Examineshow surrealism enriches our understanding of Stein’s writing through its poetics of oppositions
Gertrude Stein’s Surrealist Years brings to life Stein’s surrealist sensibilities and personal values borne from her WWII anxieties, not least of which originated in a dread of anti-Semitism. Stein’s earlier works such as Tender Buttons and Lucy Church Amiably tend to prioritize formal innovations over narrative-building and overt political motifs. However, Ery Shin argues that Stein’s later works engage more with storytelling and life-writing in startling ways—most emphatically and poignantly through the surrealist lens.
Beginning with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and continuing in later works, Stein renders legible her war-torn era’s jarring dystopian energies through narratives filled with hallucinatory visions, teleportation, extreme coincidences, action reversals, doppelgangers, dream sequences spanning both sleeping and waking states, and great whiffs of the occult. Such surrealist gestures are predicated on Stein’s return to the independent clause and, by extension, to plot, characterization, and anecdotes. By summoning the marvelous in a historically situated world, Stein joins her surrealist contemporaries in their own ambivalent crusade on behalf of historiography.
Besides illuminating Stein’s art and life, the surrealist framework developed here brings readers deeper into those philosophical ideas invoked by war. Topics of discussion emphasize how varied Jewish experiences were in Hitler’s Europe, how outliers like Stein can be included in the surrealist project, surrealism’s theoretical bind in the face of WWII, and the age-old question of artistic legacy.