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Notes on Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas


She was interested in types, she knew that there were femme décorative, femme d’intérieur, and femme intrigante

the wives of geniuses


The world was a theatre for you…

Picasso says of Alice: she looks like Lincoln.

Picasso’s making a thing, bound to be ugly. Those who follow will make it pretty.

Vollard, the art dealer, of Cezanne: a portrait of a woman is always more expensive than that of a man—but with Cezanne it doesn’t make any difference.

[Unconsciously perhaps in the artists of her time and place, quite consciously in Stein, we see the deconstruction of sex differences to Weiningerian essences. Beauty is stripped from women, character from men. The delusions proprietary to each sex are smudged. Apparently, we need this to make way for the re-emergence of the transcendent…]

Alfy Maurer, of a painting, you could tell it was finished: it had a frame.

Flaubert’s Three Tales, a suggested model of sorts for her book of a similar name.*

*Editor’s note: Flaubert’s Trois contes is also a favorite work of Luno.

Those who mock what is clear and natural. Critics of Matisse and Stein.


Sentences not only words but sentences and always sentences have been Gertrude Stein’s lifelong passion.

Picasso quoted:

ils sont pas des hommes, ils sont pas des femmes, ils sont des américains.

Creating sentences while posing:

The sentences of which Marcel Brion, the French critic has written, by exactitude, austerity, absences of variety in light and shade, by refusal of the use of subconscious Gertrude Stein achieves a symmetry which has a close analogy to the musical fugue of Bach.*

*Editor’s note: It is probably no accident that Luno treasures Bach and Stein—a likely pair!

Stein never throws away on what she has written.


Matisse intimated that Gertrude Stein had lost interest in his work. She answered him, there is nothing in you that fights itself and hitherto you have had the instinct to produce antagonism in others which stimulated you to attack. But now they follow.

This, she says, was

the beginning of an important part of The Making of Americans. Upon this idea Gertrude Stein based some of her most permanent distinctions in types of people…

[Marginalia: Stein’s penchant for classification is notably un-American. She loved America. She just couldn’t live there. The fundamental hypocrisy of Americans is their belief in a classless society. It permeates every aspect of the culture. Thus nowhere else in the world is the contemporary usage of the phrase “perpetuating stereotypes” so prevalent and suffused with the conviction that it is even possible. Prejudicial mulishness is not so easily reformed. Little effort is made to curtail the real cause of the problem which is the compulsion to “dumb down” reality to the level of our facility to grasp it. Would that it were possible to “perpetuate stereotypes.” Then we might perpetuate some worthy ones.]

Stein receives a young visitor from the Grafton Press who, surprised at her articulate English, had been under the impression that English was not her native language or that she had not much experience writing.

Living alone, unsurrounded by English and its speakers, intensified her feeling for the language.

The newspapers pay inadvertent homage to her by quoting her correctly. If they had not been mocking her, they would have been less careful to get her words exactly right.

Gertrude was fond of spinach.*

*Editor’s note: Luno as well, and broccoli, too.

Those who can “forgive but not forget” and those who can “forget but not forgive.”

How America came to be the oldest country in the world. It began through the Civil War and its aftermath to create the 20th Century while still in the 1860s. Through a kind of distortion of time it added an artificial age to its natural one. [cf. The Geographical History of Americans]

She was found to have no subconscious reactions in William James’ experiment. [Not having a subconscious is also characteristically American—though there it is more a function of affectation or the elevation of innocence to virtue than transcendence.] James concludes, if Gertrude had no subconscious reactions, then there are indeed people without a subconscious. Her results cannot be considered a fluke.

James gives her the highest grade in her class for confessing she “did not feel like a philosophy exam today.”

[Philosophy exams should only be taken when the feeling is right. What is the hurry? Do you expect immortal truth to change tomorrow? And if it did, your answers today would be wrong in any case…]

James purportedly marked up a copy of Stein’s Three Lives. Stein would have loved to have seen it.

Dr. Mall, one of her instructors at Hopkins said nobody teaches anybody anything: at first every student’s scalpel is dull, later sharp.

Marian Walker pleaded with Stein not to give up medicine (a cause for women at the time). Gertrude responded, “You don’t know what it is to be bored.”


She always says she dislikes the abnormal, it is so obvious. She says the normal is so much more simply complicated and interesting.

Marian and Gertrude still friends though they “disagreed as violently about the cause of women as they did then.”

Not, as Gertrude Stein explained to Marion Walker, that she at all minds the cause of women or any other cause but it does not happen to be her business.

[There was, of course, a cause—a woman’s cause—that was Stein’s business, just not the one that found solutions to feminine problems in the repetition of masculinity and its trappings.]

Gertrude swears and an episode of healing a case of hiccoughs.

The adventure of discovering quality in art.

Americans and Spaniards understand abstraction. Bullfights not bloodshed but ritual.

Writing: vacillation between doubt and entrancement.


You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink said Pat Bruce. Most horses drink, Mr. Bruce, said A. B. Frost.*

*Editor’s note: Luno frequently cites this remark.

Stein’s clear-eyed view of what is to be expected of normal people in the normal course of events. Her passion for tracking the ineradicable in human character.


A little artist has all the tragic unhappiness and the sorrow of the great artist and he is not a great artist.

The bullfights.

While in Granada her style changed:

…she had been interested only in the insides of people, their character and what went on inside them, it was during that summer that she first felt a desire to express the rhythm of the visible world.

She discusses the problem of the external versus the internal. Still-lifes versus the human being, the latter is not paintable.

The start of Tender Buttons.

[Here is documentation of the fateful moment in the history of her ambition. She now strikes out on a path Weininger had perhaps hinted her expertise would lie: the world at the edge of the senses. Thereafter, even the most abstract themes would be painted in the most accessible colors and surfaces, indeed, would be reduced to them.]

