The following is a brief excerpt from a larger project of mine, titled "Stein's Poetics of Imperceptibility." Being an excerpt, it does not fully address the nuances of the main argument, nor objections that may be raised against the argument itself. This is merely a primer of sorts:
What, then, constitutes an intensive reading of Gertrude Stein’s writing? One way of actualizing this question is to examine her work through the concept of the secret. Critics in the past have analyzed Stein’s writing as though it were “a private code,” usually deciphering it as “disguised lesbian content,” or more thoroughly as “a sophisticated set of insights about gender and culture…that anticipate…psychoanalytic and feminist theory” (Ruddick 225). But it would seem that such a deciphering mitigates the strength, if not completely undermines, the nature of the secret itself in that it “has limited value as long as the secret is opposed to its discovery as in a binary machine having only two terms, the secret and the disclosure” (Deleuze and Guattari,Thousand 286). The concept of the secret “seeks to be imperceptible itself” and produce a secretion “in which it imposes itself and spreads” (287). As such, the secret is not meant to be “discovered,” but unfolds throughout the text, multiplying itself and creating a vast network of interwoven secrets, or an “infinite form of secrecy” (288). In this manner, the secret transforms from something that needs to be “discovered,” into an imperceptibility; or, as Deleuze and Guattari write, “from a content that is well defined, localized, and belongs to the past, to the a priori general form of a nonlocalizable something that has happened” (288). To wit, Stein herself suggests a similar approach to her texts (i.e. the secret not as a stand-in for the symbolic) when she writes that an object “is not any symbol. It suggests nothing” (Stein, Buttons 46); according to her own admission, proposing what an object might symbolically represent is futile because the object “suggests nothing”: it is merely itself, and the secrets which they produce are merely secrets themselves. Moreover, in Difference and Repetition, Deleuze writes that to “solve a problem is always to give rise to discontinuities on the basis of a continuity which functions as Idea. Once we ‘forget’ the problem, we have before us no more than an abstract general solution” (162). If one “solves” a problem, which is an Idea (162), the false belief arises that one has relieved himself of the problem and thus enables the solution to fragment back into a “proposition whose sole value is designatory” (163). Or stated in other words, to “discover” an answer to a particular secret produces nothing more than a nominal answer that divests the concept of the secret from the work it is capable of doing.
What, then, is the work that the secret performs? At its most basic level, the secret produces sensations, and a sensation “is the opposite of the facile and the ready-made, the cliché, [with] one face turned toward the subject, and one face turned toward the object…and at the limit, it is the same body that, being both subject and object, gives and receives sensation”; thus, one “experiences the sensation only by entering into” (Deleuze, Bacon 31) the writing. To more fully comprehend the logic of sensation within Stein’s writing, it is important to determine 1) how she destroys clichés, and 2) how one enters into her writing.
[Note: Juliana Spahr, in the first chapter of her book Everybody's Autonomy, provides an itemized list of the deformations found in Stein's writing. The complete text of this essay, to a certain extent, merely glosses those deformative poetics; thus, for the purposes this post, I will move directly to point number two.]
But sensation can also be conceptualized in another manner within Stein’s work: at the level of representation; or more appropriately stated, at the level of a-representation. As Deleuze mentions in his analysis of Francis Bacon’s paintings: “The levels of sensation would be like arrests or snapshots of motion, which would recompose the movement synthetically in continuity, speed, and violence” (Bacon 35); yet unlike the Cubism and Futurism, the movement he refers to is “in-place” (as opposed to “through space” and in contradistinction to "cubist readings" of Stein's writing), in that it is a “spasm” reacting to “the action of invisible forces on the body” (36), or a rhythm created when sensations pass between levels. So in Tender Buttonswhen Stein writes of an orange, the reader encounters the following:
Why is a feel oyster an egg stir. Why is it orange centre.The text presents the reader with a rather peculiar vision of an orange; yet outside of its “orange centre,” the vision does not represent in a traditionally mimetic manner. Instead, forces have warped the object into a “tick” that will “loosen loosen,” but they also transform it into “an extra leaker with a see spoon.” With regard to the difference that such forces produce, Stein herself wrote that: “The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything” (Selections 219). “What is seen,” in this case an orange, “is different” in large part to the forces “doing” upon the object in "time," the “spasms” of the orange: the invisible crush of gravity, the light in the room shifting, thus highlighting another aspect of the fruit, its juice (i.e. the “extra leaker”) secreting from the pulp and drying the rind into worthless husk. Whatever the circumstance, Stein writes the sensation, not the representation, and it is a composition of force, or a composed chaos. And like Bacon’s paintings, Stein’s writing is monstrous only “from the viewpoint of a lingering figuration” (Deleuze,Bacon 123), or representation. What she writes is the imperceptible forces, and to do so she employs a “haptic” vision where “sight discovers in itself a specific function of touch” (125) so that we, as readers, can witness that “which makes [an object] crack or swell…sometimes with an inner force that arouses them, sometimes with an external force…sometimes with the variable forces of a flowing time” (129). Therefore, it is not that the orange, or any other object for that matter, has disappeared into the nether-world of forces and catastrophe, but her writing and objects “pass through the catastrophe themselves, embrace the chaos, and attempt to emerge from it” (84) with a new vision and a new rhythm.
