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The Epic Production of Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans, or (Re)Presenting and (Re)Forming History

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PAGE 1

1 THE EPIC PRODUCTION OF GERTRUDE STEINS THE MAKING OF AMERICANS OR (RE)PRESENTING AND (RE)FORMING HISTORY By CHRISTINA VAN HOUTEN A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2007

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2 2007 Christina Van Houten

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3 For my Father, whose history of progress constituted mine

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4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Throughout this essay, I explore the moderniza tion of the American family. But before jumping to my analysis, I would like to thank the communitiesmy families, blood or otherwisethat have shaped, constituted, a nd moved my own histor y and progress. To begin, I would like to thank my teachers and mentors. Susan Hegeman and Phillip Wegner have provided me unwarra nted support, constructive cri ticism, and unsolicited advice for this project; but more importantlyand indeed more special for methey have taught me to understand and appreciate what it means to square the circle. I would also like to thank Kim Emery, Tace Hedrick, and Brandon Kershner of the University of Florida and John Pearson and Joseph Witek of Stetson University who have b een incalculable influences on my own work. I would also like to thank my family and fr iends who have shaped my history, and the progress of my thesis. My family has provide d me the supportemotionally and financiallyto sustain me. My mother, Eileen Van Houten, was my first reader and conti nues to be my biggest supporter; from little notes to published projects her patience and encouragement has reiterated that master-pieces are products of both tears a nd laughter. My brothers, Patrick and Scott Van Houten, despite our dissimilar tastes in reading and in spite of th eir constant snark, never allowed me the space to take myself too seriously. Me gan McDonald proved an editor-extraordinaire, jotting quick emails of encouragement, distra cting me with visions of Paris, and reading completed drafts. And last, I must thank Josh M iller who suffered with me during epic revisions. He has made me understand and appreciate what Gertrude Stein meant when she wrote, If you have vitality enough of knowing enough of what you mean, somebody and sometime and sometimes a great many will have to realize that you know what you mean and so they will agree that you mean what you know.

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5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4 ABSTRACT....................................................................................................................... ..............6 THE EPIC PRODUCTION OF GERTRUDE STEINS THE MAKING OF AMERICANS OR (RE)PRESENTING AND (RE)FORMING HISTORY....................................................8 LIST OF REFERENCES............................................................................................................. ..36 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.........................................................................................................38

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6 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts THE EPIC PRODUCTION OF GERTRUDE STEINS THE MAKING OF AMERICANS OR (RE)PRESENTING AND (RE)FORMING HISTORY By Christina Van Houten May 2007 Chair: Susan Hegeman Major: English The bulk of Gertrude Stein scholars have mi sappropriated her dictum regarding twentiethcentury literature that what is necessary now is not form but cont ent. But this literary-critical approach proves problematic: if we follow this pr escription, we only succeed in reading a text in terms of what it is saying as opposed to how it is conveying meaning; and in that way, interpretation does not read the text as an objec t judged by its form so much as a subject with content reflective of its social moment. The solu tion to this reading stra tegy is not exclusively a matter of form or content; rather the answer is a mediation of bot h form and content. For if we return to Steins quip and read the next line, the modernist further suggests, Kindly learn everything please. Thus, to learn everything abou t the content of a text, we must also learn everything about that texts form. This strategy proves useful for approaching Steins The Making of Americans precisely because most scholars overlook the form of th e novel in order to negotiate its 925 pages of content; indeed, their analyses take for granted that the text is a novel, albeit a lengthy, difficult, and monumental one. Instead of merely glossing he r text as epic or an epic, it is necessary to grapple with the formal implications of those generic allusions, where Steins modernist narrative recodes the epic form with modern content. Reading Stei ns novel as a modern epic is

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7 a productive task because it chal lenges the interrelationship of individual and community; and with regard to the literary bina ry of form and content, elements of the epic, the novel, and myth are refigured and recast as a production of i ndividual consciousness and cosmopolitan culture. On first glance, it seems as if Steins attempt to reconstitute myth and epic as cultural functions provides a sense of cultural logi c in which a nation and its citi zens can start to recover from fragmentation. On second glance, however, it becomes apparent that American mythology does not lead to enlightenment regarding how th e nation forms its citizens and how observable knowledge is rationalized as being embodied in an ideal citizenry. Inst ead, Steins modernist project rewrites the modern form of epic and recasts the narra tor as an epic hero, where discursive challenge and generic revision is neither a singular nor a delibera te action, but rather a reiterative practice that challeng es classical narrative structures idealized subjectivities, and traditional modes of interpretation. In that context, The Making of Americans is as much a story of the writing process in which the narrator sets herself the creative task of composing distinctly American characters, as it is a history of the social mode of production in which nineteenth century America engaged in a national project of Americanizati on. Thus, the making of Ameri cans is a narrative about the composition of the epic-novels characters, the progress of the American middle class, the perceived cultural stagnation of that historico-philosophical mome nt, and the plot through which America positively collectivizes its citizens and negatively automates fragmented subjectivity. Steins modernist project, theref ore, recreates the way in whic h industry and economy affects the ways in which her characters experience modern ization. And more, Stein writes a modern epic of Americanization where the pr ogress of nationalism, cultural capital, and materialism require the allegorical sacrifice of the family and its ethnic origins.

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8 THE EPIC PRODUCTION OF GERTRUDE STEINS THE MAKING OF AMERICANS OR (RE)PRESENTING AND (RE)FORMING HISTORY Now in that diagramming of the sentences of course there are articl es and prepositions and as I say there are nouns but nouns as I say even by definition are completely not interesting, the same thing is true of adject ives. Adjectives are not really and truly interesting. In a way anybody can know al ways has known that, because after all adjectives effect nouns and as nouns are not really interesting the thing that effects a not too interesting thing is of necessity not inte resting. In a way as I say anybody knows that because of course the first thing that anybody takes out of anybodys writing are the adjectives. You see of yourself how true it is that which I have just said. Gertrude Stein, Lectures in America To consider Gertrude Stein s critique of the interrelati onship of textual meaning and grammatical semantics in relation to the literary analyses of her novel The Making of Americans is to discover that many of those critical readings either only pa rtially adhere to or seemingly disregard her syntactic prescriptions. That is to say, in describing her 925-page narrative of a history of a familys progress in terms of its length and difficulty, her critics carefully mark the text adjectively as epic or nominally as an epic without interro gating what a generic classification might connote.1 Such classifications of Stei ns novel are interesting for two reasons: first, deliberate or not her critics are following her gr ammatical prescriptions for both reading and analysis; and second, her critics are subscribing to her critical reading of both modernity as a historical moment and mode rnism as literary movement. Regarding both readings, Stein writes that what is n ecessary now is not form but content ( The Geographical History of America 215). To be sure, writer a nd audience alik e are reading The Making of Americans in terms of what the text is saying as o pposed to how the text is conveying meaning; 1 For example, among others, Barrett Watten descri bes the novel as an id entification of epic mastery (96); Janet Malcom as a heroic achie vement of writing, a near -impossible feat of reading (148); Michael Hoffman as a mammo th book...not without direc tion (40); Marianne DeKoven as a heroic modernist [text] (15) ; Franziska Gygax as monumental...[covering] three generations of two (fictional) American fa milies of the same ances try (13); and Barbara Will as a massive 925-page epic (48).

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9 and in that way, interpretation does not read the text as an object judged by its form so much as a subject with content reflective of the social moment from which it springs. But as Fredric Jameson has taught us, it is impossible to disti nguish between the form and content of a piece of literature. He cautions that if a literary critical approach reads a text as an object considered in itself, the world taken as directly accessible content, then that reading will result in the illusions of simple empirical positivism or in an academic thinking which [will mistake] its own conceptual categories for solid parts a nd pieces of the real world itself ( Marxism and Form 56). And Jameson further notes that exclusive refuge in the subject creates a sense of subjective idealism that perpetuates a kind of historical historicity, a mystique of anxiety, death, and individual destiny without any genuine content (56). The critical question, then, gi ven retrospective authorial trea tises, traditional critical conventions, and revisionary historicist interpreta tive strategies, is how are we supposed to read Stein and her text? The answer, it seems, is not exclusively a matte r of form or content; rather, the answer is a mediation of both form and content.2 For if we return to The Geographical History of America and read the line following Steins dict um privileging content over form, the modernist further suggests, Ki ndly learn everything please (215) Thus, to learn everything about the content of The Making of Americans we must also learn everything about the texts form. And indeed, rethinking the bulk of her critics' adjectival and nominal categorizations, the questions-and-answers become all the more intri guing when we consider th e interrelationship of Steins epic content and form. 2 This presupposes that there is in fact a question and an an swer. Among her most infamous quips, Stein cheekily noted in The Geographical History of America that so then is there in anything a question and answer. A nd what have master-pieces to do with this thing with their being no question to answer and no answer to question (226).

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10 Steins epic impulse is a modernist one in wh ich her narrative recodes the epic form with modern content. At the center of her history of a familys progressas the s ubtitle of her novel impliesare questions of representation, su bjectivity, history, and to tality. The way in which her self-reflexive narrator attempts to ne gotiate her characters individual being and living with collective familial and national be longing suggests that the narrator (if not Stein herself) projects a modernist agenda where a mythi cal and idealized past po tentially revisions at once the increasingly disenchanted present and fu ture social worlds: r ecounting the Hersland and Dehning family stories of wandering over the new land, where they were s eeking first, just to make a living, and then later, either to grow rich or to gain wisdom , the narrator tells a representative history of American origins, wher e each narrative fragment attempts to create a national consciousness of two families genealogical progress (4). And Stein is in good company with her modern adaptation, where th e individual becomes a so rt of economy that negotiates individual and community contexts and where elements of the epic, the novel, and myth are refigured and recast as a production of individual consciousness and cosmopolitan culture. Georg Lukcs in The Theory of the Novel envisions modernity as being marked by a process of continual disenchantment where a literary hero no longe r represents a totalized social oneness (118). Similarly, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno suggest in The Dialectic of Enlightenment that because the dialectical structures of modern consciousness read the binary of internal and external nature as being dominated by a bourgeois status quo, the solution is to revision myth as [constituting] the innermost paradox of epic (60). Reconstituting myth and epic as cultural functions theref ore provides a sense of cultural logic in which a nation and its citizens can start to reco ver from fragmentation.

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11 But if the epic form of St eins novel suggests the Frankfurt Schools contrasting of myth and enlightenment where, as R obert Hullot-Kentor notes, conte mporary society is already the longed-for mythical world and a ny return to myth would only amount to immersion in another form of self-opaque enlightenment, Ameri can mythology would lead to enlightenment regarding how the nation forms its citizens a nd how observable knowledge is rationalized as being embodied in an ideal citi zenry (106). More importantly, th e balance of myth, history, and progress that the narrator is grappling with would indeed already be a historical fact and easier to recap. And clearly, as Horkheimer and Adorno s uggest and Steins text reads, modern national mythology does not function like that. Instead, Stein rewrites the modern form of epic and recasts the narrator as an epic hero, where discur sive challenge and generic revision is neither a singular nor a deliberate action, but rather a reiterative pr actice that challenges classical narrative structures, idealized subjectivities, and traditional modes of interpretation. In that context, The Making of Americans is as much a story of the writing process in which the narrator sets herself the creative task of composing distinctly American characters, as it is a history of the social mode of production in which nineteenth century America engaged in a national project of Americanizati on. Thus, the making of Ameri cans is a narrative about the composition of the epic-novels characters, the progress of the American middle class, the perceived cultural stagnation of that historico-philosophical mome nt, and the plot through which America positively collectivizes its citizens and negatively automates fragmented subjectivity. Such a use of history, where narrative and social realities are imagined as interconnected, closely aligns Stein with her modernis t counterparts; but generalizat ions regarding her modernist aesthetic must be qualified as her particular st yle blurs the distinction between text and world, where in her text the history of the Hersland and Dehning families is indeed the history of

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12 America.3 This use of history is a distinctive representation of a particularly American experience where, as Jameson would suggest, t he coexistence of real ities from radically different moments of history shapes the text ( Postmodernism 307). Steins modernist project, therefore, consists of writing a story that characterizes the twen tieth-century subjectivity of the third generation of Hersland and Dehning characters by writing the nineteenth -century history of the preceding two generations. And as the United States was more modernized than Europe (or specifically Germany in the case of her narrative) at the start of the twentieth-century, the text carefully recreates the way in which industr y and economy affects the ways in which her characters experience modernization. Given her overt class-consciousness, it seems that in The Making of Americans in particular, and I am tempted to say in Steins visi on of American literature in general, the story of the middle class is the history of America. That seems an obvious enough suggestion since interspersed throughout the text are qualifications of middleclass, bourgeois, and the general language of material ity and production. To be more specific, though, the history represented in The Making of Americans is one of middle class production and consumption. 3 Steins approach to history in The Making of Americans is further differentiated from her high modernist counterparts as she directly (cons tructively albeit critically) writes a history of the American middle class. In his review of the novel, T.S. E liot sneered, There is something precisely ominous about Miss Stein. Her books of about one thousand pages may, and will, remain unread; but Miss Stein is going to make trouble for us just the same...Moreover, her work is not good for ones mind. But its rhythms have a peculiar hypnotic power not met with before. It has a kinship with the saxophone. If this is of the future, then the future is, as it is very likely is, of the barbarians. But this is the future in which we ought to be interested (595). Similarly, Wyndham Lewis in Time and Western Man suggested that Stein b ecame the people she wrote about, adopting their illiteraci es and colloquialisms...[she] gives proof of all the false revolutionary propagandist plainmanism of her time. The monstrous, desperate, soggy lengths of primitive mass-life, chopped off and presente d to us as a never-ending prose-story are undoubtedly intended as an epic contribution to th e present-mass democracy (qtd. in Spahr 18). Or as Horkheimer and Adorno might respond to Steins critics, The curse of irresistible progress is irresistib le regression (28).

