experimental writing, fiction disections, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Locard's Exchange Principle, Picasso, Sherlock
Fans of BBC’s Sherlock will have heard of Locard’s Exchange Principle. In its simplest form, it is a forensics concept that states “every contact must leave a trace.” In other words, if I bump into a table, I leave something of myself on it as much as it leaves something on me.
This is an interesting concept to explore in a literary context. The symbiotic relationship of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein comes to mind.
Stein has often been called the mother of the “Lost Generation”—which besides Hemingway counted Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald—but really it was a two-way street in Gertie’s Paris salon.
Scholar Phillip Young documents “striking” resemblances to Hemingway’s prose in Stein’s Three Lives, and much of Hemingway’s works display Stein’s favorite techniques such as repetition and sparse sentence structures.
In interviews, Stein said she was working towards a modified cubist style that applied Picasso’s radical ideas to the printed word. For more on her innovative use of rhythm, rhyme and repetition, see Ruland and Bradbury’s From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature.
As I said, Hemingway adopted much of Stein’s experimental style, but he also achieved a clarity in his prose that ultimately forced her to revisit some of her own ideas about communication and consciousness. Her attempts to capture the transitive elements of human thought (influenced by philosophy) were not always successful.
You can find out more about her language experiments in the NY Times article “Reconsidering the Genius of Gertrude Stein” and also in Understanding Steinese at The New Yorker. Also, visit the interviews and recordings available at PennSound.
For a more in-depth analysis of her style, see Irresistible Diction: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science. Do pick up Reynolds’ Hemingway: The Paris Years and his own A Moveable Feast for more on Stein’s impact on Hemingway.
One more Stein-link if you will indulge me: this time an application of Locard’s principle to the art world itself. Earlier, I mentioned that Stein was attempting a “cubist” writing style. This was largely due to her great admiration of Picasso’s paintings, which she was one of the first to avidly collect. You can see some of the paintings she acquired at the San Franciso Museum of Modern Art.
Picasso was so moved by her admiration that he asked her to sit.
You can see from the resulting portrait, that he himself moved away from some of his own techniques to try to capture a darker, more brooding mood. Sherlock would have been happy to point out Locard’s principle at work here.
And that’s all chickadees! Special bonus prize available to those of you who can find more literary examples.
Carol Balawyder said:
We’re all influenced by our environment and who we come in contact with. We all need to start with models before we find our own voice. Writers read not just for entertainment but also to hopefully integrate style and structure that will be transformed in their own writing. Whatever we read, I believe, becomes lodged in our subconscious, and eventually we can tap on that resource when writing.
Thanks for this great post. 🙂
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