Hemingway on writing and discovering

Sunday, October 18, 2015
F: 5:10 a.m. So, Papa, to continue—
EH: The book that first made my reputation – The Sun also Rises – came from my marrying what I knew, especially my craft I had been working so hard to perfect, and what
F: Got tangled, didn’t it? On your end this time, I think. Try again?
EH: Yes. The accustomed persona, the man I knew from experience, wrote the book. The newly discovered man, put it that way, was awakened and became a little more self-aware, in the writing of the book. Is that any better?
F: I don’t know. I got what you are saying. I don’t know if others will.
EH: If they don’t, maybe they will as we talk about it a little.
F: Bearing in mind that this line of inquiry began with the question of what happened to mar the book To Have and Have Not.
EH: Oh, I haven’t forgotten.
F: I never thought you did. But I can imagine others forgetting the connection.
EH: If you shape this into a narrative of some kind, you will be able to cut it way down, and leave out things that had to be said for you to get it. That was my method. But that is not where we are at the moment.

All right, now realize something. Although in my mind the breakthrough that book represented was unconnected with my breaking up of the marriage with Hadley, in a larger sense they were, together and separately, both effect and cause of changes at a deeper level. So it shouldn’t have – but did – surprise me when the entirely favorable and looked-for success was accompanied by the disruptive and unexpected upheaval in my emotional life.
This doesn’t mean I couldn’t have stayed married to Hadley and couldn’t have avoided falling in love with Pauline. That could have happened, or not happened, and in plenty of possible timelines it did. What it does mean, though, is that the book was a sort of distillation into comprehensible terms of something that I had felt emotionally. That process of distillation
F: Sorry.
EH: Focus a little. You are allowing two or three tracks to operate at once.
F: I know it. All right.
EH: Distilling the experience solidified it by giving it structure. From being vague intimations, it became divided into a few characters whose being could be portrayed by means of a few situations. That’s what fiction is, after all – the use of a plot to define various aspects of a world you create – or, looked at another way, it is the condensation of a fog of perceptions into a set of characterizations.
F: As you say that, it is clear enough. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it that way. I keep saying that, I notice!
EH: Just shows you are paying attention.
Now, it is very possible – common, in fact – for the artist to create a world and only learn after the fact about what he has created. That is because unfamiliar parts of himself have had a share in the process of creation. And it is that process of creation that smooths the process of integration of those unfamiliar parts into the previously existing or previously recognized elements of consciousness.
F: Meaning that in effect the artist first teaches, then becomes what he has taught?
EH: It can happen that way. Or you could look at it that he first allows a looser connection, then tightens it. Or allows himself to be taken for a ride, then takes hold of the steering wheel again and looks around to see where he has been taken to, and examines or experiences how to operate the slightly altered vehicle he finds himself inheriting. This is various analogies attempting to point to the same rather hard-to-describe process.
If I hadn’t written the book – even as a short story; the form didn’t matter so much as the fact that I was organizing (or being organized, I suppose) the experience that
Well, you understand. No point in trying to untangle that sentence. Sequential thought can be a clumsy way to express things seen as one in non-3D. All the connections, the this-but-also-that, tend to be somewhat pruned in speech if only for the sake of rendering a comprehensible and limited statement. You’ve heard that before, but it bears repeating. The process of turning non-3D perception into 3D speech is a real change; it is truly translation, and all translation involves difficulty. You might bear in mind the tendency of such translation is always in the direction of ruthless pruning of possible connections so as to preserve at least a thin line of argument.
To write about it (even though I was not really aware of what I was writing about) was to more fully recognize it – to create channels for me to express it. Writing about it changed me less by giving me new ideas than by giving me a way to recognize how much, and how specifically, I had changed.
But of course I didn’t yet know how it would change me, had changed me. Everything that came through, I applied through the filter of the person I had been. I thought I would write a short story about Duff – about Brett – that would explore who and what she was; I thought I would portray the young [bullfighter] Nino de la Palma; I thought I would use my own early experiences of Spain to contrast it with my experiences of Paris and France (which by this time seemed already accustomed and habitual, after several years’ residence there).
None of those things were the core of the novel that emerged, but they were all the excuse for it, the setting for the plot, the window into that world. And in being that window, the book allowed me to see what I was no longer. It couldn’t show me what I would be henceforth; there were too many paths. But it could show me the life I no longer fit into. It would show me, and it would therefore, or thereby, shape me.
But then, as I became aware of my new stature (and I don’t mean reputation, here, I mean what I now added up to), I became less and less satisfied with my old (even if only of a few years’ standing) outline, or model, or template, of who and what I was. Unconsciously, I wanted to, needed to, break up the old molds. It didn’t absolutely have to be breaking up my life with Hadley, because she could still stretch, but it would have to be a new life.
F: You said somewhere – to Max Perkins, I think – that you were finished with Europe a couple of years before you left it.
EH: Yes, that became clear. But Hadley and I could have returned to the States and lived somewhere. Michigan, maybe, or maybe I would have discovered Key West anyway. Whatever happened to me would have been different but not necessarily any worse. I might have had a more conventional and more tranquil existence.
But I doubt it. Anyway, there’s your hour.
F: I can’t quite figure out why we didn’t get as many pages as usual this time. I didn’t write any slower, and we didn’t have pauses or interruptions that I recall.
EH: Does it matter?
F: I suppose it doesn’t, it’s just strange. And, at that, I see we did fill eight pages, and I rarely fill more than nine or ten. Very well, till next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *