Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “Eye Glasses.” & “A Cutlet.”


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           EYE GLASSES: NUMBER 26
WORD COUNT......................-          15
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           A CUTLET: NUMBER 27
WORD COUNT......................-          7
STANZAS..............................-           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.....................................-           COCKY

“…another word for eye glasses is spectacles.  People often make a spectacle of themselves when they frequent saloons.” Tamboura Gaskins

“…violence seems to be part of these UN-still lives.” The Steiny Road Poet


A color in shaving, a saloon is well placed in the centre of an alley.


A blind agitation is manly and uttermost.

What The Button Collective is learning from the SloPo reading of Tender Buttons is that the subpoems of Section 1 “Objects” have physical (of the body) and mental (of the playful mind) planes of associations. The Steiny Road Poet uses the word associations because meaning is not always the exact result of Tender Buttons Massive Open Online Study Group’s efforts. Besides the physical and mental planes, Stein also, but not always (or at least this is harder to detect), ventures into a metaphysical plane. Metaphysics opens up questions of being and knowing, what is the nature of reality, like what is the external world made of and who or what made that world.


As the discussion opened on these two very short subpoems that between them count only 22 words exclusive of the titles, Tamboura made her comment about spectacles (above) and Claudia Schumann noted A color in shaving is blood and could not this blood some how point to menses, a woman’s monthly flow of blood? While Steiny noted words like shaving and saloon and, of course, manly that seed the two subpoems with masculinity, she also thought there is something more about the woman's body. Maybe the saloon stands for the opportunity of sexual contact for the male with ladies of ill repute who frequent a saloon?

Eleanor Smagarinsky and Mary Armour picked up the whiff of the female body to talk about “Hair removal...a loaded topic,” mused Eleanor. “I'm thinking of Alice's prominent moustache, the pressure on women to be hairless, and the comparison between the seeing of the first poem and the blindness of the next poem.”

Prominent moustache, Eleanor?” Mary didn’t hold back:

“Fabulous tickly unwaxed glorious hirsute curly kissable, etc. I like women with moustaches and plenty of body hair, who doesn't?

“I had a friend who used to wax off her upper lip growth once a month and she would  apply the hot wax, let it dry as she  stayed at home baking and then only rip it off when the doorbell rang. She would stand in the open doorway howling with pain, her eyes filled with tears, a very red upper lip and a little  waxy centipede in one hand.



Later Dave Green said, referring to Tamboura Gaskins’ unabashed open talk about the possible sexual nature of the subpoem “A New Cup and Saucer.”:

“Tamboura taught me that my interpretations are too innocent. So allow me to essay a Tambourian interpretation here and please brace yourself.
“The poem is about the pelvic area of Gertrude's lover Alice. In the center of that area lies Gertrude's ‘saloon,’ the place where she gets drunk sexually. Why ‘Eyeglasses’? Well, eyeglasses are worn on a face so maybe that is saying something about Gertrude's position during lovemaking vis-a-vis the subject of the poem.
“How'd I do, Tamboura?”
“Excellent, Dave. I am with you all the way,” answered Tamboura and added onto to the subject of bowling alleys that Judy Meibach had raised:
“Let me riff a bit on this—alley = bowling alley, bowling lane with the vagina shape like a ten-pin setup; saloon = a place to get a drink as well as a place where men go to have a good time.

A color in shaving ==> shaving cream ==> semen

saloon ==> a man's pelvic area,  sal = the penis connected to oo = the balls which are slightly behind.

“Here, GS is juxtaposing male genitalia with female genitalia as they would be positioned during the sex act—a saloon, the penis, is well placed in the center of the alley, the vagina.  And when the placement is right, there is color in shaving...there is semen.”

As stated in the masthead of this blogpost, the TB MOOSG is on a world clock so one morning Steiny woke up to this exchange and exclaimed:

“I'm waking up to 52 degrees Fahrenheit here in Washington DC but after steeping in all these readings of steam creamy sex, it feels like 102. Go Gtrude! Belly up to A bar. Drink A nectar. Get shit-faced drunk. Zing zing bingo!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A New Cup and Saucer.”, “Objects.” Part 3 of 3


THE BOOK ..........................-           TENDER BUTTONS
THE SUBBOOK ...................-           OBJECTS
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           A NEW CUP AND SAUCER: NUMBER 24
STANZAS..............................-           1
WORD COUNT......................-          16
THE SUBPOEM ...................-           OBJECTS: NUMBER 25
STANZAS..............................-           3
WORD COUNT......................-          49
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.....................................-           AWED


Enthusiastically hurting a clouded yellow bud and saucer, enthusiastically so is the bite in the ribbon.


