A MOUNTED UMBRELLA.
What was the use of not leaving it there where it would hang what was the use if there was no chance of ever seeing it come there and show that it was handsome and right in the way it showed it. The lesson is to learn that it does show it, that it shows it and that nothing, that there is nothing, that there is no more to do about it and just so much more is there plenty of reason for making an exchange. (Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons, 1912)
At the moment I am writing a thesis chapter on ‘objects,’ looking specifically at Gertrude Stein’s prose-poem ‘Objects’ (from the chapbook, Tender Buttons) and mathematician-cum-philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s lecture on sense-awareness and perception, also called ‘Objects.’ Stein wrote Tender Buttons in 1912, and Whitehead delivered ‘Objects’ during a lecture series at Cambridge University (aimed at physics students) in 1919. In the seven years between the two compositions, Stein would stay with Whitehead at his Lakeside property north of London for six weeks as World War One broke out in Europe. Every day, Stein and Whitehead would walk around the lake and talk about philosophy, while their wives stewed fruit and darned socks.
Decades later, Stein would list Whitehead as one of three geniuses known to her: alongside Picasso, and herself.
In the 30s, Whitehead would work at Harvard and meet a shy, tall PhD student called Charles Olson. Olson would read Whitehead and teach process theory in his poetics classes at Black Mountain College twenty years later. Olson and Stein would never meet but Olson would once (rather enigmatically) refer to Stein as a “chronological fox” in a letter to poet Phillip Walen.