Hemingway on cross-currents in his life

Thursday, October 1, 2015
F: 5:30 a.m. Okay, Papa. Your new start.
EH: It’s hard for me to get across to people the radical break in my life. I’m trying to get it across here, but I don’t know if it can be done. Some, like you, get it instinctively. Others, though, just don’t, and I don’t quite know why.
Yes I do. It’s because people have a tendency to smooth things over and see continuation as a part of a pattern rather than as carrying on despite losing your way.
F: Now, you know that sentence will profit from my interpreting it so you can correct the interpretation.
EH: I do, but that’s what we’re here for, using each other’s statements to peel back the layers of misinterpretation. Go ahead.
F: I think we touched on this a few years ago – but maybe it was in “Papa’s Trial,” come to think of it. We know that x happened, and then some time later y happened, and the natural tendency, looking back, is to connect the two points with a smooth line rather than realize there may have been a lot of random motion and unnoticed events between the two. The nautical analogy that comes to mind – courtesy of you, I suppose – is of a boat in a storm, or in choppy waters, heading now this way, now that, at the mercy of external circumstance mingled with its own intent, finally coming out headed somewhere, and it looking like a smooth process only because we weren’t there.

EH: That’s one way to put it. That still doesn’t get the fact that you in the body – your ego level, call it – may have one course in mind and your larger guiding force in your life – Freud’s superego, maybe, but more you’d have to call it your overarching spirit – may intend you do to something entirely different, go an entirely different way. So it isn’t just that you are in uncharted or stormy waters; you’ve got two or more captains fighting over the wheel. So you wind up sabotaging yourself, and you yourself do some of the papering over, trying to make your life make sense to you.
F: And biographers read your take on things and call it self-justification.
EH: And sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s half justification, half making it make sense.
F: I know you said somewhere, life isn’t a battlefield, it’s a morass.
EH: Well, isn’t it? Nothing is very clear, you don’t really know where you’re going, half the time you don’t know why you’re doing whatever you do – it’s a wonder it makes as much sense to us as it does.
So, despite the fact that I had so many cross-currents within me, I had to find a course. My old myth was partly coming true, partly it was falling apart. I mean by that, I had established myself among my fellow writers in Paris. I had learned to write in a terse, electric, intuitive way that nobody else was doing – that is, you understand, it was my style. I wasn’t imitating anybody any more, I had found my voice. And I had written a book that was about to become not only an artistic and commercial success, but a big success. The starving artist making it big – with a few inconspicuous adjustments of the facts – was coming true. But the other part of the myth – the starving young artist who discovers his one true love and prospers along with her – that one was getting blown out of the water at the same time.
Success, and failure, and at the same time.
F: So later in life you linked the two, the failure and the success, and you blamed Pauline and the [Gerald] Murphys and anybody who encouraged or supported you in your change of course.
EH: I guess I did. I don’t know that I ever saw so clearly why I did. It got linked in my mind that way. So I wrote up the starting artist part and I had to leave that part clean and untouched, so the rest of it had to be a combination of my moral lapse and the effect of bad companions.
F: Hard on your friends. But I understand how it came out that way. There wasn’t anything or anybody, including yourself, that you weren’t prepared to sacrifice for your art. So you had to preserve its purity, so to speak, by rewriting your memories.
EH: That’s an interesting take on it, and more generous to me than most.
F: More generous, maybe, because I can feel what you were feeling?
EH: It’s an interesting process. I didn’t expect that we still learn about who we were, after we’re in the grave.
F: Well, hell, Papa, they’re still trying to figure out who wrote Shakespeare! It shouldn’t surprise you that we haven’t gotten you figured out after only half a century.
EH: But that statement obscures more than it illuminates.
F: Yes it does. I did hear you: We continue to process our life after the 3D part of it is over.
EH: And we can be aided by sympathetic attention from others. One unsuspected service often rendered by scholars and biographers. But in the case of those who were not famous, rendered in the form of prayers for the dead. But this is another subject.
F: Well, maybe not entirely. Aren’t we to the point of discussing why you made a radical turn in your religious life here?
EH: Maybe so. All right, you know that people think my considering myself a Catholic suddenly was hypocrisy or, let’s say, a case of convenient conscience. They figure that since Pauline wouldn’t have been able to marry a divorced man and a Protestant, the legalistic way out was to announce myself as having been a Catholic before the marriage, and get it annulled in the eyes of the church. And that’s what we did.
F: I remember some of your friends were disgusted with the hypocrisy involved in your pretending you hadn’t really married, and Bumby therefore wasn’t really legitimate.
EH: Oh, I know, and they weren’t wrong. But as far as I was concerned, that was just something we had to do. Life is full of legalistic stupidities, and you get around them as best you can in order to live your life. That official-Catholic way of seeing things wouldn’t have any effects on Hadley or Bumby – it isn’t like he would suddenly be legally or morally a bastard – because they didn’t exist within the church but within civil society, and civil society recognized the divorce but not the annulment. So, what the hell. It was just something we had to do.
But that was at the least important level, the church-law level, the conforming-to-somebody’s-rules level. That didn’t much matter to me, although I thought it should matter, and tried to convince myself that it did matter.
F: You wasted some time trying to put that into words you could use to convince others that you were sincere.
EH: And, as you can see, I failed. And should have, because I didn’t believe it any more than they did. You can’t just make yourself believe something because you have placed yourself under a moral or spiritual authority that sees things that way. You can try, but you believe what your nature allows you to believe, no more, no less.
F: This is what you were working out in Robert Jordan’s relationship with the Communist Party in Spain. [In For Whom the Bell Tolls.] He accepted their authority for the emergency, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t see through it. He just saw no alternative.
EH: Not many people can see that. I don’t know that I saw it at the time. I was thinking politically, but of course the whole book was about a spiritual struggle. Yes, I suppose I was working through that in that way. I guess I had to have it disguised enough, distant enough, that I could deal with it. Interesting.
F: But to stay with the religious issue as you moved from Hadley to Pauline.
EH: Put it this way. Lots of times we drift in life rather than making an issue of things. The things we address are those that can’t be avoided for one reason or another. This is true whether you mostly drift or mostly take charge – it is just another way of saying, first things first. We deal with what presents itself, and we tidy up afterwards if need be.
F: And we’re at the end of another hour. But this is a good place to pause, maybe. I think we have cleared away enough shrubbery, maybe next time we can get at the religious issue fresh.
EH: It may take longer than you think. Look at what we’re learning.
F: Well, it’s fine with me. Be well, Papa. You have a lot of people’s affection, you know. You aren’t forgotten, or anything near forgotten. Till next time.

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