Thursday October 29, 2015
F: (5:35 a.m. Morning, Papa. My friend Dirk suggests I talk to Teddy Roosevelt, which I am hesitant to do because I am not so much in sympathy with him as I was when I was young, but it makes me wonder if you and he have connected. There were so many similarities between you, and he was one of your heroes when you were a boy, I know.
EH: Yes he was, but the war did lead me to reassess him and everything else I had believed. Maybe we will discuss Roosevelt and Hemingway at some point, but I’d rather continue with our present discussion. Your question does not amount to tourism, or autograph-hunting, because it is a valid question connected to my life then and now, but it does lead in a direction I’d rather people didn’t go. I realize that the distinction between kinds of questions may not be obvious, but it is real. The same question asked for one reason may be valid while the same question asked for another reason may not be. It is a matter of motivation, and of tendency.
F: All right. Sometime I would like to pursue the question of the striking similarities and connections between the two of you, though.
EH: And we can do that. It will be another of your pairs of comparisons and contracts like Emerson and Thoreau. But not today. Let’s return to the question of authenticity.
F: All right. (And I note as a matter of interest how sometimes – as just now – the process sort of stops until I write what is to me a neutral or meaningless comment like “all right.” It isn’t as if it is waiting for me to assent, for there is no decision involved. It appears to be almost a matter of a beat in music or in drama, a moment that preserves the rhythm. Why this should be, I have no idea, but I’ve noticed it over many years, and never commented on it until just now.)
EH: Notice and make note of such things, for you are as much about the process as the contents, as much about encouragement of others as personal satisfaction.
But to continue about authenticity. This is the hidden clue to Hemingway. It is well hidden in plain sight because it is so closely intertwined with my confabulating.
F: And, as time went on, with other things.
EH: Let’s go slowly. Remember, that is the key here. The slower you go, the more closely you can examine the passing scenery. I was very quick on the uptake, with senses wide-open, so in effect time around me passed slowly. But if you are mentally quick without that quickness of perception, you are going to miss things by rushing through them, or I should say rushing by them.
It was no accident that you began by questioning me on my lying about my war experiences – that’s how you saw it before you understood what I was doing. That initial question went to the very heart of who and what I was. You might quote that question and my answer.
F: Easily done, it’s in my book about us, and it’s on the computer amid my journal directories.
Looking at it, I see that in our first conversation in May 2006, it was only a brief mention of what it was you couldn’t stand – “phonies and pretentious phonies and pretentious phony fools.” It wasn’t until the end of July, 2007, that we had the conversation – while I was in England reading The Young Hemingway – about how could you say you couldn’t stand phonies (which, you obviously couldn’t) and yet do “so much pretending and rearranging and lying and misremembering and leading people on.”
EH: Notice that, as so often, the reality is slightly different from the way you remember it, yet is closer to the sense of what you are being told. Memory is a frail reed next to direct timeless access to knowledge. In any case, it may be instructive to some for you to quote that second passage, my response to that accusation.
F: I will. But why?
EH: Because as always these conversations are a matter of continuous refinement of perception and understanding, and the answer that satisfies you today, or piques your curiosity, or baffles you, will elicit a different response when you come to it with a different mind, or will be restated, rephrased, self-contradicted, even argued against, when changes in you or in the time make it necessary (or possible) to do so in order to enhance clarity.
F: Here is the excerpt, from pages 20 and 21 of Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway.
[beginning of excerpt:]
Pretending and Lying
F: Tuesday, July 31, 2007. 6:05 a.m. Mr. Hemingway, you said you couldn’t stand phonies, and clearly you couldn’t. How do you reconcile this with so much pretending and rearranging and lying and misremembering and leading people on?
EH: That is quite an indictment, but I have to concede it. In my defense I could say this. It is one thing to pretend until you can achieve — fake it until you make it, as your business partner says — and another very different thing to pretend that you are what you are not. It is true, there isn’t much difference in a boy.
F: I am sorry, I can’t see much difference in a grown man protecting a territory of lies however young he was when he created them.
EH: Perhaps you can see it this way. Lies, stories, imaginings, have consequences. Some are internal, the stories you tell yourself in order to bring a better you into existence. Others are external, and you have to live with them. If you tell someone you are 22, and you are barely 20, at some point you may have to overcome the consequences of even so small a thing. The internal consequences may be small or nonexistent — you were, after all, merely wishing yourself a little farther along the path. But the external consequences may be larger, or even maybe important, depending on what that lie or exaggeration does to the person you told it to. Will she then know to distrust your facts? Will she distrust you? But there isn’t any going back once you’ve made the wrong step.
F: Why isn’t there?
EH: If I said I was in the Italian army when the truth is that I wanted to be with the Italian army, and wanted to be a soldier among the soldiers, to correct this story would be merely to adjust it to the externals rather than the internals. Why do you think I was in harm’s way in the first place? I wanted to be a soldier among soldiers, a man among men. There was no reason for a Red Cross man to be at a forward post except wanting to be among the men at the lines, and do what I could even if it was only bringing them little comforts. To correct my story would have been to dishonor that aspiration, as I saw it then.
F: You were improving on the truth.
EH: I was reporting what I was experiencing on the inside.
F: And wearing the uniform and the cape afterwards?
EH: You should understand clinging to what had been.
F: And I understand your needing to remind yourself that you were not merely what you appeared; were not fated (doomed) to return to your hometown and revert to being seen as what you didn’t want to be.
EH: I had an eye that would have kept me out of it entirely, so life found a different path for me to get the taste I needed, then pay prolonged consequences.
[end of excerpt]
F: It is interesting to me that here it is, 6:20, 45 minutes in, and I have been working as diligently as usual and the material has been coming as smoothly as usual, and yet we have covered only five pages, ordinarily half an hour’s work. Looking up those quotes didn’t take two minutes, even. Where did the other time go?
EH: Don’t worry about it. Now, authenticity and pretending look different if you look at them through the lens less of what people do and say than of what they are. And since normally we judge that by (through) what they do and say, you can see this is a process open to misunderstanding.
F: Open to your own bias, too.
EH: Of course, but so are your considered judgments. Reliance on logic and evidence is not inherently any more reliable than reliance on direct perception. It all depends on the person. What is one man’s insight is another man’s jumping to conclusions. And I don’t mean that in any external sense; that is, I’m not saying it may differ in appearance. I am saying it may be different, depending on who is doing it.
You (and Reynolds and others) called me on my pretending. But you (and Reynolds and others) could also see that the pretending was to a purpose. It wasn’t pretending to be something I wasn’t, exactly; it was more pretending that external events had happened in a way that would have shown what I was – and, much more importantly, continually in fact – it was practicing so that I could cleave to an image of myself that I could live into. Notice I said “live into,” not “live up to.” The latter implies justifying myself after the fact; the former implies giving myself a template to help me become externally what I already was internally. And you can see how little response this would have met from my contemporaries even if I had been able to put it that way.
F: Well, when you do put it that way, I can see it as setting goals for yourself.
EH: You could even see it – as flitted through your mind – as hero-worshipping a self I wasn’t yet. That may seem disrespectful to you, but how do you know where the thought came from or why it came?
F: And there is our hour, somehow.
EH: There’s our hour, and it wasn’t wasted. Post it and go about your day, and remember what you were told 14 years ago.
F: All is well. All is always well.
EH: That’s it.
F: Okay, till next time, then. Thanks.
Thursday October 29, 2015