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Inside and outside: Gertrude Stein on Identity, Celebrity, and Authenticity

Author(s): Kirk Curnutt


Source: Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Winter, 1999-2000), pp. 29
1-308
Published by: Indiana University Press
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http://www.jstor.orgInside and Outside: Gertrude Stein on
Identity, Celebrity,
and
Authenticity
Kirk Curnutt
Troy
State University Montgomery
"You always have in your writing
the resistance
outside of you and inside of you,
a shadow upon you, and the
thing which you must express."
?Gertrude Stein, "How Writing
is Written" (1935)
In October 1936, Random House published Gertrude Stein's The Geographic
al History of
America, or the Relation
of Human Nature to the Human Mind, a m&ange of closet verse,
philosophical dialogue, and prose meditation. Despite
the collection's sui generis form,
its
subject matter was obvious even to
resisting
reviewers. Having
returned to France after her
highly
successfiil 1934-35 lecture tour of America?her first stateside visit i
n three
decades?Stein had turned her attention to the problem
of how we know who we are. Or, as
she put
it in her trademark
style, "I am I why." Roughly halfway through
the book, she
summarizes her
thoughts
in a
fragment
entitled "The question of
identity: A play," which
interrogates
the
logic of a favorite line of nursery doggerel. "I am I because my
little dog
knows me," Stein begins, "but perhaps he does not and if he did I w
ould not be I. Oh no oh
no."1 As she
insists, there are two selves: an external "I," whom a pet may recogn
ize as its
master, and an interior "I" that exists
independent of observation. Thus, while the dog may
know the outer person,
that knowledge bears little
correspondence
to the inner being. "I am
I because my
little dog knows me," Stein concludes. "That does not prove anything
about you
it only proves something about the dog" (Geographical, p. 103). Yet sh
e does not
suggest
that
1
Gertrude Stein, The Geographical History of America, or the Relation of Human Na
ture to the Human Mind
(Random House, 1936), p. 100. Hereafter cited within the text as Geographical. R
ichard Bridgman traces Stein's
"little dog verse" to Josiah Royce's The Spirit of Modern Philosophy, which she
read as an undergraduate at
Radcliffe in the 1890s. As he notes, the phrase first appears
in her 1929
essay "Saving
the Sentence." See
Gertrude Stein in Pieces (Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 242.
Kirk Curnutt, "Inside and Outside: Gertrude Stein on
Identity, Celebrity, and Authenticity," Journal of Modern
Literature, XXffl, 2 (Winter 1999-2000), pp. 291-308. ?Foundation for Modern L
iterature, 2000. 292 Journal of Modern Literature
one can
simply ignore
the constraints of being known. Geographical History
ends on an
ambivalent note: "[I]dentity
is not there at all but it is oh yes
it is." Unavoidable,
it is a
"nuisance" that we tolerate: "Do
they put up with it. Yes
they put up with it. They put up
with
identity" (Geographical, p. 235).
The conclusion that we "put up with"
identity was not
just
a philosophical
stance on Stein's
part.
In a more personal way, calling
it a nuisance marked a defensive reaction to the self-
doubt and creative
insecurity
that she suffered after the popular reception of The
Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933, the first substantive success
of her career. Realizing
la
gloire
she had
long pursued
exacted an unexpected cost,
for she suffered a brief but
unprecedented bout of writer's block. Even once able to draft her
elliptical detective tale Blood
on the Dining-Room Floor, she questioned her freedom to pursue abstruse
literary experiments
without concern for readers'
expectations. Throughout her American tour, she shocked
audiences by declaring
that artists care little whether their writing
is
comprehensible. As if to
prove her commitment to this principle,
she abandoned the
reader-friendly voice of the
Autobiography and published
a series of less accessible works, including,
in addition to
Geographical History, Lectures in America
(1935) and Narration
(1936), all of which baffled
reviewers who assumed that she had outgrown her old hermetic habits.2
Not
surprisingly,
Geographical History's derogatory
comments on
identity often dovetail into dismissals ofthe
reader: "When a great many hear you
that is an audience and if a
great many hear you what
difference does it make"
(Geographical, p. 72).
Stein's ambivalence toward her unexpected popularity has led critics to
read Geographical
History's distinction between the inner and outer self as a veiled as
sertion of artistic
autonomy.3 As if assuring herself that an appreciative audience need not
sway her convictions,
she
effectively
recommits herself to the
literary
ideals cultivated during decades of isolation.
Unacknowledged, however,
is the fact that her reliance on these
opposing
terms is a
strategy
characteristic of the era's
celebrity discourse. In dichotomies reminiscent of Geographical
History's, Leo Braudy describes how an array of movie stars, politicia
ns, and writers
questioned
the connection between their "self and role, body and
identity, being and name"
in interviews and personality profiles, insisting
that the media
image did not properly represent
the their inner self. For Braudy,
these antitheses
suggest a pervasive anxiety over the
authenticity of
celebrity images. As media outlets in the
early
twentieth
century began
to fix
public attention upon unique
and arresting personalities, elevating
them to unprecedented
heights of
visibility,
eoncomitant concern over the potential manipulation
of audience
credulity
arose. Editorials cautioned readers to
regard
the
reputations
of public figures
as constructs perpetuated by press agents and public-relations experts. T
o quell
this
cynicism,
celebrities were
expected
to
justify
their stardom by demonstrating a commitment to honest
self-presentation. As Braudy writes, because audiences craved "not . .
.
style
so much as
sincerity"
from the famous, for "actions that
[didn't]
seem to be performed,"
the "exemplary
famous person" became "the person
famous for being himself or playing himself.... The less
2
For a representative example of the negative response
to Stein's return to a more experimental voice, see F.
Cudworth Flint, "Contemporary Criticism," Southern Review
(1936), pp. 208-13, rpt.
in The Critical Response
to
Gertrude Stein, ed. Kirk Curnutt (Greenwood Press, 2000), pp. 90-94.
3
See, for example, John Malcolm Brinnin, The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her W
orld
(Little, Brown, 1959),
pp. 350-51. Gertrude Stein on
Identity
293
you actually had to do or create
[an image]
in order to be
famous,
the more
truly
famous you
[were]
for
yourself, your spirit, your soul, your
inner nature." The star who publicly
announced that "my body [or image]
is not me; now accept
the 'real me'" was not necessarily
pronouncing
the
image false, however. He or she was
insisting
instead that the public
reputation did not accommodate the many
facets of the inner self. Doing
so displayed
the
enviable resolve to remain "real" or "true to himself no matter how
the
spotlight
of fame
might
threaten his or her
self-image. By
the mid-1930s, such pronouncements were so
pervasive
that the
celebrity identity
crisis became a rhetorical
staple
of popular
culture. By
confessing
the effort
required
to be "real," performers
established themselves as "ideal
versions" of their audience: "Through
them
[fans] can
judge [their] own performances
and
in their
sincerity
read how to
imply
that there is no artifice, only
the naked heart."4
Reading Stein's 1934-37 comments on
identity
in the context of
celebrity
reveals the ways
in which she
employed
the inside/outside
trope
to authenticate her fame and win
credibility
for her writing.
