Cultivating Childishness: The Gertrude Stein First Reader and the Reparative Turn in Criticism

Julie Taylor, Northumbria University
Vol. 37, No. 2 (Fall 2018), 349-375

This article argues that The Gertrude Stein First Reader (1946), a text that plays with the form of the nineteenth-century literacy textbook and was originally pitched to an educational children’s publisher, is more productively understood as disrupting the reading practices of adults than as a work of children’s literature. The long-neglected First Reader articulates the value of a queer reading practice rooted in the ambiguous notion of childishness, a concept distinguished here from childlikeness. Stein’s unorthodox pedagogy and her First Reader’s celebration of such “childish” reading practices as error, unmastery, incompetence, and ignorance are put into dialogue with theory’s recent rejection of suspicious, symptomatic, and paranoid models of reading. This critical turn began with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s articulation of a queer “reparative reading” and has developed into a broader attack on critique and the hermeneutics of suspicion. The present article locates in Stein’s work the connections between childishness, queerness, and reparative practices and identifies childishness as an important trope for thinking through contemporary styles in criticism and pedagogy, a trope which allows readers to keep in view the specifically queer origins of the reparative turn.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]