Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Paris, France: Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein was from a wealthy family; she was an art collector, an intellectual, hung around several extremely influential people such as Pablo Picasso and Victor Hugo and was also a huge literary figure in the modern era. She also happened to be a lesbian. Whether that affects a person’s writing or not she is classified as a modernist lesbian writer. There are very few well known female authors let alone homosexual female authors.

In Steins novel titled, Paris France there is a constant presence of frustration and confusion for the reader. Her constant stream of consciousness can become irritating when thoughts seem to be bouncing off the walls. Many people are guilty for speaking without thinking but I have yet to find an author who writes with what seams as a conscious thought. For example the introduction of the book speaks about Steins earliest memories of France she is describing her childhood and pulling you into the story when she breaks out of the description into a time when a cat jumped on her mothers back. This type of abstract thought seems to be what the entire book is made up of.

As the reader it is hard to find a pin point of what the book is really about. When asked by someone what how the book was I didn’t have a real answer, only a sense of confusion about how I felt about it. I am not entirely sure whether I loved it, like it, despised it or just didn’t care about it at all. Perhaps Steins purpose was to confuse the audience and to keep its meaning a mystery or maybe her writing is really that abstract.

As someone who is not too familiar with this style of writing I have nothing to compare it to but my own ideas of how I would write my own personal recollections, which would be very different from hers.

What kept me reading the book were the random and awkwardly placed lines that spoke to me that I found throughout the entire novel. While reading, there were several areas throughout the book that had pieces that I found meaningful, perhaps not to others but for me. The first time I read something meaningful was page two when Stein says that writers have two countries. The one where they belong to and the one in which they live. I felt that this was a very true statement. She continued with the second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real. When reading this passage I thought wow how insightful is that statement. I have always felt this admiration for writers but could never figure out why and as I was feeling connected with Steins words she finishes the thought with “…It is not real, but it is really there.” The last part of the sentence really threw me off and didn’t feel as beautiful. It forced me to ask what she was trying to say about writers. This statement most likely reflected some of her own personal feelings about writers because she was one herself and that she drew this idea from her feelings about her own life in another country. When she says that one is romantic and separate from them selves it made sense to me. Though I am not a writer I can connect with the idea of having two countries. Like Stein I am an American born citizen who is living in France due to a love of the country. This life that I live here is separate from my life at home; it feels like a fantasy, it is without responsibility. It is not real to me but it is really there for me. I was able to connect to that statement after carefully reading into each word and thinking about what other ways it could be interpreted.
Soon after finding meaning I realized that within this particular book finding insight was like finding the needle in the haystack, nearly impossible, exasperating and for some, not worth trying. Having been given a clue to finding insight within this book I was determined to do so. I realized in order to find the meaningful ideas, it was necessary to have to root through all the other random things she had to say (i.e the hay).

While discussing the book with other classmates it was unclear to all of us what the tone or the main theme of the book was. Found throughout the entire text were references to war, logic, civilization, fashion, and her description of mainly Parisian’s but other times the French culture as a whole, peaceful and exciting. The constant war references gave you the correct assumption that there was a war going on at that time of her life, but you don’t know exactly what part of the war they were in. The book was published in 1940 and although Poland was invaded by Germany in 1939 France did not get involved until 1940 which was during or shortly after the book was published. On pages 89-92 war is referenced 14 times. Each time it is used in a sentence describing war time. The novel gives the impression that Stein was very well involved and educated on war times but she also seems to give the reader that same feeling about several other statements she makes. One in particular was about the French being the only true remaining Latinist country and because of that they are the logical ones. To be Latin is to be civilized and to be civilized is also to be logical; therefore because French people are the only Latinists they are the only logical ones making them the only civilized people around. Statements and sweeping generalizations like that confused me throughout the book.

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