In both her book-length
efforts and lesser-known periodical contributions,
she
repeatedly describes the "confusion" that occurs when the outer self i
s mistaken for the
inner "I," and she insists that an
emphatic
act of
self-possession
is the lone
remedy
for this
crisis. The prescription
is embedded in such
complex
texts as Lectures, Narration, and
Geographical History,
in which Stein defines true art as an
expression of an interior "I" that
various
reception
contexts
(newspapers, letters, public speaking) tempt
readers to
ignore
in
favor ofthe public image. This problem
is addressed more directly
in the two autobiographical
works that bookend this period of her career. In both the neglected
essay "And Now" and
Everybody'sAutobiography, her second memoir, she personalizes
the problem of
authenticity
by describing her own brush with fame. Claiming
that her popularity momentarily distracted
her from her
literary program,
she inoculates herself against
the
self-deceptive dangers of
publicity by dedicating herself to her craft, thus
remaining
true to her inner essence. While
this declaration of artistic intent marks Stein's effort to establish
the
sincerity of her work,
it
also
suggests how discursively
the
ideology
of
authenticity affected those
caught
in the glare
of public attention in the 1930s. Stein may have indeed been, as Car
l Van Vechten assured
her, "on
every tongue
like Greta Garbo,"5 but as that quintessential Hollywood
star also
understood, fame was not free of
obligation. Regardless of metier, the 1930s' media
personality was
required
to prove herself a natural talent and not a manufactured phenomenon.
Of course, the terms inside and outside
appear
in Stein's writing long before the mid-1930s.
In The Making of Americans
(written between 1906 and 1911, but not published until 1925),
they dramatize the conflict between one's "bottom nature" and extrinsic
influences that
4
Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History (Oxford University Press,
1986), pp. 579, 572-73.
Charles Bernstein has briefly explored Stein's distinction between entity and
identity. Except for a cursory aside noting
that her belief in the former "represents
a freedom from history .. .
for which one well might have
longed
in Europe
in 1935," Bernstein is more philosophical
than contextual in his approach. As such, the influence of Stein's fame upon
her ideas of selfhood goes unmentioned. See "Stein's
Identity," Modern Fiction Studies, XLH, (1996), pp. 485-88.
5
The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, 1913-1946, 2 vols. ed. Edwar
d Burns (Columbia University
Press, 1986), Vol. I, p. 277. 294 Journal of Modern Literature
"flavor" or
temper
its
expression. Although
the former
shapes
the individual's "important
feeling of himself to himself inside him . . . from
[his] beginning
to
[his] ending,"
its
determining
influence is circumvented when external kinds of "nature or natures" a
re
observed and imitated. "Every
one is one inside himself," Stein
insists, but those concerned
with the way
in which
they are perceived by others alienate themselves from this inner
"feeling
inside them."6 As a
strategy
for
recovering
the bottom nature, she began
experimenting with an anti-mimetic
style
of verbal portraiture
in the 1910s. As she later
recalled in her lecture "Poetry and Repetition,"
the trademark
techniques employed
in such
lyrics as "Galeries Lafayette" and "Mi-Careme"
(cadenced repetition and the continuous
present
tense most obviously) marked an effort to penetrate
the surface confusion of
identity
in order to "find out inside
every one what was in them."7 Equally important, The
Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas imbues her nomenclature with an uncharac
teristic
specificity
that allows Stein to contrast the inner sanctum of her
expatriate
abode to the outer world of
Parisian Modernism. As J. Gerald Kennedy has shown, descriptions
of Stein's famous
Montparnasse atelier function as a "sign of
identity, a projection
of
[a] personality" whose
constant and unchanging
character is
figured
in "the stable details of place." Competing
sites
of modernist production, including
the various domiciles of Hemingway
and Pound, merit a
passing mention indicative of their
transitory contribution to literature. By contrast, constant
evocations of 27 rue de Fleurus create "an almost Proustian
image"
of "Stein's defining [and
enduring] presence."8
But Stein's use of this antithesis to create what Kennedy
calls an "operative
fiction" that
allows "the writing
self
[to] arbitrarily dissociate itself from the world in which writing
occurs" assumes heated
immediacy
in the aftermath of her memoir's success. In an
early sign
of its
importance,
the September
1934 Vanity Fair
essay "And Now" invokes the dualism as
a
remedy
for the writer's block suffered the previous year just as the Atlanti
c Monthly
serialized the Autobiography and the Literary Guild named it a book-of-th
e-month selection.
Apologizing
for once
criticizing
fellow writers for
succumbing
to
sterility after
comparable
achievements, she now understands why public recognition "cut[s] off yo
ur [creative]
flow"
so "the
syrup does not pour."9 As she
insists, fame intrudes upon
the writer's sense of self,
for whereas her personality had "always been
completely
included in myself
as . . .
any
personality naturally is," her
celebrity
status
tempted her to see herself
through her audience's
6
Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans: Being a History ofa Family's Progress
(Contact, 1925; rpt. Dalkey
Archive, 1995), p. 149-50.
7
Gertrude Stein, "Poetry and Repetition," Lectures in America (Random House, 1935
), p. 183. Subsequent
references to lectures gathered
in this collection are hereafter cited within the text as Lectures.
8
J. Gerald Kennedy, Imagining Paris: Exile, Writing, and American Identity (Yale
University Press, 1993), pp.
68-69.
9
"And Now: And so the time comes when I can tell the story of my life," Vanity Fa
ir XLm, 4
(September 1933),
pp. 33, 65; rpt.
in a
slightly different form in Gertrude Stein, How Writing
is Written, ed. Robert Bartlett Haas (Black
Sparrow Press, 1974), p. 63. Subsequent references to this and other pieces repr
inted
in Hass's collection are hereafter
cited within the text. The inside/outside
trope
is also prevalent throughout Stein's Four in America, written between
the publication ofthe Autobiography and "And Now." Here Stein questions whether
the intrinsic selves ofa quartet
of influential personalities (George Washington, Wilbur Wright, Ulysses S. Grant
, and Henry James) could enter the
extrinsic world had these men exerted their genius
in a different mdtier. In other words, she questions whether Grant
would be the same person
if he were an artist instead of a
soldier/politician. Although Stein
frequently alluded to Four
in her public appearances, she was unable to find a publisher for it during her
lifetime. Gertrude Stein on
Identity
295
eyes. Suddenly?in a line that prefigures Geographical History?she
felt that "I was not
just
I because so many people did know me." The result was a double blow
. Fame not only
prompted an
identity
crisis
("I
lost my personality") but halted the prolific writing
schedule
which she had maintained for decades: "For the first time since I had
begun
to write I could
not write and what was worse ... I began
to think about how my writing would sound to
others, how could I make them understand, I who had always
lived within myself and my
writing."
"And Now" ends on a happy note, however, as Stein affirms her artist
ic resilience by
describing how she recovered from this crisis. Unlike "all those young
men whose
syrup did
not pour,"
she resolved her creative
emergency through a
relatively simple procedure: "I have
come back to write the way
I used to write . . . because now
everything
that is happening
is
once more happening
inside"
(Writing, p. 66). By ignoring public conceptions
of her and
rediscovering her
inner, true self, Stein boasts of renewed confidence in the
symmetry between
her
identity and her art. Because "there is no use in the outside," she
encourages
fellow
writers to turn their back on their public image. "If you
see the outside
you
see
just what you
look at," she states, "and that is no
longer interesting." "And Now" thus charts the
stages
through which artists must pass
if
they are to guard against
the pitfalls of fame. From the
naive
assumption
that "success is all
right" and "if there is
anything
in you
it ought not to cut
off the flow"
(Writing p. 63), Stein's
experience
teaches her the necessity
of preventing a
debilitating
self-consciousness by not
confusing her inner self with her public image. As she
concludes, perceptions of an artist's
identity will
always differ from her own
self-image,
so
the best recourse is not to worry about
reputation: "If
[the public image]
is going
to
change
it is of no interest and if it is not
going
to
change
it is of no interest and so what is the use
of
looking" (Writing p. 66).
