Hemingway and revolutions

Monday, June 18, 2011

Reading Norberto Fuentes’ Hemingway in Cuba, not well organized or thought out but a valuable point of view.

Papa, how does it strike you?

It provides good leverage to turn your attention and your insight in ways I probably couldn’t do directly. And this is worth a line or two of explanation.

Sometimes you may get an impulse — buy this book! Read that weblog! Re-read this or that! Generally you’re pretty good about following such impulses. Think of such suggestions as pointers. Here, if you will look over here you will learn a fact or hear a point of view or see an unsuspected connection or — mostly — make an unsuspected connection because you’re two connected bits are common to your mind but not necessarily anybody else’s. It would be much more difficult to put these extended thoughts into your head. So — leverage. You know more now about my life in Cuba. I can tell you more subtle, more complicated things that otherwise I couldn’t.

I understand. My reading the information has rearranged the neurons, so to speak, and so I have a prepared field for new information that has to take that newly acquired information for granted.

Yes. The more you know, the more you can be told. My politics, for instance. Do you think Mary was burning personal correspondence only so it wouldn’t be published because I didn’t want it published!? No. A lot of it was dangerous.

Dangerous to her? To your reputation?

To many people I had worked with who were not all protected by death or distance.

You’re talking revolutionary politics.

Twenty years of it. And some of it, published in Cold War times, would have been very damaging, though if it were to come to light now it would reflect to my credit. We couldn’t very well hope to stash it secretly away for 50 years until the time should be right.

I’m getting the same nuances as when we discussed the Q-Boat and the infantry scouting episodes of the war.

I was by profession a writer. You don’t see me doing anything amateur in regards to my profession. Even things like doing my own negotiating that may look amateur, I had my reasons for. You understand what I am saying? I was a professional, in discipline, in knowledge, in the business aspects of it, in weighing the markets, in considering what I was doing against what others had done or were doing. How many things can you be professional at? You can try to bring a professional’s attitude, but can’t hope to have a specialized knowledge that only a professional learns over a lifetime. I wasn’t quite a professional fisherman, certainly not a professional hunter. Fishing and shooting are not the same thing as having all the background knowledge and skills of professionals. I was a good boxer, too: That doesn’t mean I could have gone into the ring as a professional.

All that is background to say this: At revolutions, I was an amateur and couldn’t become a professional. Do you see Castro writing classic novels, or playing orchestral-level violin, or — oh, anything? To become a revolutionary is like becoming a soldier. You could be a volunteer, and that’s one thing. To be a professional is another.

So, politics. The same subject, you see. I knew a lot of background, I knew a lot of people, I could see a lot of what was wrong and knew some of why it was wrong. I knew many of the players, good and bad. I knew some of the hidden springs. Still, I was an amateur, subject to an amateur’s misjudgments.

If I hear you right you are saying Mary burned a lot of evidence of misjudgments that could have gotten you into a lot of trouble, post-facto.

Well, let’s be careful, here. You are going to have to bring your discernment to another level now, because what you’re getting is now a mixture of my input, your reading, your thinking, other peoples second- and third-hand reports, and it makes it on the one hand richer and on the other hand more susceptible to distortion. What you’ve learned about Hemingway has given you a great store of referents. But maybe it risks hardening the picture so it is harder for me to provide the unexpected.

I can see the problem. But seeing it isn’t the same as overcoming it. I’ll try.

If I was drawn to the left in the 1930s, it was in reaction to what I could see happening. Not merely in terms of fascism but of Wall Street. You yourself have seen how I was lured into conspiring against dos Passos — that’s what it amounts to — for a while, before I moved back to a more neutral or let’s say a less naïve position. You’re always in danger of forgetting — as Norberto Fuentes forgets, or doesn’t mention — that at the same time we were faced with Hitler, there was Stalin with his show trials killing off the old Bolsheviks, clamping down the entire country under the great terror, shooting some of his best generals like Tukhachevsky.

Now, Churchill and Roosevelt didn’t have any trouble dealing with Stalin in the war years. I don’t mean he didn’t cause trouble, I mean they weren’t troubled about doing it. They did it out of calculation. They needed those Russian soldiers! And if Roosevelt projected New Deal over Soviet agriculture, that made it easier to swallow, but he sure needed those soldiers, and to the very end he and Churchill were worried that Russia would sign a separate peace again, though they needn’t have worried. It’s one thing to go to Brest-Litovsk because your soldiers wouldn’t fight any more. It would have been a second thing to do it when you were carrying the field.

But — to stick to it — my own politics was revolutionary but cautious. I had a lot to lose, including a position from which I could and did contribute assistance. And, I knew how difficult and uncertain any struggle must be. Not much advantage in being defeated and removed early when you might have been preserved and used to great effect later on.

Notice a couple of things. My sympathies were never on the side of reaction. From in our time on, my books and stories always said, we’ve lost the past — for good or evil or both — and it isn’t going to be re-created. I was interested in Communism, I was interested in Mussolini as a phenomenon at first, until I saw through him. And I was continuously interested in any force of nature or force of personality or social force that looked as though it might crack the crust of hardened convention and let life comes through. But which horse to play to win, and which to hope for as a longshot and which to shake your head at and wait for another day?

You know how it is. You wait your whole life for things to get better while you see them always getting worse.

It would take a real optimist to think that World War II was a happy ending to anything.

And so, during those years of waiting?

You just read that I had to get out of Cuba in a hurry in the 1940s. That blew over, and only the fact that I was publicly named by the government of the Dominican Republic is the reason it was remembered — and even so, how much is it remembered? Not much. If you hadn’t been able to get ahold of Fuentes’s book, how much would you know about it? And that was the merest toehold.

Papa, I’m hearing a recurrent theme, here. You as a man were involved in things that aren’t necessarily on the record — just like U-boat hunting and getting information as to the safe approaches to Paris — and reflect a more serious side to you than is generally recognized. Did you knowingly contribute to The Hemingway Myth because it was good cover?

People don’t do things for just one reason usually. But if you have a place owned by a celebrity and he holds parties all the time, it’s easy for people to meet there while holding drinks. Let’s say that.

So Batista’s police weren’t so far wrong.

Hell no they weren’t wrong, and the nice thing is, they knew they weren’t wrong, but they couldn’t do anything much about it, because I was too famous. It would have hurt them. That’s why they killed my dog, as much as anything. They could get away with that much. I don’t say they planned that, it’s just that they were frustrated and they were going to go on being frustrated, and they knew it.

What else would you like to say about the subject?

Nothing at the moment. You’re tired, because you’re out of shape.

I know, I know. Thank you, papa. I look forward to hearing more.

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