Musings on Books: Stein’s Tender Buttons

Some musings on “Rooms” from Gertrude Stein‘s Tender Buttons:

Although all of Stein’s little book shows a (then) new way of discursive writing, I found the chant-like, hyper-real explications in “Rooms” to be a kind of crescendo for the work. Stein seems to engage in a kind of carefree dialectic, concerning the metamorphosis of the physical to the metaphysical, and back again.

It seems highly unlikely that she was at all influenced by Zen Buddhist or Eastern ways of understanding one’s environment, but the philosophical musings remind me of these ancient teachings. I think of this especially at the beginning, as she writes, “Act so that there is no use in a centre”. The idea of the “centre,” of course, weaves its way in and out of the entire book.

I was also intrigued by her question (without the “proper” punctuation marks of course), “Why is there a choice in gamboling”. I think here, she makes a veiled assertion as to the metaphorical significance of gambling as a view of life. She bespeaks the allure of choice in life, without knowing necessarily whether one will win or lose. This connects back to her writing, “All the time that there was a question there was a decision”.

What “Rooms” does for the reader is simultaneously implode and explode the notions of environment. The room is in a constant state of flux, the inside becomes the outside, and vice versa. Stein comments on and analyzes domesticity in a slyly transcendent way in both “Objects” and “Food,” and then proceeds to complete this transcendence by eradicating our notions of the most sacred physical space, the home.


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