Theorizing Art and Punctuation

Lisa Siraganian

in Modernism’s Other Work

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199796557
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932542 | DOI:
Theorizing Art and Punctuation

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)


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Gertrude Stein proposes an expansive and novel aesthetic theory of meaning’s autonomy by pointedly refusing normal punctuation in Lectures in America (1935) and Tender Buttons (1914). She rejects punctuation to keep the reader’s breath out of the text, just as, she argues, the frame of a landscape painting keeps out the air of the spectator’s world. Unlike New Critical or Frankfurt School accounts of autonomy, Stein’s also instantiates her support for universal suffrage: telling the reader when to breathe is understood as a violation of the reader’s political rights. Instead of producing an art that merges content and context—a poem and its reader’s particular space in the world—Stein respects both the text’s independence and the reader’s privacy by declaring everything specific to the reader irrelevant to her art.

Keywords: Stein, Gertrude; modernism; painting; spectator; autonomy; art object; punctuation; suffrage; Tender Buttons (1914); Lectures in America (1935)

Chapter.  12834 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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