Sunday, February 10, 2013

an opinionated woman



Bit by bit I’m getting back on track. I’ve written a little and drawn a little but it is only little bits. I shouldn’t have taken my advice last week to think very little (I had meant small) quite so literally. I’ve been experimenting with making art cards from my doodles and these are the results so far:

The cards on my worktable

I like them and I think I’m on the right track but it is too early to say much about them. So rather than talk about my doodles I’ll talk about something else.

I mention in my personal profile that I am a hoarder of second hand books. It’s true, and I love snooping in old book stores. I suppose purchasing books is currently my biggest financial vice. However I like rescuing these literary strays and finding them a home. I do not neglect them once they arrived, though it may take some time before I can pet them and pay full attention. Luckily books do not chew up your slippers or poop in your bed when life gets too busy. The thing about second hands books is that as soon as you see a book you want, you better pick it up because the next time you go to the bookstore it may not be there. Bookstores and animal shelters have this very much in common. 

About six months ago I found a copy of “Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein.” I have been fascinated by this woman since I first heard about her in connection with Picasso—one of my favourite artists. (It isn’t his paintings so much that I love as his sketches. Actually I could say the same about Rembrandt but I’m getting way off topic here.) Who was this author Gertrude Stein recognized as a great promoter of modern art and then basically sidelined as a footnote? She is not discussed much today as a literary innovator and little of her writing is remarked on except for a few quotes like “A rose, is a rose, is a rose.” Reviews are mixed. Some critics say she was brilliant and some say she was an idiot. So when I saw a copy of her writings I snapped it up. I wanted to find out for myself who this woman was. However it has only been recently that I could really delve into it.


I’m currently readingThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. from the selected writings. It isn’t truly an autobiography and it isn’t really about Alice—at least not directly. It was written by Gertrude Stein about Stein’s own life as seen by someone who shared her life in intimate detail. Alice B. Toklas was Gertrude’s life partner. The pair was pretty well inseparable during their life together. Gertrude hobnobbed with artists while Alice ran the household and entertained “the wives of geniuses.” It is an interesting tactic to take when writing about one’s own life. I often forget that Gertrude is indeed the author when discussing Gertrude Stein. It gives the author a kind of emotional freedom. Certain aspects don’t need to be shared since it is supposedly Alice’s memory than is being explored and not Gertrude’s.

I find while reading about Alice that I rather like Gertrude though I am uncertain if I would have liked to have been friends with her. She has a tongue in cheek attitude towards the foibles of social relationships that reminds me a bit of Jane Austen. I get the sense that she enjoyed watching people do their thing and she was lucky enough to view the goings on of a pretty remarkable crowd: Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Duchamp to name a few. I would certainly not call her an idiot and I am uncertain if she was brilliant but she was definitely extremely clever and witty. She would be considered politically incorrect by today’s standards. Gertrude had very confident views on various cultural identities. For instance, she states that Cubism could only be have been invented and executed well by the Spanish. She explains why—the colours that dominate the landscape and the temperament of the people—so I find she is just being honest and stating her opinion, but sometimes she comes across as close minded.  I can understand why people were drawn to her though. I doubt she was often dull.

There is a sad but interesting postscript to Alice’s story. When Gertrude died, her family reclaimed her financial property and Alice was left without income or home. To raise funds for herself Alice at one point wrote a cookbook which caused a slight scandal when it was published. One of the recipes in the book was for the pot brownie. Needless to say North America has never been quite the same since. 


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