Giant Gertrude Stein Ridiculed By Little Male
If you want to see a fresh example of how a great woman author is being diminished by a male critic, with no holds barred, go to the Washington Post and read:
Review of Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, by Phil Kennicott
You won’t easily forget the experience.
What is the occasion? The Stein exhibition from SF, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, just opened at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. Everybody who is anybody is celebrating the event, talking about the present Stein renaissance (the other seminal exhibition, The Steins Collect, has moved to the Paris Grand Palais and will soon open in NY), except those who feel somehow excluded from the excitement because they harbor a deep old resentment against Stein.
In the comment thread below the article, you will read a fascinating analysis of this attack by one commentator:
“Let’s put it this way, Mr. Kennicott holds a position of power as a writer for a major American newspaper. It is his job as a cultural critic to bridge the gap between an exhibition such as “Seeing Gertrude Stein” and the public. Voicing his hatred for Gertrude Stein is irresponsible both on his part and his editors at the Washington Post. Writing a sensational essay is always more about the essayist than the subject matter of the essay. We have to recognize this in his choice of such words as hoover (i.e. “enough money to hoover up paintings”), strategic friending (i.e. Part of Stein’s strategy for becoming famous), Yoda (i.e. He uses the Star Wars character to say Stein “had one linguistic trick and like Yoda it was”), swanning (“Stein modeled a familiar figure still swanning the galleries of cultural capitals around the world: Intellectually infantile, cheerfully amoral, profoundly insecure and nakedly ambitious.”). I have studied Stein for a long time, seen the exhibit, and read Barbara Will’s book “Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Fay, and the Vichy Dilemma.” Therefore I can say I am more embarrassed over Kennicott’s writing than Gertrude Stein’s and both authors can be judged on their behavior if you will, but that’s part of the outside story relative to whether the writing has literary and cultural merit.”
The commentator turns out to be Karren Alenier, the author of a modern Stein opera, who paid attention reading the article. You can see in the comment thread how many buttons were pushed –maybe yours too. And mine.
I wanted to comment as well but lo and behold, after only 22 comments, the Post shut down. “Comments are closed.” What? In the era of unlimited web space we are told we can’t participate? Is this a new form of censorship? As it happened, the great majority of comments expressed distaste and dismay over this below-the-belt attack. A reason to shut down the faucet?
Here is my comment that was shut out from the Washington Post:
“It would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic — 100 years of male whining over the one woman who represented the birth of modernism, wrote the line that is the most quoted line of English poetry of the last 100 years: “(A) rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” and who had the chuzpah to say aloud, “I am a genius.” Moreover, she was queer! This has always been too much for her male competitors and commentators, and still is, as we can see in the Washington Post review of Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C.. Are we having an era of post-Pound? Post-Joyce? Post-Woolf? Guess not, dear Mr. Kennicott. We are having an era of Gertrude Stein — the only one who is in fashion in our post-modern age.”
I’ve said it before: More, much more needs to be said about the lies, distortions, myths told and told again about Stein. About Stein and Hitler, Stein and Modernism, Stein and France — French politics, French history–, Stein and her survival in Nazi-occupied France.