The 2014 Buttons Collective discussion of “Glazed glitter.” includes highlights of comments on: currency/money, fluidity/rhythm/sex, graven image/sacred text, interconnections between the first 2 subpoems, apocalypse, black sulfide as well as various word/phrase deconstructions. The Steiny Road Poets invokes her time machine and compass to offer a little background.


While “A carafe, that is a blind glass.” goes head on with Stein’s existence in the universe, “Glazed glitter.” is a way/weigh station on her matrimonial route. She is both pausing to contemplate how she got to this trip down the wedding aisle and she is weighing the change she is experiencing. As stated in Steiny’s October 7, 2013 post: in “Glazed glitter.”, “Stein is talking about money, specifically the American coin called the nickel and possibly the chemical element which is used to make up the American nickel. She is also talking about one’s livelihood and specifically her own, which formerly had been predicated on her study of medicine.” Here are some highlights of Steiny’s original look at “Glazed glitter.”:

·     — The buffalo nickel went into production in 1913. Because Stein wrote the “Objects” section last and Tender Buttons was written from 1912 to 1913 (and published in the spring of 1914), the new nickel was probably something Stein was aware of.

—  As a chemical element, nickel presents a silvery-white shine but may oxidize (turning a rusty red) when exposed to air or water. Maybe Stein considers this oxidation glazed glitter and is suggesting the oxidation is a temporal condition in the phrase red weakens an hour. In nature, nickel is often found in combination with the chemical element iron. Maybe Stein was referring to this condition of existing with iron in the opening line,  Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover where cover stands for iron.”
—While “Glazed glitter.” is heavy on negatives (5 no’s and 1 not), it is counter balanced with the linking verb is (without not) 13 times  and to be with modal verbs twice (i.e. will be and can be).


Some new thoughts that occur to Steiny based on reviewing what she wrote originally are:
   —Cows, cattle, sheep—cloven beasts—matter to Stein’s Tender Buttons landscape. (This will be learned later, especially in the “Food” section which begins with “Roastbeef.” and is followed by “Mutton.”.) While “Glazed glitter.” does not feature what adorns the American coin called a nickel, it does enough pointing—Nickel, what is nickel. It is originally rid of a cover—to make the discerning reader dig and find that the Liberty Head nickel circulated as the American five-cent coin from 1883 to 1912. Is Stein ironically remarking about the symbology for a nickel employed by the United States government—America, land of liberty (not for someone like Stein who was choosing a same-sex partner) now covered with a wild beast known better by the nomadic native Americans called Indians. Was Stein thinking of herself, she who had left America to make her home in France where she could better exercise her choices and be more liberated?
   —The history and making of Tender Buttons can be referenced in “The Making of ‘Tender Buttons’: Gertrude Stein's subjects, objects, and the illegible” by Joshua Schuster. One sticking point is that Schuster was unable to determine whether “Food” or “Rooms” was written first.
   If “Carafe…” with its containers (carafe and glass) and family words, like cousin and resembling, emphasizes existence, then “…Glitter.” weighs in heavily on appearance. Cover raises the question of what is underneath and the specter of “keeping up appearances.” Charming suggests how appearance or form can be changed with a magic spell or just pleasing behavior that alters another person’s bad mood. Clean, cleansing, washing, and polishing are what we do to make us look good, if not feel better. Also color declares itself strongly with that red weakens an hour but it comes with contradiction: That is no color chosen. It was chosen yesterday (perhaps a ruse to keep something too bright, too smart from getting too much exposure).


Judy Meibach asked what glazed glitter has to do with nickel? Karren Alenier (a.k.a. Steiny) answered:

“This subpoem is about change. Nickel is one type of change.”

Then Karren suggested looking at this list of words:
red weakens
change has come
clean and cleansing
glitter is handsome
no gratitude in mercy
chosen yesterday
showed no obligation
if borrowing is not natural
some use in giving

Karren continued building a case about how glazed glitter is connected to nickel.

If you buy into Tender Buttons being a sacred declaration of Stein's marriage to Toklas (and you may not, especially if you haven't had much time to sit with the "Objects" section), then you might sense a whiff of things Jewish and of sacred texts.

“I think this list of selected words might help you see the Jewish connection.

“For example, the word chosen, as in The Chosen People. Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia:

In Judaism, chosenness is the belief that the Jews are a people chosen to be in a covenant with God. The Jewish idea of being chosen is first found in the Torah (five books of Moses) and is elaborated on in later books of the Hebrew Bible. This status carries both responsibilities and blessings as described in the Biblical covenants with God.

