A Trail of Roses: Stein's Legacies in 1960s Art

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Gertrude Stein's work reached Scandinavia in the 1950s and 1960s through the Fluxus and concrete poetry networks. Stein is mentioned in the 1953 manifesto for concrete poetry by the Swedish artist and writer Öyvind Fahlström, and she was a great influence on German poets and critics such as Helmut Heissenbüttel and Max Bense. The Danish poet and critic Hans-Jørgen Nielsen Nielsen used Gertrude Stein as a prominent example in his campaign to widen the conception of literary texts in the conservative Danish context. In one of his essays he used Stein’s sentence: a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose as an example. Nielsen reads the first half of the sentence as ”object language”, a statement about reality, and the second half of the sentence as ”metalanguage”: a comment on the linguistic construction of reality. Taken together the complete sentence is thus a philosophical statement about language and reality as as well as about what is endlessly the same and endlessly different. And thus the text is seen to voice an entire ontology which, in its utter simplicity, exemplifies the poetical power and philosophical depth of Gertrude Stein’s writing. From this point Gertrude Stein’s influence is visible as a trail of roses through Danish 1960s art. The trail leads from Nielsen’s reading of Stein’s rose to the Danish composer Henning Christiansen, who put the sentence to music in his orchestral work A Rose for Miss Stein (1965). The chain of roses was continued by the painter and performance artist John Davidsen who devoted an entire year to roses. While the conceptual artist Stig Brøgger used his reading of Stein’s How To Write to work out textual fields, films and film scripts. Ecchoes of Stein’s writing can also be heard in recent Danish poetry such as Pia Juul’s Radioteateret (2010).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGertrude Stein in Europe : Reconfigurations Across Media, Disciplines, and Traditions
EditorsSarah Posman, Laura Luise Schultz
Place of PublicationLondon, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Publication date2015
Article number12
ISBN (Print)978-1-4742-4228-8, 9781474242301
Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - Gertrude Stein, Nordic Countries, Concrete poetry, Fluxus, Hans-Jørgen Nielsen, öyvind Fahlström, Henning Christiansen, Stig Brøgger, John Davidsen, Roses

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