Which Hemingway?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015
F: 3 a.m. All right, Papa, so yesterday you explained how your inner world changed and then your outer world changed to meet it, and then you responded to the new externalized challenge and the process continued.
EH: All that was to show you a way to see that the Ernest Hemingway of any given moment may have been responsible to react to circumstances, but he was never in charge of bringing things into being.
F: I have just read of a professor’s theory of consciousness, that says our consciousness is more an automatic mechanism adjusting to the moment than it is a determining factor in life. I agreed with that, naturally, but I doubted that he and I would draw the same conclusions from that fact.
EH: Your reading of it brought it to the surface of your mind, of course, and so it made it a factor in our communication. That is one way – one more way – in which the world is tied together, the continual if invisible process of cross-fertilization.
F: So if we listen to impulse to read this or that – as I just re-read To Have and Have Not, say–?
EH: It is a convenient way to influence a consciousness to be changed in a certain direction. A book is a powerful multiplier, in that it is itself a symbol containing many complicated ideas and relationships.
Bear in mind – we are still pursuing the question of Martha’s radical effect on my life. She hasn’t quite entered the scene yet. That was 1936 and we are still considering my early days with Pauline in the late 1920s. but you cannot appreciate the change if you do not appreciate the basis for the change.

F: I got that Pauline’s Catholicism helped you adjust your life to give better expression to something within you that needed expression and otherwise hadn’t had it.
EH: Well–. I hardly know how to respond to that. It met expression when I did anything physical but not particularly “civilized.” Amateur bullfighting, for instance. Camping or fishing trips. Life among men such as with the army in Italy in 1918. But it didn’t have a coherent principle holding it together, until Catholicism provided one. But – you can see how hedged this is by the succession of statements starting with the word “but” – but considering myself a Catholic only went so far. As I said earlier, Pauline’s idea of Catholicism was still closer to respectability and decorum than mine was. Mine was primitive in a way Pauline could never be, even in bed.
I know that sounds like a crude statement but she was far less inhibited, far more experimental in bed than Hadley had been, so it was easy at first to see her as closer to the primitive in life. But that was only vitality – not that vitality is to be disregarded, it’s always a good thing, but it is not what I am trying and failing to get across.
F: I know. It’s suggested by that word “primitive” that keeps coming up, but we haven’t quite gotten to it. Now I’m thinking of your second African safari in the 1950s – the one that ended so disastrously for you – in which you toyed with the idea of going native.
EH: And of course I suggested that association of ideas and you accepted it and expressed it, so we can pursue it. Or, another way to see it, the idea “occurred to you” – a nice neutral way to account for it – and your bringing it up allowed us to pursue it. There is no way for you to know which is the correct way to see it, because it is merely a matter of how you want to see things. This is just a side-note on communication.
Yes, the two—
Well, put it this way: If you look closely at my life starting from the idea of an internal tension between civilization and primitive being, it looks different. We don’t have to define primitive to know it when we see it, and you can see it as a bright thread in the tapestry of my life from start to finish. If I hadn’t become known as a writer, my life would have been understood as that of somebody who was staying close to that side of life.
F: Not quite it. Well-grooved channels again, as yesterday?
EH: Yes, and notice that now that you have been alerted to them, you can recognize them. It requires continual going back along the trail to x out the automatic associations and carefully put in what, and only what, we want to say.
Hunting, fishing, putting my life in danger by going to wars I didn’t need to go to, boxing, revolutionary politics – it all kept me nearer to that edge that was life. Why do you suppose I was a good man in emergencies and maybe not so good when things were going too smoothly? I was born to live on that edge, and I sensed it, and to the extent that I did it, I was fulfilled. The complication was that I was also born to express what I lived, which led me in other directions and I was born to bring that edge into “civilized” life as well, reading and watching. But if you set the intellectual part aside, you may be able to see something else.
F: So why is it so difficult to express what ought to be a simple concept?
EH: It isn’t difficult to express something akin to what I want to say, and people have been expressing that for decades. But to say just what I want to say, in the only context that will allow it to be received, is the work of a precision tool, not a broad-ax.
You could come closer to it by looking at what I scorned.
F: I’m willing to make that attempt, but it seems to me that plenty of people have been down that road.
EH: But you see, what they say depends on where they started in their idea of who and what I was. If you look at Ernest Hemingway as the young man on the make, or as the competent hard-working young writer, or the daredevil, or the boy rebelling against his upbringing, or as the poseur, or as the hedonist or the scholar or the closet intellectual – wherever you begin, it is going to affect your point of view. That can’t be helped. Who starts from the point of view of Hemingway the bundle of contradictions with a few common threads?
F: Reynolds, I’d say. A few others.
EH: Yes, but each one begins with a different angle, because each biographer is himself a part of the equation, recognized or not. So your examination of my life is going to be different from any other to the degree that you include your own starting-point, and take it into account, and proceed from there. This is true of anyone considering anything.
F: And it doesn’t much matter if they are in conscious connection with you, as they will be in unconscious connection, merely by having you “in mind.”
EH: Yes, although not quite so black-and-white. But yes, the art of biography and criticism is both more individual and more psychically linked than is commonly recognized – as it all of intellectual life, for that matter. All of life.
So, look at what I scorned. Your list?
F: Phonies. In fact, not only did that pop up immediately, it almost ends the list. I’ll bet everything else I could come up with is some variant of that. In fact, that’s where our particular dialogue began, with our very first conversation in which I introduced you to my father.
EH: Yes indeed. And what is the opposite to phoniness? Authenticity, a person being what they are and being true to it. That doesn’t mean they are skillful at anything necessarily, or even talented. It doesn’t say anything about their values or ideas or habits or anything, really. Authenticity shines through a life like a tint in a painting. (Bad metaphor.) It is a quality affecting all other qualities either by its presence or by its absence. And this is what I valued in people. When we begin again, perhaps you can begin here. It isn’t that authenticity is found only among simple people, or poor people, or – well, or any generalization I can think of offhand. But it is true that the more complicated your life, the harder it can be to be that
F: Pure.
EH: Well, that’s the word, but in this case it means letting your life flow through you without your tainting it by not living it than it does not sinning, or following some code, even your own.
F: That last paragraph didn’t flow very well. I could feel myself wanting to tinker with the grammar as it came out. I’m hell on parallel construction, as you know. But, okay, that can be our starting point next time. Thanks, Papa, as always.

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