Within, within the cut and slender joint alone, with sudden equals and no more than three, two in the centre make two one side.

If the elbow is long and it is filled so then the best example is all together.g

The kind of show is made by squeezing.

Part three continues the discussion of “Objects.” but with associations to Jewish sacred teachings and Kabbalah with a reflection on why study “Objects.” and “A New Cup and Saucer.” together.


So picking up from Judy Meibach’s remarks about the Old Testament at the end of blog post Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A New Cup and Saucer.”, “Objects.” Part 2 of 3, Eleanor Smagarinksy said to Judy,

“If I'm following you, you're referring to the fact that each of the 5 books of the OT ([Old Testament:] Torah) is titled using the first word of the first chapter. For example, Genesis in Hebrew is actually ‘Bereishit,’ which is the first word of the first chapter. Also, each chapter is titled (as a way of talking/writing about it) by using the first word.

“This immediately made me think of the 5th and last book of the OT (Torah):
Deuteronomy is, in Hebrew ‘DEVARIM.’

“DEVARIM is translated as WORDS, but in Modern Hebrew it also means THINGS/OBJECTS.

“Objects and words are linked in Hebrew, and it seems that they are also linked in Steinese. Could Stein be describing letters as objects here? And then using all letters (except for 2) in the poem, so as to make her point?” [In blog post Part 2, Eleanor had recorded the strange fact that the words of ‘Objects.’ Use every letter of the Roman alphabet except for V and Y.]

The Steiny Road Poet, in an effort to better understand what Eleanor said about Deuteronomy and the Hebrew "devarim" (meaning words), found a chart showing how the Hebrew letters repeat through the various meanings. For example, to speak and word are identical and words/things add the Hebrew letter mem. The root—devarim—plays into the words for The Ten Commandments and since the TB study group used The Ten Commandments to read through the first ten subpoems of Tender Buttons, the association with words/objects adds additional heft to this discovery.

More mind-blowing, Steiny learned that Deuteronomy (the Book of Devarim) repeats or summarizes the first four books of Torah. It is considered the Book of Ethics. Devarim is the “mouth” of Torah, repeating YHWH’s (G-d’s) teachings but more so His will for what his followers must do in living. Is this what Gertrude Stein had in mind for Tender Buttons, her sacred catalog of word objects, her sacred troth to her beloved Alice but also her book of ethics?


In a heightened state of sensing, Steiny got a rush of associations on this stanza of “Objects.”:

Within, within the cut and slender joint alone, with sudden equals and no more than three, two in the centre make two one side. 

The three are GS, ABT and Leo Stein. First at 27 rue de Fleurus, there were GS & LS but that pair was put aside when ABT moved in to make three. Now GS & ABT are center—a new birth in their union.

The cut and slender joint sound like a bris, the male circumcision

Within Deuteronomy is the most significant declaration of faith:  "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one." It is known as the Shema. Therefore if we can associate the English word objects with Deuteronomy, given the Hebrew lettering and its association with words, then this is Gertrude's pledge of allegiance to Alice as her one true love.”

Further research about circumcision, Steiny discovered the Hebrew for sealing a covenant literally translates as “to cut.” Those who are not Jewish might think of what boys generally do to seal a pledge—they each cut themselves and comingle their blood and become “blood brothers.” Wikipedia for the Hebrew term Brit milah had an interesting list of reasons for circumcision:

Reasons for circumcision
In Of the Special Laws, Book 1, the Jewish philosopher Philo (20 BC - AD 50) gives six reasons for the practice of circumcision. He attributes four of the reasons to "men of divine spirit and wisdom." These include the idea that circumcision:
1.        protects against disease,
2.        secures cleanliness "in a way that is suited to the people consecrated to God,"
3.        causes the circumcised portion of the penis to resemble a heart, thereby representing a physical connection between the "breath contained within the heart [that] is generative of thoughts, and the generative organ itself [that] is productive of living beings,” and
4.        promotes prolific-ness by removing impediments to the flow of semen. To these, Philo added two of his own reasons, including the idea that circumcision
5.        "signified figuratively the excision of all superfluous and excessive pleasure" and
6.     "that it is a symbol of a man's knowing himself.”

