If I Told Him: A Complete Portrait of Picasso

I wanted to make a video poem out of the Caedmon recording of Gertrude Stein reciting If I Told Him. In late May, shortly before it closed, I saw the Stein show at the Met and filmed some of it. You weren’t supposed to film anything at the show, so I had to be furtive. If a guard saw me filming, he’d politely ask me to stop. I did until there was no guard again. Later I walked through Central Park videoing as I went. Because the abstract suggests, whatever image comes fits because our imaginations place it wherever we happen to be at the moment, subjective all the way, everybody seeing differently together in the same room.


In the 1920s Picasso was abstracting the face, the body, the place, while Louis Armstrong was abstracting the song, voice becoming instrument instrument becoming the voice, and Gertrude was abstracting words and their sounds sitting writing in a parked car in Paris riffing off of what she heard and saw happening all around. Perhaps the 1930s were a bit more concrete, with a great depression full of empty bellies though Rogers and Astaire kept on dancing and didn’t seem to notice the Nazis were coming, more surreal perhaps and dada-esque.

The beginning of the video was done on the last day I filmed, the middle on the first day, and the last on the second, although it seems to sensibly follow itself until the end. Perhaps for the abstract there is no time and place or it is all time and place making sense wherever and whenever we happen to come in.


Here is Gertrude’s text:

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.
If Napoleon if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if I
told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if Napoleon if Napoleon
if I told him. If I told him if Napoleon if Napoleon if I told him. If I told
him would he like it would he like it if I told him.
Now.
Not now.
And now.
Now.
Exactly as as kings.
Feeling full for it.
Exactitude as kings.
So to beseech you as full as for it.
Exactly or as kings.
Shutters shut and open so do queens. Shutters shut and shutters and so
shutters shut and shutters and so and so shutters and so shutters shut and
so shutters shut and shutters and so. And so shutters shut and so and also.
And also and so and so and also.
Exact resemblance. To exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact
as a resemblance, exactly as resembling, exactly resembling, exactly in
resemblance exactly a resemblance, exactly and resemblance. For this is so.
Because.
Now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat
at all.
Have hold and hear, actively repeat at all.
I judge judge.
As a resemblance to him.
Who comes first. Napoleon the first.
Who comes too coming coming too, who goes there, as they go they share, who
shares all, all is as all as as yet or as yet.
Now to date now to date. Now and now and date and the date.
Who came first. Napoleon at first. Who came first Napoleon the first.
Who came first, Napoleon first.
Presently.
Exactly do they do.
First exactly.
Exactly do they do too.
First exactly.
And first exactly.
Exactly do they do.
And first exactly and exactly.
And do they do.
At first exactly and first exactly and do they do.
The first exactly.
And do they do.
The first exactly.
At first exactly.
First as exactly.
As first as exactly.
Presently
As presently.
As as presently.
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. He is and as he is, and as he is and he is, he is and as he
and he and as he is and he and he and and he and he.
Can curls rob can curls quote, quotable.
As presently.
As exactitude.
As trains
Has trains.
Has trains.
As trains.
As trains.
Presently.
Proportions.
Presently.
As proportions as presently.
Father and farther.
Was the king or room.
Farther and whether.
Was there was there was there what was there was there what was there
was there there was there.
Whether and in there.
As even say so.
One.
I land.
Two.
I land.
Three.
The land.
Three
The land.
Three
The land.
Two
I land.
Two
I land.
One
I land.
Two
I land.
As a so.
They cannot.
A note.
They cannot.
A float.
They cannot.
They dote.
They cannot.
They as denote.
Miracles play.
Play fairly.
Play fairly well.
A well.
As well.
As or as presently.
Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.

(first published in Vanity Fair in 1924)

5 Comments

  1. Charlotte Putt
    Posted 25 Apr ’14 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Hi Don,
    I believe that if it weren’t for your insightful contributions to Facebook, I would have been gone many moons ago. Thank you for continually stimulating and entertaining me.

    • Posted 26 Apr ’14 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Thank you Charlotte for the kind words. Do you ever miss China? I do.

  2. lally
    Posted 3 Apr ’16 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    another brilliant post Don, maybe the best analysis of Stein ever in just a few brief comments, a recording and a video edited perfectly for the text…like I said, brilliant…thanks for it…

  3. Posted 3 Apr ’16 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    That is very kind of you, Michael. That you enjoyed it makes my day.

  4. Posted 12 Feb ’17 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    it’sallgreatdon!

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