This is indicative of the Miscellany that is my “life of the mind”.
Gertrude Stein was well outside it, until I happened upon a quote from her on the website of someone who wants a book translating. No idea whether it’s a project I’ll be or wish to be involved in, but off my mind went, reading and reflecting and sympathising with the fact that GS’s transcription of her stream of consciousness was enticing as a style to her at earlier stages of her writing (shall I ever tackle her “Making of Americans”?). But I have to stop this non-sentence here – “Alice B.” was only the book that brought commercial success. It was written “as simply as Defoe did”.
The reflections that arise are not simple, however. With Amnesty last month I wrote to the Bulgarian Prime Minister to ask for better judicial attention in the case of a medical student beaten to death in 2008 in Sofia murdered for his homosexual appearance. Gertrude Stein had lost both her parents by the age of 17 and seems to have felt freer as a result, at least not to marry. The young man in Bulgaria had a mother (Hristina Stoyanova) who mourns him and loved him as he was – listen to what she says: “What is really needed is for children in schools to be taught about difference and that difference is okay – that it does not matter whether someone is gay or not gay.”
To go back to Defoe… there is a current BBC report on Robinson Crusoe Island which reveals that it is off the coast of Chile, 24 hours away by boat from there. Defoe situates the shipwreck in the Caribbean and reveals much of the colonial mind. The man who spent four years alone on Robinson Crusoe Island seems to have done so after an act of moral courage interpreted by his ship’s captain as mutiny. My modern mind likes this story better, of a man who pleaded for the lives of himself and his fellow-sailors to be spared in their sickness and exhaustion.