Stein considered herself as Alice’s husband. The question is what did Stein consider her symbolic penis and how that penis might be cut to keep the proscribed covenant?


To this deluge of associations, Peter Treanor exclaimed that the missing letters from the text of “Objects.” pointed to YHWH, one of the sacred names of G-d. He was filling in the blanks on Eleanor’s Theory #2—The Incomplete Roman Alphabet (see ALPHABET THEORIES of Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A New Cup and Saucer.”, “Objects.” Part 2 of 3.) While Steiny went back and reread what Eleanor said and noted that the missing letters were Y and V (not W), she guessed Peter was still on to something. Here’s what Eleanor said:

“If you go back to look at that Hebrew table [above], you can see where the translation is "Lord." The equivalent Hebrew word is shown—and that's the 4-letter word Peter refers to.

“OMG, Peter, that is an amazing discovery you made, connecting the ‘V’ and the ‘Y’ to god's name. This is blowing my mind.

“I put the letter ‘V’ here (and not W) because that Hebrew letter makes a ‘V’ sound, it is how it's pronounced in Hebrew now (both modern & biblical). I believe it's transliterated as ‘W’ because of historical reasons, ancient pronunciation perhaps. The letter names are ‘yud’ and ‘vav’ and they each look like ‘cut and slender joints,’ and if the ‘vav’ doesn't look like an elbow...well..then I don't know what does!!!”

With Eleanor’s help, now Steiny sees in a Wikipedia entry for Tetragrammaton, the word YHWY “is the most common transliteration of the tetragrammaton in English academic studies, the alternatives YHVH, JHVH and JHWH are also used.” Here is the beauty of studying something difficult together—what several person know, find or see feeds the effort to understand in a more timely fashion and what is discovered together is exhilarating.


Without much fanfare, Eleanor offered links to videos about the Hebrew Y or yud and the Hebrew V or vuv. While the man speaking in these videos is an Orthodox Jew, Eleanor “enjoy[ed] the openness of the interpretation in so far as scientific discovery is woven into the explanation.”

Eleanor added that each letter has a numeric value: yud is ten and vav is six.  What these letters cum numbers equate to, in terms of Jewish practice, is significant, but Eleanor seemed to indicate that the Buttons might find additional significance by knowing these equivalents. Already Steiny is thinking about Stein’s use of the numbers zero and one in other work she has written.

Eleanor continued “The yud symbolises a contraction from the infinite into the finite (or some such), which seems synonymous with ‘squeezing.’ The kind of show is made by squeezing."


According to the video on vuv, this letter connects heaven and earth, but it is also a “man standing.” All of space can be envisioned as a cube that incorporates the four directions (north, south, east, west) plus above and below (this makes six “sides”).


Steiny thinks the discussion is not complete until we hear about the Hebrew letter H or he or hay, which is equal to the number five. Also in G-d’s name YHWH, he/hay is repeated twice. Since Stein repeats with purpose, hearing about the repetition of he/hay seemed important.

Still curious about the inner workings of the letters making up YHWH or YHVH, Steiny found this cantillation video called “Yod He Vav He” that had this descriptive text:

YHVH is the sacred tetragrammaton, the four sacred Hebrew letters which stand for the holy name of God.

YOD represents the creative, masculine principle; the fire of the Will of Spirit, the Father. 

HE represents the Divine feminine principle; the Shekinah Glory, the Cosmic Mother. 

VAV is the son, the regenerating power of the Love Light. 

The second HE is the daughter, the Heart and the Breath of Life.

Steiny cannot help but like the transliteration confusion of how to spell the Hebrew letters. He [hay] according to the description above refers to femaleness but one of the English transliterations he points to maleness. This is the kind of crossover that goes a long way in conjecturing what Stein was thinking in Tender Buttons.


Allan Keeton said he was “having trouble following all the Jewish and Hebrew stuff” and Peter agreed, saying it was overwhelming but nonetheless,

“I am enchanted by Yud, The little that holds a lot, the infinite contracted into the finite. And the ideas that all letters have the Yud in them, that when you put pen to paper that first point is the Yud. And that all things are made from a countless stream of Yud seems to me that all words, all language, and especially GS, and all consciousness is contracting the infinite into the finite.

