I’ve been reading the Marcus and Sollors A New Literary History of America article by article, and this morning came athwart Daniel Albright’s on Gertrude Stein (“1903: Gertrude Stein moves to Paris, and neither is ever the same again”), in which is quoted this bit from Stein’s Three Lives:
…there was a constant recurring and beginning there was a marked direction in the direction of being in the present although naturally I had been accustomed to past present and future, and why, because the composition forming around me was a prolonged present… I created then a prolonged present naturally I knew nothing of a continuous present but it came naturally to me to make one.
Hmmm, I thought, how very like the Web in which we live more than a century later.
Albright ends his article with this food for thought, quoting an unknown-to-me
peculiar piece from Jonathan Swift called A Compleat Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation (1738), full of passages such as this:
Neverout. Miss, what spells b double uzzard?
Miss. Buzzard in your teeth, Mr. Neverout.
Lady Smart. Now you are up, Mr. Neverout, will you do the the favour to do me the kindness to take off the tea-kettle?
Lord Sparkish. I wonder what makes these bells ring.
If Gertrude Stein had never been born, this would seem a freakish and incomprehensible text. It still seems freakish and incomprehensible, but as an anticipation of Stein it is made familiar, assimilated into a canon that she caused to exist.
Hmmm, I thought again, how very like the Web in which we live more than a century later…