Difficult writing has its way of illuminating the part of the world that counts. One such difficult text is Gertrude Stein’s highly experimental Tender Buttons: objects, food, rooms – long considered the single most groundbreaking literary work of twentieth-century art, literary criticism, and art history. One hundred years since publication, Carl Peters offers a sustained reading of the 1914 edition, responding to the eccentric sounds and rhythms of this long prose-poem with annotations that bring understanding, in particular, to the composition’s syntax, which is noted for its defiance of conventional norms; for example:
Roast potatoes for.
Such annotations demonstrate that an apprehension of Stein’s whole art comes from the project and praxis of reading the work literally, actually. “Read her with her for less,” she asserts. “Translate more than translate the authority.”
In Studies in Description: Reading Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Peters demonstrates ways in which Stein’s thought questions everything, underlining reasons that her work has long served as the wellspring for generations of experimental poets, inspiring Language movement poets such as bill bissett, bpNichol, and George Bowering, and novelists such as William Gass, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway.
The Modernist work Tender Buttons can be used to show how in the early twentieth century Stein and others helped us discover a different world in our midst, a moment of the Modern.
Reviews for Previous Work – textual vishyuns
"A much-needed study, by turns polemical and proselytizing. Peters’ book signifies a crucial starting point for investigation of bissett’s important contributions to Canadian literature." – Canadian Literature
"an astonishing book on how bill bissett thinks within his art. Here is a discovery of poetic space and time coming together, where we glean time and space entering into empathy with the object. Peters’ learned awareness of the image’s relationship to bissett’s surreal vulnerability to surface and depth reveals the graphic touch of the voice and hand, whether on paper or canvas ... textual vishyuns is not only a book on bill bissett, but also a way of bringing modernist thought and vision together without taking either apart." – Jerry Zaslove
"Carl Peters has pulled off a terrific critical irony for our neomodal time, the first scholarly study of bill bissett’s poems and pictures. His referentiality is wide and his blade is sharp. He is both argumentative and blissful. I’d say that bill is fortunate to have this knowledgeable attentiveness, and I’d guess that he would agree."
“carl peters book on gertrude stein / is an essenshul n deep undrstanding / uv th work uv sumwun who displayd / n creatid enerjeez that shapd sew / manee langwage arts that undrstood / n went byond or outside uv th objek /”
"Studies in Description is the midrashic feast that Tender Buttons has always promised. Stein’s wordness has never been better served.” – Charles Bernstein
“You don’t read Gertrude Stein’s 1914 prose poem Tender Buttons casually – or you could try, but grow frustrated: The eye trips along the lines faster than the mind makes sense, and that’s on purpose. Tender Buttons isn’t nonsense, though it’s been called that by readers who haven’t the patience for its syntactic difficulty; Stein means to be difficult because she finds meaning there. Pause. Slow down. Look at the sentence the way you read a Picasso. How do you make sense of Picasso? That’s how you read Gertrude Stein. I crib these remarks from Carl Peters’s introduction to Studies in Description, his intense, personal study of meaning-finding in Stein’s work, though on reading Stein I speak from experience. Studies runs two texts in parallel: On the left page, Tender Buttons (the definitive, City Lights edition); on the right, Peters’s annotations. If you haven’t read the main text before, I recommend doing that first. But remember: Go slow.” – Globe & Mail
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