Saturday, November 7, 2015
F: 3:20 a.m. I just re-read my typed-up pages from this week / month. Even six days’ material adds up, and of course it is a quicker, more concentrated experience to read type rather than handwriting.
Papa, can we go back to what we were discussing Wednesday, that I got hadn’t quite expressed? I still don’t know what it is, but the feeling that there is something to be said more clearly is very strong. From you, for all I know.
EH: We were talking about the value of new facts and new interpretations, and how you – you the writer or you the reader – are as much a part of the process as is whatever you happen to be concentrating on. And we were looking at the different kinds of facts to be reported, and it is here that we haven’t quite made the distinction. The reason for our difficulty is the much-reinforced existence of certain categories of thought, that exert a pull like gravity – invisible, but relentless and capable of being established and predicted mathematically. Now, that last is exaggeration for the sake of effect, but you will notice that it has that effect – that is, it leads you instinctively to consider the independent existence of a pull that otherwise you may have assumed was entirely subjective. (Of course it is all subjective, but I am staying within an established category of thought, in saying that.)
You see, categories of thought proceed by dissecting reality into certain dichotomies. In a dualistic world, that is only to be expected. I’ve thought of an example that may be of service if it proves flexible enough.
Let us consider reality to be an unbroken sphere, and let’s think of it as an apple to be bisected, rather than as a globe or something grandiose.
Now, that apple may be cut into two in an undetermined number of ways, depending upon where the knife is placed, and how it is angled, and how the apple is turned beneath it. Easy enough, right? A simple enough analogy, an apple being cut into two by an outside force applied in any of an uncountable number of directions.
The joker in the deck is that this apple will remember every slice. Every division will leave its record. That messes up the analogy somewhat, but let’s stick with it.
If you have a cut at a large angle to previous cuts, the difference in how you’re seeing things will be clear, and you won’t have difficulty considering the new cut or the old cuts separately. But if the latest cut is different from a previous cut by only a paper-thin margin, or if, because it cuts at a different angle, it intersects other cuts at two places, separation can be more difficult, bleed-through may be more of a problem, and confusion of thought may become far more likely. What’s more, if the change is at a small enough angle, you may be unable to complete the cut without the knife falling into other grooves, as I indicated earlier.
All right, so much for analogy. To get concrete, consider certain divisions of thought
Sensory v. intuitive
Emotional v. intellectual
Factual v. imaginative
Objective v. subjective.
Each of these is an arbitrary and artificial, but very useful, way to divide one reality into parts that may be compared and contrasted in order to better understand each part and the entirety.
Because these divisions are so useful, the fact that they are arbitrary and artificial may be, and usually is, overlooked entirely. Instead, people take these categories of thought to be self-evident (at least, self-evident once spelled out) and pre-existent.
But the right angle and placement of a different cut may reveal new truth that has been obscured by the previous categories of thought established by previous divisions. And it is that new cut that you and I were fishing for, the other day.
F: And did you find it?
EH: I am tempted to say, “I found it in my living my life,” but that will not help us much – though, come to think of it, maybe it will. That is what we’re doing here, after all, examining the life I lived. What I want to add here is a way to recognize and express that difference that I felt but could not define.
F: It occurred to me while refilling my coffee cup, you could have made other divisions as well – magic v. science, say.
EH: All intellectual life and all life in practice is a matter of drawing up or experiencing these divisions. Expressing them, though, is a matter of tiptoeing carefully lest you spill the coffee as you carry the cup. In other words, it can be hard to prevent yourself from being diverted, especially if your particular cut of the apple is more a fine distinction than a retracing of previous cuts or a bold new angle.
So what am I getting at? I think, if you want to see the subtlest differences in where I cut the apple, you should look to where I was most misunderstood (by people trying to understand, not by people with axes to grind or people unable to see anything except through a very constricted lens) and work your way backwards.
F: You want me to do that? Or are you going to do it?
EH: Start with your reaction to Death in the Afternoon.
F: Hmm. Already I begin to see, not your categories, but my own limitations. That’s why I couldn’t understand your putting in so much that seemed irrelevant, isn’t it? It was irrelevant to the categories in my mind, not to the cut you were making.
EH: Yes, but try to spell it out.
F: In a book examining bullfighting – its history, its economics, the things one would need to know to actually understand what one was seeing, even in its interaction with the Spanish national character – you put in material on writing, on war, on painting, politics, everything. I remember saying it was like hearing you wisecracking while playing a symphony, or something like that.
