Newly famous in the wake of the publication of her groundbreaking Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein delivered her Narration lectures to packed audiences at the University of Chicago in 1935. Stein had not been back to her home country since departing for France in 1903, and her remarks reflect on the changes in American culture after thirty years abroad.In Newly famous in the wake of the publication of her groundbreaking Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein delivered her Narration lectures to packed audiences at the University of Chicago in 1935. Stein had not been back to her home country since departing for France in 1903, and her remarks reflect on the changes in American culture after thirty years abroad.In Stein’s trademark experimental prose, Narration reveals the legendary writer’s thoughts about the energy and mobility of the American people, the effect of modernism on literary form, the nature of history and its recording, and the inventiveness of the English language—in particular, its American variant. Stein also discusses her ambivalence toward her own literary fame as well as the destabilizing effect that notoriety had on her daily life. Restored to print for a new generation of readers to discover, these vital lectures will delight students and scholars of modernism and twentieth-century literature.“Narration is a treasure waiting to be rediscovered and to be pirated by jolly marauders of sparkling texts.”—Catharine Stimpson, NYU...
|Title||:||Narration: Four Lectures|
|Number of Pages||:||96 Pages|
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Narration: Four Lectures Reviews
In the imagination of most readers and critics, Gertrude Stein may have cut an idiosyncratic literary personage in her lifetime and beyond and I firmly understand wherefrom this notion originates. But why nitpick over 'idiosyncrasies' when they can be so creative and fun?At the outset, Stein's written words gave me the impression of a proliferation of misprints (so silly...I know!), ignorant as I was about her stylistic inclinations. But once I wrapped my head around her way of going around in circles before making a point and repetition for added emphasis, I was able to follow with some moments of timely annoyance. If beating around the bush or being obtuse could be considered a separate art form altogether, Stein would be one of its greatest exponents no doubt.This compilation contains 4 lectures delivered at the University of Chicago in 1935 when Stein was on tour in America post the massive literary success that was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. And the focus here is on the art of narration be it the narrative of a newspaper report, that of a historian keeping a record of past events or that of the novel, nonfiction or a piece of poetry, the chief highlight being her unambiguous, strong advocacy of modernist techniques in narration. She argues that narration should be a 'living' entity, one that breaks free of archetypes and defies rigorous standards of grammatical rules and correct punctuation.Evidently she has high regard for the notion of dynamism which underpins the American way of life and how this in turn reflects in American art and literature. She contrasts this against the everyday life on an island like Britain where ennui and stagnation were the order of the day and how the cyclical nature of their mundane, daily life impacted their literary output. But the most significant point she makes about the art of writing is through her repeated references to a 'beginning, the middle and an end' and how writers should strive to give an impression of life as it is, always existing in the now instead of the past or future."...now I wonder if there is any such thing middle or the ending because since narrative was a progressive telling of things that were progressively happening it really did not make any difference where you were at what moment you were in your happening since the important part of telling anything was the conviction that anything that everything was progressively happening."A most thumping approval of the stream of consciousness technique if there ever was one.There are two other concepts that wowed me greatly. She asserts that a dual perception is active within any writer - the consciousness of the writer as originator of what he/she is writing and that of the reader who is taking cognizance of the narrative while still in the process of creating it. This is exactly why she considers the act of writing 'for the reader' an exercise in futility. Similarly, she believes an orator perceives self-spoken words through the conjoined consciousness of both the listener and the speaker and this is exactly the sort of hypersensitivity Stein insists on maintaining while reading, writing and critiquing. Another highlight of her rhetoric is the rejection of grandiloquence in prose and poetry. To put it in terms of colloquial parlance, she thinks usage of 10-dollar words is unnecessary to drive home a point."One of you brought me poetry to read the other day and I said remember that if you have to use strained words to say what you have to say by strain existing in the words that you are using, what feels to you a rare emotion becomes common-place not ordinary that is alright but just common-place and a common-place thing does not contain feeling."To cut a long story short, Stein believes any narrative should have a clearly discernible pulse of its own, so that a reader never lapses into complacency while reading and remains in a state of heightened awareness. Normative structuring of passages and correct placement of punctuation marks are not as vital to story-telling as freeing the reader from the monotony of cliche expressions is."So then although anyone can say that they do not write for an audience and really why should they since anyway the audience will have its own feeling about anything nevertheless the writer writing knows what he is writing as he recognizes it as he is writing and so he is actually having it happen that an audience is existing even if he as an audience is not an audience that is is one not having that he is an audience and yet that is just what a writer is. As he is a writer he is an audience because he does know what an audience is."If you are open to the idea of extracting meaning from underneath layers of semantic calisthenics such as the above, you will have a rip-roaring time with this collection.
Once you get past the silliness of American exceptionalism (in short: the English just like being, whereas Americans like doing shit and shit), there are some decent points made here, and Stein's attention to actual words, rather than character/plot/psychology/structure is a nice corrective to most discussion about narrative. I'll continue to think about her distinction between poetry and prose, in particular: poetry as continual naming, prose as a kind of reflection on mediation ("prose was more and more telling and by sentences balancing and then by paragraphing prose was more and more telling how anything happened if any one had anything to say about what happened how anything was known if anyone had anything to say about how anything was known..."). Since 'literature' is predominantly subjective, our problem is to make what is 'outside' 'inside,' that is, to make the objective world subjectively interesting. Fair enough. Stein's arguments here are in some ways typically modernist, and in other ways more interesting than academics usually make modernism seem. But the real draw is Stein's style; the quote above is entirely representative. She doesn't use many words, but the ones she does use are very common, and the ones she does use she sure does use a lot. Not too many people could get away with that.
"Sentences and paragraphs. Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are. I can say that as often as I like and it always remains as it is, something that is. I said I found this out first listening to Basket my dog drinking. And anybody listening to any dog’s drinking will see what I mean."
Unbelievably good....Everybody always has to be listening to something, that is the way it is always anybody has to be listening to something that is what makes life lived the way that is what makes anybody who they are what they are, of course it does any of you think of your life the way it is, you are always listening to some one to something and you are always telling something to some one or to any one. That is life the way it is lived.I once said and I think it is true that being a genius is being one who is one at one and at the same time telling and listening to anything or everything.
Gertrude Stein is one of my favorite essayists because she always gets me to rethink what I think I pretty much know. In her four lectures on narration here for instance, she devotes one lecture entirely to audience, for isn't writing always about communicating to an audience even if, as she points out, we ourselves can be the audience to and for our own writing at times. Her analysis of American vs. British writing and her comparisons of newspaper journalism vs. detective stories are fascinating, and amusing. Steinese thinking is expansive thinking.
succinct and interesting. some insight really, but 5 stars if one has not read Stein at all. otherwise I suppose it makes sense. her obsession with nationality and temporality -- and existence! is interesting.
The quote about Basket the dog is not from Narration, but rather from a lecture entitled "Poetry and Grammar," which can be found in the book Lectures in America. I was disappointed by the four lectures in this book; there's nothing even remotely as exciting as the quote concerning Basket.
Stein is playful and unusually brief and direct in these lectures. Why aren't these more anthologized? One of my favorite sentences: “Narrative is what anybody has to say in any way about anything that can happen has happened will happen in any way” (31).
tremendously ignored and absolutely essential