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The Role of Indefinite Pronouns in Modeling Wholeness

Gertrude Stein’s ‘Everybody’s Autobiography’

Helga Lénárt-Cheng


Pages 275 - 292

open-access



This article contends that ‘Everybody’s Autobiography’ (EA) was part of Gertrude Stein’s lifelong project to represent the wholeness of humanity. According to Stein, “Everybody’s Autobiography [was] to be the Autobiography of every one” (EA 99). I propose to take this audacious claim literally, but not in the politicized sense of Stein writing “for everybody,” “like everybody,” or “in the name of everybody.” Instead, I focus on the formal conditions of representing infinity to argue that the key to Stein’s experiment lies in the possibility of neutralized ascription offered by indefinite pronouns. Indefinite pronouns such as “someone,” “each one,” and “anyone” express degrees of unspecificity, distributability, and variability. By neutralizing ascription, these pronouns open up a space where the autobiographical “I” can expand towards the totality of “everyone,” without losing the intimacy and authority of the “one.” Indefinite pronouns thus create a space of intimate indefiniteness, which challenges our notions of autobiographical unsubstitutability.

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