Wed, 09 Sep 1998
Just got your note and it is going on 1 am after some endless hours of revisions and re-editing my Stein book....So I'll be brief.
The phrase "continuous present" appears indeed first in "Composition As Explanation." I've just gone over my chapter on the lecture and I'll send you a small chunk of what I say there. "Composition as Explanation" was written probably February 1926. You can follow her writing of it in A NOVEL OF THANK YOU. She rarely used the term later--she didn't theorize more than necessary, even in the lectures she gave in America and the later ones. And the term is fuzzy as she well knew. It has stuck with many scholars (or anyhow with undergrads.) because they keep looking for nice theoretical terms as coat hangers. But it helps little.
....The attempt to explain what she is doing, to explain writing and language to herself, begins with her beginning writing and lasts till her death. Beyond that, she starts trying to explain with "An Elucidation" (the beginning of my book) but what you call the grammatical work in effect begins with "Finally George: A Vocabulary Of Thinking" (1927) and leads right through to 1930. Remember the pieces printed in HOW TO WRITE are separate pieces, and the book was a collection of separate works, assembled under this title in Stein's own Plain Edition since no one in the outside world would have printed them.
Here's a bit from my chapter...it may yet be revised....
"Central to her summary of her efforts is the theme of the first part of the address--the modern effort to "be in the present." She acknowledges that when she produced her early work "nobody knew why it was done like that. I did not myself although naturally to me it was natural." (READER 498) She groped for solutions rather than theorizing. Ex post facto, she creates in the lecture two critical terms to justify her procedure: the "prolonged present" and the "continuous present." She connected the first with "Melanctha," the second with THE MAKING OF AMERICANS, but the difference is not clear. (see Sutherland's attempt to define the difference, 51-2)
ULLA DYDO, Working Notes for THE LANGUAGE THAT RISES: THE VOICE OF GERTRUDE STEIN 1923-1934
I started to work on Gertrude Stein in the late seventies, concentrating on "Stanzas In Meditation." Once I began investigating the manuscript of "Stanzas" at Yale, I came to understand that it is possible to follow the creative process of her writing in the manuscripts--an exhilarating, slow affair. I fell upon discoveries of what I call contexts--matters that surround the writing of texts and can be followed in part in manuscript-- which led me far beyond the "Stanzas." I then tried to find a point where her attempts to explain herself began--short of the beginning of all her work, since I could not start a book there and end in the thirties. It took me to "An Elucidation" of 1923 and from there forward, piece by piece, with efforts to date the pieces that had mostly been inaccurately dated and so to follow her path to the "Stanzas" and beyond. I ended up writing about the next major work, the AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS and its conclusion, which took me to (not through) Stein's decision to lecture in America. THE LANGUAGE THAT RISES: THE VOICE OF GERTRUDE STEIN 1923-1934 is now virtually complete and will be submitted to Yale University Press in about March 1999. I have also edited A GERTRUDE STEIN READER (Northwestern University Press, 1994) and, with Edward Burns, THE LETTERS OF GERTRUDE STEIN AND THORNTON WILDER (Yale University Press, 1996) as well as numerous essays.
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