Created as part a series of pieces for my MFA thesis
A Little Called Pauline is a selection from the “Objects” section of Gertrude Stein’s 1914 poetry book, Tender Buttons. In this animation, I wanted to highlight repetition to reveal logic and cohesiveness in seemingly disjointed language.
This project consisted of a book (to be dissected), an animation (the video above), and also a site-specific installation using projection and paper scraps.
As I built up the book of pages to dissect, I intentionally left out words or sounds that repeated in consecutive lines of text. Each line of A Little Called Pauline does get constructed, but where the language is borrowed from earlier language, the visual layout often borrows from an earlier visual layout to highlight the repetition. I think noticing the patterns and repetition in Stein's work is the best way to start making sense of it.
When I read A Little Called Pauline closely, I notice many words and phrases connected to printing, typography, and newspapers. “Come and say what prints all day”: an invitation to examine the media. “A whole few watermelon. There is no pope”: hyperbolic headlines. "If it is absurd then it is leadish” could mean that if an idea is absurd enough, it is fit for a lead—the opening paragraph of an article. The language of printing and outrageous news headlines continues.
To emphasize this connection to print, I took typographical inspiration from news headlines and magazine titles, and played with textures and colors reminiscent of a pile of discarded newspapers.
Today’s media has spread far past “what prints all day,” but we live in an era of fake news and rampant confirmation bias, and Stein’s call for us to be mindful and critical consumers of information is more urgent than ever.
To explore this connection to the present, I combed through a recent copy New York Times for articles and images related to A Little Called Pauline. This turned out to be surprisingly easy—the tone and content of Stein’s depiction of exaggerated media circa 1914 matched almost seamlessly with today’s news, so I slipped New York Times excerpts between related lines of the poem.
My animation is full of little secrets and connections. For example, I placed a shoe advertisement behind “choose wide soles,” (which sounds like “shoes’ white soles”). I put the weather report and a colorful picture with someone in a rainbow scarf near “blue green white bow” (which sounds like rainbow) and ripped the pages in an arc. I put financial information and charts near lines about counting or money. I adjusted “A little lace” so it would be easier to misread as Alace, just a step away from the name of Stein’s lover, which she occasionally slips into her writing. And there's more, but I'll leave some of it a mystery.
Accessibility and Puzzles
Stein's words can feel jumbled and inaccessible, but this makes it particularly appropriate to present her writing as a layered visual puzzle. Noticing that this language (or any language) can be approached as a puzzle — realizing that the more you search, the more you will find — is a big step towards making sense of it. I believe that critically examining the language we consume (headlines, poetry, ads, posts, movies, magazines, tweets, books…) is extremely important right now, so I hope this animation functions as an invitation for the viewer to practice this habit by approaching Stein's language as a puzzle.