“Except something is broken (breakages), weak (red weakens) and there are other problems like no gratitude and no sense of obligation. And why is borrowing not natural and this—a half hearted some use in giving?

“If you go back to Stein's text:  there will be a sinecure (a cushy job paying well). The root meaning of sinecure means without care. What is so good about a sinecure? Because glittering is handsome and convincing.

Then Karren suggested the possibility that Stein was associating the 1913 buffalo nickel with the Golden Calf. From Wikipedia:

When Moses went up into Biblical Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:12-18), he left the Israelites for forty days and forty nights. The Israelites feared that he would not return and demanded that Aaron make them "gods" to go before them (Exodus 32:1). Aaron gathered up the Israelites' golden earrings, constructed a "molten calf" and "they" that demanded "gods" declared: "These [be] thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." (Exodus 32:4) The plurality of gods depicted or honoured on the ear-rings became a united image of a calf, fashioned by Aaron with a "graving tool", a plurality in unity.[2]

Karren continued: “Then glazed glitter might refer to a graven image made from metals coming from the earth.
“What does the Golden Calf / glazed glitter represent to Stein?

“Could it be the lost income from that cushy job as a doctor? There is no gratitude in mercy and in medicine.


Therese Pope reporting on her live ModPo study group in California, said her group associated nickel with currency (nickel is a monetary coin) and how that relates to Stein’s overall title Tender Buttons (tender—something, especially money, offered in payment)

Mary Armour responded, “The current of attraction/repulsion running  through currency!”

Wanting clarification, Therese asked, “Do you mean the ‘flow’ of attraction like the current/connection between two people (maybe Gertrude and Alice?) and ‘repulsion’ for money/currency?”

Mary answered:

“I was thinking here about what happens to currency in circulation. Nickel, inferior to the original gold louis or franc, was a commonly held international reserve currency in the 19th and 20th centuries—in France nickel 25-centime coins were introduced in 1903.

“The etymology of currency and connection to a current:

1650s, "condition of flowing," from Latin currens, present participle of currere "to run" (see current (adj.)); the sense of a flow or course extended 1699 (by John Locke) to "circulation of money."

“There are coins glazed and glittering, new coins but as you say, all is not gold that glitters. This may refer to new nickel that will become tarnished nickel. As coins pass from hand to hand in circulation, from trouser pocket to shopkeepers till, what happens to the 'cover' or surface of  such coins? They  become tarnished, greasy, —but perhaps more shiny, rubbed shiny  with spit and polish. They acquire a patina perhaps, or they lose original lustre to take on another value or surfacing.

Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover.

“My mention of  an electrical current responding to forces of attraction/repulsion arises from what seems to me ambivalence in tone for certain phrases.

Certainly glittering is handsome and convincing.

“Could this be read ironically? What glitters may be handsome, but not necessarily convincing. Handsome is as handsome does. And if we read this as an ironic aside, what about that statement in the previous sentence—

there will be a sinecure and charming very charming

“What could be charming very charming about a sinecure? Within  some of Stein's sentences are embodied contradictions—how do we read phrases that seem to stand alone rather than integrated into the sentence? How are we meant to read handsome, convincing, charming except as terms that could point to either attraction or repulsion? Is sincerity found in what glitters?

“I am very taken with the reading you and Charles give of that complex last sentence which points one way and then another.

It certainly showed no obligation and perhaps if borrowing is not natural there is some use in giving.

“That word certainly again. Do we read it this time without irony? And then the pointer towards the value of altruism, giving. That tension between borrowing and giving—which incurs obligation, which shows obligation? Obligation in the exchange of currency referring to that sense of forced contractual obligation which means 'I owe you'.”


Here Steiny pauses for Mary’s unattended question: “how do we read phrases that seem to stand alone rather than integrated into the sentence?” Perhaps these stand-alone phrases are signposts that direct competing thoughts as if we readers were driving along a highway where the signs are not quite the language we are familiar with. This very phenomenon has caused Steiny to chart the kinds of words encountered in Tender Buttons into thematic categories. Steiny sees these themes in Tender Buttons: existence, appearance, morality, sexuality, gender, union, games, and printing-publishing-writing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Stepping Up Tender Buttons Objects: “A carafe, that is a blind glass.”

THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-          A carafe, that is a blind glass: NUMBER 1
WORD COUNT......................-           45
STANZA(S)............................-           1
Other Study Links                               Link 1, Link 2
THE LEADER........................-           THE STEINY ROAD POET

Let's just take a compass rose as a place for looking at a system of pointing.” Mary Armour

“…maybe we are blinded by our own prejudices when it comes to concerns we find taboo or out of our comfort zones—the carafe is full, so to speak. Too full, that it becomes a blind glass.” T. De Los Reyes

I am thinking about / looking forward ahead to cloth as a woven web...” Nathan Walker


A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.


The Steiny Road Poet decided to lead a new ModPo study group on Tender Buttons Objects (section 1) as a way to ease into a forthcoming and brand new ModPo study group on Tender Buttons Food (section 2). Because Stein’s work is so multi-dimensional, new things have been seen, which may aid in close reading “Food.”

One change to note is, forthwith. Steiny will spell the titles of Tender Buttons subpoems as Stein intended, but which was not noted until recently in the Corrected Centennial Tender Buttons edited by Seth Perlow. This means that the initial word will be capitalized but not the rest of the title except for a couple of anomalies: “A little called Pauline.” and “Colored Hats.”.

In these blogposts, Steiny will attempt to showcase selected comments and summarize without embellishment others concerning what hasn’t been noticed in previous study sessions.

To be inclusive, here are some points noticed by Steiny in her October 6, 2013 post:

—Gertrude Stein’s existence weighed heavy on her since she knew she and her brother Leo were replacements for children who came before them and who did not survive their infancy.

Therefore Steiny read “A carafe, that is a blind glass.” as a story of Stein’s birth. Key words: kind (Kind
èGerman for child), cousin, spectacle, hurt color, resembling.
—Arrangement in a system to pointing might indicate an arranged marriage, which also weighs heavily on producing children. But it could also be how to read Torah with an implement called a yad or it could be the way vowels are inserted (after the fact) in Hebrew text or an indication for how to chant a psalm.
—Stein as consummate scientist concerns herself with elemental balance. Ergo her double negative bookended with simple negatives: All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. More importantly, she is emphasizing existence in the opening subpoem and that existence which is different is proliferating.


Robert Dougherty offered this close reading that built upon the word kind as giving:

If I can build upon my definition of "kind as giving" as the carafe "gives wine to the glass," I can see a metaphor that Stein may have built.  

The carafe is not a real carafe but a person with knowledge.  The carafe gives intangible "knowledge" to a glass that is an empty vessel, not a real glass but another person who receives "knowledge."  The carafe is made of "blind glass" because when a person like a poet, for example gives a poem to the future, the poet does not know who will read the poem.  

The carafe and the glass are cousins, as are the one who writes and the one who reads the poem.  Hurt glass refers to the transfer of emotion over time without actual touch. It is an "Arrangement." It points in time always from writer to reader, it is a system of passing knowledge from one generation to the next, from the carafe to the glass, always blind, in birth it hurts as with passing knowledge. Thus the "difference" the carafe "spreads" is its content (knowledge) to the future.


Gertrude Stein: A kind in glass and a cousin

Anthony Watkins: A kinding lass and a cousin

Peter Treanor:  A kindèakinèkin
Peter Treanor:  a cousinèaccusing
Peter Treanor:  A kin ding lass sand a cousin

Peter Treanor:  an object that could be part of a group or family, made of glass but "blind" glass, part of a pointing/orientated system. A compass? a watch? a clock? 
Peter Treanor:  A watch, cousin to a compass.
Mary Armour: Compass: 'an arrangement in a system to pointing' but not always true North.

Peter Treanor:  an arrangement in a system to pointingè a derangement in a system to painting. (Is Stein explaining, orienting the reader before she him/her on the voyage through TB. And referring to Cubism, all this—this poem, sentence, word—not ordinary, ordered, not resembling. Like a Cubist painting.)

Karren Alenier: Using a backward reach from "A Chair.", a subpoem that seems to deal with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, cousin and spectacle might suggest Our American Cousin, the play Lincoln was watching when John Wilkes Booth shot him, thereby causing the hurt color and causing the need for an arrangement in a system (the justice system) to (finger) pointing (the accused assassin).

Peter Treanor: a carafeèa craft


From the word play came Mary Armour’s thoughts on what a system to pointing might indicate:

Let's just take a compass rose as a place for looking at a system of pointing. Gertrude Stein begins to write about OBJECTS and begins by giving the reader directions for a new way of looking and journeying. She begins therefore with an arrangement in a system of pointing, and for her purposes, the spectacle of a glass and carafe on a table is a compass, nothing strange. But not ordinary, not unordered, not resembling, a different kind of arrangement for pointing.

