“Ida did go in-directly everywhere”: the escaping pervasion of space
Paraphrasing the title of Sean P. Murphy's seminal essay, “‘Ida did not go directly anywhere': Symbolic Peregrinations, Desire, and Linearity in Gertrude Stein's Ida ,” 2 in its turn derived from Ida. A Novel (1940), I mean to raise the question whether Stein's ultimative heroine Ida can be viewed not only as the genius of T/time — which I've tried to prove elsewhere — but also of space. This occurs exactly by virtue of that peculiar handling of the temporal dimension within the novel which makes both coordinates — time and space — reach an ontological incidence.
Let's consider Ida ' s shocking incipience:
Even as a novel, delivered with a struggle, after a very long gestation, partially anticipated by significant fictional figures and narrative antecedents, Ida is no doubt the summa of Stein's imaginative and stylistic power. Even more: Ida is Stein par excellence , not simply because of its autobiographical references (according to Donald Sutherland, “Ida is a sort of combination of Helen of Troy, Dulcinea, Garbo, the Duchess of Windsor, and in particular ‘Gertrude Stein'” 4), but particularly for the full-circle embodiment of Stein's qualifying poetics. Characterized by a prototypal ubiquity, reckless wandering and multiple existences, being one, two and three simultaneously (Ida, Ida-Ida, Ida-Ida-Winnie), always renewing with ever changing partners (and dogs), Ida projects us into the unconfined space of the potentiality of being, but also right into the core (“cuore”?) of Stein's compositional spiral.
If it is hardly arguable that the “hinge insideness of time” — as I find it functional to name that generative force producing a unique temporal texture inside the novel — provides the major vantage point for the interpretation of Ida , no less crucial is its connotation of space. As she does with time, Ida sweeps space, embracing, intersecting and conjoining with it, blurring all boundaries and expanding any limits, stretching earth and sky in every direction — vertically, horizontally, diagonally — making distant places wonderfully overlap or coincide in the extra-ordinary simultaneity of her demiurgic experience. Like a god, her will pervades the cosmos, which she rules from both inside and outside the world, sometimes even beyond the atmosphere, giving her story a starry quality.
According to Murphy, Ida is a character that
Without entering the debate whether there is in Ida an intensification of the temporal dimension (through repetitions, chronological jumps, simultaneity of action, disrespect of any temporal law, and so on), rather than a form of anti-temporality (which Murphy seems to envisage in Stein's narratological procedures), I would like to suggest that here time is so thoroughly plastically manipulated to become almost a spatial matter. The “spatial” discourse of Ida takes over the traditionally-meant temporal ground of the narrative, according to Murphy. But even on a merely referential level, Ida invades the entire space surrounding her, with her ceaseless peregrinations, abrupt shifts, improbable jumps, abductions, sudden arrivals and unmotivated departures: “Ida liked to change places”; “Once very often every day Ida went away” (650); “Ida came in, not to rest, but come in” (657). Quotations like these — implying variations and movement — are interspersed throughout the text:
And yet, Stein parallels these expressions with as many conveying an urge to rest and stay: “Ida gradually was always there too” (663), “Ida was busy resting” (622) — as her ultimate goal is permanence, immobility and stasis. Like a Buddha (how could one not think of Jo Davidson's sculpture!), like the unmovable sun revolving around its axis, even when she moves Ida is fixed. That is, without going she varies location, as if the whole space were permeated by her intrinsic immanence. Sometimes, on the contrary, in the story it is said that Ida acts as if she were not living “there”, showing herself alienated from the tangible place she is in (in a sort of split consciousness):
In any case, she is always ready to go “somewhere else”:
Among multifaceted critical contributions on the novel (from Thornton Wilder to W.H. Auden, from M.J. Hoffmann to Harriet Chessman, from N. Schmitz to M. Camboni, just to quote a few; great attention has always been devoted to this intriguing text), I am attracted by recent readings such as Ellen E. Berry's Curved Thought and Textual Wandering: Gertrude Stein's Postmodernism (1992), and Claudia Franken's Gertrude Stein. Writer and Thinker (2000), whose final chapters — respectively titled “Postmodern Melodrama and Simulational Aesthetics in Ida ” , and “Specious Fissions, or, Nature Demethodized: The Offices of Origin; Ida and Andrew: Dissoluble Allegories” — offer original points of discussion for the understanding of Ida. Together with Murphy's essay (mentioned above), these three studies have been germinal for my hypothesis.
