Friday, May 13, 2011

Hemingway at his best./

Ernest Hemingway is, in fact, grossly under-appreciated for his best work, specifically "In Our Time", "The Sun Also Rises", "To Have and Have Not". So much gets accomplished in such a stingy choice of words! His was a different world than the one we live in now, and his accounts of the world, is, at its highest, sublime. At his worst, he wrote sentimental gruel whose bathos so thick you could use it for mortar. A string of posthumous novels hasn't helped the reputation, and have served to obscure the real accomplishment.  There is the issue that Hemingway’s obsession with masculine stoicism and the adherence to a personal, difficult to communicate code of honor as a means to transcend the stumbles, betrayals and petty grievances of a rudderless world is a set up for a  bad end.A man who holds himself to a standard he knows he cannot live up in the least is essentially giving himself permission to seek a twelve gauge solution.

We witness that in the string of post humus novels where the famous style turned into self parody, but at his best, his absolute, crystallized greatest, it’s precisely because that he had issues with his masculinity that he tried to work out in his fiction, is a large part of what makes him great. The point of literary study is empathy as well as analytical comprehension. Hemingway may have fallen short of the self-actualization, but his fictive attempts, at best, resonate and move, and achieve transcendence even when he did not.  Stylistically, I prefer the spare evocation of Hemingway's agony over the auto didactic fumbling of D.H.Lawrence, another writer of mixed blessings. Where Lawrence wanted to be a philosopher more than a storyteller, a lecturer rather than a sympathetic ear to his characters, Hemingway had an intimacy in his work, the sense of being within the innermost circle of a community  who, among themselves, needed the fewest phrases to convey the most complex of emotions. The dialogue between Jake and Lady Brett in The Sun Also Rises  in clear yet oblique reference to the war  injury that left the protagonist impotent is a a brilliant exercise in getting across what was then unspeakable in way that couldn't be mistaken. We could say the same thing for the love scene in To Have and Have Not, a tired, grinding, ritual grudge fuck performed from habit rather than desire; this is not to say that I prefer the grim and gruesome expressed in sparing terms, but that I admire the particular finesse  Hemingway had in creating scenes that resonate loudly with as few effects as possible. It was a limited roster of techniques, of course, but what he did with it was beyond the instincts of most other writers seeking to become a voice for something greater than themselves.Let us say that at this point I am more likely to pick up Hemingway's books for another go round, since he fulfills the most important requirement; he is a good read  after all the issues are , for the moment, set aside.
Perhaps it is a male thing, that these are matters that a reader might have to be intimate with in order to enlarge their appreciation of the work, but I think not. More, I think, it comes to personal taste, as in, if one does not care for the way Hemingway described his universe, fine. But I don't believe the ability to relate emotionally to a text need be restricted to gender, nor should it be limited to any other smoking gun criteria. The college professors who instructed me through his work were men and women, and the women, I have to say, win for inspired lectures, wedding appreciation with critique, understanding the poetry of the struggle, and why the struggle was futile.