Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons: Rewritten By Criticism

Date
2014-01-15
Authors
Anderson, Stewart
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract
A common response to Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons is that it creates a kind of inarticulable resonance in the reader's mind, a hypnotic sensual concentration. Critics, however, cannot let this be: the inarticulable must be articulated. My criticism is not that as curious human beings we try in art to express "feelings, " or sensations of "knowing" that words seem incapable of expressing, but rather that literary criticism, especially of work such as Stein's, transposes this type of expressing into the realm of modern intellectual discourse. Approaches to Tender Buttons attempt to articulate what the work does to or means for the reader. Tender Buttons, the critics claim, is woman's language (Ruddick), everyone's language (DeKoven), Stein's own language (Sutherland), yet they explicate the text only in critical discourse. Other people's words have become the measure of Stein's work. Common modes of criticism (discussed here) do not assist the reader to experience the work directly, but rather to step back and look at the possibility (for another reader perhaps) of experience.
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