Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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November 16, 2007
and into the world there came a soul called . . .

Ida, Gertrude Stein's 1941 novel, is, quite often, freakin' hilarious.

Here is part 3 of the second half, in its entirety:

Any ball has to look like the moon. Ida just had to know what was going to be happening soon.

They can be young so young they can go in swimming. Ida had been. Not really swimming one was learning and the other was teaching.

This was being young in San Francisco and the baths were called Lurline Baths. Ida was young and so was he they were both good both she and he and he was teaching her how to swim, he leaned over and he said kick he was holding her under the chin and he was standing beside her, it was not deep water, and he said kick and she did and he walked along beside her holding her chin, and he said kick and she kicked again and he was standing very close to her and she kicked hard and she kicked him. He let go her he called out Jesus Christ my balls and he went under and she went under, they were neither of them drowned but they might have been.

Strangely enough she never thought about Frank, that was his name, Frank, she could not remember his other name, but once when she smelled wild onion she remembered going under and that neither were drowned.

It is difficult never to have been younger but Ida almost was she almost never had been younger.

Dr. Cynthia Secor published a very fine article in 1978 that wondered whether Ida is the great American novel.

Secor hit a lot of great points about what makes the novel so interesting. She mentions its
mode of narration so concrete and spare that the reader comes to feel that she is dreaming through Ida's mind the dream that is Ida.

and how each paragraph frames or atomizes time into discrete, successive instants, as if they were stills from a film.

She even illuminates the Lurline Baths chapter, as Stein identifying an anxiety shared by the young Ida and the adult Ida, without reducing the relationship to genealogy -- almost like Stein imagines a Wordsworth who could have written that "the girl is mother to the woman," then puts that to one side.

However, Secor didn't talk about how funny the darn thing is.

I mean, she didn't even get into the 10-page long digression, that comes from out of nowhere, into the history of the dogs owned by Ida (or Stein? a couple "Baskets" appear).

For example:

The next dog and this is important because it is the next dog.

His name is Never Sleeps although he sleeps enough.

It's hard to explain exactly what makes this -- and so much of Stein -- so funny.

Maybe it's the gravity-defying balance of voice. The deadpan, then the bursts of slapstick. The long stretches of calculated boringness, punctuated by curveballs of weirdness or absurdity. As if the movie goes

Keaton Keaton Keaton Keaton Buñuel Chaplin Keaton

The voice might be called "ironic," but it's like irony cubed (cubist?) -- as if events are being viewed not from 2 or 3 mutually negating perspectives at once, but 20, from a perch that elevates the tone high above judgmentalism or commentary, to let events and Ida just be.

Is the novel even in print anymore? I doubt it.