At face value, Tender Buttons is an immensely confusing text, providing no connection to any real meaning. However, within this confusion arises a most profound understanding of language, grammar, and how we interpret the world around us. In A Carafe That is a Blind Glass, the reader is introduced to this new experiment in syntax. Gazing at the words within the text, the word “glass” seems to be the only real connection to the carafe in a general sense. It seems as though there is a disconnect between the carafe in the text and the carafe we imagine in our mind. However, this disconnection is where the true meaning of Tender Buttons reveals itself.
One can think of a dichotomy of the external (being the carafe) and the internal (the act of describing the carafe), and how one mode is very human and the other very objective. The reason the text is so unconcerned with meaning through interpretation of its words, is because of the difficulty to describe the moment of looking at the carafe. There is a breakdown of the symbol of the text, the “carafe”, what we image of the “carafe” in our mind holds no real connection to the text other than its general classification of “glass”. By attempting to describe this “carafe”, we enter a linguistic nightmare. Any connection to the real “carafe” is lost within “all this” of the text. Stein seems to be saying that the only real “carafe” is the one that lies in the interpretation of the “carafe”, since there can many readers imagine many “carafe”. Therefore the act of interpretation itself yields a kind of “carafe” description.
In this moment of description, even the words become slippery, losing some of their connections with other words and seemingly picking up new ones. The image of “hurt color” can be confusing to the reader, however the true inadequacy of language is revealed here. It seems as though “hurt” is used as an adjective here, but does not make sense against the word “color”. This draws our attention closer to the word “hurt”, thinking about the word as both a verb and an adjective. When one thinks about the multiplicity of the word in the absence of any true kind of grammar, something profound about the inability of grammar to truly describe feelings or objects. The “hurt of “that cut hurts” to that of “I am going to hurt you” are obviously very different from each other. Inflicting pain and receiving pain are two totally different sensations, however grammar is not concerned with this. Grammar does not care about the difference a single word can make as both an adjective and a verb, it is only concerned what the word is classified as in the sentence.
The reader is used to being able to look at the way a word was used in conjunction with grammar to be able to interpret the statement. Now with the absence of grammar, we no longer can use this mode to interpret. Therefore this makes the reader very uncomfortable, and draws more attention to the “various meaning” words. In the moment of interpreting the word, the reader realizes that grammar cannot describe the sensation on the page, that it cannot peer into the ever changing nature of words.
The word only receives meaning in its connotations with other words. Stein is experimenting with what happens when we take grammar out of a text, what will we have? Words can now be used simultaneously as both adjective and verb or noun and adjective and so on. Creating a kind of new interpretive form, a continuous present of constantly evolving statements. An object in motion, while still in place and a reader able to truly see the inability of both language and grammar to control and describe our world.