As Richard Bridgman suggests,
the attitude toward fame in "And Now" raises some
perplexing questions. To begin with, Stein "was hardly an unknown
suddenly
thrust into
prominence." Why notoriety
flustered her is curious, for "[s]he had a
reputation,
several of
them in
fact, and had
long
listened to her merits and deficiencies being debated in public."10
Since 1910, Stein's New York
clipping
service had
steadily
forwarded her the voluminous
commentaries which she
inspired
in the press, including many
that derided her as a
Barnumesque opportunist exploiting
the public's unquenchable
thirst for quirky, peculiar
personalities. Far from being bothered by
the endless parodies and caricatures, Stein prided
herself on
engendering controversy. Although disappointed by
the
rarity of serious critical
attention, she nevertheless insisted that "humorous references to Gertru
de Stein's work"
proved
that editors and columnists were
intrigued by her
literary experiments, however
involuntarily: "[T]hey do quote me," she declares in the Autobiography.
"[T]hat means that
my words and my
sentences
get under their skins
although they do not know it."11
Readers of "And Now" might have wondered
additionally why
she
expressed
such aversion
to commercial success since several passages
in her
autobiography
covet the popular
appreciation which she disdains in Vanity Fair. At several points, her
memoir even values
10
Richard Bridgman, Gertrude Stein in Pieces, p. 235.
11
Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
(Harcourt, Brace, 1933), p. 244. Hereafter cited within
the text as Autobiography. 296 Journal of Modern Literature
public approval
over critical praise: "[A]s
she
always explains
she could ...
[n]ever have
enough
of glory. After all, as she always contends, no artist needs criticis
m, he only needs
appreciation.
If he needs criticism he is no artist"
(Autobiography, p. 235). A similar attitude
is
apparent
in the brief
essay "The Story of a Book," published
in the
literary journal Wings
amid the success ofthe Autobiography and nearly a year before she wrot
e "And Now." Here
Stein describes the satisfaction that she felt when the Atlantic Month
ly finally
enthused over
her work after years
of
rejecting
it. Rather than
express trepidation
toward fame, Stein rebukes
Atlantic editors for
long assuming
that she was an anathema to the common reader: "It can
easily be realized that after these years of faith that there is and
was a public
and that
sometime I would come in contact with that public.
. . .
[A]fter
these years
to know that I
have a public gives me what the French call a coeur 16ger,
it makes me not
light-hearted but
it leaves me unburdened"
(Writing, p. 62). Boasts of being "unburdened" by celebrity are also
prevalent
in her 1933-37
correspondence,
in which one finds her
claiming
that she is "adoring
being successful, completely and
entirely adoring
it."12 By contrast, the
identity crisis that
"And Now" describes merits only tangential mention.
Substantiating
the
fleeting biographical
corroboration for Stein's anxieties toward
celebrity
is less
important
than understanding
the
authenticating
function served by
their public
confessions. By invoking
the inside/outside
trope,
she was
employing a formula popular among
stars for
legitimating
their notoriety by calling attention to the disparity between their in
ternal
and external selves. As
early as 1927, actress Clara Bow,
filmdom's preeminent "It girl,"
distanced herself from the ebullient character that made her famous: "
I know that
everyone
looking at me on the screen
says: T'll bet she's never unhappy.' The truth is that I haven't
been happy
for many, many months. The person you
see on the screen is not my
true self at
all;
it's my
screen self." A
year later, Joan Crawford directly addressed fans as she
distinguished her celluloid persona
from her off-screen
identity: "I was afraid to tell my [life
story]
to you. You have one idea of Joan Crawford, now you are going
to have another."13
More relevant to Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald
in 1936 initiated a minor
controversy by
announcing
in a series ofEsquire essays known
collectively
as The Crack-Up
that he was no
longer
the Jazz-Age
reveler whom the media had painted
in the 1920s. Living up
to his
reputation, he
insisted, had caused a "disintegration of. . . personality." Only by "
slay[ing]
the
empty
shell who had been posturing at
[playing his public self]
for . . .
years"
could he
effect a "clean break" and recover his real
identity: "The man I had persistently
tried to be
became such a burden that I have 'cut him
loose,'" Fitzgerald announces. "I have now at last
become a writer only."14 Linking
these and countless similar confessions is the insistence that
fame confines the artist to a restrictive public identity. For Bow and
Crawford, both frustrated
with portraying superficial ingenues, admitting
the
complexities of their private
life was a
12
Unpublished
letter to Lindley Williams Hubbell, June 1933, Yale Collection of American Liter
ature, Beinecke
Rare Book and Library, Yale University, New Haven. For a brief allusion to Stein
's writer's block, see her 15 October
1933 letter to Van Vechten in Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, Vo
l. I, p. 280.
13
Bow is quoted
in Marjorie Rosen, Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the American Dream (Coward,
McCann
& Geoghegan, 1973), p. 86; Joan Crawford, "The Story ofa Dancing Girl," rpt.
in Photoplay Treasury, ed. Barbara
Gelman (Crown, 1972), p. 88.
14
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Edmund Wilson (New
Directions, 1945), pp. 76,
81, 83. Gertrude Stein on
Identity 297
conscious
strategy
to modify
their
image
so that audiences would
accept
them in more
sophisticated
roles. Similarly, The Crack-Up signaled Fitzgerald's desire to retire h
is
reputation
as a writer of
lighthearted Saturday Evening Post stories and win
recognition as a
mature author. In each case, insisting
that the public identity does not accurately represent
the
inner "I" is an act of artistic
self-possession.
It allows artists to proclaim
their disinterest in
the outer world of fame and to present
their motive
solely as
expressing
their intrinsic self.
While audiences
today are accustomed to stars
grappling
in public with the
relationship
between their inner and outer selves,
it is
important
to note that 1930s' narratives such as
"And Now" constitute a new
genre whose self-conscious concern with authenticity marked
an evolution in the practices
of publicity management. Up through
the 1920s,
it was assumed
that
circulating details ofa
celebrity's private
life could endorse his or her public image,
even
if this meant
fabricating
facts. In a phrase popular among
film publicists,
the "real" life was
to parallel
the "reel" life.15 By
the late 1920s, however, a variety of scandals eroded public
faith in the
congruence between
identity and
image. As a result, the need arose for more
sophisticated narrative forms to authenticate the stars' worthiness for
fame by confirming
their
resolve not to
falsify
their public presentation. The
celebrity identity
crisis proved eminently
popular
in part because it
acknowledged
the potential falsity of
images, while
reassuring
audiences that
public figures were committed to truthful
self-presentation. As Joshua Gamson
argues, "By embracing
the notion that
celebrity images were artificial products and
inviting
readers to visit the real self behind those
images,"
such confessions "defused the notion that
celebrity was
really derived from nothing but
images."16 Early celebrity journalism
insisted
that the inner and outer self were
interchangeable, but 1930s' versions
emphasized disparities
between the
two, not in order to
impugn
the phenomenon of stardom but to validate it.
Celebrities who deserved fame were those who were not
corrupted by
their public image. A
true star
ignored
the glare of public recognition and remained devoted to perfecting his
or her
chosen craft.
By announcing Stein's disinterest in the outer world of
fame, "And Now"
appealed
to a
code of
authenticity
that was at once new and widespread
in the discourse of
celebrity.
