From: Al Filreis <afilreis>
Subject: Re: And Gertrude Stein...
Date: Fri, 22 Mar 1996 07:12:13 -0500 (EST)


Someone wrote: I was moved by this work but I wonder how moved I'd have been without the background supplied by Al. There is the outline of something terrible happening but there is nothing personal to her borne out in the writing - perhaps the word "ruin?"

Well, the curvy road on a windy night was probably not the best road to travel on. So some people who had planned to go (obviously on a trip on that road) decided they had better not. But some people did go, and... "sacrifice," "ruin," yes, but also chaos, a momentary randomness - and the need for a blessing. So how does one DESCRIBE this. The topic must to some degree be description itself.

I teach the Holocaust here at Penn - the literature of the Holocaust. Every time the topic comes around to being the deaths, the chaos engendered by the total order, the camps themselves, the survivors, the perpetrators, it's amazing how the topic then comes to be about how we describe this. What words to use? Are words sufficient? Does denotation (words that successfully mean what they usually do) suffice? So as we speak we constantly ask ourselves questions about the very words we are using, and we have, after all, modernist self-consciousness. As Williams says: language isn't THINGS, it's WORDS. Stein's "what shall we" is a groping; so is "and all that". These are not impossible formations, but everyday, regular-folks kinds of gropings. People she knew died in a car accident on a stormy night. Horrible. But let us describe. To do so one must describe the describing, at least in part.

of what shall we, a sheep, a hen, a cock, a village, a ruin, and all that

Still moved,