Cultivating Childishness: The Gertrude Stein First Reader and the Reparative Turn in Criticism

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-375
JournalTulsa Studies in Womens Literature
Volume37
Issue number2
Early online date29 Nov 2018
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Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Nov 2018
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Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This article argues that The Gertrude Stein First Reader (1946), a text that plays
with the form of the nineteenth-century literacy textbook and was originally pitched to an educational children’s publisher, is more productively understood as disrupting the reading practices of adults than as a work of children’s literature. The long-neglected First Reader articulates the value of a queer reading practice rooted in the ambiguous notion of childishness, a concept distinguished here from childlikeness. Stein’s unorthodox pedagogy and her First Reader’s celebration of such “childish” reading practices as error, unmastery, incompetence, and ignorance are put into dialogue with theory’s recent rejection of suspicious, symptomatic and paranoid models of reading. This critical turn began with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s articulation of a queer “reparative reading” and has developed into a broader attack on critique and the “hermeneutics of suspicion.” The present article locates in Stein’s work the connections between childishness, queerness, and reparative practices and identifies childishness as an important trope for thinking through contemporary styles in criticism and pedagogy, a trope which allows readers to keep in view the specifically queer origins of the reparative turn.

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