Implicitly insisting
that she was famous for the
right
reason?she was an artist?she obviated
the
assumption
that she
sought attention for its own sake, thus
fulfilling what Francesco
Alberoni calls the central
imperative of
celebrity autobiography: "To demonstrate that such
a great improvement of status has been obtained not by
illicit means but thanks to meritorious
conduct and to
exceptional
or charismatic qualities."17 And yet
if the
goal of "And Now"
15
In a relatively early example of celebrity journalism, a 1919 Photoplay
interview with actor Lew Cody
emphasizes similarities between the role he portrays on screen (the "male vampir
e," the masculine counterpart ofthe
female vamp) and his off-screen
identity. Cody
is described as "the eminent authority" on lotharioism because he is
known for his "vamping* both "a la celluloid and au natural." There is no intima
tion of a theatrical facade; actor and
acted are
indistinguishable. Cody's fame is a professional achievement (he "originated the
male vampire on the
screen") enabled by personal expertise (he possesses
in "real life" the same seductive charms that make his rakish
film persona so
irresistible). See Adela Rogers St. Johns, "Confessions of a Male Vampire,"
in Photoplay Treasury,
pp. 54-56.
16
Joshua Gamson, Claims to Fame: Celebrity
in Contemporary America
(University of California Press, 1994),
p. 38.
17
Francesco Alberoni, "The Powerless 'Elite': Theory and Sociological Research on
the Phenomenon of the
Stars," in Sociology of Mass Communications: Selected Readings, ed. Denis McQuai
l (Penguin, 1972), p. 90. 298 Journal of Modern Literature
was to
legitimate Stein's writing on the eve of her
triumphant
return to America by
demonstrating
the
sincerity
of her
intent,
the effort was only partly
successful. While the
media was charmed by her charisma, proving
that her art was not "illicit" posed a more
formidable
challenge. Despite her personal success, critics continued to doubt the
merits of
her work, creating an odd bifurcation of
opinion
in her post-1933 reception history. Whereas
such previous experimental
efforts as Tender Buttons
(1914) or Lucy Church Amiably (1931)
elicited accusations that she was a trickster?a "self-advertiser of pseu
do-intellectual antics,"
as one critic memorably put
it?reviewers of later efforts
congratulated her for her
sincerity
even as
they denounced her aims. The New York Herald Tribune's Lewis Gannett,
for
example, described Stein as "wholly natural" upon meeting her in New
York in late 1934.
Significantly, Gannett's review of her
cryptic poetry
collection Portraits and Prayers never
questions whether Stein genuinely believes in her
literary ideals, although he finds them
"utterly meaningless" and "laughable"
in practice. Rather, he tries to reconcile the lack of
pretension which she exhibited in person with the
spurious obscurity of her
style: "She
insisted so amiably,
so without pose,
so
convincingly,
that her prose really makes sense to any
one who can read . . . that I tried very hard to make sense of
[it],
I
regret
to
report complete
failure."18
Such bafflement is hardly unique. Indeed, Stein's public visibility duri
ng her American tour
actually
threatened to widen the breech between author and oeuvre. The more med
ia attention
devoted to her personality,
the more her writing became a mere
adjunct
to it. As she
confronted fame during her public appearances, then, she
struggled
to correct the perception
that she was better read about than read. Bryce Conrad summarizes the
strategy by which
Stein aimed to
right
this imbalance of attention: "[R]ather
than
simply putting herself on
display,
she would
attempt
to introduce her newly-won audience to the texts on which she
wanted her
reputation
to rest. The lectures which she
composed
for that purpose"?published
in Lectures in America and Narration?mark her "most incisive and uncomp
romising
effort
to
explain
the
assumptions
about
language and perception
that inform her most difficult
texts."19
But Stein wanted more than
just
to articulate her aesthetic
assumptions;
she needed to
legitimate
them by grounding
their
authority
in the same standard of
authenticity appealed
to
in "And Now." Through
the inside/outside dichotomy,
she defines art as an
expression ofthe
inner, true self; as she
repeatedly insists, capturing
the inmost "feeling of being"
in words is
for her the artist's preeminent obligation. Equally important,
she calls attention to the ways
in which different media distract readers'
appreciation of this internal essence, causing
them
to confuse it with the external "I." Once we
recognize
the
emphasis placed on authenticity
in
these theoretical
essays,
their
implied message
is
fairly obvious: Stein's writing
is sincere
(and
therefore worthy of serious critical
regard) because it
encapsulates
the essence that is the
inmost "I."
On the surface, her insistence that art must
express
the inner self sounds like a
simple
Lewis Gannett, "Books and Things," New York Herald Tribune, 7 November 1934, p.
6, rpt.
in The Critical
Response
to Gertrude Stein, pp. 78-79. The "self-advertiser" quote comes from Richard
Burton, "Posing,"
Minneapolis Bellman, 17 October 1914, p. 5, rpt.
in The Critical Response
to Gertrude Stein, pp. 163-5.
19
Bryce Conrad, "Gertrude Stein in the American Marketplace," Journal of Modern Li
terature, XIX, (1995), p.
228. Gertrude Stein on
Identity
299
avant-garde rejection of marketplace rewards, as when in "What is Engl
ish Literature," she
claims that artists cannot
simultaneously
serve "god
and mammon": "If you write the way
it
has already been written . . . then you are
serving mammon, because you are
living by
something
some one has already been
earning
or has earned. If
you write as you are to be
writing
then
you are
serving as a writer
god because you are not
earning anything" (Lectures,
p. 54). More
important
than not "earning anything," serving God as writer guarantees
authenticity. The writer who "says what he intends to have heard by
somebody"
is guilty
of
using words "indirectly," a process which falsifies
expression
since
facilitating reception
necessitates
catering?voluntarily or not?to prevailing interpretive
conventions. In "writing
anything directly," however, the artist focuses
exclusively on the "relation between the
thing
done and the doer." The
resulting work will "achieve the
'complete quality of
completeness'"
since the inside is free to be transcribed into words without concern
for external prerequisites
of meaning-making (Lectures, pp. 23-24).
The
importance of authentic
self-expression
is further elaborated in Geographical History,
in which Stein constructs an even more intricate chain of
oppositions
so as to highlight
the
problem
of
confusing
the inner self and the outer "I." Here she
employs
the word
identity,
equating
it with human nature, which, as she
repeatedly announces, "is not
interesting
it .. .
is
occupying but it is not
interesting" (Geographical, p. 143). Instead, she places her trust in
the human mind, her new preferred synonym
for the interior being: "Inside in any human
mind there is not there is no time and there is no
identity otherwise what is inside is not"
(Geographical,^. 182). Late in the book, she meditates on yet another
favorite refrain?"what
is a masterpiece"?to
illustrate her insistence that true art
encapsulates
this inside: "Poetry
is
not
identity no that it never is. . . .
[But] a great deal of poetry
is what is seen. And if it is
then in so far as it is it is not a master-piece. What is seen may
be the
subject but it cannot
be the object of a master-piece" (Geographical, p. 202).