“And the make up of the Hebrew name of G-d, amazed me too, that it was made equally of feminine and masculine parts/ principles H H and Y W / V. It figures that it took Christianity to remove the female from the equation, and look where that has got us…

“This bit of the thread has been so incredible, I look forward to the book and the movie of the Tender Buttons thread search for divine symbolism in the writings of Stein by the intrepid Buttoneer seers, And I love the word tetragrammaton, although it does sound like one of the autobot's names in Transformers.” 

Eleanor suggested to Peter, “About the yud and contracting the infinite, you might be interested in tzimtzum.”

Peter replied, “what an intriguing word, repeated tzm tzm with just I and u as different. Weren’t you finding lots of I’s and U's in tea for two?” [see A TEA MEDITATION IN Stepping on Tender Buttons: “A New Cup and Saucer.”, “Objects.” Part 1 of 3.]

Far be it for Steiny to make Tzimtzum, a term that is part of the mystical teachings of Isaac Luria, understandable in a few words. Better to follow Eleanor’s Wikipedia link above. What Steiny will say is that Tzimtzum embraces contradiction on a cosmic level and Gertrude Stein works contradiction in ways that defy and embrace logic. She uses simple words to create a complex world. That’s why Steiny advises not going into the Steinian woods alone (especially, a difficult work like Tender Buttons)

Allan observed that “Objects.” seemed to be insisting on a Hebraic hermeneutics. He also thought he would call G-d, just -o- and Steiny impressed by –o- but stopped by hermeneutics had to look that up.
her·me·neu·tics  (hûrm-ntks, -ny-)
n. (used with a sing. or pl. verb)
The theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text.

Allan explained further:

“I'm not a Christian, but I believe that Christian scholars use the term hermeneutics regularly.

“The root is Hermes = Mercury (= mind) the messenger god who can freely travel between all the realms: Mt Olympus, The Underworld, Earth...

“As to character & word.
I was struck by the videos that Eleanor gave us.
Where letters are numinous things.
Who are they?
Maybe I mean personalities or gods or some such thing.

“I'm trying to figure out how to use these Jewish definitional moves
letters = numbers = archetypes = first time they are written
in understanding Gertrude Stein.”

Then Eleanor rejoined the conversation to say:

“I feel like I need to spend more time thinking about the connections here, Allan. You've challenged me in exciting ways with your comments. Truth be told, I have grown up with this idea that each Hebrew letter is mysterious and full of hidden meaning, so it is only here in this forum that I'm suddenly made aware of how strange that may seem. I don't feel this type of connection to English letters at all, but it seems that Stein may well have, and this probably can be found throughout these ‘Objects.’”


Next Eleanor responded to Steiny’s association with circumcision:

“Karren [a.k.a. Steiny], I was sceptical about the connection you made with circumcision.... until I realised that the Hebrew name for circumcision is brit milah and milah is another word for word!! ‘Covenant of the Word.’

“When an Orthodox Jewish boy turns 3 he has his very first haircut, it's a ceremony called Upsherin—‘within the cut’?? ‘no more than 3’?? At this time, it is often also customary to begin to teach the boy the aleph bet (Hebrew alphabet) by smearing honey on each letter and having him taste it—encouraging him to associate letters/words/reading with sweetness and joy.”


—From Eleanor:

Allan wrote (in a thread above):
"I'm trying to figure out how to use these Jewish definitional moves
letters = numbers = archetypes = first time they are written
in understanding Gertrude Stein."

Al said to me during the live webcast on September 18 (1:03):
"Finally, in the end, as much as I love these poems, I think what I love better is the fact that we use the poems to bring all these people together, including you. Is it possible to think of the poems as a means or a tool to do what we're doing here?"

Stein wrote:
Within, within the cut and slender joint alone, with sudden equals and no more than three, two in the centre make two one side. If the elbow is long and it is filled so then the best example is all together. The kind of show is made by squeezing.

I'd like to read Stein via Allan's and Al's words.


Stein starts with a repetition, because when you try something new, or try to persuade someone of a new idea, you often have to repeat yourself. Repetition is a good method to use, in both teaching and learning.


Stein presents her poem to us, as a community - no matter what our gender, sexual persuasion or religion - and we are therefore, time and again, drawn towards each other as we both interpret and enact each poem. How do we incorporate so many different, unlikely interpretations? By working together. This is how a new language is formed.


