Sunday, May 30, 2010
6:45 AM. I started re-reading Reynolds’ fourth volume, “The Thirties,” and it is interesting how much clearer it is and how my viewpoint seems to have changed, so that I am easily seeing a difference between fact and attribution, between description and attribution of motive, or judgment of state of mind. In fact I am re-reading a biography of Coleridge — a prize-winning bio by Richard Holmes — with the same reservations.
Where we wound up yesterday, Papa, was more or less centered on one of Bob Friedman’s questions he suggested I ask you: Why is this dialogue important to you, and to me? Okay, your move.
Again I return to the question of how people’s expectations and reactions to somebody or somebody’s reputation affects a person. As I know my life, that’s what I can talk about.
Carl’s point is that people began projecting their own internal makeup onto an image of me that they created as they read my books and read about me — supposedly true things about me and my life — in the lying press. The more they did it — projected stuff onto me — the more that image gained power, and the more it gained power, the more the press and everybody seized on it to make money by blowing the balloon bigger, and so on. It wasn’t a limited process — it was the Hollywood image machine, relentlessly and ruthlessly turned on to me for their own economic benefit (I became “news”) because the demand was there and could be fed and increased.
You’ll notice, this didn’t have anything to do with the content of my novels, or of the two nonfiction experiments that really deserved serious attention if I do say so, Green Hills and Death. What happened is that anything in those books — or any books, or short stories — or anything in my life, that fit into the emerging myth, that fed it, got magnified and got attention paid to it, and got twisted if need be to fit better. Anything that didn’t fit got ignored, and anything that cut against it was apt to be attacked and derided as phony or affected or dishonest.
Now, I am going to say this all a second time, to try to avoid misunderstanding, because not everybody who comes to this is going to come to it with sympathy and knowledge of the facts and understanding of my life from the inside. And a fast reading can lead people to the wrong idea.
The Hemingway Myth was created because something in people responded to something in me and my life and my values that they sensed. In your way of seeing the world, you’d say something like “their threads vibrated to my threads,” though that isn’t right, really. Just like John F. Kennedy, I radiated something that excited and energized people, and regardless of what they thought it was, they were responding to a perception of wholeness, that lent us an air of glamour.
I am not saying I was glamorous. I am saying, people saw me through a glamorous haze, because of what they had within them that responded to it. And of course plenty of people didn’t respond that way; my image didn’t match that something within them. (And of course, close up anybody becomes less image and more real individual, which is why people are so often disappointed when they meet their heroes in real life. It isn’t necessarily that the person is a fraud, or even that the image is wrong, but it’s because no human matches any god, and those are the energies we’re talking about here — the magical, beyond-human energies that borrow individuals and attach to them.)
Once that glamour process began, and at first it was easily confused with merely becoming famous for what I’d written, it began to become profitable to people to feed it and feed off of it. At first it was mild and even benign, like a paragraph about “lunch with a visiting author” in a newspaper or magazine, or a profile piece in connection with the book. But it grew, and it grew, and it had nothing to do with my work. And this means that it had nothing to do with me. It was grinding for its own purposes, some conscious (cashing in on the publicity that might attend my name, say), and some — an increasing amount — not. In other words, after a while, no matter how consciously the press was using me — not to mention Hollywood! — they were also being used in turn by forces that had their own agenda.
I’m not talking about conspiracies, by the way. Or anyway not the kind of conspiracy people invent where conscious people plot behind the scenes to direct every little thing. If it’s any kind of conspiracy, it is a conspiracy of forces, not of people. The psychic energies that latched onto my name and a mostly-imagined image were not being directed by anybody in the body. They were more like shock waves, or electrical waves, or, I don’t know, I’m out of my depth here. Maybe try Carl.
The understanding is correct, if the conceptualization is not quite.
First off, you must understand that I came to understand more than I felt comfortable expressing, during my lifetime. We have discussed this before. I had to preserve a certain respectability in my time, or lose the ability to serve as a bridge for the time coming. Besides that consideration, which was not inconsiderable, there was another of equal weight — although I might feel that I had begun to understand, I could not yet formulate my understanding to my satisfaction. Anyone who thinks and observes is likely to die with unfinished mental business!
Here is the way I have come to see the process Ernest describes.
Begin with the fact that all minds are part of one greater all-encompassing mind. That mind in effect is divided into specialties. In effect, remember. So, a part for planets, say, and within each planet a part for geology and a part for what we call living matter and within that a part for animals and within that — animals as opposed to vegetables and minerals, you understand, staying with conventional systems of taxonomy — within animals is a section of that mind for mankind, and within that, races, etc. down to individual families and at last you, the individual.
This is the reality that I described from the other end, beginning at the individual level, moving to the community of beings at ever-higher levels and remaining entirely silent about portions of the mind beyond humanity-as-a-whole. Even at that my scheme was described as mystical.
Now realize before we go any farther that this way of categorizing the one mind is only one convenient way of looking at it. There are others. Life is never so simple as our categorizations. How could it be? To use the analogy you like, it would be the goldfish creating the fishbowl.
Nonetheless, we can profitably continue with the analogy. The mind is the nonphysical aspect of being, the underlying pattern upon which the physical is constructed. Everything physical is invisibly connected to everything else physical, because everything physical is out of the one creating mind. This is not theology, nor philosophy, but fact.
From this fact you can see that it must follow that people are moved by invisible strings. They are not puppets, and their free will is not illusion — but their freedom exists only as one among many. No one lives on a desert island.
Every individual’s life has its yearnings, which stem from some incompleteness pulling toward wholeness. What that yearning is depends on what the person has to begin with, but of course no one is whole or can be whole and still remain human.
The closer one approaches to wholeness, the greater the attractiveness, because the larger the range of people that are pulled into that field.
For instance — returning to Hemingway as example —
Intellectuals saw him as the thinker who could act, and live with gusto.
Sportsmen saw him as the fisherman or hunter who wrote books and enjoyed a wide Success.
You see? The list could easily be expanded, but to do so would itself become so interesting as to blur the point. Those who can identify with something in a famous man or woman can thus in a vicarious way identify not merely with his or her fame or achievement or success, but with his or her wholeness, or approach to wholeness rather. And the more well-rounded the person — the more intellectually and emotionally whole — the more handles for people to grasp.
Let me illustrate that for clarity. If someone becomes famous for a very narrowly-defined achievement or quality, only a few will identify with him, or her, and so the level of fame will have nothing to do with the glamorizing process. After [Jonas] Salk invented the polio vaccine he was famous. Everybody knew his name and had an idea of what he had done. Did you see any Salk Myth arise? Monet became enormously successful in his lifetime, his paintings worth a fortune. There are many Monet admirers: Is there a Monet Myth? C.S. Forester’s Hornblower novels made him into a worldwide name, as did for a time so many authors’ works. Where are their myths? It is not achievement that creates glamour.
Nor is attractiveness as a personality enough. Has anyone mentioned Richard Halliburton to you lately? Is there an active Halliburton myth? It faded, as his reputation faded, because there was not ultimately enough satisfying content to sustain those who would grasp it. Swimming the Hellespont appeals to escapism, yes, and it has a splendid boyish enthusiasm that people may find refreshing — but then what follows? Halliburton couldn’t find it and neither could those who for a while were enthralled by his reflected glamour. And his books didn’t have Byron’s genius, so dying mysteriously and young wasn’t enough to perpetuate the myth. He faded into the Western sunset, appropriately. And the very fact that few of your readers will have heard of him makes the point. There is a difference between notoriety and fame, and between fame and glamour, and between glamour and a human life.
Thank you. I’m going to have to take a break, or maybe end for a while.
This is a good place to pause. You will notice, it gets easier for you, as any practiced skill.
5 PM. And here is an example of the myth-machine in action, from Hemingway: the Thirties by Michael Reynolds:
“Hemingway is a man born in his due time, embodying to perfection the mute longings and confused ideals of a large segment of his own and the succeeding generation. He is the unhappy warrior that many men would like to be. About him has sprung up a real contemporary hero-myth.”
Clifton Fadiman, which figures, in “Ernest Hemingway: an American Byron” in The Nation. A good example of the negative side of the mythmaking process, cementing Hemingway (to the best of Fadiman’s ability) into the role it was easiest to see him playing. And a later chapter, set in 1934 after his return from Africa, contains other examples by other writers of little note.