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13 Stein herself notes that histo ry is the state of confusi on between anybody doing anything and anything happening ( The Geographical History of America 133). And if we read that treatise on history in line with Benjamin DeMotts notion of the American myth of classlessness where personal freedom and self-fashioning become conflated with ideals of citizenship and nationalism, Steins project becomes all the more relevant (43-44). Indeed, the history of a familys progress is both a narrative about mi ddle-class Americanization and a critique of the superstructure that commodifies an American b ourgeois consciousness. Moreover, Steins text reflects a phenomenon that Robert Seguin would describe as the middle class effectively becoming synonymous with classlessness prec isely because Steins narrator and her story demonstrate an ideological-practical inhabita nce of the world wherein class has become putatively superseded, or at l east temporarily suspe nded (2). For the Hersland and Dehning families, to become middle class is less a c hoice of lifestyle and more the only way of life. What we see if we read the form and cont ent of the novel dialectic ally are the ways in which Stein recodes epic conventions to critique modernitys impulse to co llectivize and totalize; or in the case of her particular ly American historiography, the ep ic form of her novel critiques the historical moment in the late nineteenth a nd early twentieth centuries in the United States when social, political, and intellectual movements attempted to collectivize a positivistic categorization of American being and living and to produce, manage, and profit from that mass bourgeois subjectivity. Early in the nove l, Stein relates the problem of individual identity formation to the collective influen ce of the opposition between familial and national communities. On one level, Stein is referring to Americanization narrativ es in which immigrants were forcibly encouraged to abandon their old culture with a modern American counterpart. Here, the making of Americans becomes a poi nt of anxiety regard ing citizenship, where

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14 pundits, politicians, and immigrants alike were torn between a restrictive call for cultural homogeneity and a relativist do ctrine of cultural pluralism.4 Bound up in this cultural narrative are questions regarding the role of family: to what extent are family units expected to assimilate to the norms of the American fam ily; and to what extentas Priscilla Wald importantly observesare immigrant families forced to forget their particular family story so as to meld with the traditional white middle-class family? (246) At the same time, though, the opposition between family and nation in subject formation directly calls into question thematic issues re garding form. To recode her novel as a modern epicand indeed Americanization as an epic pr ocessStein must also interrogate the cultural narratives that at once produce historiography and make Americans, namely myth and progress. On first glance, the function of this thematic opposition seems a conventional modernist reading of modernity: myth seems to construct a family narrative characterized by elements of nostalgia, prehistory, and the primitive, while progress seems to construct a national narrative dominated by industry, hi story, and the modern. On second glance, however, especially if we consider Horkheim er and Adornos maxim that myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to my thology, Stein challenges the ideology that privileges that first reading of the progress-my th opposition (xviii). The significance of this move is that Stein is engaging in her own dialectic of enlight enment: precisely because her family narrative calls into question the anxiety of Americanization and the way in which both manual and intellectual labor have removed any historical consciousness beyond empiricism and positivism, she suggests that progress would re quire a cultural return to (or at least an engagement with) history, myth, and nature. 4 For a more detailed synopsis of the probl em of immigration a nd Americanization, see Priscilla Walds A Losing-Self Sense in Constituting Americans (243-251).

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15 To read the form and content of The Making of Americans dialectically, then, is to grasp Steins critique of realism via a modernist return to epic form; recoding the language and content of the epic tradition is a response to her mode rn moments historical fragmentation and the cultural regression of the American national project. It is to read the epic ideology of form as reproducing an outmoded mechanical reality of th e middle class in literature, as challenging the corporatization of modern Ameri can life, and as challenging trad itional strategies of narrative production and consumption. But before we can engage in a critical rereading of Steins revisionary stance on the American middle class, we must look at the way in which the form provides a narrative space to addre ss that cultural content; we must in fact examine the way in which the epic form allows Stein to decode he r historical moment and recode modern national mythology byto borrow Susan Hegemans phrasi ng[holding] the past and present, and center and periphery, in di alectical tension (24). To begin, Stein blurs the generic strains of th e epic and novel, as we ll as the function of the hero in each. In her text, there is a resona nce of Lukcs dialectical vision of the novel where the interior opposes the exterior the individual opposes the co mmunity, and the psychological opposes the historico-philosophical. He writes, The novel tells of the adventure of interiority; the content of the novel is the stor y of the soul that goes to find itself, that seeks adventure in order to be proved and tested by them, and by prov ing itself, to find its own essence (89). And it is quite clear that Steins narr ator fits Lukcs description of the hero of the novel: to write her American historiographythe action which prom pts her interiorityshe must first come to terms with her families as subjects, her nationa lism as theme, and the genealogy as plotthe content that prompts her introspection.

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16 However, Steins narrator also reflects asp ects of a Lukcsian epic hero whose passivity [fills and embellishes her life as] the form take n by the objective and extensive totality of the world; [she herself] is the luminous centre around which this unfolded totality revolves, the inwardly most immobile point of the worlds rhythmic movement (89). Regarding the epic hero, Lukcs continues, [Her] unquestioning, concen trated interiority forc es [her] to translate that interioritywhich [she] cons iders to be the average, everyda y nature of the real-worldinto actions (90). As an epic-but-ordinary American trying to write a version of her national history, the narrator acts as an everywoman character wh o uses her perceptions, id eas, and experiences to shape her narrative. So while she is not an epic hero who proves incapab le of contemplation or possibility of inward-turned activity, the narrator is an epic hero whose interior world is inseparable from her outsi de world, and vice versa. What this play with interiority suggests is that a narrative of Amer ican history is both novelistic and epic, in that an introspective individual can act as a national representative and as a hero who is valued both for the balance of her ideas and action. As Stein notes in Lectures in America the function of the writer and the modern hero is to individually and subjectively discover the things the things to see the thing to look at so th at she can representatively and objectively find out how to know that they we re there by their names or by replacing their names (235). And this fusion proves true in The Making of Americans : the narrators impulse and Steins overarching intentioni s to make sense of modernity by writing a brief history of American families immigration and assimilation experiences; but in order to do so, she must prove her mettle by composing a definition of Amer ican being and living and then articulate that definition in her narrative. As the narrator herself notes, to make sense of her authorial task requires learning, knowing and telling her charac ters because there has been much writing of

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17 listening to repeating, of heari ng, feeling, seeing, knowing all repe ating, of feeling knowing each one sometime as a whole one, now then there is a little writing of the telling of the knowing always in me (328). The success of Steins revisi onary approach to both na tional mythology and family history, therefore, rests in the figur ing of her narrator as a hero of a modern epic who is at once a singular, self-reflective subject and a representative self -reflexive citizen. For Stein, rethinking Americanization becomes a feminine task be cause a womans language is automatically culturally constructed and socially constituted as Other.5 Because she is a woman writer attempting write a family history that challenges the dominant discourses of nation and narrative, her problems of subjectivity, citizen ship, and artistry are figured in her insider-outsider status. Space in this instance becomes multiply figured: th e narrator must address the space of her own subjectivity, the space of her characters as textual subjects and types, the space of her marginalization within modern discourses, and the space of her anti-language which appropriates and sublimates hegemonic linguistic c odes. This is why Stein begins The Making of Americans with what is essentially a space-c learing gesture. The narrator begi ns her family history with an anecdote that posits progress as tension between generational continuity and succession: Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. Stop! cried the groaning old man at last, S top! I did not drag my father beyond this tree (3). Stein is clearly playing with the modern myth of subjectiva tion in which capitalist America presupposes that children will equal (if not better) their parents in culture, class, and in tellect. Indeed, the 5 This notion itself resonates with Steins self -fashioning and self-marketing of herself as a modern writer. Indeed, as she visions herself as genius precisely because of her figure as a woman writer, regardless of whether or not sh e subscribes to normative gender roles. Stein contends in The Geographical History of America that literary masterpi eces in her epoch are produced by women, precisely because they ar e situated in a place of under-privileged subjectivity (215).

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18 anecdote seems to suggest that Americanization s till places a formative va lue on the role of the family in individuation. And the narr ator justifies this sort of fam ily socialization as constitutive of and necessary for family history and nationa l progress: We need only realize our parents, remember our grandparents and know ourselves, and our history is complete (3). That is why the narrator initially feels compelled to cons ider America both homogenously as a cohesive nation and heterogeneously as a family-like community of individuals. But such a reading of the opening anecdote a nd its reading of the family as a modern space of social reproduction seems overly nave in the modern age of capitalism. Although the family unit would still be a space of subjectivation in the cultural logic of nineteenth-century American industry, it would more than likely be only one social space that, along with community, market, and nation among others, infl uences individuation. I want to suggest, perhaps somewhat perversely, that underlying th e narrators opening anec dote is the unconscious opposition between family and nati on in the cultural narrative of history and progress. For immediately following the anecdote, Stein te ases out a contradiction in her narrators privileging of the family. Rationalizing family nos talgia, the narrator notes that the tempers we are born withboth our inherited and develope d dispositions[die] away with experience (3). What the narrator seems to be suggesting is that with age and experience one can develop into an adult comfortable in ones self-image a nd cognizant of the forces that have influenced ones subjectivity. But if American history is ba sed on family lineage, it is also possible to read the death of experience as a demythologizing of the family, where the material community the nationreplaces the preexisting communitythe family. In Steins revision of the modern epic, therefore, the narrators focus on the family unconsciously acts as an overcompensation, where the privileging of genealogy is an attemp t to counter the way in which modernity reads

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19 progress as a shift from family to nation; and as a consequence of that movement, that process, that progress, the American family itself becomes expendable. Indeed, as the narrative devel ops and as the narrator further elaborates on the process of collectivization that contradiction materializes ; her conception of community becomes almost exclusively national. The infl uence of familywhen addressed acts most often as a mark of difference or a modern break with tradition rather than a mark of collectivizing nation-building. For example, at the start of her history, the narr ator either problematizes a family identification that fosters a sense of the old world not altogether lost or uses the family unit as a marker of Americanization so that a more assimilated family like the Herslands had not had their money any longer than the others in [their] community, but they had taken to cu lture and ideas quicker (17; 22). Put another way, the nation as a form of family becomes privileged in her mind so that the family unit becomes sublimated to the greater discourse of the American family. Despite her function as a cultural arbiterin both the narrative and real worl dsone of the narrators first rhetorical moves is to exclude; her gesture towards totalization is itself marked by a type of closure. Seemingly unaware of what her categorization has foreclosed in terms of community, the narrator thinks that in order to write about Americans she mu st consider the many kinds of people who make America; or more simply, th e narrator must type American living and being. She seems optimistic that she will both be able to locate variations of independent and dependent being in her characters and that she will be able to ade quately negotiate the nuances of each characters self-reflexive in terior-exterior consciousness.6 The narrator suggests that vital 6 To be exact, in the novel St ein classifies two types of personalitiesindependent dependent and dependent indepe ndentpossible for Americans: There are always some of then the many millions of this first kind in them the independent kind of them who never have it

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20 singularitya kind of interiority that must be (and is not yet) bred by custom, passion, and a feel for mother earthis only possible when Americans can potentially balance their subjectivity as individuals and citizens (21). She notes Yes real singularity we have not made enough of yet so that any other one can really know it. I say vital singularity is as yet an unknown product with us, we who in our habits, dress-suit cases, clothes and hats and ways of thinking, walking, making money, talking, having simple lines in decorating, in ways of reforming, all with a metallic clicking like the type-writing which is our only way of thinki ng, our way of educating, our way of learning, all always the same way of doing, all the way down as far as there is any way down inside to us. We are all the same all through us, we ne ver have it to be free inside us. No brother singulars, it is sad here for us, there is no place in an adolescent world for anything eccentric like us, machine making does not turn out queer things like us, they can never make a world to let us be free each one inside us. (47) According to the narrator, therefore, vital si ngularity is necessarily a product of American modernity. The space of the nation, the space of th e family, and the space of the text allow for the possibility of some combina tion of coherence or totalizati on where, as the quoted passage suggests, Americans can strike a balance between th e interiorized characteri stics of individuality, eccentricity, freedom, and queerness and the exte riorized characteristics of citizenship, conformity, and mechanization. But vital singularity, it is important to note, remains onl y a possibility. What is immediately striking about this process of subject formation is the way in which consciousness is assembled: the abstract, qualitative language of iden tity is paired with the concrete, quantitative language of industry. It seems as if the narr ator is conflating the production of citizens in in them to have any such attacking in them...Some of them have this in them as gently pretty young innocence inside them...In the second kind of them the dependent independent kind of them who have too all through their living servant gi rl nature in them, in this kind of them there are many of them who have a sacred timid subm ission in them with a resisting somewhere in them... (177). For the sake of brevity (and becau se I think the terms are, for all intents and purposes, collapsible into the first adjective), Ive chosen to use independent and dependent. For a summary of these attributes, see Norman Weinstein, Gertrude Stein and the Literature of Modern Consciousness (32-34).

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21 America with goods in the workplace. Indeed, th e narrators descripti on of vital singularity smacks of Taylorism, where the collectivization of manual and intellectual labor privileges machine making and making money as Amer icas only way of thinking, way of educating, and way of learning. Whats more, vital singul arity remains only a possibility precisely because of this focus on industry and ca pital; in the history of national development, Americas modernism is based exclusively on it s industrialism, and v ital singularity as the narrator describes it requires ch aracteristics beyond the economic.7 So while it is possible to read singularity as something that Americans can potentially transcend, where the distinction between interior and exterior is not abso lutely (and perhaps not even normatively) defined, the trait can also be re ad as something coded as entirely typical. In reading this passage, Barbara Will observes that neither the narrator nor her audience appear to be Americans or queer things. Instead, she suggests that they can be both. She writes that the narrators type-casting breaks the conformity -singularity binary: as conformists, Americans can be said to exemplify type, to embody typical ity, where their routine lifestyles make them mechanistically generic and reproducible; and as singular subjects, Americans as vitally singular can be figured as a produ ct, but one that is not yet within the capacity of American manufacturing to make but potentially a viable American good (112). Significantly, when we read singularity dialectically, we are forced to recognize that the characters that have this trait can be read as mass-produced and/ or self-reflective individuals. The critical question now becomes, to what extent does the narrator limit the transgressive power of he r casting as Steins modern epic hero if she herself negotiates the same 7 For a more detailed discussion of the imagi native context of American modernity, see Susan Hegemans chapter, Modern ism, Anthropology and Culture in Patterns for America (20-27).

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22 sort of inner/outer, conformity/singularity comple xes that she types her characters with? And more, what does such an implication in the Amer ican system of mechanized production do to her act of artistic (re)production? At the start of the novel, the narrator doe s not seem overly concerned with the way in which her typing, her analyses of the characters identity traits, and he r repetitive narrative style seem to feed the American machine of singularity reproducti on. In fact, in an address to her readers, she notes that the stor y that she is telling is not just an ordinary kind of novel with a plot and conversations to amuse you, but a record of a decent family progress (34). Carefully crafted with respect to the styl e of her narrative and meticulousl y composed with respect to the details of each family saga, she implies that what differentiates her work from the other texts is precisely that her story is about these many kinds of decent ordinary people (34). The fact that her story is a middle class typology is less a problem of writing a hi story of conventional American characters than a narrative innova tion that uses geneal ogical conventions and historical traditions to codify Am erican progress. The narrator ev en goes so far as to bring her readers into the characterological mix with the invocation, and so listen while I tell you about us, and wait while I hasten slowly forwards, and l ove, please, this history of this decent familys progress (34). As the hero of Steins m odern epic, the narrator invokes usassumed American readers, and more, assumed middle cla ss readersto recognize our shared history and similar experience with American middle class tr adition, ordinary family control, and traditional heterogeneous family stories.8 With a Lukcsian move of epic proportions, she consciously and 8 Indeed, Wald notes that Stein imagined that white middle-class readers [were] presumed to be the largest audience for the Great American Novel (241).

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23 self-reflexively tries to positi on her self-perception of vital singularity as an interiorized subjectivity that translates to her charact ers and readers exteriorized reality.9 Towards the middle of the novel, however, the na rrator seems to have a change of heart, or at the very least the beginnings of a comingto-consciousness. In a section following her description of vital si ngularity she reflects, Every one always is repeating the whole of them. Always, one having loving repeating to getting completed understanding must have in them an open feeli ng, a sense of all the slightest variations in repeating, must never lose themselves so in the solid steadin ess of all repeating that they do not hear the slightest varia tion. If they get deadened by the steady pounding of repeating they will not learn from each one even though each one is always repeating the whole of them they will not lear n the completed history of them, they will not know the being really in them. (294) Whereas at the start of the nove l, the narrator naivel y defended her compulsion to defend her reading of singularity as bei ng the mark of individual, familia l, and national progress, now she questions the way in which heterogeneous being repeated in her characters does not always lead to a cohesive, homogeneous na tional identity. As Melanie Tayl or notes, in the narrators search for a self-professed completed understandi ng, she begins to recognize that repeating is something that represents the sameness in every one , but it is also the key to the difference that is in each one (30). Therefore, the narrators original intention of writing an American history through the typing of nation, family, and individuals in the ordinary kind of families, histories and in a simple middle class monotonous traditi on must be rethought because each repetition of convention leads to a differe nce of type that in turn l eads to a revision of standpoint. 9 Lukcs writes, epic interiority is always reflexive, it realizes itself in a conscious, distantiated way in contrast th e nave distancelessness of true lyricism...Reflexion and mood are constitutive structural elements of the novel form, but their formal significance is determined precisely by the fact that the regulative system of ideas on which the whole reality is based can manifest itself in them and is give form through th eir mediation; in other words, by the fact that they have a positive, although problematical and paradoxical relationship to the outside world (114).

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24 To be a singular subject is continge nt upon a proactive engagement with the personalitys bottom nature, or psychological core. The narrator realizes the potential problems of this characte ristic when her strategi c repetition of bottom na ture characteristics in her individual characters and acro ss generations raises both similari ties and differences and more questions than answers. For example, she not es that one type of person can shift their emotional temperament in terms of their own se lf-perception exclusive of how others perceive them: There are some men and women having in them very much weakness as the bottom in them and watery anxious feeling, and sometime s nervous anxious feeling then in them and sometimes stubborn feeling in them (456). So wh ile an individuals bottom nature might be psychologically consistent with the groups he or she interacts with (family, for example) and therefore observable as one part in a whole, a single individu als bottom nature read alone cannot produce a substantive analys is of his or type or a quantif iable perception of his or her reality. Norman Weinstein points out that in th e text what changes is not the fact that men perceive reality but what they choose to single ou t in their perception of reality (34). Or put another way, the narrators sense of both Americ an history and her ordina ry family history are composed of the gradual shifts in her characte rs national and narrative perceptions, which are in turn highly subjective, imperceptible perspectives. Because she recognizes that her impulse to write a history based on the progressive formation of vital singularity across generatio ns is becoming increasingly problematic, the narrator begins to question her ethos as a writer, both in terms of her ability to write her family history and her ability to inject her own voice. She reflects, C ategories that once to some one had real meaning can later to that same one be all empty. It is queer that words that meant something in our thinking and feeling later come to have in them in us not at all any meaning

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25 (440). The narrator recogni zes not only that her repetition of character types leads to difference of perception at that moment of iteration, but th at it also leads to a loss of meaning. Taylor suggests that the texts circularity perhaps reflects an authorial acknowledgement of the deadening effect on readers (and writers) of language use that conveys only limited meaning in any conventional sense (30). Indeed, as a produ cer of epic revision, the narrator is dabbling with character traits as types and conventions that can be r ead typical and conventional. And for this reason, when considering her treatment of American epic space, it is legitimate to read the narrators formula of typing as provi ding more ambiguity than meaning and raising more questions than conclusive answers. In a final heroic gesture, the narrator tries to justify her aesthetic impulse towards repeating the being in men and women so that she ca n understand each characte rs singular progress and consciousness development. She notes that although it seems absolutely impossible those ones should be believing and often it is altogether puzz ling and more and more in living if any one is listening to other ones thinking and beli eving, that her repetition really provides a more nuanced sense of what each character is borne of or is sensitive to at that particular moment of description (483). But interestingl y, at the end of that very same page, the narrator abandons her self-preserving and text-affi rming mission and complains: Disillusionment in living is finding that no one can really ever be agreeing with you completely in anything. Disillusionment then in living that gives to very many then melancholy feeling, some despairing feeling, some resignation, some fairly cheerful beginning and some a forgetting and continuing and some a dreary trickling weeping some violent attacking and some a le tting themselves do anything, th at, as is very certain, not, those fighting beside you or living completely with you or anybody, really, can really be believing anything completely that you are believing. (483) For the narrator, disillusionment is more and mo re a feeling endemic to modernity. Because American living evolves throughout the three gene rations so that being an old man or an old woman is being no longer a young one no longe r a young man or a young woman no longer a

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26 growing older young man or growing older young woman, the older generations of Hersland and Dehning characters become di sillusioned because their being is radically different than (and incomprehensible to) their younger family members (483). Because singularity is a subjective trait that can not be objectively observed, the narrator becomes disillusioned with the progress of her narrative. And because her stor y seems to shy away from allowing her readers textual mastery, she becomes disillusioned that her readers will not read her characters bottom natures or her historical analysis in the same way she reads (and writes) them. Considering these examples of disaffection t ogether, she worriedly rambles, I mean, I mean and that is not what I mean, I mean that not any one is saying what they are meaning, I mean that I am feeling something, I mean that I mean somethingI mean, I mean, I know what I mean (782). The problem is that she means many things at many times to many different people. Indeed, it is productive to read the narrator as flailing pr ecisely because she cannot strike a textual balance in which she can approach her text as both object and subject. Revisiting Jamesons treatment of objectivity and subjectivity in a piece of literature, the narrator seems to flounder with regard to both: focusing on typing and vital singularity, the narrator tries to empirically force objective con ceptual categories on unclassifiabl e abstract subjectivity; and conversely, in attempting to subjectivate those categories of consciousness, the narrator only succeeds in creating a sense of hi storicity that merely perpetua tes the modernist clichs of anxiety, fragmentation, contingenc y, and individualism. Its as if she has run the gamut of modernist mythologyforcing a historical periodizat ion that rejects the o ld culture, rejecting the classical mythology of the past for the presen t materiality of language in the present, and trying to privilege the producti on of Americanizationand stumbles over the temporality of individual identity.

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27 Ultimately, the space of vital singularity b ecomes problematic because she fails to properly recognize that American subjectivity is contingent upon both space and time. The narrators revisionary historical strategy, where she uses repetition in an attempt to tease out cogent and contiguous bottom natures from (and for) her characters, requires that she subordinate her narrative space to nonlinear time. Consistently (re)presenting and repeating her characters consciousness types an d psychological traits allows he r to rethink history in such a way that her narrative of family initially conceived has little need for memory.10 But what this narrative choice requires is a focus on the presenton the immediate task of making Americans in the text and in the twentieth centu ry. Indeed, this focus on the present is why progress must be gauged in terms of nation and not family: the dominant question in America in this historical moment is not necessarily of origins but of status. Thus, family history and the anamnesis of living and being for th e narratives first two generations of Herslands and Dehnings is in effect marginalized. Precisely this narrative play correlates with what Lukcs would term the epic quality of memory, where the past either doe s not exist or is completely pr esent (126). In reading Stein through Lukcs, we must note that his epic [knows] nothing of the passage of time and [allows for] no qualitative difference between the experiencing of past and present so that time has no power of transformation (126). Time alters nothing in the epic because the inner and outer worlds of the hero are homogeneous. Returning to The Making of Americans the 10 Discussing Steins approach to history, Dana Cairns Watson notes that family histories are not standard historical plots developed thr ough contextualization, summ ary, analysis, and the needs of the nation, so conven tional genealogies become even ts told through the haze of personal memory and the lens of egoistic bias (26). On the linearity of these narratives, she notes that history is no t arranged chronologi cally, and events are rarely attached to a date. If personal experience is linked to nati onal events or social movement s, this linking is done loosely and inaccurately (26).

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28 problem with the narrators approach is that she is trying to write a history in which the interiority and exteriority of he r characters singularity can represent a developing sense of American consciousness where the youngest generati on can be compared to the oldest. And that kind of history cannot be exclusiv ely written in the present tens e precisely because to write a history of American progress is to negot iate both spatial and temporal elements. In narrating her epic family saga, the narra tor cannot transcend her modern historicophilosophical moment to create a cohesive national subjectivity or a totalized national history because her repetitive stylistics forcibly analy ze consciousness and construct a concealed totality of life. Considering her writi ng process and composition with L ukcs as a lens, the narrators epic impulse to create totality through looking at the interiority of her characters is betrayed by the weight of her language and of her content. Discovering that subjectiv ity cannot be totalized and that meaning in life cannot be determined, her revision of history remains traditional and indeed normative. Instead of be ing a genealogy that really interr ogates the role of the American middle class and the emergence of bourgeois cult ure which defines her historical moment, the narrators history of progress becomes one of death where language loses its transformative power and it is impossible to be singula r and completely succeeding in living ( The Making of Americans 896). Or more specificall y, it becomes a story where the narrator discovers the most blatant vital singula rity in her youngest male character, David, who dies before he can do anything especially v ital or singular. As a producer of revisionary histor y, the narrator as epic hero fails. But that is not to say that the narrator as epic hero fa ils as a product of Stei ns revisionary history. To make such a distinction, we must remember two things regarding Steins intention for writing The Making of Americans : it was first to revision the epic traditio n from a modern American perspective, and

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29 second to rewrite American history as a modern ep ic in order to counter the national, family, and literary structures that hegemonically compose it. And regardless of the su ccess or failure of her narrator, these exegeses still hold tr ue. The narrator is a tool that allows Stein to provide her take on what makes (modern) American history; and she is the authorial perspective that allows Stein to question the legitimacy of the bourgeois, natio nalist, Americanist discourses and institutions and to problematize the counter-narratives th at potentially offer revisionary solutions. For the simple fact that Stein used her narrator to challenge conventional modernist thinking and her family storytelling as an opposi tional strategy does not mean that Stein was proffering either function as a viable solution; rather, it means that Stein was aware of the problems regarding American histor ical consciousness and that sh e attempted to represent those problemsand the struggle towards solutionin her novel. Henry Sayre sugge sts that in Steins later work it is the structure of representation and not what is being represente d that interests her. He argues that because Stein concentrated on the presentation of language as a thing, her work attacks the valorizati on of the individual psyche which sees its artistic productions as manifestations of its own spirit or souland in this she takes on the masculinist definition of individual creative production and undermines it, establishing once and for all the centrality of her work to the contemporary feminist project ( 30). But I would not lim it this narrative strategy to the texts that she published later in her career. Instead, I would suggest, based on Steins use of her narrator in The Making of Americans that Sayres periodizati on of Steins narrative strategy be expanded to consider her earlier works and to include her 1925 Am erican epic. After all, Steins epic revision is contingent upon th e meta-narrative represen tation of the narrator, where the materialization of her perspectiv e meets the materiality of Steins language.

