Complete Story

KIRSCH, Sharon J.

Summer 2008, 38:3, pages 283-310

"Suppose a grammar uses invention": Gertrude Stein's Theory of Rhetorical Grammar 

ABSTRACT: This article elucidates Gertrude Stein's theory of rhetorical grammar by locating it in her studies at Harvard University/Radcliffe College in the mid-1890s and by demonstrating how for Stein the study of grammar correlates with rhetoric's first canon, invention. In her experimental primer, How to Write (1931), a book about the craft of composition, Stein devotes chapters to vocabulary, sentences, paragraphs, grammar, and forensics, but refuses to reduce writing to mechanical correctness. For Stein, a grammar that supposes invention as both discovering and creating does something much more than offer pre-existing rules for writers to follow. Placing Gertrude Stein's writing practices in the rhetorical traditions of the nineteenth century reveals a Gertrude Stein who is not necessarily or not only a literary figure, but rather a twentieth-century rhetorician who refigures past traditions to teach a new century how to write.

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