The passage
echoes a
contemporaneous address, "What Are Masterpieces," which Stein
delivered at Oxford and Cambridge
in February 1936: "[S]o always
it is true that the master-
piece has nothing
to do with human nature or with
identity,
it has to do with the human mind
and the
entity
that is with a
thing
in itself and not in relation." Few works of art are
truly
great because artists tend to "live in
identity and memory
that is when
they
think." They
"know
they are
they because their little dog knows
them, and so
they are not an
entity but an
identity. And being
so memory
is necessary
to make them exist and so
they
cannot create
master-pieces."20 Stein concludes the address by recalling "And Now" an
d
alluding again
to her own creative crisis: "When
you are writing before there is an audience
anything written
is as
important as any other
thing and you
cherish
anything and
everything
that you have
written. After the audience begins, naturally they create
something
that is
they
create you, and
so not
everything
is so
important" (Masterpieces, p. 94-5). Although Stein fails to elaborate
on the means by which the readers' construction of an
implied author affects
comprehension
ofa work, one can infer an
interpretive phenomenon
similar to Foucault's "author function."
Presuming knowledge of the authorial
identity, audiences delimit the work's meaning by
interpreting
it
according
to the values embodied by
the public image. Foucault's description
20
Gertrude Stein, "What Are Master-pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them," in Wh
at Are Masterpieces
(Pitman, 1940), p. 88, 90. Hereafter cited in the text as Masterpieces. 300 Jou
rnal of Modern Literature
of this process empioys Stein's
terminology
in describing how the
image allows readers to
"characterize a certain mode of being
of discourse": "It would seem that the author's
[image]
does not pass . . .
from the interior of a discourse to the real and exterior individual
who
produced it; instead, [it]
seems always
to be present, marking off the
edges
of the text,
revealing
its mode of being."21 The related danger, according ...
to Stein,
is that artists will
inhabit this public identity and further alienate themselves from the
intrinsic self.
In
cautioning artists
against confusing
the public
and the private self, Stein was not
insisting
that audiences are
superfluous
to art. Rather, her lectures call upon her favorite antithesis to
define the correct
interpretive protocols
that will ensure proper appreciation
ofthe writer's
inner "I," a process
she calls "recognition." "There is an audience of course there is an
audience," Stein concludes in her final Narration
lecture, delivered at the University
of
Chicago
in March 1935. "Undoubtedly
that audience has to be there for the purpose
of
recognition
and that audience must be at one with the writing, must be at one
with the . . .
recognition must have nothing
of knowing anything before or after the
recognition."22 The
main obligation of readers is to "separate
themselves from the land so
they
can see it"
(Narration, p. 51). That
is, they must purify
themselves of extratextual preconceptions ofthe
author's
identity
so that
they
can directly engage
the words. In recent years,
critics have
compared
these ideas on
reception
to various
reader-response theories, occasionally arguing
that Stein ascribes so much
interpretive authority
to audiences that
they
function as defacto
collaborators.23 Her description of "recognition" here
suggests a far more passive
role for
the
interlocutor, however, one confined to
appreciating
the essence fixed within the work. By
focusing attention on "the
thing
in its essence being completed" (Narration, p. 42), audiences
approach writing not as a communicative
exchange
initiated by a
speaker but as an objetd'art
wholly
self-contained. Just as artists shelter their writing through
the
fixity
of their inward
gaze, audiences must refrain from
contaminating
it by projecting
extrinsic assumptions about
the author's
identity upon
it.
Stein's lectures also
explore
the way
in which the medium of writing encourages
readers
to confuse the outer self for the authentic "I." Ne wspapers
are most
guilty of this because
they
presume
that audiences are
intrigued by actions and not by
essences: "Dillinger and Lindbergh
were and are
exciting,"
she writes in the March 1935 New York Herald Tribune piece,
"American Newspapers." "[A]nd
that is not because the
story
their
story
is
exciting
what .. .
21 Michel Foucault, "What Is an Author?" in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabino
w, trans. Josu6 V. Hararu
(Pantheon, 1984), p. 107. Elsewhere I have shown how parodies of Stein in the 19
20s and 1930s enacted the "author
function" by interpreting aspects of her style as expressing unflattering perso
nality
traits. Thus, to critics, her
preference
for
simple sentence constructions was nothing but "baby
talk" that
they could ridicule as a
sign of her
unsophisticated, childlike intellect. See my "Parody and Pedagogy: Teaching Styl
e, Voice, and Authorial Intent in the
Works of Gertrude Stein," College Literature, XXm (1996), pp. 1-24.
22
Gertrude Stein, Narration: Four Lectures by Gertrude Stein, ed. Thornton Wilder
(University of Chicago Press,
1936), p. 60. Hereafter cited within the text as Narration.
23
See, for example, Harriet Scott Chessman, The Public Is Invited to Dance: Repres
entation,
the Body, and
Dialogue
in Gertrude Stein (Stanford University Press, 1989). Chessman argues
that Stein's experimental works offer
a feminist alternative to the masculinist reception theories of Wolfgang
Iser and Roland Barthes. Whereas those two
theorists describe reading as "this violent masculine pleasure" through which "t
he (female) text is filled (and
'fulfilled') by
the (male) reader, who must limit the text's promiscuous 'inexhaustibility' to o
ne configuration of
significance," Stein defines her
implied audience "as equal
lovers or intimate acquaintances, separate but always open
to the possibility of
'coming together.'" See pp. 8-11 in particular. Gertrude Stein on
Identity
301
is
really exciting
is that
they are
exciting" (Writing, pp. 90-91). Assuming
that public
interest
arises from the deeds of such
figures,* newspapers emphasize
the
temporally bound events
surrounding
them and thus
ignore
the real source of their fascination, which for Stein is their
personality. This idea
appears
as well in the third Narration
lecture,
in which Stein again
cites
Dillinger and Lindbergh as dynamic
characters whose essential selves are overlooked by
reporters
fixated by
their deeds. Although "sometimes a personality"
such as theirs "breaks
through an event"
reported by
the media, that essence is "soon smoothed over" as attention
is drawn to the criminal plots
in which
they are involved. Because newspapers ignore
the
inside, they represent "real life with the
reality
left out, the
reality being
the inside and the
newspapers being
the outside"
(Narration, pp. 39-40). This assessment of
journalism
is
idiosyncratic;
in this period, most commentators, including Walter Lippmann,
condemned
newspapers
for
focusing exclusively on personalities and
exploiting
the newly discovered
"personal
interest" angle of their stories.24 For Stein, however, reporters
are too focused on
"what is happening."
If "the business ofthe artist is to be
exciting"
in a way
that "really does
something
to
you really
inside
you," newspapers are not conducive to this endeavor; interested
in
"happenings," they
fail to understand that the choice makes "it... not their business to
be
exciting" (Narration, p. 41).
Not
surprisingly,
the audience-oriented medium most
congenial
to
communicating
the inner
essence is the most private:
letter writing. As Stein
insists,
it is the lone
type of
exchange
that
does not
inspire
confusion: "[I]t really
is the
only
time in writing when the outside and inside
flow
together without
interrupting, not
generally with much
concentrating, but still at any
rate
with not much
interrupting." Although "directed to some one," the
epistle "does not make the
inside outside or the outside inside" because it leads to "diffusion"
instead of confusion
(Narration, p. 55). By diffusion, she
suggests
that the aura of
confidentiality
that private
correspondence presupposes allows the writer to externalize the inside
without
compromising
its
authenticity. Because the audience
presumably possesses
some
appreciation of the inner
self, the author is less
tempted
to cater to
expectation and
falsify
the
expression. At the same
time, the reader is less
likely
to
impose assumptions of the authorial
identity onto the words
and to alter the constitution ofthe inside. The mutuality
that letter writing promises
frees the
writer from that
crippling self-consciousness that more
overtly determines other
compositional
contexts.
