Gertrude Stein: Operas and Plays

"There is no there there"

Along with a "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose", "there is no there there" is one of the most famous quotations of Gertrude Stein. It appears in Gertrude Stein, Everybody's Autobiography (Random House 1937, p 289) and is often applied to the city of her childhood, Oakland, California. Defenders and critics of Oakland have debated what she really meant when she said this in 1933 after coming to San Francisco on a book tour. She took a ferry to Oakland to visit the farm she grew up on, and the house she lived in near what is now 13th Avenue and E. 25th Street in Oakland. The house had been razed and the farmland had been developed with new housing in the 3 decades since her father had sold the property and moved closer to the commercial hub of the neighborhood on Washington Street (now 12th Avenue). She wrote:

She took us to see her granddaughter who was teaching in the Dominican convent in San Raphael, we went across the bay on a ferry, that had not changed but Goat Island might just as well not have been there, anyway what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.[88]

...but not there, there is no there there. ... Ah Thirteenth Avenue was the same it was shabby and overgrown. ... Not of course the house, the house the big house and the big garden and the eucalyptus trees and the rose hedge naturally were not there any longer existing, what was the use ...

It is a funny thing about addresses where you live. When you live there you know it so well that it is like an identity a thing that is so much a thing that it could not ever be any other thing and then you live somewhere else and years later, the address that was so much an address that it was like your name and you said it as if it was not an address but something that was living and then years after you do not know what the address was and when you say it it is not a name anymore but something you cannot remember. That is what makes your identity not a thing that exists but something you do or do not remember.

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