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30 So what do Steins forcing of repetition, her subordination of textua l space to narrative time, her double-voiced narration, and her narrativ e performativity mean with regard to her modern revision of The Making of Americans as epic novel and her narr ator as epical hero? First, we must remember that Stein is playing w ith the space of American subjectivity in order to problematize the American impulse to totalize hi storical progress and th e individuals involved with such movement. She absolutely critiques the impulse of individuals to reductively envision a coherent self as balancing a homogenous nati onal identity with a heterogeneous selfconsciousness. Next, and more im portantly, we must recognize that Stein is critiquing writers like her narrator who assume that they are challenging patriarchal institutions in their texts and with their texts but who fail to realize the way in which their counter-narratives are actually products of those hegemonic discourses. Or as Rita Felski would suggest, in her re-vision of history, Stein is challenging modernitys polemic that to be modern re quires the repudiation of the past and a commitment to change and the values of the future ( Gender and Genre 13). And the cultural disillusionment of her narrator precisely because she fails in this exercise is proof of this. At this point, it would be useful to look at Lukcs a final time in relation to how Steins dialectical approach to form and content tries to broach subject formation with modern national mythology. Lukcs notes that in certain epic forms resembling the novel, memory is a creative and transformative force and that that kind of me mory is reflective of life processes. To surmount the duality of interior and exterior wo rldsthe binary of indi vidual subjectivity and national belonginghe writes, the s ubject must glimpse the organic unity of his life through the process by which his living present has grown from the stream of his past life dammed up within his memory (127). If this task is achievedif an individual, a wr iter, or a text can successfully

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31 master and integrate subject and objectthen that experience will become an authentically epic form (127). What this means in terms of a modern aesthetic praxis is that writing in modernity requires that subjectivity and history be negotiated. A nd for Stein in particular, such a negotiation is necessitated by a writing practice where the self becomes a sort of economy that negotiates individual and community contex ts and where elements of the epic, the novel, and myth are refigured and recast as a production of individua l consciousness and cosmopolitan culture. In fact, in Lectures in America she reiterates that this formulation was precisely the exegesis for her epic composition of The Making of Americans : I had done something that was not leading to anything because after all you should not lose two things in order to have one thing because in doing so you make writing just that much less varied (224). Breaking down this artists statement into its component parts, there seem to be three competing ideas: that Stein had done something, that her something accomplished noth ing, and that balance and variation compose the best sorts of writing. Looking at her novel as a revisionary epic her narrator as an epic hero, and her narrators performativity as a meta-nar rative of failed cultural critique, we have thoroughly addressed the first and third components. However, the secondthe idea that her text accomplished nothinghas been completely overlooked. That her somethingwhich we could rightfully read as her reformulation of genre, her writing of the text her characterization of her narrator, or the effect of her transgressi ve themesachieved nothing seems impossible both because as readers we are trained to find some so rt of meaning, resolution, or call to action in a text and because we would hope that after labor ing over a 925-page novel that purports to chart historical progress that we would be able to see the effects of that identity development. But

PAGE 32

32 challenging our impulse towards textual mastery, Stein would note that as readers we are expecting too much. In Composition as Explanation, she suggests that there is a difference between writer and reader with regard to the material difference produced by a variation of a texts words and syntax: There is singularly nothing that makes a diffe rence a difference in be ginning in the middle and in ending except that each generation has something different at which they are all looking. By this I mean so simply that anybody knows it that composition is the difference which makes each and all of them then different from other generations and this is what makes everything different otherwise they are all alike and everybody knows it because everybody says it. (21) Because her subtitle is Being a History of Family Progress, because her narrator dwells upon subjectivity and vital singularit y, and because her narrator gr apples with the subplot of a modern writer to generate cohesi ve meaning, as readers we expect that Steins epic novel will be enough of a conventional narrative to give us at least a glimpse of whatever revisionary perspective the novelist, the novel, and the narrator initially seem to promise. But Steins take on meaning is wholly different; or rather, her ta ke on meaning is wholly difference. Her own personal reading and writing proce ss is what Ulla Dydo calls, a scru tiny of herself in relation to her ongoing perceptions and formula tionsthe writer in the act of writing (21). So if we approach the text in the same way that Stein migh t, we will find (at least two) different readings. First, The Making of Americans is a liminal space where Gertr ude as author and Gertrude as meta-narrator could challenge th e politics of the nation, of th e family, and of the literary establishment; more specifically, it is the sp ace where she could chal lenge the mythology of American history, of family historiography, and of modern literature. And second, it is also a liminal space in which modernity makes the im plementation of Steins and her narrators

PAGE 33

33 revisionary strategies impossible; more specifically, it is the space of failed potentiality where narrative experimentation cannot rewrite national reform. What this ultimately suggests about Steins revisionary approach to nation, family, and language is that meaning is at once a product and performance of meaning. And what this means for Steins play-filled experiment with family a nd nation and myth and progress is that her text can neither be written nor read within the conventional bina ry of success/failure. In fact, Stein seems to be suggesting th at that binary is a moot poi nt since the process of making Americans does not pair family-nation and myth -progress as dialectical opposites so much as historical moments in which the pre-modern former is subsumed by the modern latter. Americanization, therefore, is an event and not a process. This is a critical distin ction in Steins aesthetic philosophy; in The Geographical History of America she writes: Events are connected with human nature but th ey are not connected with the human mind and therefore all the writing that has to do with events has to be written ove r, but the writing that ha s to do with writing does not have to be written again, again is in this se nse the same as over (108 ). Indeed, the making of Americans as an event is an impossible task precisely because the na rrator subscribes to the modernist ideologies of self-cons ciousness and dehistoricization. It corresponds to the narrators attempt to psychologize and type the Hersland and Dehning family members: what is more important to the narrator is the way in which her characters are being an d living rather than interrogating the reasons why (and how) they are influenced to act; what is more important is categorizing her subjects as objects rather th an analyzing the way in which her work is perpetuating the national mythol ogy that effectively confuses her historical project. But perhaps this is the point. It is the instability of meaning, the irre solvable conclusion, the refusal to force cohesion that transcends th ese normative reading strate gies and allows Stein

PAGE 34

34 to create a new space for composition and comprehension. As Catherine Stimpson suggests, the radical and disruptive potential of experiment al writing functions in such a way that to destabilize is not to eradicate; to dislodge is not to demolish (11). To read The Making of Americans as a modern American epic is to read the na rrative as a text of sy mbolic (in)action. It requires us to recognize that Stei n is replicating the logic of ca pitalism via its reificationin the figure of the narrator and her approach to hist oryso that she might counter it. Where her narrator suggests that the making of Ameri cans requires a present participle, focalizing the writing of the narrative as an event with no past or future, Stein suggests that the making of Americans is a way of thinking with no beginnin g, middle, or end. But while both readings seemingly suggest that there is no ending to the way in which the Herslands and Dehnings engage in a process of becoming Americans, St eins is markedly different because she refuses the totality and closure that the narrators focu s on the subjective, the present, and the new values seems to require. Instead, Steins revisi on of the narrators foci centers on the way they affect both history as the work and the history of the work. Regarding both, Stein emphasizes that production of history necessitates a negotiation of the way in which mythologies of the past, experiences of the present, and expectations of th e future form the text; or, whereas the narrator finds total meaning in the presen t, Stein suggests that one readi ng of time renders the work of history as fragmentary.11 Indeed, the writing processfr om composition, to revision, to 11 The root of this applicat ion comes from Fredric Jamesons reading of Adorno in Late Marxism: Adorno or Persistence of the Dialectic He problematizes th e notion of historicity, historiography, and truth in writi ng, the historical situation of each one is an absolute present a present of struggle, praxis, sufferingwhose claims on reality are sapped by any chronological historicism or relativism of the ar chive. A political aesthetic also wishes to affirm this primacy of the present and the event; but it is clear that for Adorno it also means lining the monads up on sides and in teams, and substituting general demands of style and discussions about art in general for engagement with the works themselves (224) And he later concludes his discussion on the Productivities of the Monad by explicitly sugges ting that political thin king lies in the form

PAGE 35

35 audiencerequires a range of temporality and perh aps even temporization. Therefore, Steins refusal to subscribe to the gene ric conventions, instead writing he r epic-novel as a mediation of form, is a refusal to subscribe to modernitys axiom of being, or at the very least its attempt to codify it. For her, the problematic of content as she has demonstrated over and over again in the narrativeis that meaning is artificial, language material, and knowledge performative. The solution, it seems, to the problem of m odern identity is to read form. So to end, perhaps we should return to the st atement of purpose with which Stein as writer starts her novel and the narrator as teller starts her story: The old people in a new world, the new people made out of the old, that is the story I mean to tell, for th at is what really is and what I really know (3). We have already established that neither the writer nor her narrator really know[s] anything; or rather, St ein suggests that both know many th ings at many times. So if her vision of modern epic means avoiding the arti ficiality of meaning and replacing it with the performativity of language, then the old people, the new world, the new people, and the story also become performative restatemen ts. Obviously the people correspond to her characters and the world to their families or genealogies. But perhaps based on reiterations, repetition, and rereading it is possible for the reader s of her text to be (re)made out of their own world with each reading. And if that is indeed the case, to revision the epic, to rewrite American history, and to rethink subjectivit y, she implicates her readers in the process of transcoding. Therefore, the making of Americans requires a performative reader. It is only in our process of reading and rereading that the promise of a history of progress is possible. rather than the content of his thoughts, which, conceptualizing aesthetic form of philosophical content rather than politics as such, is capable of detecting within th emwith a starker, more luminous articulation than can normally be achieved within political analysis or social history the complex mobilities of the historical dialectic (225).

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36 LIST OF REFERENCES DeKoven, Marianne. Gertrude St ein and the Modernist Canon. Gertrude Stein and the Making of Literature Eds. Shirley Neuman and Ira B. Nadel. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988. 8-20. DeMott, Benjamin. The Imperial Middle: Why Americans Cant Think Straight about Class New York: William and Morrow, 1990. Dydo, Ulla. Stein Reader Ed. Ulla Dydo. Evanston, IL: No rthwestern University Press. Eliot, T.S. Charleston, Hey! Hey! Nation and Athenaeum (January 29, 1927): 595. Felski, Rita. The Gender of Modernity Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Gygax, Franziska. Gender and Genre in Gertrude Stein Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998. Hegeman, Susan. Patterns for America: Modernism and the Concept of Culture Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. Hoffman, Michael J. Gertrude Stein Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1976. Horkheimer, Max and Theodor Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002. Hullot-Kentor, Robert. Notes on Dialectic of Enlightenmen t: Translating the Odysseus Essays. New German Critique 56 (Spring/Summer 1992): 101-108. Jameson, Fredric. Late Marxism: Adorno or th e Persistence of the Dialectic London: Verso, 1990. ---. Marxism and Form Princeton: Princet on University Press, 1971. ---. Postmodernism, or, the Cultura l Logic of Late Capitalism Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991. Lukcs, Georg. The Theory of the Novel 1920. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1971. Malcom, Janet. Someone Says Yes To It: Gert rude Stein, Alice B. Tokl as, and The Making of Americans. New Yorker 81 (June 13, 2005): 148-165. Sayre, Henry M. The Artists Model: American Art and the Question of Looking Like Gertrude Stein in Gertrude Stein and the Making of Literature Eds. Shirley Neuman and Ira B. Nadel. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988. 21-41. Seguin, Robert. Around Quitting Time: Work and Middle-Class Fantasy in American Fiction Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

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37 Spahr, Juliana. Everybodys Autonomy: Connecti ve Reading and Collective Identity Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2001. Stein, Gertrude. Compos ition as Explanation in Gertrude Stein/Look at Me Now and Here I Am: Writings and Lectures 1909-1945 Ed. Patricia Meyerowitz. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1971. 21-30 ---. The Geographical History of America Or the Re lation of Human Nature to the Human Mind 1936. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973. ---. Lectures in America 1935. Boston: Beacon, 1957. ---. The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Familys Progress 1925. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995. Stimpson, Catherine. Gertrude Stein and the Transposition of Gender in The Poetics of Gender Ed. Nancy K. Miller. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 1-18. Taylor, Melanie. A Poetics of Difference: The Making of Americans and Unreadable Subjects. NWSA Journal 15.3 (Fall 2003): 26-42. Watten, Barrett. An Epic of Subject ivation: The Making of Americans. Modernism/Modernity 5.2 (1998): 95-121. Wald, Priscilla. Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995. Watson, Dana Cairns. Gertrude Stein and the E ssence of What Happens Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2005. Weinstein, Norman. Gertrude Stein and the Literature of Modern Consciousness New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1970. Will, Barbara. Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of Genius. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

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38 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Christina Van Houten received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and history from Stetson University in 2005. This thesis is the cu lmination of her work towa rd the Master of Arts degree that she received in 2007. While pursuing her doctorate at UF, she intends to focus on American literature, history, and cultural studies with special attention devoted to modernism and material culture. As an outgrowth of this project, she would like to further explore the relationship of form and content and time and spatiality as each pairing influences the production of modernist national and world texts.