But the medium most on Stein's mind as she cautioned
against
the confusions ofthe outside
was the very one
through which she delivered her ideas?the lecture. Public presentation
of
the inner essence
obviously
threatens its
authenticity,
she
argues
in Narration, for audience
attention is fixed on the writer's physical presence, which may
solicit those
presumptions of
identity
so detrimental to
recognizing
the authentic, interior being. For the writer herself,
lecturing
is a "double life": "[I]f you are
reading what you are
lecturing
then you have a half
in one of any
two directions, you have been
recognizing what
you are writing when
you were
writing and now in
reading you disassociate
recognizing what you are
reading
from what you
did
recognize as being written while
you were writing" (Narration, p. 57).
In "What Are
24 Walter Lippmann, "Blazing Publicity: Why We Know So Much about Teaches' Brown
ing, Valentino,
Lindbergh, and Queen Marie," rpt.
in VanityFair: Selectionsfrom America's Most Memorable Magazine: A Cavalcade
ofthe 1920s and 30s, ed. Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee
(Viking Press, 1960), pp. 121-22. 302 Journal of Modern Literature
Master-pieces," Stein concludes that this physical presence precludes lect
uring
from achieving
the status of true literature: "One ofthe
things
that I discovered in
lecturing was that gradually
one ceased to hear what one said one heard what the audience hears
one
say,
that is the reason
that oratory
is practically never a master-piece" (Masterpieces, p. 86). The demands
ofthe
audience are too immediate and pressing
in a live appearance;
the self-consciousness that
reception engenders inevitably
leads the writer's gaze outward instead of
inward, thus
eroding
the
integrity
of the performance.
In
explaining her ideas on
creativity, reception, and the various media determining them,
Stein was not
just offering
an extended primer
for making her
literary experiments
comprehensible. Rather, her lectures underscore the
inescapable reality
that writing
in an age
of
celebrity
is an act of public performance. Lectures in America, Narration, and Geogr
aphical
History claim with
avant-garde
insistence that the inside must be sheltered from external
influences which
compromise
the
sincerity
of artistic effort; yet Stein also understands that in
a culture which
equates visibility with
accomplishment,
the
consequence of
ignoring
the
outside is obscurity. However virulently
she maintains the inside/outside distinction, her
concern with the "confusion" that occurs when the two come into confl
ict
suggests
that the
real interest in these writings
is not dismissing identity but
coping with it.
For the artist desiring at least a modicum of public appreciation with
out becoming subject
to
it,
the key
to managing
confusion rested in the commitment to
authenticity. As Braudy
suggests, remaining
real for celebrities of the 1930s involved poise
in addition to
sincerity.
The question
that
celebrity discourse
repeatedly asked was "whether you
could take the
immense focus on you while
you were
[existing
in the public eye]. Not only can you perform
but also can you do it while
everybody watches you."25 Initially upon returning
to France
in May 1935, Stein
complained of the pressures of public performance
in such lectures as
"What Are Master-pieces." But by
the next
spring,
as she began
a
follow-up
to Alice B.
Toklas
recounting her adventures in America, her attitude toward fame shifted.
Instead of
lamenting
its burdens, Everybody's Autobiography announces that
celebrity
is no bother at all
because, as Stein
continually demonstrates, she is attuned to her inner essence. Various
image
managers during her
journeys attempt
to finesse her public image, yet Stein resists any
distortion of her authentic self. Exerting rigorous fidelity
to the
inside, she refuses to let the
outer world of publicity affect her. In this way,
this second memoir testifies to the sort of
self-possession
that artists of the era were
expected
to cultivate if
they were to manage
the
confusion augured by
the outside.
The
strength
of Stein's
self-possession suggests why,
in Everybody's Autobiography,
she
finds
celebrity more amusing
than
confusing.
If "And Now" insists that "there is no use in
the outside"
(Writing p. 66),
this reminiscence celebrates the privileges
that
accompany fame,
including
the widespread recognition that, according
to the previous essay, erodes the artist's
confidence. Repeatedly, Stein notes how she and Alice B. Toklas were ap
proached during
their
American travels by strangers who welcomed them home after their decad
es abroad. Far from
a disconcerting experience,
she finds these encounters both
exciting and "natural." At one
point,
she describes a mob of
autograph
seekers that descends upon her at a Dartmouth
football game; when her hosts offer to escort her from the stadium t
o
escape
the nuisance,
'
Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown, pp. 573-74. Gertrude Stein on
Identity
303
Stein declines because "there never was anything
that was a bother."26 Even more
striking
given her dismissive attitude toward
journalism
in "American Newspapers"
and Narration,
she
enjoys
interviews with
reporters
and finds their questions engaging,
even when
they
cover
her lectures "as if
[they] were a wrestling match"
(Everybody 's, p. 223).
Stein can insist that "it is a very very pleasant thing"
to be "a real lion a real
celebrity"
without
impugning her motive for being
famous because she
appeals
to what Richard Dyer
calls the "reigning notions" of
authenticity
that allow celebrities to
appear
as "something
more?truer, more real?than an
image." According
to Dyer, "[A]uthenticity
is established
or constructed in media texts by
the use of markers that indicate lack of control,
lack of
premeditation and privacy.
We must know that . . .
[the celebrity's]
star quality"
is not
manufactured but is "grounded
in her own immediate
(= not
controlled), spontaneous (=
unpremeditated) and essential
(= private)
self. That guarantees
that her stardom is not a con,
because an authenticated individual is acting as the guarantor of the
truth of the discourse of
her stardom."27 In the
early
sections of Everybody's Autobiography, Stein fulfills this
prerogative by qualifying
the promotional impetus
for
returning
to America. In
revealing
the
intent behind her
tour, she makes an
important distinction between the commerce of literature
and
celebrity: "Jo Davidson always
said one should sell one's personality and I
always
said
only
insofar as that personality expressed
itself in work. It
always did bother me that the
American public were more interested in me than in my woxk"(Everybody's,
p. 51). The key
phrase here is "insofar as." Stein does not claim that
selling oneself is
inappropriate. Instead,
she entertains the idea of a lecture tour
only because the personality
that she will
inevitably
commodify constitutes the essence of her writing.
It is this link between her intrinsic self and
her work that
justifies her willing engagement with the machinery of American publici
ty.
Trusting
that the public "would not be interested in me if it were not for
my work," she
implicitly promises
to enter the public eye only
to redirect attention back to her work, where
it properly belongs. Submitting
to media
scrutiny out of
fealty
to her art, Stein casts herself
as a naive initiate to the world of
celebrity, one who is not
only
inattentive but is indifferent
toward public relations. In effect, she controls her public image by
appearing not to control
it.
Nowhere does Stein's attitude toward fame seem more unpremeditated and
spontaneous
than
in her account of her
itinerary's organization. Initially,
she entrusts the tour's
planning
to
William Aspenwall Bradley,
the Paris-based
literary agent who sold Alice B. Toklas to
Harcourt, Brace and brokered its serialization in the Atlantic Monthly.
Bradley proves
too
willing
to
compromise her
authenticity
for continued commercial
success, however. Rather
than place her many unpublished manuscripts with a commercial
imprimatur, he
encourages
her to
capitalize on the success of her best-seller and produce a
sequel. More
troubling, he
contracts Stein's
appearances through a lecture bureau so as to maximize their profitabi
lity.
