Monday, June 13, 2011

Cubist Stories Around the House

Gertrude Stein is in the news and her writing is on my mind again. Miss Stein was one of my college muses; the other two were Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith. Thinking about the link between them now, I realize that all have an ear for the music of words. Language is about sound. In addition to cadence, Stein's approach was also based on Cubism. Her repetitions of words and phrases give a faceted view of the same scene from different angles. By the end you see all sides simultaneously.

In the latest issue of Cabinet magazine (#41), I was transfixed by a story called "Legend / Pale Khakis with Dark Socks" by Wayne Koestenbaum. He presents a version of Cubist writing, although I am not sure he would call it that. In eleven very short sections, Koestenbaum writes and rewrites a similar piece, changing and revealing different aspects of the same story. At the end he gives a clue to his possible process: "Write the novel in tiny paragraphs." His story is based on a photograph he was given to write about (that either helpful or cringe-producing "writing prompt"). You could use a photo you already have or ask someone to send you one for inspiration, if you like. I liked Koestenbaum's story but I was even more excited by the suggestion in the final section: "Scribble each paragraph in a separate notebook."

I am tempted to try this and I hope you will join me. Get a pack of five little notebooks, you know, the value-pack kind in office-supply stores. Put each one in a different place around your room, apartment, or house with a pen or pencil near each. Maybe one by a window, near the stove, in a closet, under a hat, and by your bed. Write a sentence or a paragraph in one notebook. When you go to another location, start the story again. Keep restarting, trying to remember the feeling or mood of the story rather than the words. Even if you only write one page in each and don't use them up, you may still get pleasure from buying new notebooks.

You could, of course, make the notebooks yourself. Sew five single-signature booklets (see previous post) and use paper you can write on easily. Vary the kind and color to avoid the stare of the blank white page.

Other possibilities for Cubist writing: try using the words as sounds in one book, stream of consciousness in another, formal description in a third, etc., changing a few details or adding new ones each time. Maybe even keep this up until all the notebooks are filled. Then arrange a meeting of the notebooks and see how they connect. Pull out your favorite parts from the different angles and type them up together as one.

Photo by Sibila Savage. Crossed-Structure Binding, p. 150,  Making Handmade Books.

Gertrude Stein Stein Gertrude Stein in the rain. There she is there. Where? San Francisco. The buzz is on these days, what with the convergence of the The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde show at SFMOMA, and the Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Lives exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, both until September 6. Each exhibit takes a different perspective. Simultaneously. 

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