Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 89

Gertrude Stein: Genius Wanted – Unwanted by White House

The scandal has finally reached the highest levels (so far?) with the White House striking Gertrude Stein from the list of “generations of Jewish Americans (who) have brought to bear some of our country’s greatest achievements and forever enriched our national life.” On May 1st, the beginning of Jewish Heritage Month, the list originally named Aaron Copland, Albert Einstein, Gertrude Stein and Justice Louis Brandeis. Then the controversy raged again, this time pushed by Orthodox Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Manhatten Borough President Scott Stringer’s incessant defaming of Stein as a “Nazi collaborator.” The American hysteria over Stein’s survival during the WWII has never abated. I have written a lot about it, to the point where some concerned liberal friends in Europe started wondering if enough hadn’t been said already about the topic. Now we know otherwise. On May 2nd, all the Jewish names were eliminated by the White House celebratory comments. Gertrude Stein was uninvited, an irony not lost on people who remember that in 1934, Stein and Toklas were invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to have tea with her at the White House.

Dov Hikind’s Urban Legends of Stein, “the Nazi”

Dov Hikind and his likes  who beat the drum of Stein as a Hitler lover, a fascist, a Nazi collaborator, also bullied the Metropolitan Museum in New York into including more commentary on Stein’s survival in the show “The Steins Collect,” which is on the last leg of its journey from San Francisco to Paris to New York. The New York provincialness of these battles in the press and blogosphere doesn’t even take into account that the controversy and the whole rumor mill started a whole year ago with “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories” in San Francisco. There is no such thing as an old hat when it comes to scandal-mongering. (See even the  New Yorker blog)
I talked about Urban Legends before. Stein the Nazi now is a top favorite. In Dov Hikind’s words: “It is a matter of fact that, among other things, Stein lobbied for a Nobel Peace Prize for Adolph Hitler and was only allowed to remain in France and continue collecting art because she aided the Vichy government in its collaboration with the Nazis.”
There is not a single fact in this statement, but the more the nonsense of Dov Hikind is repeated the more it sounds like facts to people who don’t know any better. He trumpets around the notion that Stein “lost her soul”: “People need to know who owned this art and how she came to maintain it while her fellow Jews were being robbed, tortured and murdered. Indeed, the collection should be presented as collected and safeguarded by a Nazi Collaborator.”

Gertrude Stein’s War Years: Setting the Record Straight

Slowly, however, and finally, public responses are forming that bring back factual facts into the distorted picture. Some of the most eminent Stein scholars have united under Charles Bernstein to circulate a Dossier“Gertrude Stein’s War Years: Setting the Record Straight” . Ulla Dydo and Edward Burns repeat and add to their solid analysis of Stein’s survival; Joan Retallack and Marjorie Perloff join the dossier confirming their knowledge that Stein ”was no fascist.” It’s a great breath of fresh air in a poisonous atmosphere. I will write more about it, but here I would like to share how already in 1996 Burns and Dydo had debunked the rumor that Stein lobbied the Nobel Peace Price Committee for Hitler – a favorite for the Dovkinds of this world.

Stein did not campaign or lobby for Hitler and the Nobel Peace Price!

The rumor was spread in 1995 to the Israeli journal Nativ by the Committee member Gustav Hendrikksen. He was enraged by the nomination of Arafat and wanted to underscore the Jews’ failure to support their own interest– no matter to him that in 1937, Hitler had already decreed that no German could ever receive a Nobel Price in any category. Hendrikksen’s accusation was quoted in 1996 by the English language edition of Forward and subsequently denied by the office of the Nobel Peace Price Committee in Oslo. But the official correction of the outright lie has done little for Gertrude Stein’s reputation. (The evidence is found in The Letters of Thornton Wilder and Gertrude Stein by the eminent scholars Ulla Dydo and Edgar Rice.)
To be continued.

Posted in Events, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, News, page articles, Urban Legends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 88

Another Round of Gertrude Stein Loves Hitler!

Sketch by Tom Hachtman

Perpetuating an Urban Legend about Gertrude Stein

Wouldn’t you know that the New York Review of Books wouldn’t pass up the chance to feed into the urban legend claiming that Stein really meant it when she quipped that Hitler ought to have the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1934.

The NYRB reviewed The Steins Collect, the traveling exhibition that finally reached the East shores at the end of February, opening at the NY Metropolitan Museum. 11 months in the running, one would imagine that reviewers had time to get acquainted with the show and its topic, gather correct information about Gertrude Stein and her siblings, about the Stein controversy (also in the running for 11 months), and that maybe even read some Gertrude Stein. The NYRB assigned the task to Michael Kimmelman, professor of architecture, who repeats and makes mistakes that are typical for someone coming to the task out of the blue.

“More than a hundred books” about Stein “in the past decade or so”? Sorry, the academic count is some 30 books and 70 dissertations.

If you present new books about and by Gertrude Stein, how can you mention Ida: A Novel and not know or leave out the more eminent new critical edition of Stanzas in Meditation, by the same Yale University Press?

Where Was That Famous Paris Salon?

Mr. Kimmelman states: “Michael and Sarah, husband and wife, … created a salon of their own on the rue de Fleurus.”

