A Vocabulary of Thinking

Gertrude Stein and Contemporary North American Women's Innovative Writing

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248 pages, 6 x 9 inches
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"Mix writes with tremendous verve and insight. She reminds readers that the most influential, path-breaking criticism sometimes violates norms concerning the scope and coherence of academic writing."—American Literature

“Mix argues freshly and usefully that Stein provides crucial resources for understanding the innovations of later women writers. In this accomplished work, she provides subtle, lucid, and convincing close readings of difficult but interesting works.”—Lesley Wheeler, Washington and Lee University

“I believe this book will add significantly to the burgeoning scholarship on modern and contemporary experimental writing by women. There are some wonderful readings here.”—Elisabeth A. Frost, Fordham University

Using experimental style as a framework for close readings of writings produced by late twentieth-century North American women, Deborah Mix places Gertrude Stein at the center of a feminist and multicultural account of twentieth-century innovative writing. Her meticulously argued work maps literary affiliations that connect Stein to the work of Harryette Mullen, Daphne Marlatt, Betsy Warland, Lyn Hejinian, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. By distinguishing a vocabulary—which is flexible, evolving, and simultaneously individual and communal—from a lexicon—which is recorded, fixed, and carries the burden of masculine authority—Mix argues that Stein’s experimentalism both enables and demands the complex responses of these authors.

Arguing that these authors have received relatively little attention because of the difficulty in categorizing them, Mix brings the writing of women of color, lesbians, and collaborative writers into the discussion of experimental writing. Thus, rather than exploring conventional lines of influence, she departs from earlier scholarship by using Stein and her work as a lens through which to read the ways these authors have renegotiated tradition, authority, and innovation.

Building on the tradition of experimental or avant-garde writing in the United States, Mix questions the politics of the canon and literary influence, offers close readings of previously neglected contemporary writers whose work doesn’t fit within conventional categories, and by linking genres not typically associated with experimentalism—lyric, epic, and autobiography—challenges ongoing reevaluations of innovative writing.

Table of contents: 


1. Starting with Stein:
Three Vocabularies of Thinking

2.Domestic Economies:
Harryette Mullen's Trimmings and S*PeRM**K*T

3. Re-Versing the Lyric:
Daphne Marlatt and Betsy Warland's Double Negative

4. Multirelational Autobiography:
Lyn Hejinian's My Life

5. Found in Retranslation:
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's DICTEE

Epilogue: Returning to Stein