Movement and Space within “Portraits and Repetition,” by Gertrude Stein Essay

Gertrude Steins’ “Portraits and Repetitions,” facilitates the paradigm of linguistic displacement between subject and listener delineated by the dynamic and effectual relationship of the interrelated, rhythmic patterns characterized by the idea of movement as existence. This conviction denotes the essence of mobility portrayed throughout the text, the individual and collectives while commissioning itself through geographical space and chronological time. Movement is a uniquely “American” quality; it is the “existence of life. It is the intangible rhythm of behaviors, traits and qualities revealed by the individual that creates a personal involvement between subject and listener; “the thing that is important is the way that portraits of men and women and children are written, by written mean[ing] made. And by made mean[ing] felt […] felt in every generation and by a generation one means any period of time”(287). This ready-made art is the central organizing symbol dancing interchangeably amongst vitality, identity, reality, and the essence of written portraiture, thus producing the insistence of modernity.

This contemporary shift allowed Stein to form a mode of continuous, repetitive literature characterized by its presence and meaning of the small infinitesimal differences rendering of that person’s being; the description of insistence. The variation of emphasis, the difference in the repetition, allowing movement to come alive through talking and writing, “that is what makes life that the insistence is different, no matter how often you tell the same story if there is anything alive in the telling the emphasis is different”(PG#).

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This movement in the arrangement of art with life makes a portrait audible and visual, prohibiting the opportunity for duplication. Producing individual uniqueness compounded by past generations. This individuality, this ability to produce a single, authentic portrait creates an intimacy of inner-subjective involvement, that is, a reciprocal interaction of subject and listener where identity travels subconsciously back and forth. Movement is enacted through the essence of excitement by the differentiation of an individuals every action.

Stein “wrote portraits knowing that each one is themselves inside them and something about them perhaps everything about them will tell some one all about that thing all about what is themselves inside them and [she] was then hoping completely hoping that [she] was [the] one the one who would tell that thing,” insisting the motives to writing portraiture (292). The characters are not being described in the portraits; rather, the rhythm of their being is transposed or mobilized into the patterns of language.

Therefore, producing a collection of meanings in relation to the representational and material qualities that determine its principle significance to the real, to the person portrayed. Yet, there is one aspect of writing portraits that hinders the situation. If moving is vitalities existence, how are we to write portraiture that exemplifies this notion when one must be the opposite, that is, be still? The subject must complement the reciprocal interchangeability of a stationary outside, a still body, with a restless inside, an active mind juxtaposed against semblance.

The subtleties Stein looked for – the latent expressions of conscious feelings, ideas and impulses below the threshold of superficial observation – are what kept the portrait collectively moving. Hence, accumulating a group of qualities as an individual, a collection over time. Consequently, how is it possible to write both the inner and outer characteristics of the self at the same time? The “solution [,] funnily enough was the cinema.

By a continuously moving picture of any one there is no memory of any other thing and there is that thing existing, it is in a way if you like one portrait of anything not a number of them. ” The collective movement from the shutters of the camera defines the “continuous succession of the statement of what that person was until [Stein] had not many things but one thing”: the material progression between text and identities achieved through uninterrupted rhythmic constructions (294).

While being able to consecutively merge the portraits identities and variances, representation and reality also came together to assist in the textual unfolding of the portrait, specifically, the immediate unmasking of the language attributable to the illustrated relationship. Writing history within portraiture is thus, a gradual construction over space and time. Portraiture is the arrangement of the qualities of movement, the geography of the insistence of seeing, talking and listening.

Stein is able to write portraiture successfully because “she created a melody of words that filled [her] with a melody that gradually made [her] do portraits easily by feeling the melody of any one,” all the while staying focused on “the essence of the thing contained within itself (308). The “shutters” on the camera parallel to the insistence of word choice and order. She is continuously moving from past to present, whether it be referring to an idea then adding on to its meaning or writing in past tense then changing it to the present tense.

This way of writing supports her theory of insistence. There is an insistence, an emphasis on each word that deepens the definition or knowledge of the portrait. Stein sought movement within what was intrinsically exciting. There is an intensity of movement inside each subject, she “built them up little by little each time [she] said it it changed just a little and then when [she] was completely emptied of knowing that the one of whom [she] was making a portrait existed [she] had made a portrait of that one” (296).

Stein wanted to see not what one did that was exciting but the excitement of what one was as being exciting that was exciting. While Stein talked she watched for their apparent actions and reactions. The unspoken is the exciting; it is the adventure of finding out a person’s motivations, passions, and individual movements and expressions. This is what was to be captured because anyone can simply paint a face. We are building or creating something anew with each insistence from talking and listening: combining action to life, life to movement, movement to intensity, intensity to existence.

Each change enacts movements through time within the progression and explanation of comprehension enclosed within each “shutter. ” Stein was a social analyst gifted with an eye for the paradoxical, the ironic, and the satiric. She embodied a subjective disposition to understand the valence of ones emotions. It was a fascination towards the intrinsic attractiveness to expressions of feelings, thoughts and behaviors held within the subjects and/or situations. Steins portraits are words that work together to make a work of art through the literature themselves.

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