McBride’s championing and Stein’s doleful wish for a little success in spite of McBride’s conviction that it ruins.

Commas: unnecessary, one should know without prompting when it is time to pause and breathe.

Visit to Cambridge: Whitehead and Russell.

Stein and G.E. Moore were not interested in each other. [Stein was wont to recommend Weininger’s book to her friends. Moore would later have the privilege of having it recommended to him by Wittgenstein. If, by some strange chance, she had already done so, it might explain Moore’s diffidence reflected in Wittgenstein’s 1931 letter to Moore.]

Fussing Russell: argument with Stein on the appropriateness of Greek to the English and inappropriateness to Americans. Different psychological types and characters…

Germans: method but no organization. “They are not modern.”

Americans as pure republicans, nothing in common with Germany, much with France, some with England.

1914-15: the beginning of the concern to describe the inside as seen from the outside. Tender Buttons.

A columnist’s campaign of ridicule.

Interest in missionary diaries and autobiographies.

Virgil Thompson’s playing of Satie’s Socrate for Stein.

Imitating Stein.

Getting people to do things for you and a deep down sense of equality.

Stein as military godmother.

…and doughboys.

Love of the Rhône Valley.


…peace for at least twenty years…

On visiting the front lines just after the war,

Another thing that interested us enormously was how different the camouflage of the french looked from the camouflage of the germans, and once we came across some very very neat camouflage and it was american. The idea was the same but as after all it was different nationalities who did it the difference was inevitable. The color schemes were different, the designs were different, the way of placing them was different, it made plain the whole theory of art and its inevitability.*

*Editor’s note: Luno, commenting on this passage in the margin, remarks on the functional semblance in the face of ludicrously patent difference: “The image applies with singular aptness to the feminine and masculine use of the same evaluative (moral, aesthetic, etc.) language. Usages are reminiscent of each other but somehow off—but because they are assumed to function the same in each world—few notice how different they are—and how ridiculous it is not noticing. It’s as though we announce ourselves through our disguises. The ’human’ disguise (as opposed to the masculine or feminine) is conspiratorial, par excellance.”

Silvia Beach

Sherwood Anderson’s meeting and subsequent affinity with Stein.

In the middle of a discussion between T. S. Elliot and Stein on the subject of split infinitives and grammatical solecisms, Elliot offered to publish something of hers, but it would have to be “her very latest thing.” Immediately, Stein set down something called “the fifteenth of November,” that being the day of the discussion: “It was all about wool is wool and silk is silk or wool is woolen and silk is silken.” Elliot accepted it but did not print it.

More Stein literalness: “Finer than Melanctha.”

Setting up a sentence as a tuning fork or metronome and writing accordingly.

A piece called “Elucidation” where she essays to clearly realize what her writing meant, “why it was as it was.”

The vulgarization of the line, the creator and his followers.


Gertrude Stein, in her work, has always been possessed by the intellectual passion for exactitude in the description of inner and outer reality. She has produced a simplification by this concentration, and as a result the destruction of associational emotion in poetry and prose. She knows that beauty, music, decoration, the result of emotion should never be the cause, even events should not be the cause of emotion nor should they be the material of poetry or prose. They should consist of an exact reproduction of an inner or outer reality…

Juan Gris [the symbolist painter and of whom she spoke of with reverence] also conceived exactitude but in him exactitude had a mystical basis. As a mystic it was necessary for him to be exact. In Gertrude Stein the necessity was intellectual, a pure passion for exactitude. It is because of this that her work has often been compared to that of mathematicians and by a certain french critic [Marcel Briton] to the work of Bach.

[Likely, she would have classed Weininger and Wittgenstein as also mystics concerned with exactitude. But with them it was not a intellectual necessity but a moral one. And this is emblematic. Likely, this was the case with Gris as well, but Stein, predisposed as she was to look at surfaces, would not have picked up on it.]

Picasso’s jealousy of Gris and Stein.


The Life and Death Juan Gris

Everyone was 26 (in those days). The young Hemingway advised.

Stein’s criticism is on general principles.

The Making of Americans: the beginning of modern writing.

Anderson and Stein proud of and a little embarrassed by Hemingway.

Hemingway: yellow, afraid, but he takes training, “looks like a modern” but “smells of the museums,” concerned with “career.”

Hemingway: fragile, always breaks something, his arm, his leg, his head. [And later, of course, puts a hole in it.]

Sherwood could write a clear and passionate sentence.

Fitzgerald could also write sentences.

Weakness of Hemingway. [Stein perhaps intuited Hemingway’s eventual suicide.]

Stein was born in February, like George Washington, “impulsive and slow minded.”

René Crevel

Virgil Thompson’s dreaming


…a picture is worth 300 francs or 3 hundred thousand francs…

Lecturing at Cambridge

An artist needs appreciation.

If he needs criticism he is no artist.

[…but he may be a philosopher.]

Fond of René Crevel


Negroes suffered not from persecution but from nothingness, they are not primitives, but their culture is narrow.

[As other marginalized peoples, they have not (yet) benefited from the cultural decadence of oppressors who may sport a conscience and come to see guilt as virtue.]

Gide slightly slighted.

…if you are way ahead with your head you are naturally old-fashioned and regular in your daily life.

Grant (Ulysses S.) Sherwood’s and Stein’s great American hero.


…the rhythm of his [her poodle’s—Basket’s] drinking water made her recognize the difference between sentences and paragraphs, that paragraphs are emotional and that sentences are not.

Briton mentioned again [the comparison to Bach must have resonated with her].

Posted by luno in Stein, General (Tuesday July 22, 2008 at 1:03 pm)

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