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Archive for February 7th, 2010

repetition, repression, modernism

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The first story in Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, “The Good Anna,” is a something like a translation of Flaubert’s “Un coeur simple” adjusted for the advent of the discipline of psychology. Instead of saying once “Elle avait eu, comme une autre, son histoire d’amour,” it says it again and again and again and again, establishing its version of the  phrase (“The widow Mrs. Lehntman was the romance in Anna’s life” and variations thereupon) as an index of psychological blockage rather than literary irony. In Flaubert’s case, it follows, the phrase registers low bovarisme – the pathetic or bathetic implication of life in literary models. In Stein’s case, the phrase registers tautological euphemism, when we keep saying the same thing for lack of ability to say the next thing, the true thing.

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February 7, 2010 at 5:13 pm

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He was a strange and complex man. He had peculiar tastes. He was never at peace with the world.

The only way to know that you were his intimate was if he treated you as roughly as he treated himself. If, at certain pitched moments, he savaged himself and you at the same time and to the same degree, then you knew you were in, for better or worse.

This, you knew, has how love, or whatever it was, worked with him. The fact was that he was at once incredibly tolerant of and incredibly impatient with human nature. His optimism was abyssally pessimistic, and vice versa. At privileged moments, his speech would take on the dark lyricism that comes of such cross-wiring, such implicit contradiction. At other moments, he would remain silent, which amounted almost to the same thing.

You would have stopped, if you knew then what you know now, and said “But when and where did I sign on for that? Can you produce a contract? A duly notarized document?”

“Certain processes and functions,” he would have responded, “are as implicit in human relations as the tree is implicit in this garden, the squirrels in these trees, the train on those tracks.”

“This is a cross to bear,” he would have said. “But haven’t we all got to have one?” he would have asked.

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February 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm

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