What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them – an Essay by Gertrude Stein that I DNF’d…

The Card: ♠4♠ Four of Spades

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “the things that are.”

The Selection: “What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them” –  from my book “The Best American Essays of the Century.”

The Author: Gertrude Stein –  Born in Pittsburgh, but spending most of her life in Paris and was famous for her being a part of a circle of Lost Generation-y luminaries including Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso to name just a few.

This essay was my 27th Selection of Deal Me In 2017.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them

I’ve been doing Deal Me In for six and a half years now, and this is the first time I’ve abandoned a story/essay.  It was virtually unreadable, and I can’t understand how it found its way into a volume titled “The Best American Essays of the Century.”  The following “sentence” may help you understand why I feel this way:

“I talk a lot I like to talk and I talk even more than that I may say I talk most of the time and I listen a fair amount too and as I have said the essence of being a genius is to be able to talk and listen to listen while talking and talk while listening but and this is very important very important indeed talking has nothing to do with creation.”

Yes, she has something against punctuation! Thank God at least the . has survived her wrath! I notice the title of this essay is a question, but you have to identify it as such by reading rather than seeing a question mark at the end.  I’ve always found writers who intentionally make it harder for readers to read to be annoying and pretentious. I don’t know much about Stein’s other works, but I am unlikely to explore them after giving up on this one before I’d finished three pages. I was naively looking forward to reading this essay too, as I found the title so promising, but alas…

♫♫ Personal Notes: I think I read a little of Stein before, as I was forced to read (or was at least supposed to read) her “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” in college. I likely abandoned that attempt too if it was anything like this one. And how’s that for pretentious, by the way, writing someone else’s autobiography!?


What about you?  Can you help me “get” Gertrude Stein?  What am I missing?

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The Future is Now by Katherine Anne Porter – Selection #23 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♠A♠ Ace of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s sings of things that are (i.e. the “present” for Deal Me In purposes). This story’s title meant I could probably put it with Fate representing the present or future. I went with the present.

The Selection: “The Future is Now” – published in 1950  and included my copy of The Best American Essays of the Century” edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I found a google docs pdf copy of the essay online here.

The Author: Katherine Anne Porter – Born in Texas in 1890 and famous for her novel “Ship of Fools” and countless stories and essays. She’s been featured at Bibliophilopolis before, and my post about her short story “Theft” remains one of my more frequently visited pages.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The Future is Now

“And yet it may be that what we have is a world not on the verge of flying apart, but an uncreated one – still in shapeless fragments waiting to be put together properly. I imagine that when we want something better, we may have it: at perhaps no greater price than we have already paid for the worse.”

 (above: had to go with an Ace of Spades from my Game of Thrones deck since… Season 7 is coming)

I never fail to be impressed by writing that “holds up” over the years and can still read as relevant in a totally different time and circumstance. Porter’s essay, “The Future is Now” is a good example. Written in 1950, it expresses legitimate concern about the future of humanity and shows how these thoughts are almost always with us.

This essay was written by Porter shortly after her having read an article about what to do in case of a nuclear attack – something that was starting to worry many at that point in history – and the futility in trying to prepare for one (see the underlined sentence in the photo above). Apparently, the testing of first Hydrogen Bomb was also eminent, and Porter had this in mind as well, leading to this essay also musing about the status of the human race and it’s love-hate relationship with technology.

I heartily recommend reading this essay (link given in the intro) to anyone in any time period (that sounds funny when I put it that way – what can someone of the 19th century do about it? – but I hope you understand what I mean). Personally, I choose to be hopeful in a world that often doesn’t seem to offer much hope for the future. Porter seems to choose hope as well, which is why I used the quote I did as the lead in above.

Why is the essay titled as it is? Porter explains:

“I was once reading the writings of a young girl, an apprentice author, who was quite impatient to get on with the business and find her way into print. There is very little one can say of use in such matters, but I advised her against haste – she could so easily regret it. ‘Give yourself time,‘ I said, ‘the future will take care of itself.‘ This opinionated young person looked down her little nose at me and said, ‘The future is now.‘”

Have you read Katherine Anne Porter? This essay would be a good start. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? When people at the office accuse me of being a pessimist, I deny it, borrowing the old line and saying “I’m not a pessimist, I’m just an experienced optimist.” 🙂

 

Tradition and the Individual Talent – an essay by T.S. Eliot – selection #13 of Deal Me In 2017

 

The Card: ♠3♠ of Spades (image at left found here)

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that are.”

The Selection: “Tradition and the Individual Talent” from my hard copy of The Best American Essays of the Century (edited by Joyce Carol Oates). Originally published in The Egoist in 1919.

The Author: T.S. Eliot – You may have heard of him. 🙂 He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948, and one of his best known works is 1922’s “The Wasteland” – one of the “best known poems in the English language” according to Wikipedia.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Tradition and the Individual Talent

“Some one said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are what we know.”

I have to say that this reading was one of the most challenging I’ve ever done for Deal Me In over the years. I guess it serves me right for including some essays this time, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, I pressed on and spent about forty-five minutes reading the mere nine pages this essay contained. Even the author himself seemed to recognize the difficulty of his subject – roughly the poet’s place in the literary tradition and his relationship to the past. At one point he even says, “To proceed to a more intelligible exposition…” which I found a remarkable thing for an essayist to “admit.” Near the end of the essay he begins a paragraph with “The point of view which I am struggling to attack…” if the writer himself is struggling, what may be expected of a poor reader like me?

One part of the essay I did find myself connecting with, however, was when Eliot employs an analogy from Chemistry, that of the concept of a catalyst, specifically, the reaction when platinum is introduced into a chamber that contains oxygen and sulphuric dioxide:

“When the two gasses are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum.”

Eliot’s chemical analogies continued, including: “The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.”

That’s all I got. I’ll leave you with that. What has been your most challenging read of Deal and In – this year or any year?

Next up: A Deal Me In quarterly report and the Deal Me In Challenge’s first-ever giveaway! Stay tuned.