Mar 19, 2016

Notes on Gertrude Stein’s “Sausages”

Sausages in between a glass.

There is read butter. A loaf of it is managed. Wake a question. Eat an instant, answer.

A reason for bed is this, that a decline, any decline is poison, poison is a toe a toe extractor, this means a solemn change. Hanging.

No evil is wide, any extra in leaf is so strange and singular a red breast.


This is great. Found this other one, and it might be of interest since it seems to deal directly with the third stanza.

How the Robin Got His Red Breast 
(based on an Irish folk tale)
retold by Cathy S. Mosley

Many years ago, late in the year, a cruel wind brought biting cold weather; making the night more bitter for a father and son who had traveled far, and still had farther to go. They had sought a cottage, a barn, or even a tree - anyplace they could seek shelter. But there was nothing to be seen or found, except for a bush, and at last the father built a fire and told his son to try and sleep a little.

And when the father's eyes began to droop he woke his son,and bid him watch the fire.

Oh how the boy tried to stay awake! But he hadn't really slept while lying on the frozen ground and he was still exhausted from the walk. His eyes got lower. His head got lower.

The fire got lower.

So low in fact that a starving wolf began to inch nearer the sleeping pair.

But there was one who was awake. There was one who saw everything from amidst the barren bush; a little bird who was as gray as the brambly wood.

The bird hopped down and began fanning the flickering embers until the flames began to lick out hungrily; nor did the little bird stop, despite the pain on his breast, until the flames were dancing with strength.

And from that day on the Robin has proudly worn a red breast.


Aside from this (and perhaps more importantly), there's a Christ legend directly concerning this bird. This one goes down well with any close reading of "question," "extractor," "solemn," "hanging," and perhaps even "evil". Enjoy!

You might also want to look into "evil" in your excerpt of Melville here: "True, you may say that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the multitudinous other evil chances of life."

Hi, Karren. Was this Ahab doing his "I will strike through that mask"? An important co-text of that is Ishmael's take on the whiteness of the whale (and Ishmael himself seems to be aware that his is merely a co-text, something that exists in service to Ahab's own notion of the whale). Ishmael focuses whiteness, the different customs (worldwide) by which we regard it as a mark of nobility and purity. Then he pits it against the other colors, most notably: red and black. These are universal colors, our reactions to them are primal. Then he goes into why white is the most terrible of them all (evil?) and that we, in the pits of our hearts, we know this to be true—

But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian's Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind.

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows- a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues- every stately or lovely emblazoning—the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge- pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?


And perhaps this is Stein's an "instant answer": No evil is wide, any extra in leaf is so strange and singular a red breast.

Sausages in between a glass.

Sounds like a riddle where the answer is nose. Also, if in reference to Moby-Dick, I'd dig up the chapter called "The Cassock," a strange commingling of the ritual (solemn), the vulgar (hanging), and the pragmatic (eat an instant). What fun! It's one of those wonderful moments when you say: wow, really, they let nothing go to waste. Our man here, the mincer, is attired in the whole skin of a whale's penis (grandissimus) as a tough sort of overalls for the work he is about to do—

Look at the sailor, called the mincer, who now comes along, and assisted by two allies, heavily backs the grandissimus, as the mariners call it, and with bowed shoulders, staggers off with it as if he were a grenadier carrying a dead comrade from the field. Extending it upon the forecastle deck, he now proceeds cylindrically to remove its dark pelt, as an African hunter the pelt of a boa. This done he turns the pelt inside out, like a pantaloon leg; gives it a good stretching, so as almost to double its diameter; and at last hangs it, well spread, in the rigging, to dry. Ere long, it is taken down; when removing some three feet of it, towards the pointed extremity, and then cutting two slits for arm-holes at the other end, he lengthwise slips himself bodily into it. The mincer now stands before you invested in the full canonicals of his calling. Immemorial to all his order, this investiture alone will adequately protect him, while employed in the peculiar functions of his office.

That office consists in mincing the horse-pieces of blubber for the pots; an operation which is conducted at a curious wooden horse, planted endwise against the bulwarks, and with a capacious tub beneath it, into which the minced pieces drop, fast as the sheets from a rapt orator's desk. Arrayed in decent black; occupying a conspicuous pulpit; intent on bible leaves; what a candidate for an archbishopric, what a lad for a Pope were this mincer!


Still in reference to Moby-Dick, perhaps "Sausages" is a way of illustrating her process. Melville goes for that whole great meat (and he does say that somewhere, I think in a letter to Hawthorne, that he was going for the biggest, baddest thing in the natural world) and Stein does the extracting, the condensing of substance in measures of language.