"He wanted me to be managed by somebody," Stein
complains. "[N]aturally
there is nothing
to manage" (Everybody 's,p. 127). When Bradley balks at her poor busine
ss sense, demanding
26
Gertrude Stein, Everybody's Autobiography (Random House, 1937; rpt. Exact Chang
e, 1993), p. 204. Subsequent
references to this work will be cited within the text.
27
Richard Dyer, "A Star is Born and the Construction of Authenticity,"
in Stardom:
Industry of Desire, ed.
Christine Gledhill
(Routledge, 1990), p. 137. 304 Journal of Modern Literature
to know how she
expects
to make money,
she declares her
integrity: "[C]ertainly
I said I do
want to get
rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get
rich"
(Everybody's, p. 132).
Invoking principle
over packaging, Stein posits her artistic autonomy against
the marketing
of her public image. As an
emissary of authenticity,
she demonstrates in her dealings with
Bradley
the resolve necessary
to remain true both to her aesthetics and to her essential self.
In a
comparable way, Stein
emphasizes her
spontaneity
and lack of pretense by depicting
her return to America as a haphazard picaresque
instead of a massively
successful business
venture that, according
to Carl Van Vechten,
left her "several thousand dollars the richer."28
After protracted dissatisfaction with Bradley,
she fires him and entrusts organizational duties
to Toklas and an informal
entourage of
loyalists
that includes Van Vechten, W.G.
("The
Kiddie") Rogers, and Thornton Wilder. Several
self-deprecating episodes emphasize
the
amateurism of the
enterprise. During
a
stay at the Algonquin Hotel, for
example, Toklas
misplaces her date book, which contains the
only
list of Stein's
engagements
that the two have
bothered to maintain. Here Van Vechten serves as the foil for her ind
ifference to success; by
mildly rebuking
the women for not maintaining better records, he evinces the sort of
professionalism that, were Stein to exhibit
it, would make her fame seem calculated and
contrived. Instead, she and Toklas take the advice of the wife of Al
gonquin
owner Henry
Case: "Mrs. Case said why are you
fussed it will come back again,
it did"
(Everybody's, p.
201).
Equally potential disasters elicit the same indifference. Upon arriving
in America, Stein
loses her voice, "a sure metaphor," according
to Conrad, "for the
appropriation which she
feared might happen
in America if the mass media were to take control of her
image."29 Yet
Stein's first performance
cures this concern as confidence in the
legitimacy of her ideas
assures her she need not worry about her press coverage. During
a later
speech
at the Dutch
Treat Club, she encounters a fellow lecturer who, after three years o
f public speaking,
still
visibly
shakes while addressing an audience. Without hesitation, Stein accuses h
im of
feigning
his anxiety: "I
said, you are making believe being nervous in order to be effective,
I
said,
aren't
you" (Everybody's, p. 183). Admitting
that displaying
one's
anxiety
is a popular
oratorical
technique
for
gaining audience
sympathy, Stein not
only disarms the gesture's
appeal but again advances her
authenticity. Having
solved her unease with
lecturing by turning
to the inside and
ignoring audience reaction, she reinforces her claim that she is
just as she
presents herself. Tailoring neither herself nor her ideas for public c
onsumption,
she can be
famous without
succumbing
to self-consciousness.
Other unusual aspects of the tour further underscore Stein's unpremedit
ated approach
to
her
celebrity. At each lecture
stop,
she restricts attendance to five hundred, a whim that
(as
she is careful to note) frequently
turns away at least two or three times that number. When
a Columbia University official announces that more than a thousand tic
kets have been
distributed for one performance, Stein threatens to cancel the
engagement. As she informs the
stunned
functionary,
she will not accommodate a mass audience at the
expense
of her art: "I
have written these lectures
they are hard lectures to read and it will be hard to listen to
them,
anybody not used to
lecturing
cannot hold the attention of more than a roomful"
(Everybody's,
28
Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, Vol. I, p. 322, note 1.
29
Bryce Conrad, "Gertrude Stein in the American Marketplace," p. 229. Gertrude St
ein on
Identity
305
p. 181). Later, a
similarly bemused
sponsor
of her Princeton appearance marvels at the
irony
of discouraging
students from attending
the event. "[U]sually
in university lecturing
I have
to get an audience," Stein
reports him
saying. "[Y]ou say you will not have more than five
hundred and to keep
it down to five hundred I have had an awful time. I think it is a
great
joke" (Everybody's, p. 187). Stein also refuses introductions at the s
tart of each lecture.
Dismissing
the
formality as "silly,"
she reinforces her
image as an unwilling celebrity
unimpressed with the
trappings of fame: "[E]verybody knew who I was if not why did
they
come," she wonders
(Everybody's, p. 181-82).
This unpretentious, homespun self-presentation allows Stein to appear no
nplused by her
notoriety;
she
accepts her visibility
in the media but remains wholly unaffected by
it. Excluded
from Everybody's Autobiography are
any
incidents that might undermine this persona and
make her seem concerned with her
representation
in the press. Stein does not mention,
for
example,
that she busied her
supporter James Laughlin
in preparing abstracts of her
lectures,
which were
strategically distributed to
journalists
to preclude misquotation.30 Nor does she
offer an account in the
closing pages
of why
she came to write a second memoir. While Alice
B. Toklas ends with a self-reflexive climax as Stein promises
to record her recollections and
produce a best-seller, Everybody's Autobiography concludes with the far
less dramatic scene
of Stein and Toklas
returning
to their summer residence in Bilignin, France. Although
denouncing Bradley's
efforts to oblige her
contractually
to a second
autobiography,
she makes
no mention of the pressure which Random House placed upon her to pro
duce a commercial
manuscript and reverse the
slumping
sales trend precipitated by Lectures in America and
Geographical History. Had she confessed her publisher's
influence on her, of course, she
would have
impugned her motives for writing a
sequel
to Alice B. Toklas, opening herself to
the accusation that she was more concerned with success than she admi
tted.
Stein also enhances the
sincerity
of her
self-presentation by describing
encounters with
various publicity apparatuses
that threaten her
authenticity. When a photographer asks her to
pose
for a newspaper layout,
she proves
so oblivious to the media that she must beg a
definition of the unfamiliar word. Once aware that it refers to "four
or five pictures of you
doing anything,"
she consents to the photo
session but resists
any staging: "[H]e
said there
is your airplane bag suppose you unpack it, oh I said Miss Toklas
always does that oh no I
could not do
that, well he said there is the
telephone suppose you telephone well I said yes
but I never do Miss Toklas always does that." Gamson notes that
celebrity photography had
only recently moved in this period
from
formal, glamorous portraits
to more candid and
intimate shots of the famous at home and play. Rather than idealize
stars as "demoeratic
royalty" or "popularly
'elected'
gods and goddesses,"
the trend depicted
stars as "more and
30
For accounts of Stein's concerns regarding her press coverage during
the American tour, see William G. Rogers,
When This You See Remember Me: Gertrude Stein in Person
(Rinehart, 1948), pp. 120-38; James Laughlin, "About
Gertrude Stein," Yale Review, LXXVH (1988), pp. 528-37; Bennett Cerf, At Random:
The Reminiscences of Bennett
Cerf (Random House, 1977), pp. 101-08. Cerf calls Stein a "publicity hound" as
he catalogues the
frequently
degrading
tricks employed
to publicize her experimental works from the mid-1930s. Foremost among these
unflattering promotional efforts was the
jacket copy composed for Geographical History,
in which he boasted of his
own bafflement over its meaning. His comments bothered many reviewers, who quest
ioned why a guardian of
literary
culture would sponsor an artist he could not understand. The copy thus bore the
unintentional effect of
sensationalizing
Stein's peculiarity at the expense of the serious regard which she coveted. 306
Journal of Modern Literature
more mortal" and as "blown-up versions ofthe
typical."31 Photos of celebrities
cooking
dinner or
cavorting with their children endorsed their authenticity by confirming
the normalcy
of their existence, thereby tightening
the network of identification between idols and fans.