Excuse me, but there was only one salon on that rue, and that was Gertrude and Leo’s at 27 rue de Fleurus! Michael and Sarah’s rival salon was in the rue Madame, a fact that looms large in the exhibition. How to get something this basic wrong, you may wonder.

And do you wonder, then, what Mr. Kimmelman knows about Stein and Hitler?He reports: “’Hitler should have received the Nobel Peace Prize,’ she meanwhile told The New York Times Magazine in 1934, and alas, she apparently meant it.”
Here we go again.

Where is Gertrude Stein’s Jewish Humor?

The lack of reading Stein, the apparent misreading of an obvious, cutting irony, the failure to explore the matter – what else is new? I have commented on it repeatedly, but the urban legend will last as long as critics like Mr. Kimmelman and colleagues review Gertrude Stein. What is the information the critic bases this on? Janet Malcolm and her (according to Mr. Kimmelman) “excellent” book Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice? But Malcolm, mean-spirited as she loves to be, accords Stein her famous irony. So we can pinpoint the culprit. Mr. Kimmelman has read another book about Stein, he really has: Barbara Will’s Unlikely Collaboration!

Language Manipulation

As I said before: Will uses highly speculative language to make her case against Stein. The great majority of Stein critics, biographers and academic experts have agreed about this obvious irony (which I see as a prime example of Jewish humor), and Will at first admits it, too. But then she twists it in her wily, willful way: She muses: “Stein probably wanted her audience to respond in both ways…” She claims there is “a strong element of conviction and intentionality in such pronouncements, as though she requires – indeed demands –that her words be taken literally.” She denies Stein’s sarcastic humor by arguing, “her political ‘pontifications’ are not clearly ironic but apparently deeply felt.” (all quotes page 71-72). Are we to take this sort of language – “probably wanted,” “as though she requires, indeed demands,” “apparently” as clean, academic scholarship? To my reading eyes, this language is an obvious manipulation of the reader. Apparently the author has no argument, no evidence, and neither, alas, does Mr. Kimmelman.

Los Angeles Review of Books and Trivia: Voices of Feminism

In order to explore these matters again in greater detail than I did in the Los Angeles Review of Books and in my blog posts, I have summed up my studies of the Stein controversy of the last 11 months in an essay for the newly republished magazine Trivia: Voices of Feminism.
If you are interested in the urban legend being debunked, here is your chance!
Here Gertrude Stein fiction is decoded. The detective story,

Tinker Tailor Soldier Stein
is to be continued.

Posted in Book List, Events, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Urban Legends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 87



85 % original Stein, 15 % John le Carré, 1 % Stendhal

This was not an accident and it was mentioned.

To try and cry and not to smile. To try and not inherit not now now and now and meek and beg her then, fillet it fold her names and diagrams and special sauces. Light the lamps and code the merlin which is craft. Kindly treat them as if they were your own.

Then someone went out to start a car. The telephone was not working that was a fact.

If he told them would they like it would they like it if he told them. Would he tell them would he like it. If they told him would he smile it.

Shutters shut and open, so do queens. Shutters shut and shutters and so shutters shot shot and so, and so shutters. And so shotters shot and so and also. And also and so and so and also.

Feeling full for it. Exactitude is king. So to beseech so as for it. Exactly or as kings.

He was one who had observing coming out of him. He had observing being coming out of him. He certainly was one observing. He was then observing them. He was not any one. Of them. He had observing coming out of him. He certainly was observing her then.

Being observing Inningham busses only the wrong way staring. Left station lift leaning London, Karla and Bill and also. Left sharing everything another man’s woman. Genius is not another man’s woman, not many men’s woman who were boys together. Shop-soiled white hope and redbrick of and out of control. Turning his back turning him back back and in turn. Can a dog betray a circus. Dead is dead as is as can be. Dead.
All please smile a face which smiled in case that she did mind. For which if she did mind.

A little come they which they can be married to a man, a young enough man and an old man and a young enough man.

No and yes.

Any one saying no could be known to come to be left out. Out of what. Out of service. Not any one could leave ingratiating. Not any beg her man. Just which they smile or order which they smile.

After a while it is all known. Not three are changed for three. Neither or or either, or there.

Tank her tail her scold her cry. Build away with neither as a guess. There is no further guess.

Thank you for anxiously.

No one is amiss after servants are changed.

Are they.


(Note: Two Academy Award Nominations for the new Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It was time Stein wrote a “portrait” of the famously brilliant novel by John le Carré.