Stein uses letters, she cuts up words and then rejoins the letters in new, hitherto unknown ways. Her mind is her tool, but so is her slender pen, the cut of the paper and each letter too - each letter as it stands alone, in anticipation of being used, and bringing with it a depth of meaning which will never be fully understood, and yet will bring so much to each reader.

Allan responded directly to Eleanor’s observations:

I like your shuffling of the three phrases Eleanor.

I like the contractive repetitive tsimtsum of


I also like how the cut and slender joint alone
makes the poems seem more tool-like.
I can see the letters & numbers cut &
slenderly jointed.

I get stuck trying to think of archetype as cut & jointed or as a tool.

Maybe that is backward.
Maybe this is tool as an archetype.
The primordial shape of shaping & fashioning for use.

That sounds like creation.
How many fractally recurring instances of fashioning & shaping,
on all scales & in all places, has gone on to get us here
where we can talk about the archetype of tool making?

I consider the stars going supernova to create the higher elements:
iron, nickel, etc.

amongst this shaping.

Because archetypes self-replicate, 
they don't have humans to do it for them.

—from Dave:

Eleanor's post above has put me in a philosophical mood. Allow me to respond as follows.

Perhaps there is a holiness to words, any words, as they connect us to the universe at an elevated level, at the level of Mind, at the privileged level at which God operates. So when we contract (tzimtzum) ourselves to allow the words in, and we study them, and we allow other human beings in to help us study them and realize and feel our common humanity, we create new worlds for ourselves, we become larger ourselves, we are less alone as God was less alone after creating Adam and Eve. We, in God's image, are replicating Creation on a smaller scale. It is an ongoing Creation, human history and culture and our growing interconnectedness. We are not God, we are not perfect (far from it), but we did inherit a divine spark that is continuing to build the world through human connection and knowledge and imagination. We sense that in ModPo and feel a warmth and joy because of it, without always quite realizing what is happening.

—from Mary:

Dave, that is beautiful -- and I'm also thinking of a spark glowing.

This linguistic intricacy for me plumbs not just the unconscious possibilities of what Stein absorbed in her family tradition and from her transplanted Judaism in America, but  our own deepest  awe to do with words and  reverence for certain phrases and associations that seem to open up to radiant places.

And uncomplicated too for Stein in some ways because this is pre-Holocaust and she would re-inscribe and register something very different, would have looked at  her own ambivalence, beliefs or  likings so differently  had she lived into the  1950s.

—from Judy:

I may be off—but I also come from a Jewish tradition—and there is this thing in Judaism that is referred to as 'Gematriah'—loosely it is like a numerology of sorts—that each Hebrew letter corresponds to a number and if you add up the value of a particular word, it might equal the value of another word—and there is a correlation between the two words—that might sound a bit obscure—but evidently a lot of you, and Stein too, have a Jewish mentality.

—from Steiny:

“Objects.” shows how wide Stein's mind was. She can transport us from daily living—things in the kitchen & the garden, make us think of baseball & the body—while moving us to higher planes of viewing our world and beyond. Truly I think what she accomplishes goes beyond Judaism. We always have to come back to her system of pointing. And by the by I'm gathering 'system of pointing' was part of the zeitgeist. Something I picked up Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years.


This time Steiny admits that not every association broached got mentioned in the overall write up—like Tamboura Gaskins assigning the sexual to “yellow bud and saucer are a nipple and surrounding areola, and the enthusiastic hurting is bit of passionate, rough foreplay involving the breasts with some enthusiastic biting on the rib area.” However, the Buttons Collective is getting so good at review that salient points missed are likely to be picked up in ensuing discussions.

This brings Steiny back to Ariadne’s thread mentioned in the discussion about “A New Cup and Saucer.” but spilling into what has been discussed in “Objects.”. If Ariadne’s thread is about solving a problem on various planes—the physical (how to work your way through the maze of the Minotaur), the mental (the method for problem solving), and the ethical (the rules one follows to achieve success), it seems likely that this connection to a higher plane of intelligence, embodied for Stein in how words are handled in a contracting and expanding universe will continue throughout the rest of Tender Buttons. The overriding question for Steiny, if not for the Buttons Collective, is will Gertrude Stein come to any satisfactory resolution? What we do know is Tender Buttons was the founding love poem and pledge from Stein to Toklas that their bond was sacred and it lasted beyond Stein’s death. So maybe as is sung in the Jewish Passover tradition: Dayenu—this will be enough.