Being Gertrude Stein; or, A Matter of Diction

I have done my share of posing and fitting. Of donning hats and slipping into outfits however ill suited. Metaphors—and all language is metaphor—are the garment of thought, whether designed to conceal or disclose, to beguile or render plain. To me, dressing up for the occasion has often been a problem. I am prone to contra-diction, to making my voice stand out and draw attention to itself like a garish tie on a white shirt. “Now that tie makes a statement,” one of my professors once told me, looking at the bit of silk dangling from my neck. He never said what that statement might be.

Now that I am dabbling in radio playwriting, I try to be less flippant and flashy with my words. They are not mine, after all, but belong to my characters. There are two of them; two, not counting the unheard speaker on the telephone and the one-line walk-on who serves chiefly as a framing device, a voice suggesting that the story will repeat itself. I want the two main characters to come across as real, although they might not be flesh and blood even as fictional beings. A slip in diction might rip their dress and expose the unsure hand of the designer. That would be me. And it would be a mistake. One being at times a synonym for the other.

Now, my own voice, which I created for myself, the voice I am using here—and which may be entirely unsuited for the purpose of blogging—must not enter the drama I am creating. I must bring two beings to life and show up their differences. It matters that they are unalike. You should be able to hear that they can never see eye to eye. So, to shed my own diction and slip into theirs, I reminded myself of an exercise I was given in a course on literary theory. I was asked to take on the voice of Gertrude Stein. It was my chance to rid myself of the nagging voice of Thomas Carlyle and his famous philosophy of clothes.

I realized that, rather than imitating Stein, I found, through her, a new voice of such minimalism and repetitiveness that it forced me to expose my innermost thoughts. For once, my language was baring all, even though it seemed like a coat, a fabric of code. Here is a moment of that performance, the sharing of which is nearly as difficult as its composition:

Being Curious Fire. That was a moment being curious and that there being a curious man looking was being a curious moment. That was a moment being a curious moment being that that there was that curious looking man being a slow walking curious looking man. That was curious. That moment there was that snow coldness. That moment there was that loneliness cotton warm only. And not that moment only. That was New York and being there and being there only strolling and strolling and strolling there was that loneliness and that being curious being quite worn off. And there was that snow coldness and nowhere to go. And then there was posing. That moment there was that longing and looking and that boybeing when being curious only can be a fire and when only being curious can be a fire. Being can be a curious fire and a curious fire can be warming any one in snow coldness. Being before a curious looking man and never before can be warming. Being before a curious looking man being quite curious and quite pointing can be warming. That man was pointing. There was that curious looking man pointing and there was that moment and that never beforeness and that boybeingness and that coldness and that nowhere to goness. At that moment pointing was appointing. At that moment there was that looking at ring fingers. Only that does not always follow. The door was being open for a moment. There was that moment. There was that being curious and not joining. There was that fire and there was that man and this man reposing and that boybeingness broken. There was that shaming finger pointing and that curious looking man quite old and quite lonely and shaking. There was an opening and there was no going. There was pointing and pointing and pointing. And being not joining. That was a man of no moment and no moment counting. Only knowing this does not follow. The only moment counting was before that. Only now the curious fire was no more and being quite out and the one going quite without. Being outside can be a curious fire. Inside being a furious choir. And hollow.

Now it is time to dress up my two characters. I hope the clothes still fit. The picture above, by the way, was taken on my pilgrimage to Carlyle House last year. The old Scotsman is not done with me yet.

2 Replies to “Being Gertrude Stein; or, A Matter of Diction”

  1. Hello Harry.Reading your output puts me in mind of Samuel Becket or Harold Pinter. I know you would prefer a more constructive comment but there it is!Barry

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