Stein quotes from Blood on the Dining-Room Floor, Picasso, The Making of Americans. John le Carré quotes from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Editorial input from Tom Lutz, LA Review of Books)

Posted in Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, News, page articles, Writing Coach | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 86

How many scandals fit on the tip of a needle when the needle is Gertrude Stein? I ask you.
To my delight, I discovered the latest one in the latest blog post by my friend Hans Gallas: http://gertrudeandalice.com/blog/2012/02/18/pussy-pussy-bo-bussy-the-name-game/#more-3569.
Just as the political controversy, whipped up by furious Prof. Barbara Will (see previous posts), has returned to a snore, wroom! there is another sex scandal. The first one, you will remember, sent two lesbians packing from the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, because they’d been holding hands in the gallery. This one is the Hemingway scandal. Once again. His story has been rehashed by every Stein detractor. Trust Janet Malcolm and Barbara Will to happily rehash it again.
So, what happened? Let’s recap. Hemingway (A Moveable Feast) allegedly heard Gertrude and Alice behind closed doors,
“I heard someone speaking to Miss Stein as I had never heard one person speak to another; never, anywhere, ever.” Who was that someone speaking to “Miss Stein”? “A companion,” according to Hemingway who knew better but preferred to stay clean. He got an earful right then and there.”Then Miss Stein’s voice came pleading and begging, saying, ‘Don’t, pussy. Don’t. Don’t, please don’t. I’ll do anything, pussy, but please don’t do it. Please don’t. Please don’t, pussy.’”
Poor old Hem, who was already confused. Hadn’t Stein tried to dissuade him from gay relationships (when she preferred the company of gay men to almost any other)? Wasn’t all this terribly corrupting stuff for a good, hard American man? Or was he drunk again? “The colorless alcohol felt good on my tongue,” he begins his tale. Fact is, he was mad at Stein when he reported his little hear-say. He had admitted that he wouldn’t have minded f… the lush, appetizing Gertrude. But instead, Stein and Toklas ended up kicking him out after a drunken visit to the rue de Fleurus. Was he very bruised?
What a horrid, cruel, sadistic relationship these two old dykes must have had! We shudder still. We are afraid for the innocents.
Enter Hans Gallas and his very amusing new book Gertrude and Alice and Fritz and Tom (viewed and reviewed in these pages). A story for kids with big, colorful, hilarious illustrations by cartoonist Tom Hachtman, and with dialogue by Alice and Gertrude, who — true to life — call each other Pussy and Lovey. Pussy, indeed.
Here is Hans:
“My first public reading of the book to a group of 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders in Oakland, CA was to happen a few weeks ago, but I had to postpone it temporarily. However, I did get an e mail from the teacher who had invited me, asking me, at the request of the principal, if I would change ‘Pussy’ to ‘Pussycat’ when I was reading the book to the children, ‘since the word now has developed a lot of negative connotations and our third graders are quite astute about picking up these things.’ My, my the loss of innocence.”
This book will be banned in America! It didn’t help that the illustrations were already cleaned up for kids by eliminating Alice’s ever-present cigarette. Literary history isn’t good for American kids. Literary lesbians aren’t good for American kids. Wouldn’t a relationship between a woman and a cat be much more proper? Let’s clean up that language, please. Clean up Gertrude Stein and make her kid-safe. By all means.
Read on and have a good laugh with Hans Gallas and Tom Hachtman, whose comic-strip-comment on the scandal ends the blog post, brilliantly…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 85

99% Gertrude  Stein

Aquarie Stein is having another virtual birthday, Feb. 3rd. She is turning 138. Looking back at the year she just spent, culturally speaking, it was the 99% Gertrude Stein year.

The excitement created by her modern art collection and her still shockingly modern personality was not just for the ususal 1 % of avant-gardists and art enthusiasts. The traveling museum shows had record-breaking crowds, and every second day, educational  events helped the 99% people (who had never read her) take her in, become part of the “scene”, the media frenzy,  the there there. Everybody who was anybody in 2011 was 99 % Stein.

There were the scandals Stein always triggers like a badge of honor: lesbians sent from the museums because they were holding hands. Attacks against the museums by the press and blogosphere for “whitewashing” Stein’s survival in Nazi-occupied France which, to the hysterics, meant she must have been in cahoots with the Naizs and in love with Hitler.

It so happened that another extraordinary exhibition  about an artist of German Jewish origin was shown at the same time. Charlotte Salomon was also there there, at the SF Contemporary Jewish Museum, while Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories ran on the floor above.  It was one of those moments of serendipity that gives you a frisson, goose-pimples.  Here was the brilliant young Jewish artist from Berlin who fled to the French countryside, like Stein and Toklas did. Sensing the narrowing trap by the Nazis she put down her life story in a frenzy, in over 700 watercolors overlaid with words. She created the first and most original of autobiographical “comic strips” – just in time before being betrayed, caught, deported to Auschwitz and gassed. She was 28 years old.

One of the memorable moments in Stein’s renaissance year for me was the autumn gathering of the Diane Middlebrook Salon, where new books are presented to an audience of women writers of great intelligence.  I had presented Stein at the Salon a while ago. This time, among the Salonistas, I met author Gabriella Mautner, whose harrowing escape through Europe from Nazi persecution was fictionalized in a grippingly “real” novel, Lovers and Fugitives. The same day at the Salon, I met SF State and Stanford professor Mary Felstiner, biographer of Charlotte Salomon. Her study To Paint Her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era gave me sleepless nights with its heart-wrenching suspense and brilliance. This was another serendipity in the rich year of  Nazi survivor Gertrude Stein.

It was Thanksgiving time. Birthdays are reminders of giving thanks. An Aquarie myself, I  am celebrating Stein’s 99% birthday by looking back at that outstanding Salon day when Mary Felstiner distributed, to everyone’s delight, her ”99% Thanksgiving Pie: All But the Upper Crust”. You surely won’t want to miss the recipe:


What will 99% of Americans eat for Thanksgiving dessert? Humble pie?

