Tender Buttons, published in 1914, is a key document of certain experimental writing of its time. This abandons some of the orthodoxy of syntax in favour of a loose, intuitive structure of poetic associations of meaning and sound. Multiple viewpoints of each single subject—collected here in three sections, Objects, Food and Rooms—build an impression that we are being shown the whole, rather than the selected or preferred, in a conscious parallel of what Gertrude Stein’s cubist affiliates were attempting on canvas. The result is regarded by some critics as hermetic, difficult, even meaningless, an attitude promoted, paradoxically, by the workaday look of the original, whose rigid headings and justified paragraphs intimated a prose of rational sequence and the linear advancement of meaning.
In this edition, for the first time, design and layout respond to a plain reading of the content. Here it becomes evident that in her plastic, collagist use of language Stein was arguing for a purist shaking off of redundant associations and judgements into a thing free of cliché or manipulation. Funny, poetic and multifaceted, this is a text to read in and around, the sense arriving on a wave of rhythm, sound, and harmony.