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MSA11 - Session: Modernism and the French/English Interface: Stein, Picasso, Paris, Montreal

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Session Organizer

Lianne Moyes, Associate Professor
Département d’études anglaises
Université de Montréal

Session Chair

Andrew Miller, Associate Professor
Département d’études anglaises
Université de Montréal


Marc Guastavino, Independent Scholar
Technical Editor, Projet d'édition Peirce, Dép. de philosophie et Programme de doctorat en sémiologie
Université du Québec à Montréal
title of talk: “Stein and Picasso, Writing: Portraits”

Daniel Grenier, Doctoral Candidate
Département d’études littéraires
Université du Québec à Montréal
title of talk: “The Furtive Moment: Gertrude Stein and the Poetic Mode”

Lianne Moyes, Associate Professor
Département d’études anglaises
Université de Montréal
title of talk: “Writing and Talking: Stein’s Relation to French”

Abstract of Panel:

This panel brings together scholars from Montreal’s two francophone universities—Université du Québec à Montréal and Université de Montréal—and thereby opens a space of exchange among francophone and anglophone specialists in the writing of Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. This initiative is timely in the sense that the Département d’études littéraires at UQÀM organized an international conference on Stein last autumn at which Guastavino and Moyes presented, and Grenier served as co-ordinator. Our panel allows members of the MSA to share in and extend the cross-language debate launched at that conference. The papers we are proposing, insofar as they address the relation between writing and painting, poetry and prose, French and English, afford several interlocking perspectives on the conference theme, “The Languages of Modernism.”
    The focus of Marc Guastavino’s paper is Picasso’s literary oeuvre, comprising four hundred poems and three plays, which Stein mentions in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and discusses further in her 1938 book, Picasso, published in French. The latter book elevates Picasso, as subject, to the rank of painting genius and, at the same time, fiercely condemns his writing, reducing it to little more than calligraphy. The recent availability of Picasso’s writing allows Guastavino to put Stein’s judgement into perspective and to propose a dialogue between the two oeuvres so that they might mutually inform each other. He finds preoccupations in Picasso’s writing that are strangely resonant with those of Stein, notably, a shared awareness of the syntactic aspect of language in a period when many of their contemporaries were more concerned with lexicons.
    Daniel Grenier’s paper pursues this question of grammaticality with particular attention to Stein’s sentences and their relation to the “poetic” mode. The latter mode, Grenier argues, is always at play in her writing, even when it is at its most prosaic. Stein, notwithstanding certain “poems,” did not write poetry in the restrictive sense of verse; she wrote sentences. She was at all times and across all genres subject to her own compositional system, that is, a precise code of what she can do as a writer and what she cannot (or can no longer) do. Grenier is interested in the “furtive moment” in which the work of the sentence shifts, for Stein, from a realistic rendering of human psychology to an elaboration of the subject in primarily grammatical terms, and in which the English language becomes her subject as well as her object. Drawing upon the theories of Dominique Combe and of Jean Cohen on poetic language, Grenier tests the hypothesis that Stein’s use of grammar and syntax—more than her use of nouns—constitutes the “poetic” in her writing.
    In the final paper of the session, Lianne Moyes addresses Stein’s relation to French language and culture, a topic that Guastavino and Grenier are also well-placed to discuss during the question period. How is it that Stein can, at times, deny reading French books and newspapers and at others attribute a key compositional break-through to her engagement with the work of Flaubert and Cézanne? What does it mean for Stein that “Pablo says we write and talk our French”? Moyes examines Stein’s well-known statements about English and French in The Autobiography and in Everybody’s Autobiography in terms of the contortions of their own syntax, for example, “I do not know if it would have been possible to have English be so all in all to me otherwise.” She shows that the syntactic slippages and verbal mistakenness that mark Stein’s English can also be found in her French, particularly the French of Stein’s correspondence with Picasso (recently translated into English). Reading Stein’s writing practice in conjunction with her statements, Moyes identifies moments of coherence as well as contradiction in Stein’s relation to French.
    All panelists are able to answer questions in English as well as French. To facilitate audience participation, detailed English-language abstracts will be available for papers delivered in French.

Scholarly biographies:

Marc Guastavino is an independent scholar trained in semiology (UQÀM), mathematics (Paris XIII) and the plastic arts (Paris I Sorbonne). He has taught literature at UQÀM and mathematics at Paris XIII (France) and George Mason (USA). He is currently a member of the Peirce editorial project at UQÀM. His research in semiology explores Peirce, the diagram and continuity, while his research in literature examines questions of poetics, the arts of memory, the literature of constraint, Jacques Roubaud, Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein. Guastavino has published essays, co-authored with Androula Michael, in Picasso l'objet du mythe (Presse de l'école Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris 2005) and in Histoire de l’Art 44 (1999). An essay on Stein is forthcoming in the collection Contemporaneités de Gertrude Stein (ou comment lire, traduire et écrire Gertrude Stein aujourd’hui), ed. Jean-François Chassay and Eric Giraud. Over the past 10 years, he has presented papers at conferences in France (e.g. Institut national des langues et civilisation orientales, Paris, 2001 and 2003; École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris 2002) as well as in Canada (e.g. Université de Montréal, Art-Science Workshop sponsored by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique [of France], 2000; Université Laval, Canadian Semiotic Association, 2001; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Colloquium on Wittgenstein, Art, Architecture, Montreal 2005).

Daniel Grenier is a doctoral candidate in the Département d’études littéraires at UQÀM. He is writing his dissertation, “Statut, posture et figure du romancier américain, d’Herman Melville à Philip Roth” under the supervision of Quebec critic and novelist, Jean-François Chassay. Grenier is member of the research group FIGURA, directed by Jean-François Hamel and devoted to interdisciplinary theoretical approaches to figure, text and imaginary. In 2007, he presented a paper on Hubert Aquin and Mordecai Richler at the “Vivre et penser le nord” conference on Quebec literature at UQÀM. In 2008, he co-ordinated the international conference “Contemporaneités de Gertrude Stein” and is currently translating the papers presented in English at that conference for a French-language publication.

Lianne Moyes is Associate Professor of English at Université de Montréal where she specializes in Canadian and Quebec literature. She is interested in experimental writing, particularly that of English-language writers living in French-language milieus. She is editor of Gail Scott: Essays on Her Works, co-editor of Adjacencies: Minority Writing in Canada and, from 1993 to 2003, was co-editor of the bilingual, feminist journal Tessera. Her research on Quebec writing in English—a field in which she was recently awarded an FQRSC team-grant (2009-2011)—has appeared in Études canadiennes, Quebec Studies, Open Letter, Voix et images and Canadian Literature as well as in several book collections. Essays on Gail Scott’s relationship to Gertrude Stein are forthcoming in Contemporaneités de Gertrude Stein, ed. Chassay and Giraud, and in Wider Boundaries of Daring : The Modernist Impulse in Canadian Women’s Poetry, ed. Di Brandt and Barbara Godard.

voir aussi : MSA 11 - The Languages of Modernism