Saturday, April 14, 2012

Gertrude Stein Again

The New York Review of Books has a very interesting review of several Gertrude Stein works: Missionaries by Michael Kimmelman. The author is particularly interested in understanding the influence of her brother and sister-in-law, Leo and Sarah Stein, on her taste as a collector of modern art. He concludes that after the break between the siblings, Gertrude's judgement was never as sharp as theirs.

Kimmelman makes several statements about Gertrude Stein's attitude towards her Jewish identity that seem important to me. Especially important are those based on the reviewed work Unlikely Collaboration by Barbara Will, documenting the relationship between Gertrude Stein and Bernard Fäy, a collaborator with the Vichy government of France, who probably saved her and Alice Toklas from the Nazis. Kimmelman writes:
"The friendship contributed to Stein’s Vichyite leanings and was helped, considering Fäy’s anti-Semitism, by what Will calls the 'fluidity' of Stein’s Jewish affiliations. Assimilation buttressed her modernist bona fides, or so Stein believed. She came to see Christianity as the salvation of France. Jewishness became for her 'a form of transgressive identification,' as Will puts it, a view acknowledged in private 'in intimate moments with Toklas.' She sounds from this account like a classic self-hating Jew, whose ticket to acceptance was a perch in high culture."
Still more disturbing, he says:
“'Hitler should have received the Nobel Peace Prize,' she meanwhile told The New York Times Magazine in 1934, and, alas, she apparently meant it. 'He is removing all elements of contest and of struggle from Germany,' she explained. 'By driving out the Jews and the democratic and Left elements, he is driving out everything that conduces to activity. That means peace.'”
The main focus of the article is on the art work that the Steins collected, particularly on the exhibit of this that's currently at the New York Metropolitan Museum. However, I'm most interested in these views of Stein's thought, and why she was such a radical in literature while so admiring of Hitler, even of his hatred of Jews. Very disturbing, as he says.

No comments:

Post a Comment