A literary idiot

I just read an article written by Mike Gold titled ‘Gertrude Stein-A literary idiot’
As he says about her,

“She was looked upon by those who believed in her as the greatest revolutionist in the history of contemporary literature, and by those who scoffed as the perpetrator of a gigantic literary hoax”

How many people would fit into this description today, in our literary and art circles?

“The literary insanity of Gertrude Stein is a deliberate insanity which arises out of a false conception of the nature of art and of the function of language.

A leisure class, which exists on the labor of others, which has no function to perform in society except the clipping of investment coupons, develops ills and neuroses. It suffers perpetually from boredom. Their life is stale to them. Tasteless, inane, because it has no meaning. They seek new sensations, new adventures constantly in order to give themselves feelings.

The same process took place with the artists of the leisure class. Literature also bored them. They tried to suck out of it new sensations, new adventures.

They destroyed the common use of language. Normal ways of using words bored them. They wished to use words in a new, sensational fashion. They twisted grammar, syntax. They went in for primitive emotions, primitive art. Blood, violent death, dope dreams, soul-writhings, became the themes of their works.
(sound familiar?)

In Gertrude Stein, art became a personal pleasure, a private hobby, a vice. She did not care to communicate because essentially there was nothing to communicate. She had no responsibility except to her own inordinate cravings. She became the priestess of a cult with strange literary rites, with mystical secrets.

In this light, one can see that to Gertrude Stein and to the other artists like her, art exists in the vacuum of a private income. In order to pursue the kind of art, in order to be the kind of artist Gertrude Stein is, it is necessary to live in that kind of society which will permit one to have a private income from wealthy parents or sound investments. With this as a basis, you can write as you please. You can destroy language, mutilate grammar, rave or rant in the name of the higher knowledge. Nobody will disturb you. And in time perhaps you can impress or intimidate a certain number of critics and win a kind of reputation.

Gertrude Stein appears to have convinced America that she is a genius.

But Marxists refuse to be impressed with her own opinion of herself. They see in the work of Gertrude Stein extreme symptoms of the decay of capitalist culture. They view her work as the complete attempt to annihilate all relations between the artist and the society in which he lives.
They see in her work the same kind of orgy and spiritual abandon that marks the life of the whole leisure class.

What else does her work resemble more than the midnight revels of a stockbroker throwing a pent-house party for a few intimate friends? Would it be possible to have either of these symptoms of degeneration except in a society divided into classes? Is there not an “idle art” just as there is an “idle rich”? Both do nothing but cultivate the insanity of their own desires, both cultivate strange indulgences. The literary idiocy of Gertrude Stein only reflects the madness of the whole system of capitalist values. It is part of the signs of doom that are written largely everywhere on the walls of bourgeois society. “

I thought critics here could learn a lot from this style of writing-where the critique is clean, concise, lucid, laid out for everyone to read and understand, and yet the opinion of the writer is conveyed without question. no hemming and hawing, no thought of which sensibilities might be offended, no fear-only confidence and critical analysis.

A literary idiot

One thought on “A literary idiot

  1. ali says:

    “The literary idiocy of Gertrude Stein only reflects the madness of the whole system of capitalist values.”

    And that gives it that legitimacy that art needs (or does it?).
    It is a reflection of a certain socio-cultural value system prevailant in her time. Maybe that was what she was getting at in the first place.
    Does art HAVE to communicate on every level? Maybe someone gets it, maybe Noone does.

    I havent ever read Gertrude Stein. She does seem interesting now.
    But I agree that the criticism is well written.

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