Saturday, June 22, 2013

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

The day, measured from midnight not sun up,  is nine hours old, and I have been awake for an hour of it, reading Stein's Ida (1941), pausing to think back on other man-made subjectivities -- Shaw's Pygmalion (1916), Breton's Nadja (1928) -- but also another Stein story, a novella that appeared in her first published work, Three Lives (1909), a story called "Melanctha".

"Melanctha" is the story of woman born of a black father and a white mother, who is, as Stein describes her, more "blue" than black-and-white. A key element in the story, perhaps the central element, concerns not Melanctha and those around her, but the emergence of modernity, and how it both affects and shapes its subjects.

Thinking about "Melanctha" while reading Ida is its own story, one that has me pausing in this instance to wonder what has been written about this novella, particularly in the 1980s, when stories involving mixed-race parentage were perceived to be the domain of those who shared that parentage, not those who sought to explore its ubiquity as a consequence of something we all have in common: modernity.

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