In the 1920s and 1930s, Stein had a reputation as an extraordinary conversationalist and as a cubist writer; visiting her and Toklas at 27 Rue de Fleurus, became a rite of passage for writers, painters, and American tourists. Stein was thus already well known when The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), a fanciful memoir of the Paris art world, made her a popular writer. In 1934 Stein returned to the United States for the first time in 30 years to lecture and tour. In 1929 Alice and Gertrude had begun self-publishing under their own imprint, Plain Edition. Four titles appeared, including How to Write (1931). The success of Autobiography, however, finally brought a long-term contract from Random House and interest from other American publishers so that work began to appear regularly. In this late period some of the books are Lectures in America (1935), The Geographical History of America (1936), Everybody's Autobiography (1937), and Ida (1941).
As Stein predicted in her lecture "Composition as Explanation" (1926), her work became "classic" only after she was dead (496). During her lifetime her work was "outlaw" or "irritating annoying stimulating," as she characterized it (496). It is still classified in that way, despite the number of forms she practiced: poems, portraits, plays, novels, opera, autobiography, lectures, and even a children's book. Stein's work has thus been classified as largely unclassifiable; even though her work is unmistakable, it is always unpredictable.
Stanzas in Meditation (written in 1932, unpublished until 1956) is Stein's longest poem, which she wrote at her summer home in the French countryside; much of it seems to refer to the landscape around her and the people who visit. Stein loved to discriminate between similar words—in this case, between seeing and describing. She claims that she writes what she sees without describing it. To "see" is to write about something that cannot be described but only enacted: the tension between words, as objects, in relation to other words/objects. The referents for words only play a part in meaning; language means according to how it is used. As she writes the words split: "Because I know by weight how eight are eight" (emphasis added). To know how many things there are, she assesses how much they weigh; knowledge is thus achieved indirectly. Consider these lines: "A plain is a mountain not made round," and "They say August is not April / But how say so if in the middle they can not know." When you are in the middle of something, whether August or a plain, you cannot know what it is, only what it is not (April or a mountain). "I have lost the thread of my discourse," she admits at one point; however, "it makes no difference if we find it / If we found it," since it finds her, as long as she keeps writing.
T. S. eliot's review of Stein in 1927 characterized her reception: "[I]t is not improving, it is not amusing, it is not interesting, it is not good for one's mind. But its rhythms have a peculiar hypnotic power not met with before. It has a kinship with the saxophone. If this is the future, then the future is [something] in which we ought not to be interested" (595). Mina loy compared Stein in 1924 to the late 19th-century scientist Madame Marie Curie: Stein puts consciousness under a microscope "to extract / a radium of the word" (94). And in 1937 Samuel Beckett said that Stein was "a mathematician [who] is in love with his figures; a mathematician for whom the solution of the problem is of entirely secondary interest" (172-173). Treating words as a chemist or as a mathematician might, as if words were elements or numbers, strip them of reference—to other books and to history. History does not disappear; instead the past becomes something that happens in the present, much as we experience a memory as happening in the present. In this way, time present is continuous, Stein insisted; even if we never forget the past, we live in the present, whether we know it or not. Marianne moore favorably reviewed The Making of the Americans in 1926; in her review, she quotes a passage from the novel: "[I]t is very difficult in quarreling to be certain in either one what the other one is remembering" (129). Stein too wondered what her readers would be remembering as they read. She wanted them not to remember but rather to concentrate on the present moment of reading.
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