Swoonrocket- notes for talk at the panel "Why Is Gertrude Stein So Important?" at the ALA.

quote...'We get from avant garde modernism, by which I mean we get from Stein, the contemporary literature that we deserve. That in short is why Stein matters.

But what is Stein? I want to tell several stories about the Stein that we deserve.

One is the Stein that appears in the publication context of her time. And as example here I want to talk some about the 150 or so pages of Stein were published in the various issues of the journal Transition. Transition was edited mainly by Eugene Jolas while he lived in Paris and it came out monthly from 1927 until 1932 (after 1932 it came out less regularly, first from the Hague and then from New York, until 1938). So it interestingly, although not uniquely, charts the development of avant garde modernism before World War II. When Jolas reprints Tender Buttons in his journal Transition, he doesn’t just put it in the journal on its own. He puts it in a larger context, in a section titled “America,” which includes not only work by other American avant gardists such as A. Lincoln Gillespie but also work from a diverse range of genres and cultures such as fairy tales of the Aztec and Inca periods, a Mexican statue, a Columbian figure, and a Peruvian bowl.

The Stein that appears in Transition is one that is in dialogue with the wide variety of arts that are new to Europe as a result of imperialism. The editorials and reviews and essays of Transition make an argument that avant garde modernism’s forms are reflective of a Europe changed by imperialism, a Europe suddenly very much aware of how different cultures and their arts and their languages are entering and shaping European centers, over and over. Jolas does not really use the words “imperialism” or “colonialism,” he does again and again relate the avant garde to economic and political changes. Again and again he argues that this writing, a writing that at moments he calls a declaration of linguistic independence and at other moments the revolution of the word, was indebted to the disruption of the center'. 

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