No, we’re too hungry and angry to settle for that. We’re losing jobs, insurance, housing, education, public services. So this Thanksgiving we’re demanding our just desserts, not a slash-and-reduce diet of Tea.

Let’s fill our tables with abundance, then fill our politics, so that every campaign speech and news clip repeats that brilliant number, “99%.”

And how do we make “99%” the watchword of the times?

How about this Thanksgiving we slice our pies for the 99%? We could name each slice for what we want more of, what we’re thankful for. Say, a big slice for public services, for our teachers, our firefighters, our police (they shouldn’t be sent to  attack demonstrators; they’re the 99% too). Big slice for anyone improving our roads and bridges and levees and clinics. Slice for clever businesspeople who increase jobs and invent products. Nice slice for our families and partners and people who care for others. Juicy slice for our artists and writers and singers and filmmakers, who make American culture irresistible. Then a hefty slice for our workers, who do every job we need, and we do need jobs. A nutritious slice for our military, who serve the country. And one for our protesters, who keep it vibrant and on-track.

And here’s a recipe.


Just so everyone can eat it, this recipe is sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegetarian. And it’s an open pie, open to changes.

BOTTOM CRUST: 1/4 cup oat flour or rice flour; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 2 tablespoons oil or butter or margarine; one egg (optional); 4 tablespoons chilled water. Stir, chill, and pat into pie plate, bake 20 minutes with bottom pricked.

FILLING: Fill with cut-up apples, honey, a little salt, cinnamon, 2 tablespoons corn starch, bits of butter or margarine. Bake 30 minutes until soft. Or try a large can of pumpkin, a cup of milk or soy milk, 3/4 cup honey, egg (optional), 1/4 cup cornstarch, sprinkle of salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, teaspoon of vanilla, all poured into the 99% bottom crust. Bake.

“99% Thanksgiving pie” is one little act of creative resistance, using imagination to thwart the aims of greed and unjust power.

Creative resistance matters. Last year, in Stanford courses on creative resistance, we gathered paintings and writings and music, recipes and jokes and graffiti that people created to keep humane values alight in times of war and genocide. Today, the Occupy movement is bursting with creative resistance. Just think of signs and chants at demonstrations: “We Are the 99%” and “Why is it easier to believe that 150 million Americans are being lazy than 400 Americans are being greedy?” and “Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out.” Think of the new songs and videos, of pepper-sprayed students calling to police, “Peace! You can go!” and a sign waved the other day in Palo Alto: “Inequities Occupy My Thoughts!”

How about adding your own skills to this outburst, this most energetic desire in decades to create change — a  posting online, a poster at a march, a letter, a window display, a thoughtful gathering, a ritual? Maybe make a 99% pie. Name the slices. And share your pie around.


[From Mary Felstiner. mf@sfsu.edu]



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 84


Phil Kennicott, Washington Post critic of Stein

The Stein controversy was picked up by Scene4 Magazine, the international magazine for arts and media, in a special issue on Obscenity: What Is Obscenity and What’s Not? An excellent article by the poet and Stein librettist Karren Alenier, “The Obscene Critic,” takes up the notorious Stein attack by the Washington Post, which I also commented on in a previous blog post. (The above caricature of the critic is by artist Gisela Züchner-Mogall.)
Alenier brings home the perversity of this particular Stein review — which inspired me to add the larger context to this public expression of “hatred” for Stein in a comment to Alenier’s article: http://www.scene4.com/readersblog/
I have written extensively about the personal and historical complexities of Stein’s survival in Nazi-occupied France. (See my analysis in the Los Angles Review of Books, in the Women’s Media Center as well as in my blog) Now it’s time to unmask the principal canon in the present “wars” against Stein: Barbara Will’s study Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (2011). Without the adademic seal of approval of this manipulative book, I argue, we would not have the extent of viciousness in today’s Stein controversy.
Before I enter my argument in this post, a brief introduction to the topic.


Obscene: 1.Offensive to accepted standards of decency or modesty. 2.Inciting lustful feelings; lewd. 3. Repulsive; disgusting. (Free Dictionary)

The joy of making Stein the butt of jokes and ridicule started the very moment she started, a good hundred years ago. We must assume Stein embodied so many offenses to “common decency” that she triggered a response in kind:  1) lewd -repulsed 2), disgusted- offended, and 3) morally outraged. Targets for the punches mostly were literally her belly, the body of the lesbian, the imposing dyke with the big self-esteem; and the Jewish self-declared “genius” whose writing was sheer “nonsense.”

Examples from the past:  Stein was “a huge squat mountain on a distant border of the literary kingdom” (Time Magazine, 1933). French critic Marcel Brion described her writing as  “a cold suet-roll of fabulously reptilian length… all fat, without nerve.” A “sausage, by-the-yard-variety“ according to Wyndham Lewis.  She was “a clinical case in megalomania” (Tristan Tzara) and “her lack of modesty (made) her stubborn, as a caryatid would be had it eaten the house is was intended to support.” (Djuna Barnes). All this is repeated and summed up at present in comments by writer colleagues: for Cynthia Ozick, Stein’s most famous line, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” is the “chant of a copycat Cubist” and “all that is left of Gertrude Stein.” (New York Times Magazine, 1996) Ex-feminist Elaine Showalter goes straight below the belt: “Stein seems more and more like the Empress Who Had No Clothes—a shocking sight to behold in every respect.” (A Jury of her Peers, 2009).