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Title: The Epic Production of Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans, or (Re)Presenting and (Re)Forming History
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

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Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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THE EPIC PRODUCTION OF GERTRUDE STEIN'S THE MAKING OF AMERICANS,
OR REPRESENTINGG AND (RE)FORMING HISTORY























By

CHRISTINA VAN HOUTEN


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

2007

































2007 Christina Van Houten

































For my Father, whose history of progress constituted mine









ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Throughout this essay, I explore the modernization of the American family. But before

jumping to my analysis, I would like to thank the communities-my families, blood or

otherwise-that have shaped, constituted, and moved my own history and progress.

To begin, I would like to thank my teachers and mentors. Susan Hegeman and Phillip

Wegner have provided me unwarranted support, constructive criticism, and unsolicited advice

for this project; but more importantly-and indeed more special for me-they have taught me to

understand and appreciate what it means to "square the circle." I would also like to thank Kim

Emery, Tace Hedrick, and Brandon Kershner of the University of Florida and John Pearson and

Joseph Witek of Stetson University who have been incalculable influences on my own work.

I would also like to thank my family and friends who have shaped my history, and the

progress of my thesis. My family has provided me the support-emotionally and financially-to

sustain me. My mother, Eileen Van Houten, was my first reader and continues to be my biggest

supporter; from little notes to published projects, her patience and encouragement has reiterated

that master-pieces are products of both tears and laughter. My brothers, Patrick and Scott Van

Houten, despite our dissimilar tastes in reading and in spite of their constant snark, never allowed

me the space to take myself too seriously. Megan McDonald proved an editor-extraordinaire,

jotting quick emails of encouragement, distracting me with visions of Paris, and reading

completed drafts. And last, I must thank Josh Miller who suffered with me during epic revisions.

He has made me understand and appreciate what Gertrude Stein meant when she wrote, "If you

have vitality enough of knowing enough of what you mean, somebody and sometime and

sometimes a great many will have to realize that you know what you mean and so they will agree

that you mean what you know."









TABLE OF CONTENTS



A CK N O W LED G M EN T S ................................................................. ........... ............. .....

A B S T R A C T ............ ................... ............ ................................ ................ .. 6

THE EPIC PRODUCTION OF GERTRUDE STEIN'S THE MAKING OF AMERICANS,
OR (RE)PRESENTING AND (RE)FORMING HISTORY ....................................................8

L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S .............................................................................. ...........................36

B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H .............................................................................. .....................38









Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

THE EPIC PRODUCTION OF GERTRUDE STEIN'S THE MAKING OF AMERICANS,
OR REPRESENTINGG AND (RE)FORMING HISTORY

By

Christina Van Houten

May 2007

Chair: Susan Hegeman
Major: English

The bulk of Gertrude Stein scholars have misappropriated her dictum regarding twentieth-

century literature that "what is necessary now is not form but content." But this literary-critical

approach proves problematic: if we follow this prescription, we only succeed in reading a text in

terms of what it is saying as opposed to how it is conveying meaning; and in that way,

interpretation does not read the text as an object judged by its form so much as a subject with

content reflective of its social moment. The solution to this reading strategy is not exclusively a

matter of form or content; rather, the answer is a mediation of both form and content. For if we

return to Stein's quip and read the next line, the modernist further suggests, "Kindly learn

everything please." Thus, to learn everything about the content of a text, we must also learn

everything about that text's form.

This strategy proves useful for approaching Stein's The Making of Americans precisely

because most scholars overlook the form of the novel in order to negotiate its 925 pages of

content; indeed, their analyses take for granted that the text is a novel, albeit a lengthy, difficult,

and "monumental" one. Instead of merely glossing her text as "epic" or "an epic," it is necessary

to grapple with the formal implications of those generic allusions, where Stein's modernist

narrative recodes the epic form with modern content. Reading Stein's novel as a modern epic is









a productive task because it challenges the interrelationship of individual and community; and

with regard to the literary binary of form and content, elements of the epic, the novel, and myth

are refigured and recast as a production of individual consciousness and cosmopolitan culture.

On first glance, it seems as if Stein's attempt to reconstitute myth and epic as cultural functions

provides a sense of cultural logic in which a nation and its citizens can start to recover from

fragmentation. On second glance, however, it becomes apparent that American mythology does

not lead to enlightenment regarding how the nation forms its citizens and how observable

knowledge is rationalized as being embodied in an ideal citizenry. Instead, Stein's modernist

project rewrites the modern form of epic and recasts the narrator as an epic hero, where

discursive challenge and generic revision is neither a singular nor a deliberate action, but rather a

reiterative practice that challenges classical narrative structures, idealized subjectivities, and

traditional modes of interpretation.

In that context, The Making ofAmericans is as much a story of the writing process in

which the narrator sets herself the creative task of composing distinctly American characters, as

it is a history of the social mode of production in which nineteenth century America engaged in a

national project of Americanization. Thus, "the making of Americans" is a narrative about the

composition of the epic-novel's characters, the progress of the American middle class, the

perceived cultural stagnation of that historico-philosophical moment, and the plot through which

America positively collectivizes its citizens and negatively automates fragmented subjectivity.

Stein's modernist project, therefore, recreates the way in which industry and economy affects the

ways in which her characters experience modernization. And more, Stein writes a modern epic

of Americanization where the progress of nationalism, cultural capital, and materialism require

the allegorical sacrifice of the family and its ethnic origins.









THE EPIC PRODUCTION OF GERTRUDE STEIN'S THE MAKING OF AMERICANS,
OR REPRESENTINGG AND (RE)FORMING HISTORY

Now in that diagramming of the sentences of course there are articles and prepositions
and as I say there are nouns but nouns as I say even by definition are completely not
interesting, the same thing is true of adjectives. Adjectives are not really and truly
interesting. In a way anybody can know always has known that, because after all
adjectives effect nouns and as nouns are not really interesting the thing that effects a not
too interesting thing is of necessity not interesting. In a way as I say anybody knows that
because of course the first thing that anybody takes out of anybody's writing are the
adjectives. You see of yourself how true it is that which I have just said.
Gertrude Stein, Lectures in America

To consider Gertrude Stein's critique of the interrelationship of textual meaning and

grammatical semantics in relation to the literary analyses of her novel The Making ofAmericans

is to discover that many of those critical readings either only partially adhere to or seemingly

disregard her syntactic prescriptions. That is to say, in describing her 925-page narrative of a

"history of a family's progress" in terms of its length and difficulty, her critics carefully mark the

text adjectively as "epic" or nominally as "an epic" without interrogating what a generic

classification might connote.1 Such classifications of Stein's novel are interesting for two

reasons: first, deliberate or not, her critics are following her grammatical prescriptions for both

reading and analysis; and second, her critics are subscribing to her critical reading of both

modernity as a historical moment and modernism as literary movement. Regarding both

readings, Stein writes that "what is necessary now is not form but content" (The Geographical

History ofAmerica 215). To be sure, writer and audience alike are reading The Making of

Americans in terms of what the text is saying as opposed to how the text is conveying meaning;


1 For example, among others, Barrett Watten describes the novel as "an identification of epic
mastery" (96); Janet Malcom as "a heroic achievement of writing, a near-impossible feat of
reading" (148); Michael Hoffman as "a mammoth book...not without direction" (40); Marianne
DeKoven as a "heroic modernist [text]" (15); Franziska Gygax as "monumental... [covering]
three generations of two (fictional) American families of the same ancestry" (13); and Barbara
Will as a "massive 925-page epic" (48).









and in that way, interpretation does not read the text as an object judged by its form so much as a

subject with content reflective of the social moment from which it springs. But as Fredric

Jameson has taught us, it is impossible to distinguish between the form and content of a piece of

literature. He cautions that if a literary critical approach reads a text as an "object considered in

itself, the world taken as directly accessible content," then that reading will result "in the

illusions of simple empirical positivism or in an academic thinking which [will mistake] its own

conceptual categories for solid parts and pieces of the real world itself' (Marxism andForm 56).

And Jameson further notes that "exclusive refuge in the subject" creates a sense of subjective

idealism that perpetuates "a kind of historical historicity, a mystique of anxiety, death, and

individual destiny without any genuine content" (56).

The critical question, then, given retrospective authorial treatises, traditional critical

conventions, and revisionary historicist interpretative strategies, is how are we supposed to read

Stein and her text? The answer, it seems, is not exclusively a matter of form or content; rather,

the answer is a mediation of both form and content.2 For if we return to The Geographical

History ofAmerica and read the line following Stein's dictum privileging content over form, the

modernist further suggests, "Kindly learn everything please" (215). Thus, to learn everything

about the content of The Making ofAmericans we must also learn everything about the text's

form. And indeed, rethinking the bulk of her critics' adjectival and nominal categorizations, the

questions-and-answers become all the more intriguing when we consider the interrelationship of

Stein's "epic" content and form.



2 This presupposes that there is in fact a question and an answer. Among her most infamous
quips, Stein cheekily noted in The Geographical History of America that "so then is there in
anything a question and answer. And what have master-pieces to do with this thing with their
being no question to answer and no answer to question" (226).









Stein's epic impulse is a modernist one in which her narrative recodes the epic form with

modern content. At the center of her "history of a family's progress"-as the subtitle of her

novel implies-are questions of representation, subjectivity, history, and totality. The way in

which her self-reflexive narrator attempts to negotiate her characters' individual "being" and

"living" with collective familial and national belonging suggests that the narrator (if not Stein

herself) projects a modernist agenda where a mythical and idealized past potentially revisions at

once the increasingly disenchanted present and future social worlds: recounting the Hersland and

Dehning family stories of "wandering over the new land, where they were seeking first, just to

make a living, and then later, either to grow rich or to gain wisdom," the narrator tells a

representative history of American origins, where each narrative fragment attempts to create a

national consciousness of two families' genealogical progress (4). And Stein is in good

company with her modern adaptation, where the individual becomes a sort of economy that

negotiates individual and community contexts and where elements of the epic, the novel, and

myth are refigured and recast as a production of individual consciousness and cosmopolitan

culture. Georg Lukacs in The Theory of the Novel envisions modernity as being marked by a

process of continual disenchantment where a literary hero no longer represents a totalized social

oneness (118). Similarly, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno suggest in The Dialectic of

Enlightenment that because the dialectical structures of modern consciousness read the binary of

internal and external nature as being dominated by a bourgeois status quo, the solution is to

revision myth as "[constituting] the innermost paradox of epic" (60). Reconstituting myth and

epic as cultural functions therefore provides a sense of cultural logic in which a nation and its

citizens can start to recover from fragmentation.









But if the epic form of Stein's novel suggests the Frankfurt School's contrasting of myth

and enlightenment where, as Robert Hullot-Kentor notes, "contemporary society is already the

longed-for mythical world and any return to myth would only amount to immersion in another

form of self-opaque enlightenment," American mythology would lead to enlightenment

regarding how the nation forms its citizens and how observable knowledge is rationalized as

being embodied in an ideal citizenry (106). More importantly, the balance of myth, history, and

progress that the narrator is grappling with would indeed already be a historical fact and easier to

recap. And clearly, as Horkheimer and Adorno suggest and Stein's text reads, modern national

mythology does not function like that. Instead, Stein rewrites the modern form of epic and

recasts the narrator as an epic hero, where discursive challenge and generic revision is neither a

singular nor a deliberate action, but rather a reiterative practice that challenges classical narrative

structures, idealized subjectivities, and traditional modes of interpretation.

In that context, The Making ofAmericans is as much a story of the writing process in

which the narrator sets herself the creative task of composing distinctly American characters, as

it is a history of the social mode of production in which nineteenth century America engaged in a

national project of Americanization. Thus, "the making of Americans" is a narrative about the

composition of the epic-novel's characters, the progress of the American middle class, the

perceived cultural stagnation of that historico-philosophical moment, and the plot through which

America positively collectivizes its citizens and negatively automates fragmented subjectivity.

Such a use of history, where narrative and social realities are imagined as interconnected, closely

aligns Stein with her modernist counterparts; but generalizations regarding her modernist

aesthetic must be qualified as her particular style blurs the distinction between text and world,

where in her text the history of the Hersland and Dehning families is indeed the history of









America.3 This use of history is a distinctive representation of a particularly American

experience where, as Jameson would suggest, "the coexistence of realities from radically

different moments of history" shapes the text (Postmodernism 307). Stein's modernist project,

therefore, consists of writing a story that characterizes the twentieth-century subjectivity of the

third generation of Hersland and Dehning characters by writing the nineteenth-century history of

the preceding two generations. And as the United States was more modernized than Europe (or

specifically Germany in the case of her narrative) at the start of the twentieth-century, the text

carefully recreates the way in which industry and economy affects the ways in which her

characters experience modernization.