Well everything in Melville (and now in Stein) takes on a cosmic, anthropomorphic hue. Maybe the mincer is the writer is the sausage is all of us. This chapter is an easy favorite (along with that whole encyclopedic intro and the part with the corpusants and little mad Pip).

"Decline" could be a refusal to go to bed alone. It could be rejecting the advances (or the presence) of another. Drawn to the former.

Thanks for the declension as well as the serving of poi! It seems really a poisoning of the consciousness via language as I'm putting it together from you two. The gendering seems to be on point here. And thoughts turn again to that evil which isn't wide. Perhaps it could also be taken as "No evil" is wide, that is, it's all made "natural," a prevalent process, no one has any idea that harm is being done on a daily basis, each time we enter into and take from the language of "Man".

And for some reason (following this, I think) that "wake a question" appears to me as that foamy divide made by the Pequod as it moves on to its next kill.


Once cut, those toes are... sausages!


Sausages in between a glass.

There is read butter. A loaf of it is managed. Wake a question. Eat an instant, answer.

I have been thinking of candles here (and if in connection with moby-type whales, spermaceti candles). The first line might be calling a candle into view. The second takes us to that particular light, or perhaps "butter" wants to bring out the experience of reading under that light, especially while thinking of the provenance of the source. In this languaging, the experience of eating and reading are smoothly well, sandwiched, into a hybrid form of consumption. It could also be that she is eating while thinking upon her food, close reading the eating experience, the beginnings, processes, and myriad associations of the food. In a single moment, the specialized aesthetic joins the primal act of eating, one indistinguishable from the other.

Wonderful! It's officially an altar now too, and the hanging makes (another) sense. The redbreast too, seeing as the vigil candles carry the bared hearts. The Bible might as well be that loaf (too, among others): the bread of life everlasting.

Suddenly a thought of Whitman's conceit: "This is no book; / Who touches this, touches a man;"

Oh no! Roused from the bed! I don't know if this is as fruitful, but I've been thinking of the corpusants since first mention of Moby-Dick and upon revisiting the book, I found that the corpusant chapter is... CHAPTER CXIX. THE CANDLES! Which would bring us to Ahab's heart:

 "All your oaths to hunt the White Whale are as binding as mine; and heart, soul, and body, lungs and life, old Ahab is bound. And that ye may know to what tune this heart beats; look ye here; thus I blow out the last fear!" And with one blast of his breath he extinguished the flame.

Yes, thanks! I have been thinking too narrowly, thinking of poison somewhere in the chapters. Looking for it even in the iron of Ahab's exoticized and shadowy elect (Fedallah and the five from Manilla). But drink and ale is readily available. It will be long reading, but I'll try to find when the casks were brought out. After an "ocean wake" I'm sure. And some other special occasions.

Found a reference to spirits while a whale was being killed in CHAPTER LXXXIV - PITCHPOLING:

Look now at Stubb; a man who from his humorous, deliberate coolness and equanimity in the direst emergencies, was specially qualified to excel in pitchpoling. Look at him; he stands upright in the tossed bow of the flying boat; wrapt in fleecy foam, the towing whale is forty feet ahead. Handling the long lance lightly, glancing twice or thrice along its length to see if it be exactly straight, Stubb whistlingly gathers up the coil of the warp in one hand, so as to secure its free end in his grasp, leaving the rest unobstructed. Then holding the lance full before his waistband's middle, he levels it at the whale; when, covering him with it, he steadily depresses the butt-end in his hand, thereby elevating the point till the weapon stands fairly balanced upon his palm, fifteen feet in the air. He minds you somewhat of a juggler, balancing a long staff on his chin. Next moment with a rapid, nameless impulse, in a superb lofty arch the bright steel spans the foaming distance, and quivers in the life spot of the whale. Instead of sparkling water, he now spouts red blood.

"That drove the spigot out of him!" cries Stubb. "'Tis July's immortal Fourth; all fountains must run wine to-day! Would now, it were old Orleans whiskey, or old Ohio, or unspeakable old Monongahela! Then, Tashtego, lad, I'd have ye hold a canakin to the jet, and we'd drink round it! Yea, verily, hearts alive, we'd brew choice punch in the spread of his spout-hole there, and from that live punch-bowl quaff the living stuff!"

Again and again to such gamesome talk, the dexterous dart is repeated, the spear returning to its master like a greyhound held in skilful leash. The agonized whale goes into his flurry; the tow-line is slackened, and the pitchpoler dropping astern, folds his hands, and mutely watches the monster die.

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