creating it without naming it

Stein equates genius with “being most intensely alive” (P&R,102) — being “one who is at the same time talking and listening (ibid) and thus able to be “realizing the existence of living being actually existing” (108).

This motive is linked to her rejection of the noun, adjective, and comma because they keep “you from living your life as actively as you should lead it” (p&g, 131). On the other hand, “verbs and adverbs aided by prepositions and conjunctions with pronouns [possess] the whole of the active life of writing” (p&g 132).

The implication here is that “being most intensely alive” means “realizing the existence of living being actually existing” which results from living “life as actively as you should lead it.”

To be a genius, one must engage in “the whole of the active life of writing”, which means to privilege those parts of speech which stein has compartmentalized as contributing to the “active life” — and to marginalize those that keep us from the active life.

Stein asserts, “A noun is a name of anything [and] once [the thing is] named the name does not go on doing anything to [it]” (p&g, 125). This leads Stein to a crucial question: “so why write in nouns” (ibid).

To be intensely and actively alive, Stein begins by avoiding nouns. But, “in coming to avoid nouns a great deal happens and has happened. It was one of the things that happened in [Tender Buttons]” (p&g, 136), where she “resolutely realized nouns and decided not to get around them but to meet them, to handle in short to refuse them by using them and in that way my real acquaintance with poetry was begun” (p&g, 137).

With this predicament of the noun preventing the active life, she establishes the difference between poetry and prose. Prose is “the balance the emotional balance that makes the reality of paragraphs and the unemotional balance that makes the reality of sentences” (ibid). Because prose is that, she claims, “great written prose is bound to be made up more of verbs adverbs prepositions prepositional clauses and conjunctions than nouns” (ibid).

Poetry, on the other hand, is “essentially a vocabulary just as prose is essentially not […] it is a vocabulary entirely based on the noun as prose is essentially and determinately and vigorously not based on the noun” (p&g, 138). Stein’s dichotomy cleaves through prose and poetry in the same way that Williams does. Both Williams and Stein conceive of poetry and prose as having different essential intentions and functions. Stein’s dichotomy, however, is closer to the surface — has to do with words themselves, particularly the noun (or the part of speech that poetry or prose privileges) — whereas in Williams the part of speech is irrelevant because all depends on the “purpose written into” the words, not on the words themselves.

Stein furthers her definition: “Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting, with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun […] Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns…And so that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose” (p&g, 139).

Poetry lives in nouns; “[poetry] is a state of knowing and feeling a name […] nouns are the basis of poetry” (p&g, 140). (forgive me, it is insistence and not repetition!).

At this point, Stein claims that in avoiding nouns in prose (in writing The Making of Americans) she “began to discover the names of things, that is not discover the names but discover the things the things to see the things to look at and in so doing i had of course to name them not to give them new names but to see that I could find out how to know that they were there by their names or by replacing their names” (p&g, 141). She called their names “with passion and that made poetry” (ibid) — that made Tender Buttons.

In this sense, prose becomes the catalyst for the new poetry. Because prose has avoided the noun, it allowed her to discover the thing in itself without being hindered by its name. This move is similar to Williams – prose enacts the imprisonment of words to show how poetry can liberate words.

Stein formulates a more sophisticated question: “Was there not a way of naming things that would not invent names, but mean names without naming them” (ibid).

This, “the creating it without naming it” (p&g 142), was what “broke the rigid form of the noun the simple noun poetry which now was broken” (ibid). This creation leads to her idea of language as an “intellectual recreation” (ibid). In Tender Buttons, she tried “constantly [to] realize the thing” so that she could “reacreate the thing” struggling with both the “recreation [the predicament of language] and the avoidance of nouns as nouns” (p&g, 143).

Poetry is being filtered through her experiments in prose until she arrives at this brilliant articulation: “I had to feel anything and everything that for me was existing so intensely that I could put it down in writing as a thing in itself without at all necessarily using its name” (p&g,145).

Similar to Williams idea of poetry as “additions to nature”, Stein aims to recreate the “thing in itself.” Not only will this lead to “being most intensely alive,” but if the noun is replaced by the thing in itself, it will “eventually lead to everything” (p&g, 147).

in another articulation on the role of poetry and prose, Stein decides that if one “completely replaced the noun by the thing in itself, it was eventually to be poetry and not prose which would have to deal with everything that was not movement in space” (ibid). Again, similiar to Williams, poetry becomes that which liberates (in Williams it’s the word, in Stein it’s the “thing in itself”).

Then, what is the method of “creating it without naming it.”

In “Portraits and Repetition,” Stein asserts the importance of “being existing that is listening and talking is action” (p&r, 108). This idea of listening/talking creates a greater concentration on the active form of writing – writing in “the time of exisiting”. Stein claims that “by looking and talking I conceived at every moment the existence of some one, and i put down each moment that i had the experience of that one inside me until i had completely emptied myself” (p&r, 119).

This method of “looking/listening/talking” resists repetition, description, resemblance, memory, and confusion of narrative time. Instead, “listening/talking” creates insistence, the thing in itself, differential emphasis, continuous moving perception, and the clarity of being existing.

This method allows “the words or words that make what i looked at be itself were always words that to me very exactly related themselves to that thing the thing at which i was looking, but as often as not had as i say nothing whatever to do with what any words would do that described that thing” (p&r 115).

This also leads her to wonder: “Did one see sound, and what was the relation between color and sound, did it make itself by description by a word that meant it or did it make itself by a word in itself” (p&r 114).

The method gives us a way to create it without naming it – to replace the noun with the thing in itself. The words that create the thing are not descriptive of that thing (which leads to resemblance, memory, and confusion) but they are words that create the thing in itself by avoiding its name. Objective detail, sound, and color can be made by a “word in itself” and not necessarily by description or by the name of those things. By avoiding nouns and their negative consequences, and by adopting the method of looking/talking/listening, one can finally discover the thing in itself (buried for so long by simple noun poetry) and live as actively as possible, to be most intensely alive within the active life of writing.

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One thought on “creating it without naming it

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