Hemingway — perception and interpretation

Wednesday, October 21, 2015
F: 3:20 a.m. Awake enough, and encouraged by a slight wheeze. Let’s go. Papa? A matter of how we perceive the world?
EH: By which I don’t quite mean “how we explain the world, how we interpret the world.” More like, how the world affects us as incoming signal.
F: I get the distinction between perception and interpretation.
EH: Yes, you would. Then this may be easier than I was thinking. The mind that perceives the world and takes it as face value is a more simple and pure mind than the one that cannot perceive without interpreting. The act of interpretation puts a veil of interpretation between the person doing it and the world he is interpreting.
F: Necessary, of course.
EH: Necessary to a degree. But the less interpretation, the purer the experience of the world, and the less one relies on interpretation, the better. But we had gotten to the point that what we called Western Civilization was so much interpretation and so little direct perception that we had actually lost the world. We were living in our interpretation, not in our perception.

F: This sounds like what Carl Jung said about consciousness advancing so far that it lost contact with the unconscious, which then erupted when the gap got too great.
EH: I can’t answer for that, you could ask him, but I’m trying to explain what was happening to me, unknown to my conscious self.
I was very young, I was very energetic, strong physically, curious, optimistic, enthusiastic. My father had kindled or recognized in me a love of the outdoors direct experience that never died. All of those things led me to experience deeply and
F: “perceptively”? That’s the word I got.
EH: “Directly” would be better. And on the other hand, I was educated enough – just enough, I’m tempted to say – in music and literature and, cumulatively as time went on, in history and contemporary affairs, that I did not experience things in a naïve open way unmoderated by interpretation. I perceived, but I interpreted. I wasn’t half-dead from a lack of direct perception, but neither was I primitive and stunted by a lack of the additional points of view afforded by our second-hand experiences, culture as provided by the arts and sciences.
F: Powerful mixture. And I can see how it made your art so vital and strong. The direct experience led you to be able to paint it powerfully and vitally, your reflection and your experience of your thinking process made you able to put together more complicated and insightful chains of connection.
EH: Okay so, if we have brought the others with us, we’re closer to explaining what you – and they, or some of them – have sensed but have not been able to put into words, quite.
F: I think maybe we are. The dichotomies people are always forcing you and your work into may or may not be accurate enough, but they aren’t this one. At least, not as far as I know. I don’t really know the scholarship.
EH: You can see, perhaps, one more reason why you and not somebody else got this? Not just our common threads, because I share bundles of thread with plenty of others. Not only your interest in me as a writer. But your one main preoccupation overlaps with my world in this one area of what we might call the rules of communication, and so you can interpret me for others.
F: Or I can let you interpret you for others (including me).
EH: In any case, we can work well at this, and the idea gets across. Summarize the point, if you would.
F: It has been said clearly enough. You had powerful means of direct perception and equally powerful ability to do the analysis, or interpretation, of these perceptions. You turned a powerful looking-glass on life, and put into words what you saw, in such a way as to help others see it too.
EH: Bear in mind, I am not claiming more than my due. My way of working was very different from [James] Joyce or Ezra [Pound] or [W/B.] Yeats or Dos [John Dos Passos] or any of the guys who changed the way the west saw and reacted. That doesn’t invalidate their work, obviously. And we mustn’t over-estimate how aware I was of what I was really doing. I thought I was merely learning to write more clearly and more powerfully, and indeed I was. But the fact is, my work had power and force and impact well beyond that of my contemporaries, and because people could feel it but couldn’t feel the causes for it, they seized on what they could see. Style, and then my biography.
F: I got that. Should I expand on it?
EH: Your decision. It is a matter of keeping the path open for those who want to travel with us.
F: Then I’ll just add that people ascribed Hemingway’s impact to what they could see was different from everybody else. The sparse style, the “cablese” terse nervous economy of words, the indirect method of conveying what was not explicitly said. That, plus assumptions about his attitude toward what he wrote about.
EH: Now, perhaps you see how several of our themes interconnect, and how hard it is to convey in any reasonable time.
F: I certainly see what looks like false trails people have been following.
EH: Let’s not lose sight of our objective. We’re getting toward To Have and Have Not, and Martha Gellhorn, and the end of my Key West years.
When my marriage to Pauline led me to living the external life of a Catholic of my time, it also led me to recognizing and honoring by ritual the internal life that being a Catholic happened to liberate in me.
F: I can feel you gathering yourself for the jump. Another difficult clump of factors to be communicated?
EH: I don’t have the command over interpretation here that I did when I could wrestle with materials to present a carefully thought-through work of art designed to carry you with me.
F: Can I help somehow?
EH: Not really. Being prepared to take down what comes is about the best you can do. Recognize that if we proceed by fits and starts, and if we go down blind alleys, that is merely the usual process of shaping that we all go through, only I have no way to do it “internally” in the way I did and you do.
F: Hmm. So, the looser I stay, the easier for you to think out loud for us.
EH: You could easily put it that way. Now, although it is only 50 minutes, this is a good place to pause. You have Monday’s few pages to write up, and then these, so that’s enough work for one morning – plus, this is a good place to pause in and of itself, in terms of the argument.
F: All right, then, Papa, I’ll stop. I do feel that this clarified something. Till next time.

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