Stein’s present renaissance has triggered another old hat of hostility: questions about her survival in the French country-side during the Nazi-Occupation of France. As seasoned Stein expert Catharine R. Stimpson noted last November in her keynote address to the 2nd Annual Feminist Art History Conference in D.C.: “Stein’s detractors have been able to combine the standard attacks with a denunciation of her support of Vichy and Pétain.”

And now my Comment to the article in Scene4:

Karren Alenier’s article on the Washington Post’s obscene review of Gertrude Stein and the exhibition  Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. brilliantly analyzes one particular case of openly declared “hatred” for Stein. This sort of hatred has followed Stein from the moment she began to publish, in the early twentieth century, but it is worth noting the context that gave rise to this “indecent exposure” in a serious newspaper like the Washington Post. Stein’s present renaissance with two epochal traveling exhibitions has brought out people like critic Phil Kennicott who, as Alenier reminds us, assigns himself, a “seat in the corner with the Stein haters that include ‘the worst sort of critics—anti-Semites, misogynists, homophobes and philistines.’”

It is worth noticing that Stein’s old enemies found new fodder and an academic seal of approval for their attacks in Barbara Will’s book, Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ and the Vichy Dilemma (2011). The inflammatory book fed into the Stein controversy that was triggered by the exhibition Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, linked to the question how Stein and Toklas had managed to survive in Nazi-occupied France. Will’s speculations about the “true Stein” and her alleged “collaboration” with a fascist friend and fascist regime unleashed a cultural hysteria, a sort of license to kill that took over the media and blogosphere. I have no doubt that this cultural atmosphere provided the justification for the Washington Post to publish the infamous article.

Will camouflages the fact that her book is in fact about Bernard Faÿ, an intellectual friend of Steins’s from the twenties, a once respected historian and author who during the war became a Gestapo informer and persecutor of the Freemasons in France. Hardly anybody today would care about Bernard Faÿ and his twisted fate as a condemned collaborator who was ultimately pardoned by French President Mitterand. Gertrude Stein is being used to create a story that pretends to be sensationalist news when the facts and allegations have already been published and rehashed numerous times, most recently by Janet Malcolm in Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (2007).

I refer readers interested in the personal and political complexities of Stein’s survival to my analysis “Gertrude Stein a ‘Collaborator’, a ‘Nazi’?” published in the Los Angles Review of Books, in the Women’s Media Center as well as in my blog. Here I can only give one telling example of the perverse distortions propagated by this book that serves as the big canon in the latest wars against Stein: Will’s way of setting up Stein as a Hitler fan.

The academic professor tries to make use of the famous quote that every article nowadays repeats, wherein Stein suggests awarding Hitler the Nobel Peace Price, in 1934.  (New York Times Magazine,Gertrude Stein Views Life and Politics’)  “‘I say that Hitler ought to have the peace prize,’ she says, ‘because he is removing all elements of contest and struggle from Germany. By driving out the Jews and the democratic and Left elements, he is driving out everything that conduces to activity. That means peace.’”

The more objective commentators in the course of Stein research and biographical writing have recognized the irony – the Jewish humor with which Stein hands Hitler the price for his mockery of “peace.” Her irony is reinforced by many other anti-German, anti-Hitler and anti-Nazi comments one could quote from Stein’s work. Will, however, does not quote them. She doesn’t mention that a moment later in the same interview Stein says, “Building a Chinese wall is always bad. Protection, paternalism and suppression of natural activity and competition lead to dullness and stagnation. It is true in politics, in literature, in art. Everything in life needs constant stimulation. It needs activity, new blood.” In 1939, in Paris France, Stein equates Hitler’s “peace” with death for the arts and death for the country: “The characteristic art product of a country is the pulse of the country, France did produce better hats and fashions than ever these last two years and is therefore very alive and Germany’s music and musicians have been dead and gone these last two years and so Germany is dead well we will see, it is so, of course as all these things are necessarily true.” (Paris France, 1939).

Will isn’t stupid; she can’t quite get around Stein’s Jewish humor regarding the Nobel Peace Price for Hitler, but she nevertheless finds a way. She muses: “Stein probably wanted her audience to respond in both ways…” She claims there is “a strong element of conviction and intentionality in such pronouncements, as though (Stein) requires – indeed demands – that her words be taken literally.” She eradicates Stein’s Jewish humor by arguing, “her political ‘pontifications’ are not clearly ironic but apparently deeply felt.” (all quotes page 71-72).

Are we to take this sort of language – “probably wanted,” “as though she requires, indeed demands,” “apparently” — as clean, academic scholarship? To my reading eyes, this language is an obvious attempt to manipulate the reader .

Will rehashes another Hitler story, this one reported as hear-say by editor/publisher Jay Lansing. In 1934, Lansing heard Stein say that Hitler and Napoleon were both “great men.” For Will, this unquestioningly gives the other Hitler comment a sinister “deeper meaning”. Again, she won’t accord Stein the benefit of a doubt.  Was this another flagrant irony that was missed? Was Stein perhaps referring to the fact that both Napoleon and Hitler were in fact small, demented men and that most of the so-called “great men” of our history (from Alexander the Great onward), idolized by the masses, shared the megalomania that led to mass murder in their conquerors’ wars? It goes almost without saying that Will would ignore quotes like this one: “There is too much fathering going on just now and there is no doubt about it fathers are depressing. “ (Everybody’s Autobiography, 1936)

Will insists on finding a dirty under-belly in Stein at every turn. Three years before WWII, Stein commented in a letter to her friend W.G. Rogers: “…disguise it to yourself as you will the majority does want a dictator, it is natural that a majority if it has come to be made up of enormous numbers do, a big mass likes to be shoved as a whole because it feels it moves and they cannot possibly feel that they move themselves as little masses can, there you are, like it or not there we are. “(W.G. Rogers, When This you See Remember Me) This very realistic assessment, again with ironic-sarcastic undertones, is seen by Barbara Will as “chilling,” a proof that Stein “firmly distances herself “ from democracy: “Stein argues for the power, and, arguably, the rightness of authoritarian leadership.” (Will, p. 97.)

This sort of biased intimation is found throughout the book  – a book that has not yet been unmasked in its hostile, dishonest intentions. Will’s earlier academic work, Gertrude Stein: Modernism, and the Problem of “Genius” (2000) provided valid, useful, even enthusiastic Stein research. But since then, the author has “probably, as though, apparently” suffered a conversion experience.

She can be added to the detractors mentioned by Alenier’s article and take her “seat in the corner with the Stein haters that include ‘the worst sort of critics—anti-Semites, misogynists, homophobes and philistines.’”  If we still wonder about the true intention of these attacks, these wars against Stein, I suggest going to the root of the word obscene:

obscenitas, is latin derived from either ob-scaena, meaning against the scene of a stage (off-stage);

or it might be derived from obs-caenum  — of mud or filth (Origins, the Etymological Dictionary by Eric Partridge).

The intention, I argue, is to blast Stein off the stage and out of her sunny spotlight by besmirching her image in the exact fashion we can trace back to the origins of the term obscenity.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 83

Quirky Genius Turns Literary Kingdom to Mud

“They ask me to tell why an author like myself can become popular. It is very easy everybody keeps saying and writing what anybody feels that they are understanding and so they get tired of that….they do not know it but they get tired of feeling they are understanding and so they take pleasure in having something that they feel they are not understanding…. My writing is clear as mud but mud settles and clear streams run on and disappear…” (Everybody’s Autobiography)

Here she sits (in Gertrude and Alice and Fritz and Tom by Hans Gallas and Tom Hachtman, see my blog # 82) and sips her tea, perfectly unperturbed, as the year of Stein rolls to its last breath. What a year it’s been. A roller-coaster. The month of May brought the so-called “Summer of Stein”: her wild come-back with exhibitions and events in San Francisco. Then came the brooding fall with the political controversies over the controversial author who was not always “politically correct.”

While the exhibitions continue to delight most viewers and trouble a few in Washington, D.C., and Paris, France, the fall harvest added another show: ”Insight and Identity” at the Stanford Gallery in D.C., a playful look at Stein’s impact on artists today. Some of the familiars who had already wandered through my blog appeared in the show: author and Stein collector Hans Gallas as the initiator of the show, Bay Area artist Katrina Rodabough with her “textually” designed Stein dresses, conceptual artist Gisela Züchner-Mogall with her monumental work of copying The Making of Americans” over and over again into patterned pages of imagination.

New artistic insights into Stein were also proposed this fall in Paris: author and Stein expert Marjorie Perloff (Wittgenstein’s Ladder) talked about parallels between the work of Stein and Marcel Duchamp, telling us it’s time to look beyond the obvious Stein-Picasso link and find a new, exciting territory to explore.
For me, the year ended in several high notes. In November, at the Second Feminist Conference in D.C., keynote speaker Catharine R. Stimpson, an eminent Stein scholar, took a public stand against Stein’s old and new detractors. In the present “Stein wars,” I was not the only one any more speaking up in Stein’s defense.
My arguments, first, of course, expressed in this blog, appeared in Ms. Magazine in November and in the LA Review of Books in December. Lots of reactions proved that readers are waking up to the complexities of the historical and personal situation Stein and Toklas found themselves in during the war. Many shades of color were added to the all-black picture drawn by the media and the blogosphere. Academic Barbara Will, with her tendentious, inflammatory book Unlikely Collaboration, is not the only recent detractor of Stein. Stimpson pointed out the “relentless and redundant hostility” of writer Elaine Showalter. Once a pioneering feminist critic, Showalter’s history of American women writers, A Jury of her Peers, is, in Stimpson’s words, “a compendium of attacks on Stein, none original, but presented as being mostly fresh. Here is Stein, the fat, egocentric monster who thought she was a genius and who manipulated people, especially Toklas, into serving her. … The final chop of Showalter’s little hatchet revises folklore, ‘Stein seems more and more like the Empress Who Had No Clothes – a shocking sight to behold in every respect.’ “
Not only men (like critic Phil Kennicott in the Washington Post), but women, too, descend to expressions of unmasked obscenity speaking of Stein, which shows the deep cultural anxieties and gender worries caused by the big, imposing lesbian author who turned their literary kingdom into mud.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 82

Words, funny words and funny funny pictures and Paris in a new picture book!

"Once there were two amusing American ladies..."

It begins:
“Once there were two amusing American ladies, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. They lived in a mighty marvelous apartment in Paris…, ” and goes on to describe a Thanksgiving visit by two naughty American boys, which is based on a real story. It’s now the story of a book for children of ALL ages, by Hans Gallas, illustrated by Tom Hachtman: Gertrude and Alice and Fritz and Tom. One of the boys is/was author Fritz Peters (Boyhood with Gurdjeff), the other is his brother Tom. “We are always the same age inside,” to quote Gertrude Stein.

I had announced the marvelous book already last May, in my Post # 65, and now there is the there there in all its funny words and funny pictures, in time for Hannukah, Solstice, X-mas and the New Year, which will of course be another year of Gertrude Stein. You can order the book directly from the author’s colorful, enticing book page, at www.gertrudeandalice.com, or at Amazon.

Guess what Fritz and Tom discover at 27, rue de Fleurus? “It looks like a museum! I hate museums, everything in a museum is musty and moldy.” The story takes up from there and takes the boys, guess where? To the Louvre!
An interesting detail: no dogs in the picture. The visit happened before Gertrude and Alice got Basket the poodle and Pépé the chihuahua.
To see Basket in his wooly war-time coat, open another new book, the handy little calendar book Everyday Dogs: A Perpetual Calendar for Birthdays & Other Notable Dates by Mary Scott and Susan Snyder (Heyday, Berkeley, $14.95). It says, “What do Gertrude Stein, John Muir, Jack London, Queen Victoria, and your next-door neighbor all have in common? Dogs.” They failed to mention yours truly and Hans Gallas as well. “Woof! A dog fancier’s delight — ideal for birthdays and yearly events.” But they quote Gertrude. Voilà.
Now don’t forget to enter Gertie’s Aquarian birthday into the book: Feb. 3.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 81

Vive la France!

“I cannot write too much upon how necessary it is to be completely conservative that is particularly traditional in order to be free. And so France is and was.” (Paris France)
It is true, Stein was politically conservative, even at times reactionary, and this is part of the paradox of Gertrude Stein. The language revolutionary came from a proudly bourgeois, assimilated Jewish family with a great admiration for Washington and Grant. Clearly Stein felt you had to be rooted in solid ground in order to go out to the edge and not fall down. I never paid much attention to this wide-spread modernist paradox; it seemed irrelevant next to Stein’s monumental oeuvre of some 600 titles containing lots of poetry and little or no politics. I paid attention to the fact that from 1943 onward, Stein rooted for the Resistance, and to the fact that she had always expressed her profound dislike of Germany and Hitler, “There is too much fathering going on just now and there is no doubt about it fathers are depressing. “ (Everybody’s Autobiography, 1936), and she had made brilliant statements about the difference between Germany and France: “The characteristic art product of a country is the pulse of the country, France did produce better hats and fashions than ever these last two years and is therefore very alive and Germany’s music and musicians have been dead and gone these last two years and so Germany is dead well we will see, it is so, of course as all these things are necessarily true.” (Paris France, 1939)

How could anyone loving France not want to stay in France, I asked myself, even (and maybe especially) when France was in grave danger? Just last September, when I was in Paris and spent a good week at the Loire, it was a shock to be reminded how wonderful France, life in France, really is. No matter that I had lived in Paris for almost 20 years and visited often, I had forgotten! Here, around San Francisco where you get the best food in America, the best coffee, best croissants, French cheeses and wines, I almost believed that the “Global Village” had succeded and obliterated the need to travel to France.
But then there I was, and there was the real thing again, and I can tell you there is nothing like it. Nothing you eat here tastes anything like a baguette, a croissant, a round of goat cheese, a glass of Loire wine, a fresh walnut from the Dordogne, big as a lime, tastes over there. You have to go half around the world to realize that French coffee, excellent in even the smallest bistro anywhere in the countryside, is a world apart. That French butter has almost nothing in common with what we can buy here as “European-style” butter. I could go on…
This and the beauty of the old villages, the way the sandstone catches the light throughout the day – I kept wondering and wondering how anyone could question Stein’s decision. She had grown up on 10 acres of Californian land, a tomboy, with goats and chicken and apple trees, and in her French village, where she and Alice spent every summer, she was rooted like an old tree by the time the war arrived. She loved her country neighbors, and they told her to stay: they would care for her and Alice. They would protect them.
The suspicious questioning of how Stein and Toklas were able to survive the war as Jews reveals a considerable ignorance of the conditions in Vichy and Occupied France and a troubled confusion of France with Germany. In Germany, half of the German Jews were trapped after 1938, and almost every one of them was murdered. In France, three quarters of the Jewish population survived in the same way Stein and Toklas did, with the help of friends and neighbors, and often even with the help of French officials who quietly ignored German orders. Not that it was easy or safe. Any day, they could have been denounced. Should they flee to near-by Switzerland – without legal papers, as they were advised – into the complete unknown? Without being able to take their beloved dogs?
In 1939, they had made a mad dash to Paris to take a few things back to their country house, among them just two paintings from their vast collection: Picasso’s portrait of Stein and the Cézanne’s Portrait of Mme Cézanne. They didn’t find their passports, but they found the pedigree papers for Basket, their big poodle. This turned out to be a blessing as the Germans — with their racial obsessions — accorded special food rates to pure-bred dogs. No, they wouldn’t leave their dogs behind for a questionable safety for themselves. They would hold out and muddle through, all of them together, with their peasant neighbors and friends, a vegetable garden, with Alice’s kitchen artistry and Gertrude’s Black Market skills. Five years is a long time of deprivation. At some point, when all of France was occupied and all ties to America were cut, they had no source of money for an entire 6 months. Again, a friend and neighbor helped them out. But they ended up having to sell and “eat the Cézanne.” They had no heating and the language revolutionary who used to claim, “It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing nothing,” would cut wood all day, walk miles and miles for an egg or a bit of flour, and weed her garden.

The two elderly Americans (even Alice turned 65 during the war) were not noticed by the Germans – only Basket was. He was admired – which reminds me: A new little calendar book has come out: Everyday Dogs: A Perpetual Calendar for Birthdays & Other Notable Dates, from Heyday Books in Berkeley. Of course, there is Gertrude, late in her life, holding a very furry Basket on her lap. You will see it by turning to the third week of January 2012.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 80

Yes, I am not alone in taking on the war-mongers against Gertrude Stein and her survival in Nazi-occupied France, with their many ignorances, lies and innuendos… For a while, I felt quite lost in a desert, with bullets coming in right and left from the blogosphere and online magazines, the latest fired like a cannon-shot from critic Phil Kennicott at the Washington Post. But now comments are floating in from She Writers and others like a balm, and it’s heart-warming and encouraging to hear that others are seeing what I am seeing, and saying so.

The cartoon is by German-Australian, trés Steinian, artist Gisela Züchner-Mogall (whose work can be seen in the present exhibition on Stein at the Stanford in Washington Art Gallery in D.C.).

Here are some other thoughtful, thought-provoking comments I received to my last blog post from both women and men and would like to share with you.

From brand-new She Writer Karren Alenier:

“Good going, Renate. Your comment is really on the money.

Did you ever see Mabou Mines Dollhouse? Nora & the other women are very tall (6 ft) and the men are all dwarves. I have never seen anything so hysterically funny. And your lead-in reminds me of this play.”

More from across the ocean — the main German publisher of Stein, Arche Verlag, in Zürich and Hamburg, Nikolaus Hansen, writes: “skandalös – und großartige Replik!“(“scandalous — and a brilliant response!”)

From Stanford professor and Stein expert Marjorie Perloff:

” Stein was certainly misguided and no one ever claimed she had astute politics but what does that have to do with her great experimental writing?

The same people who excoriate Stein are often Heidegger fans—to me, incomprehensible vis-à-vis his real evil, his involvement in getting rid of the Jews beginning with his mentor Husserl.”

From Carlos Lens, art and ballet aficionado in LA:

“As Ms Alenier states – these comments reflect more on the author than the subject itself.

I think it’s important to have the likes of “Kennicotts” write comments like these only to show how much insecurity, fear, ignorance, envy, misogyny, bigotry and homophobia still exist.

· “intellectually infantile” – Yes indeed – inventive childlike imagination unconstrained by limitations.

· “cheerfully amoral “ – AMEN to that! And whose morals is he referring to anyway?

· “profoundly insecure” – Name one singular great mind that is not. The lack of it would only be proof of hubris.

· “nakedly ambitious” – When did ambition become a fault? Would “hidden or deceitful” ambition be more virtuous?

As another great “queer” genius once said :

“The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius” – Oscar Wilde”

From Sharon La Pena Davenport (researcher for Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories):

“In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.” I am tempted to ask what Mr. K would make of these lines of poetry “This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/ This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper” from the canonical favorite of English Lit classes, T.S. Eliot. Eliot, a near contemporary of Stein, was after his meteoric rise to fame based on a few poems written in his 20s, politically conservative, flirting with fascism, and famously anti-Semitic. “What is still more important is unity of religious background; and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.” Free thinkers and Jews are undesirable in the Unity, which is England; one sees the results of that sort of provincialism in contemporary Britain. The sort of thinking that Mr. K indulges in is no less teeny-weeny in its philistine attack of Stein in my humble opinion.”
From Prof. Amy Moorman Robbins, head of the Gertrude Stein Society:

“Thank you for including me in this post – the review is atrocious yet does the service of reminding us how vexed is Stein’s reputation in the public imagination and the scholarly community.”

From artist Joan Bradie:

“Appalling little man…

All summed up in ” Writing a sensational essay is always more about the essayist than the subject matter of the essay. ”

No need to say more. He doesn’t deserve another line.

Go, Gertrude!!!”

All this in a couple of days, what a harvest. Stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment