Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 91

Why the Witch-Hunt Against Gertrude Stein? Tikkun Magazine

It’s fascinating how the story of Stein’s war years and survival refuses to settle into a consistent story line. I wrote about Assemblyman Dov Hikind, commentator Alan Dershowith and their distortions of history in their attempt to bully the Metropolitan Museum. Dovkind, Dershowitz and others wanted the wall text of the exhibition “The Steins Collect” to follow their own version of the story – i.e. the urban legend based on the rumor-mill of Stein’s detractors. Even the White House got caught in the cauldron of hear-say and allegations against Stein, dis-inviting her on the sly from the official celebration of Jewish Heritage Month. For the details see my essay “Why the Witch-Hunt Against Gertrude Stein?” in Tikkun Magazine.

Tikkun, the left-wing Jewish magazine, offered me its platform for my defense of Stein and, at the same time, questioned (if not attacked) my arguments in an editorial caveat by the publisher of the magazine, Rabbi Michael Lerner. Inviting differing opinions is a policy of Tikkun magazine, a laudible policy – in fact an intrinsic part of the great Jewish Talmudic, Rabbinical tradition which has always maintained the principle of argument. In this tradition, my defense of Stein was and is not aimed at convincing anybody, it is meant to inspire critical thought.

In this case, Tikkun’s policy has triggered a feisty response from Denny Stein, a member of Stein’s family and a writer in her own right:

Letter to the Editor regarding his commentary on the Gertrude Stein “controversy.”
Tikkun editor wrote:
“we believe that artists, writers, poets, and intellectuals are not exempt from the moral obligation to fight against the rise of evil (as manifested in racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, anti-democracy, destruction of human rights, repression of free speech and freedom of assembly, destruction of the environment, militarism, torture, etc.), which becomes most dangerous when these pathologies move from the realm of thought to the realm of political movements that embody or champion them. Like all citizens, they are morally deficient when they fail to challenge the rise of evil in any given society, and all the more so because unlike most citizens, these people typically have greater access to the means of communication than the ordinary person. ”
No matter what the Tikkun editors “believe,” all citizens including writers, artists, poets, etc. are only human. They are not super-human. They do not have capes, or magic weapons, or sonic transport, or extraordinary powers. They are no more capable of rising above the distresses of everyday dangers or historical horrors than the rest of us. Some people do throw themselves in front of tanks or bulldozers, some publish defiant tracts and are arrested, some take up arms. They are many (I am sure) artists who retreat into their own safe worlds of creativity and hope the horrors won’t find them. And there are those who maintain life in their village and support the small community in which they live. No man or woman should be called out for not “rising to” every occasion. And the number of occasions listed by the editor (above) would keep an army of creative citizens so busy that they would have no time to think or create. Sometimes even writing a letter to the editor is too much.
Gertrude Stein may or may not have been a genius, but she was one person in thousands who made it through the war. Should we invent reasons for each survivor “proving” that they were complicit with the enemy in order to survive?
And it is oh so easy to sit in an air-conditioned office, with a title, computer, minions, and opinions, and pronounce judgment on others, especially 66 year old dead women. It is easy to assume Gertrude Stein knew this or that, could have done this or that, and should have done that. It is so easy to take her comments out of context, attribute inflammatory motives to them, then posthumously tar and feather her.
Remember, there is a vast difference between holding distasteful opinions and actually sending Jews, or anyone, to the gas chamber. It is time to put this subject to rest, and file it under “We are all human, no one is perfect.”
Thank you,
Denny Stein
I want to add a quote from the well researched book And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris, by Alan Ryding (Knopf, 2010):
“In the face of defeat and occupation … the French responded successively with anger, despair, resignation and accommodation. With the notable exception of those Fascist writers who cheered the Nazi victory, most French artists and intellectuals reacted in much the same way. Initially, at least, they, too, looked to Marshal Pétain to shield France from the worst in what promised to be a long ordeal. Feeling powerless, they adopted attentisme, an on-the-fence posture, which allowed them to get on with their lives—to write, to paint, to perform, to teach – while waiting to be saved by some external force, presumably the United States.”
This passage speaks for itself, and it speaks for Stein as well.

More about the interesting way the Metropolitan Museum managed to resist the bullying, in my next blog.

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3 Responses to Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 91

  1. Denny Stein says:

    Exactly! What I said, what you said, what they should have said. And as to Rabbi Lerner’s self-satisfied cheap shot editorial, that’s not opening the magazine up to discussion, that’s discounting the facts before they even get to the audience. Using the power of his pulpit to spread falsehoods and innuendo. Makes me ashamed of my heritage . . . Jew on dead Jew violence is not pretty.

