I promised to talk a bit more about the legendary rose — here it is on the stationary that Alice produced after “discovering” it in Gertrude’s writing. Countless times Stein and her rose were mocked, with the result that the line was repeated and repeated, played with and toyed with, until soon everybody knew it even if not everybody ever read Gertrude Stein. It was one of those ironies that Stein herself was the first to appreciate. (She always prided herself on being by nature democratic.) You don’t even need to understand a bit about poetry, modernism, language revolution or genius in order to happily repeat “A rose is a rose is a….” Repeating words, in Stein’s view, is the same as “caressing” them.
Stein claimed that in her line the rose was red for the first time in a hundred years of poetry. How exactly did she do this? She stripped the rose of all romantic, naturalistic or symbolic tendencies of the nineteenth century. In my photobiography I said, “The line is an evergreen — self-sufficient and satisfying to the point where inquiring further into her writing might seem unnecessary. Here, the idea and practice of modernism are captured in a single line, a magical ‘Open, Sesame’ that promises access to the avant-garde literature of the twentieth century. Here, at the literary threshold, one can linger and weigh with a pleasant shudder how far the experiment of language has moved out into impassable terrain. In Stein’s phrase, the rose is still recognizable as what it had been for centuries in the western lyrical tradition. Yet, it has gained a concreteness of irreducible presence and, at the same time, awakens an intimation of strangeness, the estrangement of a new era. The line is a literary ‘invitation to the dance’: we, the readers, are invited to create the well-worn rose anew.”
Soon to come: more about my younger self who wasn’t able to read or understand Stein… until I moved to Paris, France. But first a reminder: exactly 75 years ago tomorrow, Gertrude and Alice will be arriving in New York –