Coffee is My Routine

I am more than just a book person (RE: WWI Meet Riverby, Riverby Meet Basically My Whole Class). I am also a coffee person. Gertrude Stein said it best:

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

And speaking of coffee and Stein, here I am, sitting lazily in my apartment, typing this post when I should be proposing sociological research ideas, drinking coffee from my Stein cup. I’ll insert the lovely photo shoot my mug and I had just moments before, below.

Why do I call this mug my Stein mug, you may ask? Well my friend, do I have an answer for you. Gertrude Stein was an avid art collector. According to this article from The Culture Trip,

“Stein was one of the first Americans in Paris to respond with enthusiasm to the 20th century modernist revolution in European art.”

She was also a close friend of Picasso. This mug reminds me of Picasso. There you have it.

But why all the talk about Gertrude Stein on a Literature of The Great War blog? I’m glad you asked.

We’ve talked a lot in class about how war books and war poems are often excluded from the modernist collection of texts, but in a lot of the books and other pieces we’ve read so far this semester I’ve seen major modernist influences. Especially that of Gertrude Stein.

In her piece Patriarchal Poetry (here is a PDF if you’re interested in reading it Stein-Patriarchal-Poetry) Stein uses major repetition. We tried reading the piece aloud in my Modernist Poetry class with Dr. Scanlon in the spring of 2018 and let’s just leave at…it was difficult.

In a lot of the works we’ve read this semester we’ve seen similar uses of cyclical language and repetition. Pieces will mention one specific phrase and repeat them at the end of the paragraph or will repeat over and over again (very VERY Stein-ian) the sounds they heard be them cannons, guns, or screams. We see it pretty evidently in Not So Quiet with the “do your bit” lines (just check out pages 570-571 of Gertrude Stein’s Patriarchal Poetry) as well as some of the other pieces.

It was this placement of the texts we’ve been reading alongside Stein’s own work that I began to grapple with the idea of coping and routine that we’ve been discussing in relation to Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone.

The people in Borden’s text have no normal, or rather, they have a new sense of normal brought on my the war. But there is no way such a transition would have gone over well initially. Much like when any big event or change occurs in our lives, we seek out routine. We seek out structure. I wonder if in Stein, but more related, in the texts we’ve been reading throughout the semester, this strategy of repetition was used as a supplemental form of coping. If it was purposeful in nature, or completely accidental? Is there a reason such information is not presented in more forthcoming ways if it was purposeful?

I personally don’t believe in accidents. My absolute favorite person ever said it herself,

“Omissions are not accidents.” -Marianne Moore

I believe this strategy was employed thoughtfully and purposefully and in such a way as to make us be as confused by the War as we can sometimes be by the texts it helped produce.

Also PSA:

Don’t forget that tonight at 4 PM in the digital auditorium of the ITCC the English Department and PRISM are co-sponsoring a panel on queer writers featuring Professors Finkelstein, LaBreche, Foss, Scanlon, Haffey, Richards and Barrenechea.

(Dr. Scanlon said she was going to talk about Stein so…uh…you know…go to this)

86 thoughts on “Coffee is My Routine

  1. All I could think about during this was the bird, the pretty little bird, it was such a pretty bird, the pretty bird! I had a lot of the same feelings as you when it comes to the connections you made between what we have read this semester and works from the Modernist time period. Also, loved that poetry class but hated how confused Patriarchal poetry made me! I felt like my head was spinning, but that is apart of it. I really like how the repetition of words or phrases really starts to break them down instead of reinforcing the meaning behind them. You begin to see the arbitrary meaning and power that we have given phonemes! What is a gun? What is a mortar? What is a trench? What is death? They all become worn down and repeated so much it becomes a routine and expected and almost meaningless and I believe that is the point that writers like Stein and Borden are making.

    • I agree that the repeating was definitely very intentional. The routine that Borden mentions also made me think about the rituals that we hold onto in order to have a semblance of control in our lives; the war shakes the world and so people have to have something to hold onto, even if its not necessarily so tangible (like drinking hot cocoa at a certain hour and listening to the cannons). I know that was a bit of a ramble.

      • It’s so funny you bring that up because at the panel yesterday Dr. Scanlon brought her own mug filled with cocoa. Not sure if it was a nod to the book, but the English major in me hopes so!

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