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Stein’s “dreary” taste in classics

Notes on Catharine R. Stimpson, “The Mind, the Body, and Gertrude Stein.”

Loneliness weakens women. [It doesn’t weaken so much as kills men. It may take some time to convince them, though.]

Stein reads Weininger whose “dreary classic of male supremacy disguised as science” “exactly embodied” her views. (The last quote from Mellows.) [It must be “dreary” to hear saws like “the longer the hair the smaller the brain” etc. Weininger’s view was indeed more male than that of most males, true. On the scale of what matters to a proprietary male view, Weininger was a moral supremacist. The bit about science, however, is not the case. Weininger observed and commented on the science of his time—rather insightfully, I might add, anticipating a certain endocrinological concept or two well before their time. But before he finished his book he also made it clear that science was not up to the task he set for himself. Science, even assuming he wanted to hide, made for poor cover. Read the book while keeping this in mind: think not about what he says about women, but about what it entails about men. You may be surprised to find that, in the end, he and the most radical feminisms will not be far apart. But I must be living in a dream world to think anyone reads that carefully. Stimpson may be right. Dreariness abounds. Though in reading Stein herself, unlike many of her commentators, I take heart…]

Stein, “a Euclid of behavior,” psychologically obsessed with mapping out “bottom natures.” She shifts her allegiance from an early, more straightforward, feminism in the tradition of Charlotte Perkins Stimson (Gilman) to a more exceptionalist, most-women-are-what-they-are-but-not-she view of her role in the culture.*

*Editor’s note: See commentary on Stein’s “The Degeneration of American Women

Stein dissolves quasi-homosexual or adulterous affairs into unhappiness. With exceptions like Ada.

The symbol of woman’s natural connection with nature, sensuality, the body, etc. was “imposed on them,” and even though—in another sense than that implied in the imposition—true, it was of little use to them in expressing sexuality in writing. Coding runs thick. [The body and all the possible relations to it were incommunicable in the inherited language of men to a generic audience. There is no generic audience for this subject.]

Virginia Woolf’s and Stein’s domestic strains, and the way they were enabled as writers by them, briefly compared.

Stimpson ends by warning us not to overdo the sexual subtext in Stein. What is our obsession with doing so supposed to be encoding?
[A short answer: loneliness.]

Posted by luno in Stein, Weininger (Thursday August 28, 2008 at 12:19 pm)

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