Some time ago, I attended a talk and heard someone speak of visits from Gertrude Stein to Chicago in the mid-1930s. The speaker then sent me a terrific article entitled ""An invincible force meets an immovable object": Gertrude Stein comes to Chicago." The article, written by Liesl Olson, appeared in Modernism/Modernity, volume 17, Number 2, Spril 2010, pp. 331-361. And, the topic seems apt for this, the start of Women's History Month.
And yes, it is this article that leads me to ask, rhetorically at least, whether and how Stein might be Shimerian.
As Olson argues, Stein was initially incredibly put off by the notion of "great books," especially as pushed by Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins. The U of C, as we call it today, snubbed her in some ways during some of her visit(s) to Chicago. And then, she was entranced -- she accepted the invitation to sit in on a seminar and that was it. Or, that was kind of it -- she actually enjoyed the debate and discussion. And, though no one would argue she accepted the full paraphernalia of the "great books" tradition, she certainly was more inclined that way than prior to her visit amongst the students. (Certainly, it is the delight of the classroom discussion that persuades people to believe -- or join -- what Shimer does. Stein as pre-cursor to today's Shimer?)
As Olson notes, one "infamous" evening (November 27, 1934) at a party, Stein "got into a very heated discussion with [Mortimer] Adler and Robert Hutchins.. . According to Adler, Stein was 'infuriated' by the idea that the Great Books were read in translation. . . " (p. 347. The debate seemed to have to do with the value of language per se and the notion that the ideas themselves were what matters and that they were translatable. In any case, though, this lead to the famous invitation to a class. Here, though, is some of what Olson writes about Stein's visit to a class: "By her own account Gertrude Stein had an entertaining time teaching Great Books students. In a letter she wrote afterwards to Van Vechten, she admits to "immensely" enjoying the course because "they teach by talking." She writes to him: "they are interesting students and they say good things to you and they catch you up and it goes hammer and tongs pretty well and I liked it I like it a lot, it lasted almost two hours and I guess a good time was enjoyed by all." . . . (p. 348)
Her objections, as Olson makes evident, had nothing to do with the classroom. Stein's disagreements were, of course, more about the content, the personalities of Adler and Hutchins, and the very idea of a translated canon.
For those who do not know Stein spoke at Marshall Fields -- or much else about the literati of Chicago of that era, the piece is worth reading. And for those of us who are Shimerians -- including the folks who have written theses on Stein -- it would be great to hear what you think. A Shimerian? A Closet Shimerian? Or not?