Hemingway — integrity and ideals, a tension

Friday, October 30, 2015
F: 5:15 a.m. “Hero worshipping a self you weren’t yet.” Let’s talk some more about that, Papa.
EH: It is a way to see the process that many people go through. You, Frank, would probably put it more like “magnetizing yourself toward a particular future,” others might say setting an ideal to aim for. Say it however you wish, it expresses an important dynamic that is no less powerful for being invisible. What you are determines what you can wish to be. However, what you are is significantly broader than the little that you are aware of, and so your choices and your potential choices are more a mystery to you than an open book. One way to steer is to set your eye on a landmark and keep it steady.
F: “Hitch your wagon to a star,” Emerson said. “If you have built your castles in the air,” Thoreau said, “you work need not be lost. That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
EH: Same thing. How can you have an ambition, or an ideal – how can something “external” like watching John F. Kennedy – change you, except by meeting something within you that responds to it? Everybody takes algebra or chemistry or history or English in school, but only some respond to one or more of them, and although they may be inclined to credit a particular teacher’s influence for sparking that enthusiasm, in fact the enthusiasm was there waiting to be released. Sometimes it sits there and never meets the spark that would let it transform a life, but that is a different subject, and of course that doesn’t happen by accident any more than anything else in a person’s life does. The important thing to note here is that when you experience that spark, what you do with it is your choice (as with all of life)
F: Most of life?
EH: All right, most of life; in context it makes no difference. If you wish to become something you are not yet – for that is how it must appear to you, going through it in sequence of time – you must find a way to polarize yourself, magnetize yourself, to that reality. Hero-worshipping that potential self is one way to do it that may work for particularly imaginative persons, and that, I was.
So here you have two processes going on that will, or may, seem to contradict each other. They may seem to work at cross-purposes. On the one hand, you want to live in integrity, preserving your purity of intent and perception and decision; on the other hand, you want to pull yourself toward what you want to be (which of course means what you are not yet) which involves pretending and preferring an ideal to what actually exists. The conflict is mostly in appearances, but it is real.
F: Now, that somehow clears up, at least for me, things that have puzzled me about your career. Seeing them as contradictory elements always contending makes sense of what have seemed to be puzzling inconsistencies.
EH: Except that “contradictory” isn’t quite right. Contending is right, in that first one then the other tendency might predominate for the moment, but if they were contradictory it was mostly in appearance. To wish to be authentic and to wish to grow toward an impossible ideal is not a contradiction so much as an occasionally impossible tension.
F: Yes, I see that.
EH: And if you wish us to end here, there’s no harm in doing that. This is a discrete unit.
F: I had to think about that. Maybe I will, and maybe we’ll do it again later, though today will be a “people” day, come to think of it.
EH: Plus you want to keep re-reading The Martian.
F: True enough, though I could do that any time. Okay, then, till next time.

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