  2. mabonnetoile says:

    Stein’s preface to the exhibition by Francisco Riba Rovira at Roquepine Gallery in May 1945:

    “It is inevitable that when we really need someone we find him. The person you need attracts you like a magnet. I returned to Paris, after these long years spent in the countryside and I needed a young painter, a young painter who would awaken me. Paris was magnificent, but where was the young painter? I looked everywhere: at my contemporaries and their followers. I walked a lot, I looked everywhere, in all the galleries, but the young painter was not there. Yes, I walk a lot, a lot at the edge of the Seine where we fish, where we paint, where we walk dogs (I am of those who walk their dogs). Not a single young painter!
    One day, on the corner of a street, in one of these small streets in my district, I saw a man painting. I looked at him; at him and at his painting, as I always look at everybody who creates something I have an indefatigable curiosity to look and I was moved. Yes, a young painter!
    We began to speak, because we speak easily, as easily as in country roads, in the small streets of the district. His story was the sad story of the young people of our time. A young Spaniard who studied in fine arts in Barcelona: civil war; exile; a concentration camp; escape. Gestapo, another prison, another escape… Eight lost years! If they were lost, who knows? And now a little misery, but all the same the painting. Why did I find that it was him the young painter, why? I visited his drawings, his painting: we speak.
    I explained that for me, all modern painting is based on what Cézanne nearly made, instead of basing itself on what he almost managed to make. When he could not make a thing, he hijacked it and left it. He insisted on showing his incapacity: he spread his lack of success: showing what he could not do, became an obsession for him. People influenced by him were also obsessed by the things which they could not reach and they began the system of camouflage. It was natural to do so, even inevitable: that soon became an art, in peace and in war, and Matisse concealed and insisted at the same time on that Cézanne could not realize, and Picassoconcealed, played and tormented all these things.
    The only one who wanted to insist on this problem, was Juan Gris. He persisted by deepening the things which Cézanne wanted to do, but it was too hard a task for him: it killed him.
    And now here we are, I find a young painter who does not follow the tendency to play with what Cézanne could not do, but who attacks any right the things which he tried to make, to create the objects which have to exist, for, and in themselves, and not in relation.
    This young painter has his weaknesses and his strengths. His force will push him in this road. I am fascinated and that is why he is the young painter who I needed. He is Francisco Riba Rovira.”
    Gertrude Stein
    (from Wikipedia & Yale University)

    So you have also a politic vew when she supports Riba-Rovira who was antifaschist and antinazi. After the Edward Burns’s answer it is another document .

  3. mabonnetoile says:

    Now this wonderfull exhibition,”The Steins Collect;Matisse,Picasso,Cezanne and the Parisian Avant Garde” in NewYork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art ,is over .

    It was a little more than twelve months the Steins’s Year .Perhaps more than one million visitors in the five exhibitions .

    What a pleasure to see the portrait of Gertrude Stein by Riba-Rovira .

    Who was as Picasso an antifascist and antinazi artist .Persecuted by Franco and the Nazis .And he is in this exhibition ,thanks to Rebecca Rabinow and Edward Burns.
    So Riba-Rovira is beside Tchelitchew and Balthus and Francis Rose near Picabia and Picasso in the last room of this exhibition with Cézanne, Matisse .

    You have an interesting article in Appollo London Revew about him .And also in Artes Magazine from San Francisco where the exhibition was before .

    The main revelation is in the mention beside the picture with the Preface Gertrude Stein wrote for first Riba-Rovira’s exhibition in the Galerie Roquepine in Paris on 1945 .

    Where we can read Gertrude Stein writing Riba-Rovira “will go farther than Cezanne…will succeed in where Picasso failed…I am fascinated ” by Riba-Rovira Gertrude Stein tells us .

    And you are you also fascinated indeed as Gertrude Stein by Riba-Rovira ?
    Me I am when I see « L’Arlequin » on the free access website of « Galeria Muro ».

    Gertrude Stein spoke in this same document not only Picasso and Cezanne but also Matisse and  Juan Gris .
    Riba-Rovira went each week in Gertrude Stein’s saloon rue Christine with Masson, Hemingway and others. By Edward Burns and Carl Van Vechten we can know Riba-Rovira did others portraits of Gertrude Stein .

    But we do not know where they are ;and you do you know perhaps ?

    With this portrait we do not forget it is the last time Gertrude Stein sat for an artist who is Riba-Rovira .Picasso the first .
    This exhibition presents us a world success with this last painting portrait before she died .And her last Gertrude Stein’s Art Retrospective before dead .

    It illuminates the tone as an esthetic light over that exhibition now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York thanks to Curator Rebecca Rabinow .
    Coming from San Francisco “Seeing five stories” in the Jewish museum to Washington in National Portrait Gallery .And after Paris, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York for our pleasure .

    And the must is to see for the first time in the same place portraits by Picasso, Picabia, Riba-Rovira, Rose ,Tall-Coat, Valloton .Never before it was .

    You have the translate of Gertrude Stein’s Riba-Rovira Preface on english Gertrude Stein’s page on Wikipedia and in the catalog of this Roquepine exhibition you can see in first place the mention of this portrait .And also other pictures Gertrude Stein bought to Riba-Rovira .
    There is another place where you can see now Riba-Rovira’s works in an exhibition in Valencia in Spain “Homenage a Gertrude Stein” by Riba-Rovira in Galeria Muro ,if you like art …

    We do not missed today that all over Europe a very bad wind is blowing again bringing the worth in front of us .And we must know that at least were two antinazis and antifascists in this exhibition but the only one fighting weapons in hands would be Riba-Rovira who did one of the first three « affiches » supporting Republicans in the beguining Spanish civil war .

    Seeing the Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Riba-Rovira in the Metropolitain Museum of New York with Picasso ,Cézanne ,Matisse we feel a recreation of spirit .

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