EH: You might quote the passage from your book. You can find it easily enough in a computer search of the text.
F: All right, and if I find it I will put it in at the end of this.
EH: I didn’t fit into anybody’s categories, so they lopped off the parts that didn’t fit into their understanding – the way you are continuously, silently, tempted to lop off the parts of my life as hunter and fisherman, for example – or they merely crammed my life into categories and ignored contrary evidence.
The category we are trying to clarify here – the unclinched nail from the other day – is the particular cut in the apple that was the Hemingway cut. Not my reputation, not my books or the effect on others of my books, not my personal life, not my political or aesthetic opinions, not my feuds and jealousies and phobias and excellences, not even my preoccupations. All of that is included but in itself all of that does not bring you any closer to the almost intangible thing we’re looking for.
F: Can you put it into words?
EH: Well, that’s the problem, you see. Words even when used most carefully are a very blunt instrument. Given that the same word means different things to different people, or at different times to the same people, they are a frail reed to lean on. One way around the difficulty is to describe situations in such a way as to evoke sensitive, delicately balanced perceptions, and tip toe away before they fall. And that is what I tried to do.
That isn’t what is wanted here, so I will have to do surgery with a butter knife instead of a scalpel.
I tried to reunite the worlds that were at war around me and within me. That is the hidden key, and I know that at first blush it doesn’t sound like anything new, but it has a lot within it.
You have to consider the times I was placed in, and the pre-war home I was molded in – very much including the conflict between my parents’ view of what was important in life. I don’t mean to pretend that they were at odds over everything – they weren’t – but when they were at odds, I was affected by it.
So, let’s try to clinch that nail, and you can decide whether this was worth the effort. The world I was born into in 1899 was destroyed by its internal contradictions as much as by anything else in the World War. I sensed it, and I sensed that we – my generation – were on our own in terms of knowing what was what. It was disorienting, frightening, liberating, exciting, all at once.
F: Just like now.
EH: Yes only you were born into the world 30 years farther into the process. The point for me is that everything had to be distrusted until proved in personal experience. It might be tentatively believed on the testimony of those we trusted, but we knew only what we could know. Even recognizing the existence of that limitation was new. As Indian guides, we had the great writers of the past and the great artists of our own time and the generation preceding us – because artists feel the future in their bones, and they sketch it in their work regardless of how much they do or don’t understand of what they feel.
F: You set out to be a pathfinder.
EH: I set out to live my life by whatever called to me, and not lop off any category of existence because it was insufficiently respectable or was out of fashion or was undiscovered. It isn’t as though I set out consciously to be a model or a pathfinder or, God knows, a prophet. But in experiencing and expressing my life, I did re-draw certain lines of division, which confused my contemporaries and apparently continues to confuse yours.
F: And there’s 70 minutes and 11 pages, and more of a sense of completion this time. Thanks as always, Papa.
EH: It’s always a pleasure, thinking aloud, so to speak. Not all that common an opportunity, given that much of the audience is deaf or given to assuming that thoughts that come into their minds – “into their heads,” they say – come from nowhere, for no reason. So, satisfying.
F: Till next time, then.
[From Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway:
[Saturday, May 22, 2010, 7:30 AM. Still reading Death In The Afternoon. If I had my way, I’d put out an edited addition — mutilated, people would think it at first — that showcased the truly wonderful learning there is to be had in it, merely by removing what sets up the narrator as querulous distraction. As it is, it is occasionally like listening to a great violinist wisecracking as he plays, or complaining about his hotel. And it’s a shame, because it is great playing!
[Papa, how did you come to learn so much about things you came to care for? In short order, as they occur to me, writing, appreciating painting, hunting, fishing, shooting (as opposed to hunting), bullfighting, military science, wines and foods, and intangible things like the interactions in nature, and the likely responses of fish…. It was a very noticeable quality of yours, that you became expert in so many areas that interested you.
[EH: I notice you didn’t mention history and great literature, but I had my footing in both of those, too. It’s just, there isn’t much call to exhibit those, or teach them to anybody, and how can you teach a mental arrangement in the way you can teach a physical skill? You can’t. Or I couldn’t, anyway. “Hemingway read everything,” Morley said, and I did. But I didn’t read things just to give myself something to do. I was learning all the time ….]
Saturday, November 7, 2015