On the compass there are four cardinal directions: North, South, East , West. There are eight inter-cardinal (or ordinal) directions northeast (NE), southeast (SE), southwest (SW), and northwest (NW). Intermediate points are added to give the sixteen points of a wind compass. 32 points for a mariner's compass. This is how we navigate, taking our bearings traditionally from True North (rather than magnetic North). But if you can 'see' a multiplicity of directions and possibilities simultaneously, you don't need True North. Here or there depends on a different kind of perspective. As GS said of Oakland, "There is no there there."

The compass or arrangement for pointing Gertrude Stein chooses is not pointing out there to a representational reality or topology or climate outside of language. It is a linguistic signifying pointer to language itself, language as reality, language as seeing. It is a compass pointing to blindness and insight.


Among the philosophers and philosophy brought into this study session were:
Wittgenstein—on language games,
Alfred North Whitehead—on process and reality
Empiricism—relative to the role of experience and evidence
Edmund Husserl—relative to phenomenology of embodiment

Mary Armour: As we launch into Objects, I'd like to just give a little quotation from Wittgenstein on 'language games' to remind us all about the many teasing games played in language-making and how many ways we can 'hear' or  'read' a communication. All of them, some of them and  more than one of them are to be found in Stein:

'Review the multiplicity of language games in the following examples, and in others: 

--Giving orders, and obeying them-- 
--Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements
--Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)-- 
--Reporting an event-- 
--Speculating about an event-- 
--Forming or teasing a hypothesis-- 
--Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams-- 
--Making up a story; and reading it-- 
--Singing catches-- 
--Guessing riddles-- 
--Making riddles-- 
--Making a joke; telling it-- 
--Solving a problem in practical arithmetic-- 
--Translating from one language into another-- 
--Asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying.'

Karren Alenier excited about the language game list (Sprachspiel) offered these Wikipedia quotes about Wittgenstein and about the relationship Stein had with Alfred North Whitehead:

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.[4] From 1929–1947, Wittgenstein taught at the University of Cambridge.[5] During his lifetime he published just one slim book, the 75-page Tractatus Logico Philosophicus (1921), one article, one book review and a children's dictionary.[6] His voluminous manuscripts were edited and published posthumously.

Alenier: “So what this bio intro says, Stein probably didn't know anything about Wittgenstein's work unless her good friend Alfred North Whitehead knew him. Stein & Toklas got stuck at his house in July 1914 as WWI was erupting (that was after publication in May 1914 of Tender Buttons—I’m not sure when she first met this philosopher). Here’s a profile on Whtehead:”

Beginning in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Whitehead gradually turned his attention from mathematics to philosophy of science, and finally to metaphysics. He developed a comprehensive metaphysical system which radically departed from most of western philosophy. Whitehead argued that reality was fundamentally constructed by events rather than substances, and that these events cannot be defined apart from their relations to other events, thus rejecting the theory of independently existing substances.[28] Today Whitehead's philosophical works – particularly Process and Reality– are regarded as the foundational texts of process philosophy.

Whitehead's process philosophy argues that "there is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us."[28]

Alenier: “Anyway, Mary that language game list is a good roadmap for reading Stein!!!”

Nathan Walker: “I think there is a definite and ongoing connection to Whitehead's Process and Reality to be made, even outside of friendship and association. (Stein knew Whitehead and spent several weeks at his house when she and Toklas got stuck in England at the start of WWI.) To look at Whitehead in concert with Cezanne's influence on Stein gives one pretty much a compositional technique of a field made from the networked connections between distributed elements, each of which is weighted equally in the composition, and points at every other element with multiple, over-determined threads. This produces a web, or tapestry.”

Peter Treanor: “The description of TBs as a web of interconnected parts seems to me to be a description of the human brain also—a web of interconnected parts that have a conversation with each other. Though some pathways may be more established than others, it still has the potential to make interconnections and have “conversations" with itself and its constituent  parts.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bridging from Whitman & Dickinson to Stein's Tender Buttons

What? The Steiny Road Poet is participating in another session of ModPo?

Yes, the 2014 Coursera MOOCModern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) by University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis’ is absorbing every spare moment of Steiny’s time. Again. The news is she is now seeing more clearly why the good professor begins his course with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

What happens in this course is that Filreis shows how 20th century poets like Rae Armantrout and William Carlos Williams seem to be influenced by Emily Dickinson and/or Walt Whitman. (To clarify—Rae Armantrout has bridged into the 21st century and is doing a fine job on innovating anew.) The pivot point in Filreis’ MOOC is week four when Gertrude Stein is introduced.


