Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Chickens in the Grass. . . Alas . . .
Seeing the yard birds out wandering around yesterday made me think of Gertrude Stein and her famous "Pigeons in the grass, alas.."
Though what is 'alas' about birds in the grass, I don't know -- pigeons (or chickens) on the porch, leaving pigeon (or chicken) poo all over, now that would be worth an alas or something stronger.
Stein was one of the literary figures of the 1920s -- known for her Paris salon where all the ex-pat writers gathered. (She was also an early patron and collector of Picasso, Braque, and Matisse.)
I must admit that I've never been able to make my way through any of her writing except for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas -- (which is not an autobiography though it is told through the voice of Toklas, Stein's life partner. )
I'm not alone in finding much of Gertrude S. unreadable, The following is from her obituary in the New York Times (July 1946.)
Although Gertrude Stein could and did write intelligibly at times, her distinction rested on her use of words apart from their conventional meaning. Her emphasis on sound rather than sense is illustrated by her oft-quoted "A rose is a rose is a rose."
Devotees of her cult professed to find her restoring a pristine freshness and rhythm to language. Medical authorities compared her effusions to the rantings of the insane. The Hearst press inquired, "Is Gertrude Stein not Gertrude Stein but somebody else living and talking in the same body?" Sinclair Lewis concluded she was conducting a racket.
Probably in every area of the arts, there are controversial figures -- I'm thinking of the shark in formaldehyde guy, the composer who limits himself to one note, the performance artist who covers herself in chocolate -- and I'm wondering, Are they pushing the boundaries of art to reveal something new and illuminating?
Or are they conducting a racket?
Chickens in the grass, alas . . .