Whatever the critical perspective, indubitably Ida
The real becomes “hyperreal” (Berry, 167), giving way to an “hallucinatory resemblance of the real with itself”, as Jean Baudrillard points out and Berry reports. (167)
The separate layers of experience brought about by what hyperrealism, reproducibility and hallucination all imply, mean, for our discourse of “space,” a different, expanded and multiplied “place” to consist of and be in. Even geographically, Ida roams through space, from State to State, from town to hill, from house to house, nonchalantly mapping with her presence the whole American soil: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, California, using any means of transportation: “She went away on a train in an automobile by airplane and walking.” (636)
There are passages in Ida where she crosses not only the land, but even the sky, appearing and disappearing, at her own will, like a comet (and Winnie, the third version of her identity, is, indeed, a “star”):
Ida enters and exits the human space, and the ultraterrene infinitude as well. Her dimension is magic, cosmic, ancestral, archetypal. Hypnotized by a star, she follows it, goes, [dies], and comes back to life when she wants (but actually it is said, a few pages on, that “her life never began because it was always there” 679). This wouldn't be perplexing if Ida were a fairy-tale, a folk legend, or even a surreal text. But the reference to the temporal measurement “exactly the day before yesterday” — among other aspects in the whole novel that cannot be treated here — pulls us down to earth, throwing us back in a realistic circumscribedness; so we wonder (wander?).
Evidently, many issues are raised by this complex text. Firstly, readers are captivated by vivid debate on its attribution to a precise genre (novel, romance, melodrama, autobiography, fairy-tale, farce, bildungsroman, picaresque, pantomime, pastiche of genres, sit-com, etc.). Ida is woven of fragmentation and built of pieces, modular blocks, reiterative structures, repetitive devices; these single parts, combined in different juxtapositions, are held together primarily by the determined (but vague as to the precise object) “will-to-power” of the heroine. Secondly, we are required to face and disentangle its problematical narrative framework; anti-canonical and anti-patriarchal tout court . Needless to say, without a massive and in-depth deconstruction of traditional narratological standpoints based on plot, action, character and so on, we wouldn't be able to make any sense of its “textual wandering.” Thirdly, we are met by the puzzling — but perhaps pointless — dilemma of the collocations of its theorical stance: modernist, postmodernist, deconstructive, feminist, hybrid, gender-oriented? Whatever the option, Ida strikingly epitomizes all Steinian thought. Together with The Geographical History of America , Ida represents, dare I say, the densest Steinian philisophical predicament.
1 “Ida never said once upon a time”: the escaping fabula
More than impossible, it is useless to summarize Ida 's fabula : it goes against its free nature; there's no linear progression, no hierarchical organization, no teleological purpose (“In composition one thing was as important as another thing. Each part as important as the whole”, Stein clarifies in the Transatlantic Interview ). Stein's narrative in Ida is idiosyncratic as ever, and in order to understand, or even simply stand her text, we must reexperience its compositional process. This is the “funny thing” — using Ida's wording, “funny thing” is a euphemistic formula, repeated several times in the novel, really meaning “extra-ordinary” — that Stein requires from us to make us share her dearest creature.
It is instead viable to identify some of her leading thematic paths: one of these is — by no means a pun — identity (Ida/entity?). Reviewing its genesis, I will try to show how it comes to shape, and eventually how it intertwines with the issue of space.
