We humans are thinkers and over-thinkers. Sometimes, in the name of not making a fuss, not angering someone, not making someone sad, we mull our thoughts over and over. We ask ourselves: “Should I tell him/her that…?,” “is it worth telling them that…?”, “How will he/she react to this?” As children, we don’t have these thoughts–we have acquired them at some point during our social education. Along with directness and sincerity, our spontaneity went out the window.
Gertrude Stein, in her “Portrait of Picasso,” couldn’t have expressed it better, how we keep failing at communicating our thoughts even to those we love and respect:
If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him.
Would he like it would Napoleon would Napoleon would would he like it.
In this short passage, Stein struggles to finish her thought since perhaps it might offend the addressee of the poem, Picasso himself. The “would he like it” and “if I told him” are the thoughts she keeps repeating, turning around in her mind.
Then she chooses to communicate her ideas indirectly by comparing Picasso to no other than Napoleon the 1st. We may surmise that she alludes to their male dominance and its consequences in their respective fields, “exactly as as kings,” she admonishes both and mocks them: “He he he he and he and he and and he and he and he and and as and as he and as he and he.” She ends the poem with “Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches,” managing, despite the many seemingly incomplete thoughts, to make her point very succinctly to Picasso: if you behave like Napoleon, we can look back into history and see what it can teach you/us.
Let us all learn from Stein and do our best to communicate our thoughts to others, even if communication proves difficult and even if the truth is hard to hear. And beautiful things might happen in the end–we would not have had this wonderful and witty portrait of Picasso hadn’t Stein written her thoughts down for our reading pleasure.
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