The color of grammar and the surface of language: 20 th Century avant-garde poetics in Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, and Blaise Cendrars

Sarah E Kruse, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

The study here arises from a long held interest in the philosophical works of Ludwig Wittgenstein and a preoccupation with the role and function of ordinary language. Examining the late work of Wittgenstein, and focusing on his last work, Remarks on Color, I connect the place of color within language and its fundamental role in our visual perception with an earlier idea of Wittgensteinian grammar. Grammar for Wittgenstein is not sets of rules or even descriptive rules as in linguistics, but a certain use and function of language that is as varied and multiple as humans are themselves. For Wittgenstein, there is a disconnect in our systems of thinking about language and our actual use. The difficulties that arise in language come from a limited way of talking about these things because we are already enmeshed in language itself. What is possible, I argue in light of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, is a kind of visibility of grammar that is realized through operative examples rather than through statements of fact. Color for Wittgenstein, I argue, is that example. Color, then, is no longer an emotive aspect nor a scientific method nor a psychological condition, but an example that reveals a grammar of language not ordinarily seen. Taking up the work of early 20 th century avant-garde poetry and poetics, specifically the poetry of Gertrude Stein, Blaise Cendrars, Sonia Delaunay, and Mina Loy, I examine how these authors’ works with their unusual use of color that runs contrary to ordinary description demonstrates a different “grammar,” what I call the color of grammar, that reveals the framework of how language itself functions. The color of grammar in the avant-garde, I argue, carries with it a unique sense in language that cannot be easily categorized as simply nonsense or experimentation. In rereading what earlier scholars often categorize as nonsense, I illuminate a facet of language that is not the way things are in language, but the way in which a reader comes to think things are. The ways a reader may come to recognize alternative ways of reading and the affect that has on understanding everyday and ordinary language in the world is exemplified by avant-garde poetics. The combination of philosophy and poetry, I believe, makes operative alternative methods of understanding. What I call “the color of grammar” functions slightly in the margin of what we think of as the ordinary “sense” of things. The goal of this work combines disciplines to open a “between space” in language, making other facets of language and our thought “visible.”^

Subject Area

Philosophy|English literature

Recommended Citation

Sarah E Kruse, "The color of grammar and the surface of language: 20 th Century avant-garde poetics in Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, and Blaise Cendrars" (2016). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI10103165.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI10103165

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