2 “ And so from the beginning and there was no end there was Ida.” :
The first draft of Ida. A Novel. takes place in 1937, with the short story “Ida”, and Stein refers to its texture as a sort of “puzzle.” 10
We know that Ida
In 1937, also,
It is interesting to note, as Franken points out, an anticipation of the thematic and compositional strategies used for Ida in some previous Steinian pieces inserted in R. B. Haas' collection How Writing Is Written (1974): namely “American Newspapers,” “I Came and Here I Am” and “The Superstitions of Fred Anneday, Annday, Anday: A Novel of Real Life.” Franken views Ida as “the story of its story: the development of the motif of alternate selves and the theme of duality in Stein's work up to this last novel.” (Franken, 319)
In 1938, Stein writes the short story titled “Ida”, further published in the anthology Boudoir Companion .13 In this version of the story the character of Ida is already “one of two” and “sometimes she went out as one and sometimes she went out as the other” (35) — thus anticipating the twin theme. Here Stein also states that “Everybody is an Ida”, then adding: “And so from the beginning and there was no end there was Ida.” (37) 14 Ida represents the beginning of time (“from the beginning”) and does not contemplate an end (“there was no end”, “there was Ida”): if Ida is “always”, she is also “everywhere”, immanent, onnipresent, unconfinable. The twinning principle may hint, as Arnold Weinstein has held, at the writer's capacity “to make his own version of genesis.” (1993:83) 15
There had been previous Idas in Stein's fiction; for instance, in
Considering Stein's predilection for saints of all kinds, Franken does not exclude the possibility that there might be in Ida a reference to Saint Ida de Boulogne; who, according to the legend, shows women the path to happiness. (Franken, 327)
But the great fictional antecedent of Ida is, naturally, Melanctha. In her book Reading Gertrude Stein. Body, Text, Gnosis (1990), Lisa Ruddick approaches Melanctha in terms of a “mind wandering” creature. Berry in turn compares the two characters, suggesting that for the first heroine restlessness is the cause of her failure, consumption and death; whereas for Ida it becomes a key to success and fulfilment. Ida indeed “wanders among possibilities that remain open.” (Franken, 155)
Liberated from ties of the realistic or psychological novel, Stein makes Ida wander, and her peregrinations make Ida rule and control the entire human, even cosmic, space.
If we concentrate on Ida ' s major theme — her duality-splitness, and, conversely, uniqueness-wholeness, oppositions — we actually see how even
We know that in The Making of Americans Stein strove for realization of the unity of the “being one existing”, in conjunction with the concept of “brother singular”; which is exactly what the components of both families fail to achieve. According to Franken however,
Going further back in Stein's literary career, we also find in Helen of Q.E.D. (the first novel written by Stein and published posthumously) a tendency to think of herself in terms of someone else, particularly when she tells her husband that her mother would have preferred that her lost brother and sister had survived, rather than herself.
By thus approaching the matter of its genesis, we slide into Ida ' s most peculiar theme.
3 Ida/entity: the strive for wholeness by way of duality
From your twin
As we previously saw in the incipience, Ida is born with a twin, but the twin soon dies. Ida, escaping from her mother's hold (the first statement of her will to go?), starts living. But she always longs for her double, feeling her absence; besides that, she wants an alternative to herself; so she re-creates her double, Ida-Ida:
The role of this twin is uncertain: is it an “hypostasized self”, a “twinned personality of Ida”, or a simple “sister”?
Whichever interpretation we opt for, certainly resorting to a “double” and its “struggle for oneness”, to put it in Franken's words again,
If duplication may on one hand question psychological identity, it reinforces on the other the spatial presence of the single one. The principle of twinness guarantees a double occupation of space — which becomes a real invasion when the twin couple Ida-Ida adds up to Winnie, the third (successful=winning) persona :
We might see the role played by Winnie as Stein's reaction to and ridiculing of the popularity and success reached through beauty in the star system of Hollywood:
Furthermore, Winnie, that is,
So we can say that Ida faces the problem of “being one existing”, by proposing the identity of her heroine reiterated ad libitum in her plurality of existences; both synchronically (in the compresence of Ida, Ida-Ida, Ida=Winnie, three separate and different persons but always the same, a real trinity), and diachronically (Ida always changes place, home, partner, dog, remaining the “same” though changing, because the “same” Ida is someone who says “I change all the time”. Ida is
Incorporating the very principle of creation, by way of ceaseless self-geminations and substitutions, she realizes “the creativity of the universe into its own completeness,” as A.N. Whitehead writes. 30
4 “Ida liked to change places”: transience and permanence, the pervasion of space
As we have seen,
Her peregrinations are endless and she continuously escapes; while she is wandering she simultaneously longs for resting. The two equally urging impulses alternatively prevail; that is why she needs an alter-ego, and sometimes even a third possibility. Attributing herself/herselves the quality of moving beyond any physical restrictions, Ida conquers a sort of ubiquity with which she seems to solve the question of spatial difference and distance. Being ubiquitous she ends up being omnipresent, therefore embodying the beginning-and-end principle of space. Ultimately, Ida aims at becoming the emblem if not of infinitude, at least of the spatial continuum .
