• Writing “Other Spaces”: Katherine Anne Porter’s Yaddo

    Kathryn S. Roberts (see profile)
    LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American
    Literature, Modern, Place (Philosophy), Space, Women authors, American literature, Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946
    Item Type:
    Modernist literature, Space and place, Women writers, Gertrude Stein
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    Drawing on Michel Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia, this essay argues that modernism was a heterotopic movement, in which the creation of alternative social environments (such as Gertrude Stein’s atelier or the writers’ colony), and the imagination of alternative forms of social life in literature, were mutually informing, and inextricable, activities. Focusing on the heterotopic nature of modernism helps clarify both literary historical changes—especially the concept of “late modernism”—and the relationship between literary institutions and literary form. Katherine Anne Porter’s 1947 essay attacking Gertrude Stein is highly attentive to the social configuration of the atelier in Rue de Fleurus: a world of “wives” and “geniuses,” with Stein at its center, modernism’s most famous celebrity. The essay argues that Porter’s long-term affiliation with Yaddo, the Saratoga Springs, New York writers’ colony, set the terms of her critique of Stein; moreover, the colony shaped the form of Porter’s late fiction, which revises the genre of the expatriate autobiography by recapitulating the social structure of the writers’ colony in seemingly disparate “other spaces,” such as the hotel and the passenger ship. Whereas canonical modernist autobiographies, such as The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, take the form of single-protagonist celebrity narratives, Porter’s fiction de-centers the portrait of the artist, imagining a wider collectivity that radically distorts the novel form. Porter’s mode of late-modernist narration in Ship of Fools has affinities with the affective labors of the colony manager, orchestrating the delicate harmony of a pluralistic collective.
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    4 years ago
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