They Watch Me as They Watch This

They Watch Me as They Watch This
Gertrude Stein's Metadrama

Jane Palatini Bowers

160 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 1991 | ISBN 9780812230574 | Buy from De Gruyter $79.95 | €69.95 | £70.50
Ebook 2016 | ISBN 9781512801071 | Buy from De Gruyter $79.95 | €69.95 | £70.50
This book is available under special arrangement from our European publishing partner De Gruyter.
An Anniversary Collection volume

"For the first time I feel that I can read these strange 'plays' and know what to make of them. They Watch Me as They Watch This makes a genuine contribution to Stein scholarship, to drama criticism, and to postmodern thinking and does so with grace, finesse, and unusual clarity."—Marjorie Perloff, Stanford University
Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title

Gertrude Stein wrote almost one hundred plays, many of which were published and performed during her lifetime. In "They Watch Me as They Watch This," the first full-length study of Stein's plays, Jane Palatini Bowers focuses on the author's contributions to the genre and offers individual and clarifying readings of these often difficult texts. In writing about Stein's plays, Bowers employs both semiotic and structuralist concepts but avoids the excessively abstract language and "scientific" approach often associated with this kind of criticism.

When compared with conventional drama, Stein's plays may appear so strange as to hardly seem like plays at all. Their extreme unconventionality arises from the role language takes in them. Conventional plays allow us to look through the language at the dramatic world created by it; Stein's plays force us to concentrate on the drama inherent in language and language-making. They record and reenact the poet's experiments with language and with theatrical conventions; they also preserve the improvisational writing process in the printed and enacted product. Futhermore, Stein's plays embody her critique of and her ideas about the conventional forms of drama. Thus, the plays are metadramatic: dramas about drama. Stein's belief in the theatricality and performability of language, her metatextual explorations of the interplay between poiesis, textuality, and performance, and her violations of the boundaries between literary criticism and practice have influenced postmodernist playwrights and poets such as David Antin, Richard Foreman, Dick Higgins, Jackson MacLow, and Jerome Rothenberg.

They Watch Me as They Watch This provides critical analyses of key plays which illuminate the process of Stein's experimentation during her lifetime of playwriting. Stein's recent critics have eschewed a generic approach to her writing; they overlook her intense interest in genre, and therefore they do not consider the ways in which her texts oppose, subvert, and disrupt generic conventions. Bowers's approach to Stein's work yields rich insights into her writing and into the genre she used. It will be an important contribution to Stein scholarship and to drama criticism as well.

Jane Palatini Bowers is Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.

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