Studies in Description
Reading Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons
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. One hundred years since 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 ways in which Stein’s thought questions everything, underlining reasons that her work has long served as the wellspring for generations of experimental poets, inspiring Language movement poets such as bill bissett, bpNichol, and George Bowering, and novelists such as William Gass, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway.
The Modernist work 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.