Given her overt class-consciousness, it seems that in The Making ofAmericans in

particular, and I am tempted to say in Stein's vision of American literature in general, the story

of the middle class is the history of America. That seems an obvious enough suggestion since

interspersed throughout the text are qualifications of "middle-class," "bourgeois," and the

general language of materiality and production. To be more specific, though, the history

represented in The Making ofAmericans is one of middle class production and consumption.


3 Stein's approach to history in The Making ofAmericans is further differentiated from her
high modernist counterparts as she directly (constructively albeit critically) writes a history of
the American middle class. In his review of the novel, T.S. Eliot sneered, "There is something
precisely ominous about Miss Stein. Her books of about one thousand pages may, and will,
remain unread; but Miss Stein is going to make trouble for us just the same...Moreover, her work
is not good for one's mind. But its rhythms have a peculiar hypnotic power not met with before.
It has a kinship with the saxophone. If this is of the future, then the future is, as it is very likely
is, of the barbarians. But this is the future in which we ought to be interested" (595). Similarly,
Wyndham Lewis in Time and Western Man suggested that Stein "became the people she wrote
about, adopting their illiteracies and colloquialisms.. [she] gives proof of all the false
'revolutionary' propagandist plainmanism of her time. The monstrous, desperate, soggy lengths
of primitive mass-life, chopped off and presented to us as a never-ending prose-story are
undoubtedly intended as an epic contribution to the present-mass democracy" (qtd. in Spahr 18).
Or as Horkheimer and Adorno might respond to Stein's critics, "The curse of irresistible
progress is irresistible regression" (28).









Stein herself notes that "history is the state of confusion between anybody doing anything and

anything happening" (The Geographical History ofAmerica 133). And if we read that treatise

on history in line with Benjamin DeMott's notion of the American "myth of classlessness" where

personal freedom and self-fashioning become conflated with ideals of citizenship and

nationalism, Stein's project becomes all the more relevant (43-44). Indeed, the "history of a

family's progress" is both a narrative about middle-class Americanization and a critique of the

superstructure that commodities an American bourgeois consciousness. Moreover, Stein's text

reflects a phenomenon that Robert Seguin would describe as the "middle class" effectively

becoming synonymous with classlessnesss" precisely because Stein's narrator and her story

demonstrate "an ideological-practical inhabitance of the world wherein class has become

putatively superseded, or at least temporarily suspended" (2). For the Hersland and Dehning

families, to become "middle class" is less a choice of lifestyle and more the only way of life.

What we see if we read the form and content of the novel dialectically are the ways in

which Stein recodes epic conventions to critique modernity's impulse to collectivize and totalize;

or in the case of her particularly American historiography, the epic form of her novel critiques

the historical moment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States

when social, political, and intellectual movements attempted to collectivize a positivistic

categorization of American "being" and "living" and to produce, manage, and profit from that

"mass" bourgeois subjectivity. Early in the novel, Stein relates the problem of individual

identity formation to the collective influence of the opposition between familial and national

communities. On one level, Stein is referring to Americanization narratives in which immigrants

were forcibly encouraged to abandon their "old" culture with a modern American counterpart.

Here, the "making of Americans" becomes a point of anxiety regarding citizenship, where









pundits, politicians, and immigrants alike were torn between a restrictive call for cultural

homogeneity and a relativist doctrine of cultural pluralism.4 Bound up in this cultural narrative

are questions regarding the role of family: to what extent are "family units" expected to

assimilate to the norms of the "American family"; and to what extent-as Priscilla Wald

importantly observes-are immigrant families forced to forget their particular family story so as

to meld with the traditional white middle-class family? (246)

At the same time, though, the opposition between family and nation in subject formation

directly calls into question thematic issues regarding form. To recode her novel as a modern

epic-and indeed Americanization as an epic process-Stein must also interrogate the cultural

narratives that at once produce historiography and make Americans, namely "myth" and

"progress." On first glance, the function of this thematic opposition seems a conventional

modernist reading of modernity: "myth" seems to construct a "family" narrative characterized by

elements of nostalgia, prehistory, and the primitive, while "progress" seems to construct a

"national" narrative dominated by industry, history, and the modern. On second glance,

however, especially if we consider Horkheimer and Adorno's maxim that "myth is already

enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology," Stein challenges the ideology that

privileges that first reading of the progress-myth opposition (xviii). The significance of this

move is that Stein is engaging in her own "dialectic of enlightenment": precisely because her

family narrative calls into question the anxiety of Americanization and the way in which both

manual and intellectual labor have removed any historical consciousness beyond empiricism and

positivism, she suggests that "progress" would require a cultural return to (or at least an

engagement with) history, myth, and nature.

4 For a more detailed synopsis of the problem of immigration and Americanization, see
Priscilla Wald's "A 'Losing-Self Sense'" in Constituting Americans (243-251).









To read the form and content of The Making ofAmericans dialectically, then, is to grasp

Stein's critique of realism via a modernist return to epic form; recoding the language and content

of the epic tradition is a response to her modern moment's historical fragmentation and the

cultural regression of the American national project. It is to read the epic ideology of form as

reproducing an outmoded mechanical reality of the middle class in literature, as challenging the

corporatization of modern American life, and as challenging traditional strategies of narrative

production and consumption. But before we can engage in a critical rereading of Stein's

revisionary stance on the American middle class, we must look at the way in which the form

provides a narrative space to address that cultural content; we must in fact examine the way in

which the epic form allows Stein to decode her historical moment and recode modem national

mythology by-to borrow Susan Hegeman's phrasing-"[holding] the past and present, and

center and periphery, in dialectical tension" (24).

To begin, Stein blurs the generic strains of the epic and novel, as well as the function of

the hero in each. In her text, there is a resonance of Lukacs' dialectical vision of the novel where

the interior opposes the exterior, the individual opposes the community, and the psychological

opposes the historico-philosophical. He writes, "The novel tells of the adventure of interiority;

the content of the novel is the story of the soul that goes to find itself, that seeks adventure in

order to be proved and tested by them, and by proving itself, to find its own essence" (89). And

it is quite clear that Stein's narrator fits Lukacs' description of the hero of the novel: to write her

American historiography-the action which prompts her interiority-she must first come to

terms with her families as subjects, her nationalism as theme, and the genealogy as plot-the

content that prompts her introspection.









However, Stein's narrator also reflects aspects of a Lukacsian epic hero whose passivity

"[fills and embellishes her life as] the form taken by the objective and extensive totality of the

world; [she herself] is the luminous centre around which this unfolded totality revolves, the

inwardly most immobile point of the world's rhythmic movement" (89). Regarding the epic

hero, Lukacs continues, "[Her] unquestioning, concentrated interiority forces [her] to translate

that interiority-which [she] considers to be the average, everyday nature of the real-world-into

actions" (90). As an epic-but-ordinary American trying to write a version of her national history,

the narrator acts as an everywoman character who uses her perceptions, ideas, and experiences to

shape her narrative. So while she is not an epic hero who proves "incapable of contemplation"

or "possibility of inward-turned activity," the narrator is an epic hero whose interior world is

inseparable from her outside world, and vice versa.

What this play with interiority suggests is that a narrative of American history is both

novelistic and epic, in that an introspective individual can act as a national representative and as

a hero who is valued both for the balance of her ideas and action. As Stein notes in Lectures in

America, the function of the writer and the modern hero is to individually and subjectively

"discover the things the things to see the thing to look at" so that she can representatively and

objectively "find out how to know that they were there by their names or by replacing their

names" (235). And this fusion proves true in The Making ofAmericans: the narrator's impulse-

and Stein's overarching intention-is to make sense of modernity by writing a brief history of

American families' immigration and assimilation experiences; but in order to do so, she must

prove her mettle by composing a definition of American "being" and "living" and then articulate

that definition in her narrative. As the narrator herself notes, to make sense of her authorial task

requires "learning, knowing and telling" her characters because "there has been much writing of









listening to repeating, of hearing, feeling, seeing, knowing all repeating, of feeling knowing each

one sometime as a whole one, now then there is a little writing of the telling of the knowing

always in me" (328).

The success of Stein's revisionary approach to both national mythology and family

history, therefore, rests in the figuring of her narrator as a hero of a modern epic who is at once a

singular, self-reflective subject and a representative self-reflexive citizen. For Stein, rethinking

Americanization becomes a feminine task because a woman's language is automatically

culturally constructed and socially constituted as "Other."5 Because she is a woman writer

attempting write a family history that challenges the dominant discourses of nation and narrative,

her problems of subjectivity, citizenship, and artistry are figured in her insider-outsider status.

Space in this instance becomes multiply figured: the narrator must address the space of her own

subjectivity, the space of her characters as textual subjects and types, the space of her

marginalization within modem discourses, and the space of her anti-language which appropriates

and sublimates hegemonic linguistic codes. This is why Stein begins The Making ofAmericans

with what is essentially a space-clearing gesture. The narrator begins her family history with an

anecdote that posits progress as tension between generational continuity and succession: "Once

an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. 'Stop!' cried the

groaning old man at last, 'Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree'" (3). Stein is clearly

playing with the modern myth of subjectivation in which capitalist America presupposes that

children will equal (if not better) their parents in culture, class, and intellect. Indeed, the

5 This notion itself resonates with Stein's self-fashioning and self-marketing of herself as a
modern writer. Indeed, as she visions herself as "genius" precisely because of her figure as a
woman writer, regardless of whether or not she subscribes to normative gender roles. Stein
contends in The Geographical History ofAmerica that literary masterpieces in her epoch are
produced by women, precisely because they are situated in a place of under-privileged
subjectivity (215).









anecdote seems to suggest that Americanization still places a formative value on the role of the

family in individuation. And the narrator justifies this sort of family socialization as constitutive

of and necessary for family history and national progress: "We need only realize our parents,

remember our grandparents and know ourselves, and our history is complete" (3). That is why

the narrator initially feels compelled to consider America both homogenously as a cohesive

nation and heterogeneously as a family-like community of individuals.

But such a reading of the opening anecdote and its reading of the family as a modem

space of social reproduction seems overly naive in the modern age of capitalism. Although the

family unit would still be a space of subjectivation in the cultural logic of nineteenth-century

American industry, it would more than likely be only one social space that, along with

community, market, and nation among others, influences individuation. I want to suggest,

perhaps somewhat perversely, that underlying the narrator's opening anecdote is the unconscious

opposition between "family" and "nation" in the cultural narrative of "history" and "progress."

For immediately following the anecdote, Stein teases out a contradiction in her narrator's

privileging of the family. Rationalizing family nostalgia, the narrator notes that the "tempers we

are bor with"-both our inherited and developed dispositions-"[die] away" with experience

(3). What the narrator seems to be suggesting is that with age and experience one can develop

into an adult comfortable in one's self-image and cognizant of the forces that have influenced

one's subjectivity. But if American history is based on family lineage, it is also possible to read

the "death of experience" as a demythologizing of the family, where the material community-

the nation-replaces the preexisting community-the family. In Stein's revision of the modern

epic, therefore, the narrator's focus on the family unconsciously acts as an overcompensation,

where the privileging of genealogy is an attempt to counter the way in which modernity reads









progress as a shift from family to nation; and as a consequence of that movement, that process,

that progress, the American family itself becomes expendable.

Indeed, as the narrative develops and as the narrator further elaborates on the process of

collectivization that contradiction materializes; her conception of community becomes almost

exclusively national. The influence of family-when addressed-acts most often as a mark of

difference or a modem break with tradition rather than a mark of collectivizing nation-building.

For example, at the start of her history, the narrator either problematizes a family identification

that fosters a sense of "the old world not altogether lost" or uses the family unit as a marker of

Americanization so that a more assimilated family like the Herslands "had not had their money

any longer than the others in [their] community, but they had taken to culture and ideas quicker"

(17; 22). Put another way, the nation as a form of family becomes privileged in her mind so that

the family unit becomes sublimated to the greater discourse of the American family. Despite her

function as a cultural arbiter-in both the narrative and real worlds-one of the narrator's first

rhetorical moves is to exclude; her gesture towards totalization is itself marked by a type of

closure.

