This year has started with big change, as I’m now running a busy silkscreen studio, and starting my first semester teaching Art Appeciation for a local college. My only regret is that the French Moderns exhibit is gone from the Figge Museum – it would have been a good teaching tool.
(As an aside, the way the French Moderns show was exhibited was truly awful, and completely missed the major drama of the era, the tension between traditionalists who ran the art schools and salons, and the avant-garde, who up-ended the whole apple cart. I’d like to write more about it, but it seems rather pointless now.)
I’m working on my curriculum this weekend, and it happens that Gertrude Stein is featured in the textbook in the first chapter, so I thought I’d bring out this old gem for the kids as well. Buckle up.
Gertrude Stein, “Reflection on the Atomic Bomb” (1946)
They asked me what I thought of the atomic bomb. I said I had not been able to take any interest in it.
I like to read detective and mystery stories. I never get enough of them but whenever one of them is or was about death rays and atomic bombs I never could read them. What is the use, if they are really as destructive as all that there is nothing left and if there is nothing there nobody to be interested and nothing to be interested about. If they are not as destructive as all that then they are just a little more or less destructive than other things and that means that in spite of all destruction there are always lots left on this earth to be interested or to be willing and the thing that destroys is just one of the things that concerns the people inventing it or the people starting it off, but really nobody else can do anything about it so you have to just live along like always, so you see the atomic [bomb] is not at all interesting, not any more interesting than any other machine, and machines are only interesting in being invented or in what they do, so why be interested. I never could take any interest in the atomic bomb, I just couldn’t any more than in everybody’s secret weapon. That it has to be secret makes it dull and meaningless. Sure it will destroy a lot and kill a lot, but it’s the living that are interesting not the way of killing them, because if there were not a lot left living how could there be any interest in destruction. Alright, that is the way I feel about it. They think they are interested about the atomic bomb but they really are not not any more than I am. Really not. They may be a little scared, I am not so scared, there is so much to be scared of so what is the use of bothering to be scared, and if you are not scared the atomic bomb is not interesting.
Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. They listen so much that they forget to be natural. This is a nice story.
Gertrude Stein, 1946
[first published in Yale Poetry Review, December 1947]