With Ida , the narrative horizon always stretches to unpredictable (however recognizable) “contact zones”: we navigate word by word, each repetition becoming a buoyancy aid, though we are never sure if and when we'll touch the ground. Ida “shimmers before us like a mirage that dissolves as one approaches.”32
As well as duplicating herself, Ida is able to disappear and reappear at her own will:
In this way her story becomes ‘a riddle rather than a narrative, which can flow into statements of mystical profundity: Ida who “lives where she is not.”' 33
And exactly for “turns” in the spatial status like the ones above mentioned, based on paradoxical statements (living where one is not, for instance), Ida extends the physical space to a sort of metaphysical one. But the space of the subconscious is implied also.
5 Ida : the space of dreams
Ida 's space, as a novel, is similar to the space of dreams, as Stein put it:
In the novel, Ida has many dreams. Some oneirical elements have a strong symbolical and sexual connotation; throughout the text, dreams mingle with daydreams and fable-like passages. At one point she dreams of white orchids:
Later on in the text she openly and consciously declares that “she liked orchids” (692), overlapping the two levels (conscious and unconscious).
Some of her dreams carry in the protagonists the same psychological features of the Ida character (and eventually of Gertrude herself), who acts in the primary level of the story. One example is the playfulness, humour and irony which characterize Ida in her careless attitude towards the usual human worries:
Interestingly, even inside the dimension of dreams — where one can be anywhere in terms of space for their very irrational texture — Ida escapes from her place and fantasizes about being somewhere else:
Being in Washington she projects her desire to be in Spain (we do know how much Stein loved this country), coupling the pleasure of ice-cream with it.
At other times, she nurtures the idea of a sort of “eternal return”: “Ida instead of going on the way she was going went back the way she had come.” (617)
But, in the end, her ultimate goal — like Stein's — is to ensure her permanence in space by asserting her identity in being:
Berry, Ellen E. Curved Thought and Textual Wandering: Gertrude Stein's Postmodernism . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
Franken, Claudia. Gertrude Stein, Writer and Thinker , Hallenser Studien zur Anglistik und Amerikanistik . 7, Münster, Hamburg, London: Lit Verlag, 2000.
Murphy, Sean P. “‘Ida did not go directly anywhere': Symbolic Peregrinations, Desire, and Linearity in Gertrude Stein's Ida ”. Literature and Psychology. (Spring-Summer 2001): 1-9.
Ruddick, Lisa. Reading Gertrude Stein. Body, Text, Gnosis. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1990.
Stein, Gertrude. “American Newspapers”. How Writing Is Written. Vol. 2 of the Previously Uncollected Works of Gertrude Stein . (Ed. Robert Bartlett Haas). Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1974.
--- “A Transatlantic Interview” (1946). Gertrude Stein: What Are Masterpieces. New York, Toronto, London, Tel Aviv: Pitman, 1970.
--- “Cultivated Motor Automatism: A Study of Character in Its Relation to Attention”. Psychological Review . 5:3 (May 1898):295-306.
--- How Writing Is Written . Vol. 2 of the Previously Uncollected Works of Gertrude Stein . (Ed. Robert Bartlett Haas). Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1974.
--- “Ida”. The Boudoir Companion. Frivolous, Sometimes Venomous Thoughts on Men, Morals and Other Women . (Ed. Page Cooper). New York, Toronto: Farrar & Rinehardt, 1938.
--- Ida. A Novel. Gertrude Stein, Writings 1932-1946 . (Eds. C. Stimpson e H. Chessman). New York: The Library of America, Literary Classics of the United States, 1998.
Sutherland, Donald. Gertrude Stein. A Biography of Her Work . (1951). New Haven (Conn).: Yale University Press, 1971.
Weinstein, Arnold. Nobody's Home. Speech, Self, and Place in American Fiction from Hawthorne to DeLillo . New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Whitehead, A. N. Religion in the Making . (1926). New York and Scarborough, Ontario: Meridian-New American Library, 1974
1. Gertrude Stein, Ida. A Novel. in Gertrude Stein, Writings 1932-1946 . Eds. C. Stimpson and H. Chessman. New York: The Library of America, Literary Classics of the United States. 1998. The number in brackets indicates the page.
2. Sean P. Murphy, “‘Ida did not go directly anywhere': Symbolic Peregrinations, Desire, and Linearity in Gertrude Stein's Ida ”. Literature and Psychology. (Spring-Summer 2001): 1-9. This title is, on its turn, a quotation from Ida. The essay suggests, among other sharp critical remarks, a Lacanian reading of the Steinian novel.
