Maya Seligman
Swarthmore College
English 95: Fictions of Consumption
Prof. Lisa Cohen
April 15, 1997

Shopping Journal #10

I don't have any extraordinary consumption stories for this week, unfortunately. Yet money has still flowed freely from my pocket: laundry, Paces, copy card, postal delivery, etcetera. My only real shopping experience was in a grocery store in Dickenson, Pennsylvania, out in the boondocks, 2 & 1/2 hours from here. My lacrosse team travelled there for an away game; after playing, every Swat player was given cash to buy herself dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant, a pizza parlor or a grocery store. I chose the latter and ended up wandering around the supermarket in search of some yummy, healthy food. A strong wave of haughty snobbery bubbled up in me as I walked down the aisles of processed Americana food. How can people live with these artificial products as their nutritional staples? I longed to be back in my hippie hometown to shop at the Ashland Community Food Store, with its deli full of fresh hummus, tofu sandwiches, California nori rolls, tabouli, black bean burritos, blue corn chips, pesto, natural juices and organic fruits & vegetables. While it has been hard for me to put my finger on the real differences between west coast and east coast cultures (though I certainly feel them in a nebulous sort of way), grocery products can be identified as a definite divergence. The Dickenson store's deli gave me a choice of hot dogs, jello, ham sandwiches, coleslaw, soda, cake and meat galore. After a lengthy period of bitter deliberation, I finally bought a yogurt and a bagel -- and then went next door for pizza.

* * *

"If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people."
--Virginia Woolf

Gertrude Stein names her book Everybody's Autobiography, which is quite interesting. The first sentence of the introduction may be a further illustration of the title's meaning: "Alice B. Toklas did hers and now anybody will do theirs." I see this line as an indicator of what voice she is using, as her last "autobiography" was from the perspective of her lover, Toklas, and this one can be seen as the voice of anybody -- an embodiment of certain truths open to interpretation. Stein uses stories about other people (Picasso, Dali, her hired servants, friends, etcetera) to reveal herself. She does this in an unusual style, stretching my comfort boundaries in her manipulation of the English language. Her punctuation is much different than usual, with a lack of question marks, quotation marks and few commas. In some ways, this makes the language flow in a smoother way, while in other cases it was quite difficult for me to read.
Stein's work strikes me as a planned stream of consciousness, like she's talking to the reader, or thinking out loud. Yet we know that the author is thinking ahead (not just rambling) because of the complicated web of connected topics, layered together like scales on a fish. Something will pop up, seemingly random, and it is not until later that I see how it relates to everything else, how it fits into the big puzzle of overlapping ideas. Stein also shows that she is thinking ahead with her references to later information ("But more of this as we go on," 12). Sometimes the material seems choppy and unrelated, going off on long tangents; then other parts (or the same parts in retrospect, after reading more) follow a fluid track of coherent associations.
Other thoughts I have (that are too random to put together in paragraph form, although Stein might beg to differ):

On page 312, Wayne Koestenbaum writes, "The writing [Stein's] is exactly what it seems on the surface. It has no hidden depths." Is this claim really true? Part of me disagrees, for I think that analyzing Stein's use of word choice, repetition and structure has the potential to uncover meanings that are not apparent at face value. Maybe I am misreading Koestenbaum's idea, for as he points out earlier, Stein's private life is woven into her work, appearing in code language (302). Doesn't this mean that her work has various levels of meaning -- more than mere surface value? Except for this issue, I found his critique to be interesting and clear, making me feel more comfortable with Stein's "Advertisements" and "If You Had Three Husbands." My reading style loosened up a little for these works, going with the flow more than usual. They actually did not make much sense to me, but Koestenbaum reminded me to look at each sentence individually. What was Stein thinking when she wrote these?

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