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Studies in Description
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Monday June 15, 2015 in Books

Studies in Description
Reading Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons

By Carl Peters

Difficult writing has its way of illuminating the part of the world that counts. One such difficult text is Gertrude Stein’s highly experimental Tender Buttons: objects, food, rooms – long considered the single most groundbreaking literary work of twentieth-century art, literary criticism, and art history. In the centennial year of its publication, Carl Peters offers a sustained reading of the 1914 edition, responding to the eccentric sounds and rhythms of this long prose-poem with annotations that bring understanding, in particular, to the composition’s syntax, which is noted for its defiance of conventional norms; for example:

Roast potatoes for.
[Annotation] Grounded.

Such annotations demonstrate that an apprehension of Stein’s whole art comes from the project and praxis of reading the work literally, actually. “Read her with her for less,” she asserts. Translate “more than translate the authority.”

In Studies in Description: Reading Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Peters demonstrates the ways in which Stein’s thought questions everything, underlining reasons that her work has long served as the wellspring for generations of experimental writers, inspiring language movement poets such as bill bissett, bpNichol, and George Bowering, and novelists such as William Gass, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway.

Modern works such as Tender Buttons can be used to show how in the early twentieth century Stein and others helped us discover a different world in our midst, a moment of the modern.

ISBN 13: 9780889229617 | ISBN 10: 088922961-
6 W x 9 H inches | 408 pages
$24.95 CAN / $24.95 US
Rights: World
Backlist | Non-Fiction
Paperback Edition


“You don’t read Gertrude Stein’s 1914 prose poem Tender Buttons casually – or you could try, but grow frustrated: The eye trips along the lines faster than the mind makes sense, and that’s on purpose. Tender Buttons isn’t nonsense, though it’s been called that by readers who haven’t the patience for its syntactic difficulty; Stein means to be difficult because she finds meaning there. Pause. Slow down. Look at the sentence the way you read a Picasso. How do you make sense of Picasso? That’s how you read Gertrude Stein. I crib these remarks from Carl Peters’s introduction to Studies in Description, his intense, personal study of meaning-finding in Stein’s work, though on reading Stein I speak from experience. Studies runs two texts in parallel: On the left page, Tender Buttons (the definitive, City Lights edition); on the right, Peters’s annotations. If you haven’t read the main text before, I recommend doing that first. But remember: Go slow.”
Globe & Mail

– George Bowering

“Carl Peters reinvents close reading as a form of dialogic commentary in this comprehensive critical study of the iconic work of radical modernist poetry, Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Studies in Description is the midrashic feast that Tender Buttons has always promised. Stein’s wordness has never been better served.”
– Charles Bernstein

“carl peters book on gertrude stein / is an essenshul n deep undrstanding / uv th work uv sumwun who displayd / n creatid enerjeez that shapd sew / manee langwage arts that undrstood / n went byond or outside uv th objek / tiv correlativ uv modernist writing 2 / convey manee othr equalee import / ant platforms n navigaysyuns uv all / th langwage arts without gertrude / stein sew much uv that xploraysyun / n presentaysyun enjoyment n alt / ternate serchimg showing n wisdom / cud not have ocurrd carl peters / shows all thees in an amayzing n / brillyant xaminaysyun n offring uv / what gertrude stein brout 2 sew / manee uv us 4 wch we ar sew grateful / showing langwage can b a way byond / n outside uv representaysyun words / being things in themselvs 2 enjoy / play thrive n reveer manee storees / manee meenings n byond meening / manee lettrs byond image lettring / manee sylabuls byond pointing n / describing manee voices manee / voyages manee sees / ium sew grateful 4 ths brillyant / work uv carl peters”
– bill bissett

About the Contributors

Carl Peters

Carl Peters has published two previous literary analyses of poetics and avant-garde art. He edited a major collection of bp Nichol‘s comics from 1960 to 1980, published as bpNichol Comics (2002). textual vishyuns (2011), his critical study of bill bissett’s poetry and visual art, analyzes this Canadian poet’s contributions to modernist thought and vision. Peters is currently embarked on a study of modernist cinema, specifically the works and praxis of French New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard.

Studies in Description cover
Studies in Description

Carl Peters

textual vishyuns
textual vishyuns

Carl Peters

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