one dancing

“The fourth was one who in a way was one dancing. He was in a way being one doing that thing. He was one in a way completely meaning that thing completely meaning being one being dancing. He was in a way then dancing. He was one being one asking and answering in dancing being asking. He was one asking in dancing being existing. He was one answering in dancing being existing. He was one in a way dancing that is he was one coming to be one asking and answering. He was one asking. Dancing was existing. He was one answering. Dancing was existing. He was one asking and answering. He was one meaning that thing meaning that dancing had come to be existing. He was one not dancing. He certainly was not dancing. Any one could be one dancing. He was not then dancing. He was then meaning the thing meaning that something is existing and that something is one thing. In a way he was doing nothing that was not something that was meaning something had been existing, that dancing had been existing. He could be one dancing. Dancing was existing.”

(Gertrude Stein, from “Orta or One Dancing”, pp. 290–1 in the Library of America Writings 1903–1936.)


“. . . we are only beginning to see in certain bodies of work not only the words but the process of composing. For Stein and others – one thinks of the poet Susan Howe’s variant readings of the poems of Emily Dickinson – the word text includes that process. The energy of a piece comes in part from the act of writing, which enters it as value that can be read, just as hues and brush strokes can be read in a painting. A text must be transcribed with attention to the evidence of its making. Print, while it cannot always reproduce that process, need not wipe it out. Inside a text are the lines that carry the words, the hand moving on paper, line breaks and spaces dictated by notebook or leaf, size and folds of paper, pen or pencil forming words, the shape of a draft visible in the way it is copied into a notebook, and even the effort to end a work in the space of one notebook.”

(Ulla E. Dydo, p. 7 in the introduction to A Stein Reader.)

the audience

“In the manuscript of Identity A Poem [Gertrude Stein] made a personal comment about her frustration in a sentence that she rightly eliminated. ‘I know now when one is [xd creating] writing and nothing has been printed and therefore there is no audience every single word every scrap of writing is important because there being no audience.’ In the deleted sentence she had already revised ‘creating’ to ‘writing.’ ”

(Ulla E. Dydo, p. 5 in the introduction to A Stein Reader.)

hammer without a nail

“But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of the erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the flag, which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the destroying billows they almost touched; – at that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.”

(Melville, Moby-Dick, chapter XCCCV, “The Chase – Third Day”.)

for so long

“ ‘Thank heavens it’s all over now.’

‘What is?’

‘My youth. It took too long and got in my way.’

‘In your way Mr Thirst? How do you mean?’

‘It went on for so long,’ said Thirst. ‘I had about thirty years of it. You know what I mean. Experiment, experiment, experiment. And now . . .’

‘Ah!’ whispered someone.’ ”

(Mervyn Peake, Titus Alone, p. 837 in the Overlook edition of The Gormenghast Novels.)

containers for the thing contained

“. . . we ourselves think of books as ‘containing’ chapters and paragraphs, paragraphs as ‘containing’ sentences, sentences as ‘containing’ words, words as ‘containing’ ideas, and finally ideas as ‘containing’ truth. Here the whole mental world has gone hollow. The pre-Agricolan mind had preferred to think of books as saying something, of sentences as expressing something, and of words and ideas as ‘containing’ nothing at all but rather as signifying or making signs for something.”

(Walter J. Ong, Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: from the art of discourse to the art of reason, p. 121; cited in Josipovici’s The World and the Book, p. 149.)

against writing

“In another essay I have dealt with written expression in relation to verbal expression: writing denatures the dialogue between men. [Los signos en rotación, Buenos Aires [Sur], 1965.] Although a reader may agree or disagree, he is unable to question the author and to be heard by him. Poetry, philosophy, and politics – the three activities in which speech develops all its powers – suffer a sort of mutilation. If it is true that thanks to writing we have at our disposal a universal, objective memory, it is also true that it has increased the passivity of our citizens. Writing was the sacred knowledge of all bureaucracies, and even today it is unilateral communication: it stimulates our receptive capacity and at the same time neutralizes our reactions, paralyzes our criticism. It interposes a distance between us and the one who is writing – be he philosopher or despot. But then I don’t think that the new media of oral communication in which McLuhan and others place so much hope shall succeed in reintroducing real dialogue among men. Despite their restoring to the word its verbal dynamism – something which contemporary poetry and literature have still not taken advantage of fully – radio and television increase the distance between one speaking and the one who is listening: they turn the former into an all-powerful presence, and the latter into a shadow. They are, like writing, tools of domination.”

(Octavio Paz, Claude Lévi-Strauss: an introduction, trans. J. S. Bernstein & Maxine Bernstein, pp. 108–109.)

giving it all away

“But perhaps more essential, in The Beautiful Room Is Empty (the rather enigmatic quotation is from Kafka) are [Edmund] White’s descriptions of the discovery of the world of art, a subject not often explored by American writers. The novel begins not with a discussion of the young man’s sexual awakening but of his hunger for books, music, painting, information – commodities almost all Midwestern writers report being starved for. . . . The narrator is an interesting rarity, a budding artist and intellectual in Michigan. Normal Mailer, writing | somewhere of James Jones, speaks of ‘the terrible inferiority complex of the midwestern writer,’ meaning perhaps the feeling many Midwesterners have of coming upon culture suddenly or by accident, whether by going East to school or to Europe in a war, and having the impression that they were just now being let in on something other people had always known. . . . Though every American region has its apologists, the Midwest, which has produced so many of our greatest writers, has the fewest, is the most resolutely ‘a country where no one else was like me.’ Writers who start out there have tended to move (as White, who lives in Paris, has done) and not to take their flat, unromantic heartland for a subject. Just as blacks, from Baldwin to Baker, have found a more agreeable life in Europe, so the Midwesterners – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gellhorn, Jones, Herbst, to name a few – have their own set of circumstances to flee, those White describes so well.”

(Diane Johnson, “The Midwesterner as Artist”, pp. 71–72 in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1996)