Phenomenological Dissymmetry in Stein’s Ida


  • Tram Nguyen CUNY Hostos Community College, NY 10451, United States Author



Gertrude Stein, Modernism, Phenomenology, Inter-subjectivity


Very little has been said about Ida, this late novel by Gertrude Stein. My argument is that Stein’s representation of its heroine affirms the author’s life-long investment in asymmetrical, intersubjective understanding. Employing Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological model, I read Stein’s novel as an attestation of her radical decentering of knowledge and identity. By dispossessing the female subject of social and historical connectedness, as well as the security of familial protection, Stein creates a non-discursive relationality. Ida, the central character, must come to terms with the alterity of the other as well as the irreducible difference between two beings. She learns that she cannot impose her will on others because they have their particular lived competence. She evolves from a solipsistic existence—not making friends, not belonging to a community, not marrying or establishing a family of her own—into a singularity. Stein liberates Ida from myths of identity, particularly gendered identity, which enables a temporary escape from ideological pressures wherein intersubjectivity is not simply an equation of woman=subjection and man=power but, rather, of (anonymous) body+ intentionality+ object (in the world).