The discussion is what did Stein mean by that and how does that affect how we interpret her? Was she being serious in that recommendation or was she simply being sarcastically provocative. Many commenters point out the mixed record of her words and actions in WWII, particularly her apparent support of Petain and Vichy France. Expediency? Philosophical sympathy? Inability to bridge purity of theory with the likely tragedy of reality? Who knows.
The original article by Warren is a nice little artifact of a different time and different styles. The whole piece is worth reading. He draws attention to a number of more or less contentious statements arising in just an hour's conversation.
"Building a Chinese wall is always bad."He then goes on to provide some context for each, taking some, but only some of the sting out of each statement.
"Hitler should have received the Nobel Peace Prize."
"Intellectuals are not suited to directing of government. They are deterred by a mental obliquity."
"Government does not matter. It is competition, interest, struggle and activity that counts."
"The best rulers are those who govern by instinct, not by theory."
"The French are just tired -- worn out by this process of making and spending money."
"Don't think you can't be senile at the age of 22."
There is an inescapable whiff of privilege.
One approaches the studio in the Rue de Fleurus through the usual portal of a large, modern Left Bank apartment house, and is directed by the concierge to the interior courtyard. Across that court is a low building, the upper story of which is constructed entirely of glass, suggesting a greenhouse or what it actually is, a workshop for artists who must have light. Miss Stein's door itself is partly of clouded glass, and is opened by an Oriental servant in a white jacket.Some of the commentary, though feels both contemporary and prescient.
"The French," she says, "are simply tired out. They not only have had the war but they have been through this long period of Americanization, or modernization, if you will the making and spending of money. They've been forced into doing it, and it doesn't interest them. It wears them out. Americans take their pleasure in physical activity, in rushing about,in getting more and more money, in finding new and exciting ways of expanding it. That doesn't interest the French. They are interested in excitement too. But it isn't physical excitement that they like. It is the exciting sensation of a new idea.And then there are utterances that remain true today but as unacknowledged in academia now as then.
"They want the money question settled and decided as soon as possible in their lives and then put aside for good and all. They don't want to hear about it any more. And then they are ready for the fireworks. Intellectual fireworks are what excite them and what they enjoy. They don't think ever of putting their ideas into practical life as we are continually doing. The practical side does not attract them. That is what they are trying to escape."
Miss Stein as an intellectual, and one who has had a long residence in France, has undoubtedly imbibed something of this mental cast which she perceives in the French. It would seem to explain her experiments with words. She gains mental excitement from examining them in unaccustomed situations,from turning them this way and that and viewing them from the standpoint of their individualities
"Building a Chinese wall is always bad. Protection, paternalism and suppression of natural activity and competition lead to dullness and stagnation. It is true in politics, in literature, in art. Everything in life needs constant stimulation. It needs activity, new blood. To the young people who, wanting to become writers, ask me for advice, I always say, 'Don't think it isn't possible to be senile at 22.' It is even very difficult to keep from becoming senile in youth. It is hard to keep one's self open and receptive to stimulation. Doing what other people tell you and being protected from this and from that is not so good, is not stimulating. You must face life and struggle. Satisfaction comes from overcoming opposition and sometimes from enduring things that are not supposed to be good for one.In the past couple of months, three different LGBT autobiographies have been brought to mind. There is The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein, Conundrum by Jan Morris and Crossing by Deirdre McCloskey. Thinking about them, I had never quite realized the paradox by these three individuals who each challenged the norms of their times and yet also were, in many ways, very, very traditional in their home life arrangements and views. Don't quite know what that observation implies, if anything.
But back to Althouse's discussion. It is yet another example of the challenges of understanding and interpreting what people's words and actions mean, particularly when the persons themselves seem unsure of what they are trying to communicate or did communicate, as in the hapless Jonathan Gruber.