Seemingly unaware of what her categorization has foreclosed in terms of community, the

narrator thinks that in order to write about Americans she must consider the many kinds of

people who "make America"; or more simply, the narrator must "type" American "living and

"being." She seems optimistic that she will both be able to locate variations of independent and

dependent being in her characters and that she will be able to adequately negotiate the nuances of

each character's self-reflexive interior-exterior consciousness.6 The narrator suggests that "vital



6 To be exact, in the novel Stein classifies two types of personalities-"independent
dependent" and "dependent independent"-possible for Americans: "There are always some of
then the many millions of this first kind in them the independent kind of them who never have it









singularity"-a kind of interiority that must be (and is not yet) bred by "custom, passion, and a

feel for mother earth"-is only possible when Americans can potentially balance their

subjectivity as individuals and citizens (21). She notes

Yes real singularity we have not made enough of yet so that any other one can really know
it. I say vital singularity is as yet an unknown product with us, we who in our habits,
dress-suit cases, clothes and hats and ways of thinking, walking, making money, talking,
having simple lines in decorating, in ways of reforming, all with a metallic clicking like the
type-writing which is our only way of thinking, our way of educating, our way of learning,
all always the same way of doing, all the way down as far as there is any way down inside
to us. We are all the same all through us, we never have it to be free inside us. No brother
singulars, it is sad here for us, there is no place in an adolescent world for anything
eccentric like us, machine making does not turn out queer things like us, they can never
make a world to let us be free each one inside us. (47)

According to the narrator, therefore, "vital singularity" is necessarily a product of American

modernity. The space of the nation, the space of the family, and the space of the text allow for

the possibility of some combination of coherence or totalization where, as the quoted passage

suggests, Americans can strike a balance between the interiorized characteristics of individuality,

eccentricity, freedom, and queerness and the exteriorized characteristics of citizenship,

conformity, and mechanization.

But "vital singularity," it is important to note, remains only a possibility. What is

immediately striking about this process of subject formation is the way in which consciousness is

assembled: the abstract, qualitative language of identity is paired with the concrete, quantitative

language of industry. It seems as if the narrator is conflating the production of citizens in


in them to have any such attacking in them...Some of them have this in them as gently pretty
young innocence inside them...In the second kind of them the dependent independent kind of
them who have too all through their living servant girl nature in them, in this kind of them there
are many of them who have a sacred timid submission in them with a resisting somewhere in
them..." (177). For the sake of brevity (and because I think the terms are, for all intents and
purposes, collapsible into the first adjective), I've chosen to use "independent" and "dependent."
For a summary of these attributes, see Norman Weinstein, Gertrude Stein and the Literature of
Modern Consciousness (32-34).









America with goods in the workplace. Indeed, the narrator's description of "vital singularity"

smacks of Taylorism, where the collectivization of manual and intellectual labor privileges

"machine making" and "making money" as America's only "way of thinking," "way of

educating," and "way of learning." What's more, "vital singularity" remains only a possibility

precisely because of this focus on industry and capital; in the history of national development,

America's modernism is based exclusively on its industrialism, and "vital singularity" as the

narrator describes it requires characteristics beyond the economic.7

So while it is possible to read "singularity" as something that Americans can potentially

transcend, where the distinction between interior and exterior is not absolutely (and perhaps not

even normatively) defined, the trait can also be read as something coded as entirely typical. In

reading this passage, Barbara Will observes that neither the narrator nor her audience appear to

be "Americans" or "queer things." Instead, she suggests that they can be both. She writes that

the narrator's type-casting breaks the conformity-singularity binary: as conformists, "Americans

can be said to exemplify type, to embody typicality," where their routine lifestyles make them

mechanistically generic and reproducible; and as singular subjects, Americans as "vitally

singular" can be figured as a "product," but one that is "not yet within the capacity of American

manufacturing to 'make' but potentially a viable American good" (112). Significantly, when we

read "singularity" dialectically, we are forced to recognize that the characters that have this trait

can be read as mass-produced and/or self-reflective individuals.

The critical question now becomes, to what extent does the narrator limit the

transgressive power of her casting as Stein's modern epic hero if she herself negotiates the same


SFor a more detailed discussion of the "imaginative context" of American modernity, see
Susan Hegeman's chapter, "Modernism, Anthropology and Culture" in Patterns for America
(20-27).









sort of inner/outer, conformity/singularity complexes that she types her characters with? And

more, what does such an implication in the American system of mechanized production do to her

act of artistic reproductiono?

At the start of the novel, the narrator does not seem overly concerned with the way in

which her "typing," her analyses of the characters' identity traits, and her repetitive narrative

style seem to feed the American machine of "singularity" reproduction. In fact, in an address to

her readers, she notes that the story that she is telling is "not just an ordinary kind of novel with a

plot and conversations to amuse you, but a record of a decent family progress" (34). Carefully

crafted with respect to the style of her narrative and meticulously composed with respect to the

details of each family saga, she implies that what differentiates her work from the other texts is

precisely that her story is about "these many kinds of decent ordinary people" (34). The fact that

her story is a middle class typology is less a problem of writing a history of conventional

American characters than a narrative innovation that uses genealogical conventions and

historical traditions to codify American progress. The narrator even goes so far as to bring her

readers into the characterological mix with the invocation, "and so listen while I tell you about

us, and wait while I hasten slowly forwards, and love, please, this history of this decent family's

progress" (34). As the hero of Stein's modern epic, the narrator invokes "us"-assumed

American readers, and more, assumed middle class readers-to recognize our shared history and

similar experience with American middle class tradition, ordinary family control, and traditional

heterogeneous family stories.8 With a Lukacsian move of epic proportions, she consciously and






8 Indeed, Wald notes that Stein imagined that "white middle-class readers [were] presumed
to be the largest audience for the Great American Novel" (241).









self-reflexively tries to position her self-perception of "vital singularity as an interiorized

subjectivity that translates to her characters' and readers' exteriorized reality.9

Towards the middle of the novel, however, the narrator seems to have a change of heart, or

at the very least the beginnings of a coming-to-consciousness. In a section following her

description of "vital singularity" she reflects,

Every one always is repeating the whole of them. Always, one having loving repeating to
getting completed understanding must have in them an open feeling, a sense of all the
slightest variations in repeating, must never lose themselves so in the solid steadiness of all
repeating that they do not hear the slightest variation. If they get deadened by the steady
pounding of repeating they will not learn from each one even though each one is always
repeating the whole of them they will not learn the completed history of them, they will not
know the being really in them. (294)

Whereas at the start of the novel, the narrator naively defended her compulsion to defend her

reading of "singularity" as being the mark of individual, familial, and national progress, now she

questions the way in which heterogeneous "being" repeated in her characters does not always

lead to a cohesive, homogeneous national identity. As Melanie Taylor notes, in the narrator's

search for a self-professed "completed understanding," she begins to recognize that "repeating is

something that represents the sameness in 'every one,' but it is also the key to the difference that

is in 'each one'" (30). Therefore, the narrator's original intention of writing an American history

through the typing of nation, family, and individuals in "the ordinary kind of families, histories"

and in a "simple middle class monotonous tradition" must be rethought because each repetition

of convention leads to a difference of type that in turn leads to a revision of standpoint.


9 Lukacs writes, epic interiority "is always reflexive, it realizes itself in a conscious,
distantiated way in contrast the naive distancelessness of true lyricism...Reflexion and mood are
constitutive structural elements of the novel form, but their formal significance is determined
precisely by the fact that the regulative system of ideas on which the whole reality is based can
manifest itself in them and is give form through their mediation; in other words, by the fact that
they have a positive, although problematical and paradoxical relationship to the outside world"
(114).









To be a "singular" subject is contingent upon a proactive engagement with the

personality's "bottom nature," or psychological core. The narrator realizes the potential

problems of this characteristic when her strategic repetition of "bottom nature" characteristics in

her individual characters and across generations raises both similarities and differences and more

questions than answers. For example, she notes that one "type" of person can shift their

emotional temperament in terms of their own self-perception exclusive of how others perceive

them: "There are some men and women having in them very much weakness as the bottom in

them and watery anxious feeling, and sometimes nervous anxious feeling then in them and

sometimes stubborn feeling in them" (456). So while an individual's "bottom nature" might be

psychologically consistent with the groups he or she interacts with (family, for example) and

therefore observable as one part in a whole, a single individual's "bottom nature" read alone

cannot produce a substantive analysis of his or "type" or a quantifiable perception of his or her

reality. Norman Weinstein points out that in the text "what changes is not the fact that men

perceive reality but what they choose to single out in their perception of reality" (34). Or put

another way, the narrator's sense of both American history and her ordinary family history are

composed of the gradual shifts in her characters' national and narrative perceptions, which are in

turn highly subjective, imperceptible perspectives.

Because she recognizes that her impulse to write a history based on the progressive

formation of "vital singularity" across generations is becoming increasingly problematic, the

narrator begins to question her ethos as a writer, both in terms of her ability to write her family

history and her ability to inject her own voice. She reflects, "Categories that once to some one

had real meaning can later to that same one be all empty. It is queer that words that meant

something in our thinking and feeling later come to have in them in us not at all any meaning"









(440). The narrator recognizes not only that her repetition of character types leads to difference

of perception at that moment of iteration, but that it also leads to a loss of meaning. Taylor

suggests that the text's circularity "perhaps reflects an authorial acknowledgement of the

'deadening' effect on readers (and writers) of language use that conveys only limited meaning in

any conventional sense" (30). Indeed, as a producer of epic revision, the narrator is dabbling

with character traits as "types" and "conventions" that can be read "typical" and "conventional."

And for this reason, when considering her treatment of American epic space, it is legitimate to

read the narrator's formula of "typing" as providing more ambiguity than meaning and raising

more questions than conclusive answers.

In a final heroic gesture, the narrator tries to justify her aesthetic impulse towards repeating

the "being in men and women" so that she can understand each character's "singular" progress

and consciousness development. She notes that although "it seems absolutely impossible those

ones should be believing and often it is altogether puzzling and more and more in living if any

one is listening to other one's thinking and believing," that her repetition really provides a more

nuanced sense of what each character "is borne of' or is sensitive to at that particular moment of

description (483). But interestingly, at the end of that very same page, the narrator abandons her

self-preserving and text-affirming mission and complains:

Disillusionment in living is finding that no one can really ever be agreeing with you
completely in anything. Disillusionment then in living that gives to very many then
melancholy feeling, some despairing feeling, some resignation, some fairly cheerful
beginning and some a forgetting and continuing and some a dreary trickling weeping some
violent attacking and some a letting themselves do anything, that, as is very certain, not,
those fighting beside you or living completely with you or anybody, really, can really be
believing anything completely that you are believing. (483)

For the narrator, disillusionment is more and more a feeling endemic to modernity. Because

American "living" evolves throughout the three generations so that "being an old man or an old

woman is being no longer a young one no longer a young man or a young woman no longer a









growing older young man or growing older young woman," the older generations of Hersland

and Dehning characters become disillusioned because their "being" is radically different than

(and incomprehensible to) their younger family members (483). Because singularity is a

subjective trait that can not be objectively observed, the narrator becomes disillusioned with the

progress of her narrative. And because her story seems to shy away from allowing her readers

textual mastery, she becomes disillusioned that her readers will not read her characters' "bottom

natures" or her historical analysis in the same way she reads (and writes) them.

Considering these examples of disaffection together, she worriedly rambles, "I mean, I

mean and that is not what I mean, I mean that not any one is saying what they are meaning, I

mean that I am feeling something, I mean that I mean something... I mean, I mean, I know what I

mean" (782). The problem is that she means many things at many times to many different

people. Indeed, it is productive to read the narrator as flailing precisely because she cannot strike

a textual balance in which she can approach her text as both object and subject. Revisiting

Jameson's treatment of objectivity and subjectivity in a piece of literature, the narrator seems to

flounder with regard to both: focusing on "typing" and "vital singularity," the narrator tries to

empirically force objective conceptual categories on unclassifiable abstract subjectivity; and

conversely, in attempting to subjectivate those categories of consciousness, the narrator only

succeeds in creating a sense of historicity that merely perpetuates the modernist cliches of

anxiety, fragmentation, contingency, and individualism. It's as if she has run the gamut of

modernist mythology-forcing a historical periodization that rejects the "old" culture, rejecting

the classical mythology of the past for the present materiality of language in the present, and

trying to privilege the production of Americanization-and stumbles over the temporality of

individual identity.









Ultimately, the space of "vital singularity" becomes problematic because she fails to

properly recognize that American subjectivity is contingent upon both "space" and "time." The

narrator's revisionary historical strategy, where she uses repetition in an attempt to tease out

cogent and contiguous "bottom natures" from (and for) her characters, requires that she

subordinate her narrative space to nonlinear time. Consistently representingg and repeating her

characters' consciousness "types" and psychological traits allows her to rethink history in such a

way that her narrative of family initially conceived has little need for memory.10 But what this

narrative choice requires is a focus on the present-on the immediate task of "making

Americans" in the text and in the twentieth century. Indeed, this focus on the present is why

progress must be gauged in terms of "nation" and not "family": the dominant question in

America in this historical moment is not necessarily of origins but of status. Thus, family history

and the anamnesis of "living" and "being" for the narrative's first two generations of Herslands

and Dehnings is in effect marginalized.

Precisely this narrative play correlates with what Lukacs would term the "epic quality" of

memory, where the "past either does not exist or is completely present" (126). In reading Stein

through Lukacs, we must note that his epic "[knows] nothing of the passage of time" and

"[allows for] no qualitative difference between the experiencing of past and present" so that

"time has no power of transformation" (126). Time alters nothing in the epic because the inner

and outer worlds of the hero are homogeneous. Returning to The Making ofAmericans, the


0 Discussing Stein's approach to history, Dana Cairns Watson notes that family histories are
not standard historical plots "developed through contextualization, summary, analysis, and the
needs of the nation," so conventional genealogies become "events told through the haze of
personal memory and the lens of egoistic bias" (26). On the linearity of these narratives, she
notes that "history is not arranged chronologically, and events are rarely attached to a date. If
personal experience is linked to national events or social movements, this linking is done loosely
and inaccurately" (26).









problem with the narrator's approach is that she is trying to write a history in which the

interiority and exteriority of her characters' "singularity" can represent a developing sense of

American consciousness where the youngest generation can be compared to the oldest. And that

kind of history cannot be exclusively written in the present tense precisely because to write a

"history" of American "progress" is to negotiate both spatial and temporal elements.

