can’t see the forest

Quotations from Gertrude Stein

Posted in gertrude stein, Quotations by Curtis on 9/22/06

Gertrude SteinGertrude Stein (1874-1946) was a controversial American expatriate writer, poet, and playwright. She lived in Europe, Paris particularly, for most of her life. She had some political and philosophical views that I don’t altogether agree with, and a few that I think were outright mad; but as a conceiver of social equality and justice and as an observer and commentator on human fallibility I think she is largely without a direct equal, not least because of the total mastery of the English language with which she penned her quips and novels alike.

Stein most often wrote using small words and rambling grammatical constructions. Her statements and explanations are sometimes circular in nature, in keeping with the self-referential nature of language and of the human mind. Her writing style has been characterized as “sing-song” and “Seussian,” which are, I suppose, superficially accurate depictions. For me, the lure of Stein is that her writing seems, to me at least, to be almost completely unpretentious in that it is “thinking on paper”—not so much ‘stream of consciousness’ in the literary sense, but refreshingly direct and generally wont to shed the ambiguous terminologies and hidden assumptions which are prevalent in the more traditional use of language, and thus in human thought processes.

Here’s a sample of some of my favorite Stein quotes. Some of these are taken from works I’ve read, others come from compilations taken from her work.


“Now they can do the radio in so many languages that nobody any longer dreams of a single language, and there should not any longer be dreams of conquest because the globe is all one, anybody can hear everything and everybody can hear the same thing, so what is the use of conquering.”

“A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.”

“The thing that is really interesting about government servants is that they believe what they are supposed to believe, they really do believe what they are supposed to believe.”

“No one is ahead of his time, it is only that the particular variety of creating his time is the one that his contemporaries who are also creating their own time refuse to accept.”

“The deepest thing in anyone is the conviction of the bad luck that follows boasting.”

“Nothing could bother me more than the way a thing goes dead once it has been said.”

“It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

“Would I if I could by pushing a button would I kill five thousand Chinamen if I could save my brother from anything. Well I was very fond of my brother and I could completely imagine his suffering and then I replied that five thousand Chinamen were something I could not imagine and so it was not interesting. One has to remember that about imagination.”

“Americans are very friendly and very suspicious, that is what Americans are and what always upsets the foreigner, who deals with them.”

“I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it.”

“There are many that I know and I know it. They are many that I know and they know it. They are all of them themselves and they repeat it and I hear it. Always I listen to it. Slowly I come to understand it. Many years I listened and did not know it. I heard it, understood it some, I did not know I heard it. They repeat themselves now and I listen to it. Every way that they do it now I hear it. Now each time very slowly I come to understand it. Always it comes very slowly the completed understanding of it, the repeating each one does to tell it the whole history of the being in each one, always now I hear it. Always now slowly I understand it.”

“If you do not remember while you are writing, it may seem confused to others but actually it is clear and eventually that clarity will be clear, that is what a masterpiece is, but if you remember while you are writing it will seem clear at the time to anyone but the clarity will go out of it that is what a masterpiece is not.”

“After all human beings have to live dogs too so as not to know that time is passing, that is the whole business of living to go on so they will not know that time is passing, that is why they get drunk that is why they like to go to war, during a war there is the most complete absence of the sense that time is passing a year of war lasts so much longer than any other year.”


One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Работа said, on 9/23/08 at 12:55 am

    Супер ржал целый день.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: