Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tender Buttons

Stein, Gertrude. Tender Buttons. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997.

Tender Buttons is a prose poem divided into three sections. The first, titled “Objects,” provides brief sketches of household items such as a carafe, a chair, a piano, and a dog, etc. “Food,” which is the second section, functions in a similar manner but with regard to edibles. The final section, titled “Rooms,” differs from the previous two sections in that it is not subdivided into smaller sections, but unfolds as one continuous rumination on the rooms within Stein's domicile. In addition to the actual things Stein writes about, there are several other reoccurring themes. One is the concept of the center, specifically that one should “act as there is no center” (43); another is the notion of difference and how it “is spreading” (3) throughout the text so as to create a “space” where one can find “a hint of more” (48); and finally, silence, which “is not indicated by any motion” (45), but may or may not “choke speech” (47). Stylistically, the collection exhibits many non-normative properties in an effort to “attack...the denotations of words” (vi). Stein accomplishes this through “repeated words,” and the way she “recast them, rhymed them, and strung them together in unusual combinations” (vi). Or stated in Stein's own language, she created “a sentence of vagueness that is violence is authority and a mission and stumbling and also a certain prison” (24). To this extent, she develops a language that is “like a very strangeness” (25), yet retains some of familiarity by using common words that would be comprehensible to most audience members. While the semantics of Stein's sentences may be “in between no sense,” they elicit a “music memory, musical memory” (31) found in their “cadences, real cadences, real cadences and quiet color” (48). Such poetic maneuvers, no doubt, work so that readers may “see a fine substance strangely” (4) in “the narrow the quite narrow suggestion of the” (51) substance. Or stated differently, in the very “slanting...light,” these objects, foods, and rooms become a type of “secret” (50) that produces an “incredible justice” (52) in the text that allows a reader to construct meaning (or not construct meaning) in the most egalitarian manner language can afford.

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