In narrating her epic family saga, the narrator cannot transcend her modern historico-

philosophical moment to create a cohesive national subjectivity or a totalized national history

because her repetitive stylistics forcibly analyze consciousness and construct a concealed totality

of life. Considering her writing process and composition with Lukacs as a lens, the narrator's

epic impulse to create totality through looking at the interiority of her characters is betrayed by

the weight of her language and of her content. Discovering that subjectivity cannot be totalized

and that meaning in life cannot be determined, her revision of history remains traditional and

indeed normative. Instead of being a genealogy that really interrogates the role of the American

middle class and the emergence of bourgeois culture which defines her historical moment, the

narrator's history of "progress" becomes one of "death" where language loses its transformative

power and it is impossible to be "singular" and "completely succeeding in living" (The Making

ofAmericans 896). Or more specifically, it becomes a story where the narrator discovers the

most blatant "vital singularity" in her youngest male character, David, who dies before he can do

anything especially "vital" or "singular."

As a producer of revisionary history, the narrator as epic hero fails. But that is not to say

that the narrator as epic hero fails as a product of Stein's revisionary history. To make such a

distinction, we must remember two things regarding Stein's intention for writing The Making of

Americans: it was first to revision the epic tradition from a modern American perspective, and









second to rewrite American history as a modem epic in order to counter the national, family, and

literary structures that hegemonically compose it. And regardless of the success or failure of her

narrator, these exegeses still hold true. The narrator is a tool that allows Stein to provide her take

on what makes (modern) American history; and she is the authorial perspective that allows Stein

to question the legitimacy of the bourgeois, nationalist, Americanist discourses and institutions

and to problematize the counter-narratives that potentially offer revisionary solutions.

For the simple fact that Stein used her narrator to challenge conventional modernist

thinking and her family storytelling as an oppositional strategy does not mean that Stein was

proffering either function as a viable solution; rather, it means that Stein was aware of the

problems regarding American historical consciousness and that she attempted to represent those

problems-and the struggle towards solution-in her novel. Henry Sayre suggests that in Stein's

later work it is the structure of representation and not what is being represented that interests her.

He argues that because Stein "concentrated on the presentation of language as a thing," her work

"attacks the valorization of the individual psyche which sees its artistic productions as

manifestations of its own spirit or soul-and in this she takes on the masculinist definition of

individual creative production and undermines it, establishing once and for all the centrality of

her work to the contemporary feminist project" (30). But I would not limit this narrative strategy

to the texts that she published later in her career. Instead, I would suggest, based on Stein's use

of her narrator in The Making ofAmericans, that Sayre's periodization of Stein's narrative

strategy be expanded to consider her earlier works and to include her 1925 American epic. After

all, Stein's epic revision is contingent upon the meta-narrative representation of the narrator,

where the materialization of her perspective meets the materiality of Stein's language.









So what do Stein's forcing of repetition, her subordination of textual space to narrative

time, her double-voiced narration, and her narrative performativity mean with regard to her

modern revision of The Making ofAmericans as epic novel and her narrator as epical hero?

First, we must remember that Stein is playing with the space of American subjectivity in order to

problematize the American impulse to totalize historical progress and the individuals involved

with such movement. She absolutely critiques the impulse of individuals to reductively envision

a coherent self as balancing a homogenous national identity with a heterogeneous self-

consciousness. Next, and more importantly, we must recognize that Stein is critiquing writers

like her narrator who assume that they are challenging patriarchal institutions in their texts and

with their texts but who fail to realize the way in which their counter-narratives are actually

products of those hegemonic discourses. Or as Rita Felski would suggest, in her re-vision of

history, Stein is challenging modernity's polemic that to be "modern" requires "the repudiation

of the past and a commitment to change and the values of the future" (Gender and Genre 13).

And the cultural disillusionment of her narrator precisely because she fails in this exercise is

proof of this.

At this point, it would be useful to look at Lukacs a final time in relation to how Stein's

dialectical approach to form and content tries to broach subject formation with modem national

mythology. Lukacs notes that in certain epic forms resembling the novel, memory is a creative

and transformative force and that that kind of memory is reflective of life processes. To

surmount the duality of interior and exterior worlds-the binary of individual subjectivity and

national belonging-he writes, the subject must "glimpse the organic unity of his life through the

process by which his living present has grown from the stream of his past life dammed up within

his memory" (127). If this task is achieved-if an individual, a writer, or a text can successfully









"master" and "integrate" subject and object-then that experience will become an "authentically

epic form" (127).

What this means in terms of a modem aesthetic praxis is that writing in modernity requires

that subjectivity and history be negotiated. And for Stein in particular, such a negotiation is

necessitated by a writing practice where the "self' becomes a sort of economy that negotiates

individual and community contexts and where elements of the epic, the novel, and myth are

refigured and recast as a production of individual consciousness and cosmopolitan culture. In

fact, in Lectures in America she reiterates that this formulation was precisely the exegesis for her

epic composition of The Making ofAmericans: "I had done something that was not leading to

anything because after all you should not lose two things in order to have one thing because in

doing so you make writing just that much less varied" (224). Breaking down this artist's

statement into its component parts, there seem to be three competing ideas: that Stein had done

something, that her "something" accomplished nothing, and that balance and variation compose

the best sorts of writing. Looking at her novel as a revisionary epic, her narrator as an epic hero,

and her narrator's performativity as a meta-narrative of failed cultural critique, we have

thoroughly addressed the first and third components. However, the second-the idea that her

text accomplished nothing-has been completely overlooked. That her "something"-which we

could rightfully read as her reformulation of genre, her writing of the text, her characterization of

her narrator, or the effect of her transgressive themes-achieved nothing seems impossible both

because as readers we are trained to find some sort of meaning, resolution, or call to action in a

text and because we would hope that after laboring over a 925-page novel that purports to chart

historical progress that we would be able to see the effects of that identity development. But









challenging our impulse towards textual mastery, Stein would note that as readers we are

expecting too much.

In "Composition as Explanation," she suggests that there is a difference between writer and

reader with regard to the material difference produced by a variation of a text's words and

syntax:

There is singularly nothing that makes a difference a difference in beginning in the middle
and in ending except that each generation has something different at which they are all
looking. By this I mean so simply that anybody knows it that composition is the difference
which makes each and all of them then different from other generations and this is what
makes everything different otherwise they are all alike and everybody knows it because
everybody says it. (21)

Because her subtitle is "Being a History of Family Progress," because her narrator dwells upon

subjectivity and "vital singularity," and because her narrator grapples with the subplot of a

modern writer to generate cohesive meaning, as readers we expect that Stein's epic novel will be

enough of a conventional narrative to give us at least a glimpse of whatever revisionary

perspective the novelist, the novel, and the narrator initially seem to promise. But Stein's take

on meaning is wholly different; or rather, her take on meaning is wholly difference. Her own

personal reading and writing process is what Ulla Dydo calls, "a scrutiny of herself in relation to

her ongoing perceptions and formulations-the writer in the act of writing" (21). So if we

approach the text in the same way that Stein might, we will find (at least two) different readings.

First, The Making ofAmericans is a liminal space where Gertrude as author and Gertrude as

meta-narrator could challenge the politics of the nation, of the family, and of the literary

establishment; more specifically, it is the space where she could challenge the mythology of

American history, of family historiography, and of modern literature. And second, it is also a

liminal space in which modernity makes the implementation of Stein's and her narrator's









revisionary strategies impossible; more specifically, it is the space of failed potentiality where

narrative experimentation cannot rewrite national reform.

What this ultimately suggests about Stein's revisionary approach to nation, family, and

language is that meaning is at once a product and performance of meaning. And what this means

for Stein's play-filled experiment with "family" and "nation" and "myth" and "progress" is that

her text can neither be written nor read within the conventional binary of success/failure. In fact,

Stein seems to be suggesting that that binary is a moot point since the process of making

Americans does not pair family-nation and myth-progress as dialectical opposites so much as

historical moments in which the pre-modern former is subsumed by the modern latter.

Americanization, therefore, is an event and not a process. This is a critical distinction in Stein's

aesthetic philosophy; in The Geographical History ofAmerica, she writes: "Events are connected

with human nature but they are not connected with the human mind and therefore all the writing

that has to do with events has to be written over, but the writing that has to do with writing does

not have to be written again, again is in this sense the same as over" (108). Indeed, the "making

of Americans" as an event is an impossible task precisely because the narrator subscribes to the

modernist ideologies of self-consciousness and dehistoricization. It corresponds to the narrator's

attempt to psychologize and type the Hersland and Dehning family members: what is more

important to the narrator is the way in which her characters are "being" and "living" rather than

interrogating the reasons why (and how) they are influenced to act; what is more important is

categorizing her subjects as objects rather than analyzing the way in which her work is

perpetuating the national mythology that effectively confuses her historical project.

But perhaps this is the point. It is the instability of meaning, the irresolvable conclusion,

the refusal to force cohesion that transcends these normative reading strategies and allows Stein









to create a new "space" for composition and comprehension. As Catherine Stimpson suggests,

the radical and disruptive potential of experimental writing functions in such a way that "to

destabilize is not to eradicate; to dislodge is not to demolish" (11). To read The Making of

Americans as a modern American epic is to read the narrative as a text of symbolic (in)action. It

requires us to recognize that Stein is replicating the logic of capitalism via its reification-in the

figure of the narrator and her approach to history-so that she might counter it. Where her

narrator suggests that the "making" of Americans requires a present participle, focalizing the

writing of the narrative as an event with no past or future, Stein suggests that the "making" of

Americans is a way of thinking with no beginning, middle, or end. But while both readings

seemingly suggest that there is no "ending" to the way in which the Herslands and Dehnings

engage in a process of "becoming" Americans, Stein's is markedly different because she refuses

the totality and closure that the narrator's focus on the subjective, the present, and the "new"

values seems to require. Instead, Stein's revision of the narrator's foci centers on the way they

affect both history as the work and the history of the work. Regarding both, Stein emphasizes

that production of history necessitates a negotiation of the way in which mythologies of the past,

experiences of the present, and expectations of the future form the text; or, whereas the narrator

finds total meaning in the present, Stein suggests that one reading of time renders the work of

history as fragmentary." Indeed, the writing process-from composition, to revision, to



1 The root of this application comes from Fredric Jameson's reading of Adorno in Late
Marxism: Adorno or Persistence of the Dialectic. He problematizes the notion of historicity,
historiography, and truth in writing, "the historical situation of each one is an absolute present-
a present of struggle, praxis, suffering-whose claims on reality are sapped by any chronological
historicism or relativism of the archive. A political aesthetic also wishes to affirm this primacy
of the present and the event; but it is clear that for Adorno it also means lining the monads up on
sides and in teams, and substituting general demands of style and discussions about art in general
for engagement with the works themselves" (224). And he later concludes his discussion on the
"Productivities of the Monad" by explicitly suggesting that "political thinking lies in the form









audience-requires a range of temporality and perhaps even temporization. Therefore, Stein's

refusal to subscribe to the generic conventions, instead writing her epic-novel as a mediation of

form, is a refusal to subscribe to modernity's axiom of "being," or at the very least its attempt to

codify it. For her, the problematic of content-as she has demonstrated over and over again in

the narrative-is that meaning is artificial, language material, and knowledge performative. The

solution, it seems, to the problem of modem identity is to read form.

So to end, perhaps we should return to the statement of purpose with which Stein as writer

starts her novel and the narrator as teller starts her story: "The old people in a new world, the

new people made out of the old, that is the story I mean to tell, for that is what really is and what

I really know" (3). We have already established that neither the writer nor her narrator "really

knowss" anything; or rather, Stein suggests that both know many things at many times. So if

her vision of modern epic means avoiding the artificiality of meaning and replacing it with the

performativity of language, then "the old people," "the new world," "the new people," and "the

story" also become performative restatements. Obviously the people correspond to her

characters and the world to their families or genealogies. But perhaps based on reiterations,

repetition, and rereading it is possible for the readers of her text to be (re)made out of their own

world with each reading. And if that is indeed the case, to revision the epic, to rewrite American

history, and to rethink subjectivity, she implicates her readers in the process of transcoding.

Therefore, "the making of Americans" requires a performative reader. It is only in our process

of reading and rereading that the promise of "a history of progress" is possible.



rather than the content of his thoughts, which, conceptualizing aesthetic form of philosophical
content rather than politics as such, is capable of detecting within them-with a starker, more
luminous articulation than can normally be achieved within political analysis or social history-
the complex mobilities of the historical dialectic" (225).









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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Christina Van Houten received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and history from

Stetson University in 2005. This thesis is the culmination of her work toward the Master of Arts

degree that she received in 2007. While pursuing her doctorate at UF, she intends to focus on

American literature, history, and cultural studies with special attention devoted to modernism

and material culture. As an outgrowth of this project, she would like to further explore the

relationship of form and content and time and spatiality as each pairing influences the production

of modernist national and world texts.