Toronto Semiotic Circle 2016-2017 Lecture Series
“This Makes Sand”
Gertrude Stein’s Counter-Philosophy of Language and Sense
Dr. Monique Tschofen
My presentation examines the modernist writer Gertrude Stein’s bewildering, bewitching short book of prose poetry titled Tender Buttons (1914). The work remains maddeningly slippery for readers, even a whole century later. The poem uses a strange syntax, descriptions that do not match up with what she says she is describing, staccato repetitions, and an almost obsessive refusal of literature’s customary offering of beautiful images and inspirational thoughts. And yet contemporary critics have called this one of the most decisively important works of literature in the early 20th century.
What is Stein trying to achieve, and what can we learn from her work today? This seminar will parse her themes and radical use of language to show how she “tenders” a sustained, multi-dimensional critique of the methods we have developed to make sense of making sense. Her aim in revisiting the issue of meaning was to ultimately restore meaningfulness in a world in crisis. On the eve of our own world crises, Stein thus has much to teach us about the hazards of grasping for certainty, including semiotics’ own quest for a “science of signs.” What she wonders about and models instead is at once radical and familiar, disruptive and reassuring.
Participants are urged to have a quick look at Tender Buttons. There are many free online editions.
Monique Tschofen is an Associate Professor in English at Ryerson University, and is involved in the Joint York-Ryerson Graduate Programme in Communications and Culture. She has published on Canadian film, including on Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Robert Lepage, on Marshall McLuhan, as well as on violence and torture. More recently, her research has focused on the relationships between art and philosophy, a topic she has developed through studies of augmented reality installations, drawings, literary ekphrases, and screen-novels. She will be presenting on work drawn from her current project, From Forcework to Formwork: Reconsidering Art as Philosophy.
For more information, visit the Toronto Semiotic Circle Website