3. I am intrigued by the remarks Claudia Franken makes on this incipience: “This beginning is disturbing. Ida's getting born seems due to an interplay of forces, to movement and counter-movement. Between life and time, there appear the mother's hands which intervene. The inverse movements of womb and hand may recall that every human being is protectively kept ‘from being born' in a motherly womb. Yet there is and aspect of violence […]. Impulses toward death and life are holding and withholding the baby. We may intuit that the completeness this scene evokes must vanish: the mother will not hold the baby by her side. Ida embraces alternatives of being divided and doubled by a twin.[…] The realm of the mother, the natural one, and that of language are twinned (same and different, associated and dissociated) from the beginning. Language, working through repetition, supersedes nature with its primal fracture, and with the name comes a — perhaps delusive — impression of the repeatability of the same.” (C. Franken, Gertrude Stein. Writer and Thinker , Hallenser Studien zur Anglistik und Amerikanistik . 7, Münster, Hamburg, London: Lit Verlag, 2000, 342).
4. D. Sutherland, Gertrude Stein. A Biography of Her Work . (1951). New Haven (Conn).: Yale University Press, 1971. p. 99.
5. Murphy, 3.
6. Berry, 160.
7. Berry, 155.
8. Berry, 156.
10.Gertrude Stein, “Ida”, 1938. There is a difference between Ida. A Novel (1941) and “Ida” the short story (1938).
11. Franken, 319.
12. Berry, 165. The quotation is from R. Bridgman, Gertrude Stein in Pieces (New York: Oxford UP, 1970), 306.
13.The Boudoir Companion. Frivolous, Sometimes Venomous Thoughts on Men, Morals and Other Women . Ed. Page Cooper. NY, Toronto: Farrar & Rinehardt, 1938. Quot. by Franken, 336.
16. Franken refers to the 1930 edition of Lucy Church Amiably , reprinted in 1985 (New York: Something Else Press).
17. Franken, 331.
18. Franken, 321.
19. Franken, 326.
20. Gertrude Stein, together with Leon Mendez Solomons, published two experimental studies while she was a student of Psychology at Harvard: “Normal Motor Automatism” Psychological Review 3.5 (Sept. 1896): 492-512, and “Cultivated Motor Automatism: A Study of Character in Its Relation to Attention.” Psychological Review 5.3 (May 1898):295-306.
21. Gertrude Stein, “Cultivated Motor Automatism: A Study of Character in Its Relation to Attention.” Psychological Review 5.3 (May 1898):295-306.
22. Franken, 325.
23. Berry, 164.
24. Franken, 342.
25. See A. Weinstein, Nobody's Home. Speech, Self, and Place in American Fiction from Hawthorne to DeLillo , New York, Oxford: OUP, 1993. Quoted by Franken, 327.
26. Berry, 164.
27. Franken, 353.
28. Berry, 160.
29. Franken, 349.
30. A. N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making , (1926). New York and Scarborough, Ontario: Meridian-New American Library, 1974, 116. Quoted by Franken, 321.
31. Franken, 349. The edition quoted by Franken is published by Vintage (1972).
32. Anna Gibbs, “Hélène Cixous and GS: New Directions in Feminist Criticism.” Meanjin 38 (1979): 287.
33. Franken, 366.
34. Gertrude Stein, “The Superstitions of Fred Anneday, Annday, Anday: A Novel of Real Life”, in How Writing Is Written , 25.
35. Berry, 162.
BIO: Marina Morbiducci is a critic and translator of contemporary poetry. She is the Italian translator and editor (with E. G. Lynch) of Tender Buttons (Liberilibri, 1989). She has also edited, with Annalisa Goldoni, an anthology on the Black Mountain Poets and Robert Creeley. She has translated Kathleen Fraser's Etruscan Pages (Cloud Marauder, 2001). Among her recent publications are an essay on Gertrude Stein and the garden (“Having It Having the Being Being There: The Garden in Gertrude Stein/ Gertrude Stein in the Garden” in Riscritture dell'Eden , ed. A. Mariani, Liguori, 2003). In March 2003 she was awarded her PhD for a dissertation on Stein in Tempo (Univ. of Pescara). Her translations and edition of Maltese poet Oliver Friggieri's Haiku are in print. She is presently lecturing at the University of Malta in the Italian Department.