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Studia Phaenomenologica

Volume 8, 2008

Phenomenology and Literature

Ariane Mildenberg
Pages 259-282

Seeing Fine Substances Strangely
Phenomenology in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons

Gertrude Stein may be regarded as one of the most innovative and obscure modernist writers. At the core of Tender Buttons (1914), her most experimental work, lies a dialectical tension between meaning and non-meaning, order and disorder, the opacity of which some of the earliest critical studies of Stein described as both “an eloquent mistake” and “the ravings of a lunatic,” resisting interpretation. In this paper, I show that phenomenology offers an appropriate tool for opening up the much-discussed dialectic of this work. By “bracketing” the hard facts of our object-world, Stein enacts an epoché of sorts, allowing us to “see fine substances strangely” before the conventional structures of objectivity and factuality take over.