Stein's
exchange with the photographer
advances her
genuineness by inverting
this new
tradition:
refusing
to pose
in ordinary actions which she would not ordinarily perform,
she at
once draws attention to the authenticating
function of the star-at-home
imagery while
demonstrating her commitment to avoid misrepresenting herself. "Well he
said what can
you
do," she describes the perplexed photographer as demanding. "I said I ca
n put my hat on and
take my hat off and I can put my
coat on and I can take it off and I like water I can drink a
glass
of water. . . .
[H]e
said do that so I did that"
(Everybody's, p. 225). The
resulting photo
spread,
she
implies, captured her as she
truly is, unaltered by
the lens of media interest.
Encounters with Hollywood
luminaries occasion similar opportunities
to display her
indifference toward
image management. At a New York tea party, Stein is introduced to Mary
Pickford, who, after a brief conversation, suggests
that
they pose
for a photograph. But before
a newspaperman
can arrive to document the meeting, partygoers question
the propriety
of
celebrities from such diverse arenas
communing
in public. According
to Stein, Pickford's
sudden coolness to the photo opportunity was baffling: "I was intereste
d
just what it was that
went on inside Mary Pickford. It was her idea and then when I was en
thusiastic she melted
away. They all said that what she
thought was if I were enthusiastic it meant that I
thought
that it would do me more good
than it would do her.. . others said perhaps
after all it would
not be good
for her audience that we should be photographed together." While Pickf
ord's
behavior reveals her calculated attitude toward fame, Stein describes h
erself as naive of the
imperative of
complimentary press. Indeed, the phenomenon
is so alien to her she announces
her intent to
study
it: "I was very much interested to know
just what
they know about what
is good publicity and what is not"
(Everybody's, p. 6).
A later gathering
in Beverly Hills offers Stein an
opportunity
to voice her most
explicit
justification
of her fame. Celebrities envious of her notoriety, including Charlie C
haplin
and
Anita Loos, approach her and beg
for her secret for monopolizing press attention. Stein's
response
is
initially flippant: "[T]hey wanted to know how I had succeeded in
getting
so much
publicity,
I said by having a small audience." In
explaining
the media's interest in her,
however, she once more calls upon authenticity: "The biggest publicity
comes from the realest
poetry and the realest poetry has a small audience and not a big one
, but it is
really exciting
and therefore it has the biggest publicity" (Everybody's, p. 292). Had
she been willing
to
fabricate her work to appeal
to a
larger audience, she might have been more popular?but
more anonymous,
too. Instead, by being
so unequivocally "real," both she and her work merit
the attention which
they receive, for her
authenticity
is the source ofthe media's interest in
her. In this way, Stein
legitimates her
celebrity while
subtly boasting
that she deserves it.
Everybody's Autobiography represents
the cathartic culmination of Stein's anxieties over
identity, celebrity, and
authenticity. After 1937, she continued to
employ
the inside/outside
Gamson, Claims to Fame: Celebrity
in Contemporary America, p. 29. Gertrude Stein on
Identity
307
dichotomy
in writings
as varied as her novel Ida
(1941),
the theatre piece Yes Is For a Very
Young Man
(begun
in 1944), and Brewsie and Willie
(1946), her tribute to the allied soldiers
of World War II. Yet these texts are not
intensely
concerned with the problem
of articulating
the intrinsic personality
in the external world. What few comments Stein does offer on the
phenomenon
of modern fame in later works
suggest
that the issue no
longer
troubled her. In
Paris France
(1940),
she notes that "publicity
in France is
really not
important,
tradition and
their private
life and the soil which always produces something,
that is what counts." A
conversation with Charles Lindbergh's wife confirms the assertion; upon
meeting Stein, Mrs.
Lindbergh expressed
relief over the European media's unintrusive
coverage of her
family's
tragedy: "In America of course she had suffered
they had suffered from publicity.
In . . .
France
they pay
attention to you when you meet, but
they do not bother you because in
between
they do not know that you are there." While the French value artists
and writers, they
also grant
them the anonymity necessary
to
escape
self-consciousness. Creating
true art in the
ville
lumiere, she decides,
is
relatively easy because, unlike the situation in America,
"everything
is private and personal."32
Stein's mid-1930s' work also characterizes a unique moment in the deve
lopment
of
celebrity discourse. Whether by declaring one's disinterest in fame
(as
she does in "And
Now") or by demonstrating an ability
to resist its distortions and remain real
(as
in
Everybody'sAutobiography), public figures were
obligated
to
justify
the mass attention which
they
received and to uphold
the values of
authenticity. Stein fulfilled this duty with humor and
aplomb; unlike her erstwhile pupil Hemingway,
she was never so sensitive to
charges of
image
fabrication that she resorted to caricatured behavior to defend her
reputation.33 Had she
written in a later era, her sense of playfulness might have even all
owed her to
indulge
in what
P. David Marshall calls the "demonstrative and
flamboyant display
of artifice and
transformation" evident in the careers of many Postmodern celebrities. T
hat
is, by flouting
the
prerogative of sincere
self-presentation,
she could have "played with
identity
and
image"
to
create "an ironic modality
to the claims in
[celebrity journalism]
for
authenticity."
Instead of
advancing her authentic self, she might "appeal
to an aesthetic in which the performer has the
'genius'
to transform like the brilliant actor," thus making "[t]he key
to
[her] continuing
appeal"
the "continual deferral of the resolution of the
enigma" of her real personality.34
Ultimately, however, this esthetic was unavailable to Stein and her
contemporaries;
concerns
about the
legitimacy of modern fame were too pressing
to allow
image manipulation
to flout
norms of
authenticity. As such, the inside/outside proved a valuable rhetorical
tool for
32
Gertrude Stein, Paris, France
(Scribner's, 1940), p.10, 109.
33
In one
famously unflattering instance, Hemingway struck Max Eastman in the face with a
copy of Eastman's
own book after the New Republic columnist
suggested
in print
that Hemingway's highly publicized obsession with
blood
sports was a public-relations device. Attempting
to diagnose
the personality beneath the public facade, Eastman
suggested that the fascination with bullfighting and big-game hunting belied sex
ual uncertainties?a comment that
Hemingway interpreted as an accusation of
impotence. Of course, the brawl, which took place when the writers
unexpectedly encountered each other at their publisher, Charles Scribner's offic
e, was heavily reported
in gossip
columns. Some accounts
suggested that Eastman pinned Hemingway to the floor, while others insisted t
hat
Hemingway's red-bloodedness
soundly pommeled the effete forces of intellectualism. Regardless, the incident
deeply
damaged Hemingway's reputation. See John Raeburn, Fame Became ofHim: Hemingway a
s Public Writer
(Indiana
University Press, 1984), pp. 60-68.
34
P. David Marshall, Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture
(University of Minnesota Press, 1997),
p. 194. 308 Journal of Modern Literature
justifying her press coverage and promoting her work. Only through
it could she confirm her
essential
sincerity
to a blossoming media culture anxious of its power
to fabricate and
disseminate
images
of
celebrity.