A show at tick and loosen loosen it so to speak sat.
It was an extra leaker with a see spoon, it was an extra licker with a see spoon. (38)
To a great degree, embracing Stein’s new rhythm is, in a very literal sense, to enter into her work and experience its sensations directly, and the predominant rhythm in her writing is constructed around repetition, or: “Beginning again and again” (Stein, Selections 216). “Beginning again and again,” for Stein, functions in the “explaining [of] composition and time” (216), but to explain the composition, one must read the composition, and to read the composition is to create the composition. In other words, the “composition is the thing seen by every one living in the living they are doing, they are the composing of the composition that at the time they are living is the composition of the time in which they are living” (216). Furthermore, every instance of composition by the reader generates difference:
Everything is the same except composition and as the composition is different and always going to be different everything is not the same. Everything is not the same as the time when of the composition and the time in the composition is different. The composition is different, that is certain. (216)In this sense, even though the “beginning again and again” of writer-readers fosters linguistic repetition, those repetitions “as the composition” are “always going to be different,” or difference in repetition.
For Deleuze, the difference in repetition operates as the foundation for his system of thought as an undoing of doxa, or the traditional Image of Thought, so as to create something which is new. As he states in Difference and Repetition:
The new, with its power of beginning and beginning again, remains forever new, just as the established was always established from the outset, even if a certain amount of empirical time was necessary for this to be recognized. What becomes established with the new is precisely not the new. For the new—in other words, difference—calls forth forces in thought which are not the forces of recoginition…but the powers of a completely other model, from an unrecognised and unrecognisable terra incognita. (136)We see, then, that Stein’s “beginning again and again” is Deleuze’s “beginning and beginning again”; while the former claims that in such repetitions “everything is not the same,” the latter likewise believes that repetition in difference “remains forever new” in that it is perpetually “an unrecognised…terra incognita.” Ultimately, an “authentic repetition” is difference, or “thought without Image” that renounces “both the form of representation and the element of common sense” (132). The production of difference in Stein’s work derives from its rhythms of “authentic repetition” that operate beyond “representation” in that the “time in composition,” as well as the “time of composition” are both a doing, and the doing exists in perpetual relation with the forces that produce sensation: or the point where “rhythm itself plunges into chaos [and] the differences of level are perpetually and violently mixed” (Deleuze, Bacon 39). Sensation is the rhythm and “sensation is vibration” (39), that “secret vibration which animates it, a more profound, internal repetition” (Deleuze, Difference 1): difference in itself.
Of course, once one enters into a work, extraction is just as important. If one stays in the work, cliché can once again reappear. As Deleuze wrote of Bacon’s paintings: “Clichés and probabilities are on the canvas; they fill it, they must fill it, before the painter’s work begins, [therefore] the painter must enter into the canvas…In this way, he enters into the cliché” (78). While in the canvas, the painter must deform the cliché and then find a way “to get out of it, thereby getting out of the cliché” (78). The same can be said of the writer-reader: one must enter the writing so as to experience the sensations, the rhythms, and the vibrations, but then must leave so that the clichés that naturally occur within a particular subjectivity do not manifest themselves within the writing. What one needs is to find a proper balance, an oscillation, in which one perpetually enters into and extracts oneself from Stein’s writing; one must “exist only in mixture” and constantly be “translated, transverse…reversed, [and] returned to” (Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand 474) so as to coexist “in a perpetual field of interaction” (360). This oscillation, in many respects, is the rhythm and sensation which Stein’s text produces.
Joshua Ware lives in Lincoln, NE. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, such as Caketrain, DIAGRAM, Dislocate, The Laurel Review, Packingtown Review, Phoebe, and New American Writing. He is the author of the forthcoming chapbooks I, NE: Iterations of the Junco (Small Fires Press, 2009) and Excavations (Further Adventures Press, 2009). A series of his poems is forthcoming in issue #44.