This ModPo year, Steiny took deeper looks at Dickinson and Whitman and saw cross connections between the work of these poets and Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein.

Cross connections between Whitman and Stein are strong. For example, Stein seems to point at Whitman in Tender Buttons, section 1 “Objects” subpoem, “A Chair.” 

Here is stanza 8 of “A Chair.””

Actually not aching, actually not aching, a stubborn bloom is so artificial and even more than that, it is a spectacle, it is a binding accident, it is animosity and accentuation.

Here are the opening stanzas of Whitman’s elegy to Lincoln “When Lilacs in the Dooryard Bloom’d”:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,  
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,  
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. 
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,  
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west, 5 
And thought of him I love. 

As stated in the proceedings of the Buttons Collective on “A Chair.”, Stein seems to be addressing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln through his widow Mary Todd Lincoln. In the cross comparison of stanza 8 of “A Chair.” with the opening of “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” one notices a sound repetition based on the keening “ac”—actually not aching, actually not achingaccident … accentuation (Stein) compared with lilacs last (Whitman).

But Stein also imitates Whitman’s dooryard bloom'd with stubborn bloom. Stein’s words: and even more than that reverberate with Whitman’s phrasing: and yet shall mourn with ever.

Stein also seems to summon Whitman in other parts of Tender Buttons. Could the “Objects” subpoem “A Leave.” be pointing at Leaves of Grass? Maybe, Stein is setting the compass to Whitman, but within the subpoem pointing to “I Sing the Body Electric.”

Here is “A Leave.”:


In the middle of a tiny spot and nearly bare there is a nice thing to say that wrist is leading. Wrist is leading.

Here is an excerpt from “I Sing the Body Electric”:


The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress
    does not hide him,

What Steiny notices about “the Body Electric” is the word wrists and all that emphasis on joints. And why in Stein is the wrist leading? Possibly because she is writing and in writing she is leaving some thoughts on the page, the printed page that in hot type had a kind of spacing called leading. Wrist as my Buttons pal Peter Treanor pointed out to Steiny while they were talking in email this summer (imagine that another reality beyond the ModPo discussion forum) wrist is a joint between hand and arm. And Peter informed Steiny based on the Oxford English dictionary that the origin of wrist comes from—Old English via German—writhe. If you take the h out of writhe, you get write.

Stein is pretty blatant in the Tender Buttons “Food” section as “Way Lay Vegetable.” opens with Leaves in grass and mow potatoes, have a skip, hurry you up flutter. Or maybe not so blatant since it is Leaves in and not Leaves of. However Steiny won’t comment further but will patiently await the ModPo Buttons Collective to weigh in on “Food” soon.


In the meantime, some traits in common between Stein and Whitman fall in these categories:

  • The human body
  • Love of America
  • Emphasis on poetic identity and maybe identity in general
  • Attention to what’s natural (part of that Emersonian influence?)
  • Awareness about economics, class (the haves and have-nots as well as what is equal and democratic)
  • Contradictions/dualities
  • Metaphysical issues


As to the commonalities between Stein and Dickinson, probably most of the list in common with Whitman applies but much more subtly. Certainly Dickinson’s extreme emphasis on word selection applies. Often one has to go to the root meaning of a word with both Dickinson and Stein. Here’s an anecdote from Steiny recent interactions in ModPo.

September 10, 2014 in the ModPo discussions, Dave Poplar, one of the many super fine teaching assistants, and Steiny were chewing the fat during his office hours. I was concerned about swerving Splinters in Dickinson’s “Brain within its groove.” Here is ED's entire poem:

Emily Dickinson, #556

The Brain, within its Groove

Runs evenly--and true-- 

But let a Splinter swerve-- 

'Twere easier for You—

To put a Current back-- 

When Floods have slit the Hills-- 

And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves-- 

And trodden out the Mills--

Dave was concerned about ED’s use of scooped. So Steiny went to the roots of scooped and a saw this:

[Middle English scope, from Middle Dutch and Middle Low German schpe, bucket for bailing water.]

Would you say that going to the grassroots was on a par with the Steinian wrist-writhe discovery? Thought so.


The conversation isn’t over. Fair warning to the Buttons collective that we will be on the lookout for Whitmanian and Dickinsonian markers as we do a new close reading of Tender Buttons “Objects” and a first close reading of Tender Buttons “Food.” 

P.S. It’s not too late to sign up for the free Coursera ModPo MOOC and then join in the TB MOOSG (Tender Buttons massive open online study group).