Monday, 2 February 2015

there is no there

Surely it would be a grave injustice to try to put post-modern sentimentalities on the expatriate artists, patrons and personalities known as the Lost Generation—like saying that among that clique there were no great campaigners for social change and no champions. There were certainly members of distinction but Ernest Hemmingway and F Scott Fitzgerald vis-à-vis contemporaries like John Steinbeck and William Faulkner can seem absolutely dissolute. The same criticism might hold with the grand lady and benefactor of the group, Gertrude Stein, because she was staunchly apolitical and living in Paris during the interbellum years, I am sure that it never occurred to her that the dull cares and prejudice that never touched her or her friends might impose inconvenience and even persecution for other souls not so lucky.
 It is also a very modern thing to pry into the moral conscience of others and to expect more—or salaciously less of our celebrities, however fame is measured, but it really strikes me as detached and maybe selfish to proclaim “We always pass our wars in France” retreating to an estate in territory held by the Vichy government, and as a Jewish lesbian couple surrounded by Nazis as rather irresponsible and careless. Stein and her lover, Alice B. Toklas, had their protectors and for whatever reasons, choice to remain in their stronghold—serenely snarky, I suppose. Stein’s genius was not only limited to recognising nurturing the genius of other, which is by no means something to diminish since she helped Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and many other luminaries, but established herself in the literary world by penning the autobiography of her lover—as a memoir from her perspective, arguing that Toklas wouldn’t never get around to writing her own story. Toklas, who managed Stein’s schedule and kept up the housekeeping business, did however, in the form of a cookbook with recipes for hash brownies and alcoholic chicken intermingled with memories of their lives together. Most of the other writing projects of Stein were consigned to experimentation if not outright nonsense (studying under stream-of-consciousness advocate Henry James at university maybe left Stein without any filters) but importantly, I think, questioned what exactly was sense and convention then by harnessing its opposite. Ultimately, I think that is also a worthy pursuit.