Hemingway on revolution and politics

Friday, November 20, 2015
F: 7:10 a.m. Awoke with the sun already up. Strange feeling, like I’m already behind.
I have forgotten where we are and where we were going, Papa, except that in a general way we’re still centered on the description of the revolutionary novel about the keys.
EH: Not so much about the keys, as set there, and in Cuba – mostly Havana. That was the concrete physical setting in time and space for a novel that was about a knottier problem that I had once thought would be set in Europe and once at least partly in America, but also centered in Europe. Nobody thought about revolution in unknown out-of-the-way places; we thought in terms of Europe.
F: But the Latin American countries were always having revolutions.
EH: No they weren’t. They were always having coups. All that amounted to was one set of bastards being overthrown by another set of bastards but nothing changing. The same mordida flowed to other hands, but the system didn’t change. It might get better or worse the way the tides get higher or lower, but that’s it.
F: So you were wanting to write about a true revolution in things?

EH: Not a true revolution, because I didn’t believe in the possibility of any such thing. But I wanted to write about people who did believe in it, and their effect on everybody and everything around them, and I wanted to at least give the people who would read the story some idea of the fact that there was something to be said for the idea of the revolutionists’ goal, if not their means. Or rather, I wanted the reader to feel that things as they existed weren’t right, weren’t just, but I didn’t want them to stop there. In the middle of the great depression, how hard was it to see that things were out of joint? But I didn’t want to give support to the people who thought there were easy answers. To anything.
Nobody seems to understand my politics, perhaps because I didn’t believe in easy answers, or perhaps because they made assumptions about me on inadequate data.
F: Well, I kind of think I do [understand]. How do you want to go about it?
EH: Just the way we’re doing it: slowly.
F: Smiling. All right. Your move.
EH: I was in Key West. It was the middle of the great depression, but I was personally comfortable thanks to the cushion of Pauline’s money and Uncle Gus’s generosity. I had enough freedom to live my life on my own terms. After I quit the Star in 1924 [the end of 1923, actually], I never had a regular job again, and never had to sell my days to get a paycheck to buy food and shelter for myself and those dependent on me. I had enough to go back and forth to Europe, and even to go to Africa for a safari of several months. So you might expect me to react in one of two ways, politically.
One way would be the aloof and insulated life of the rich and the provisionally rich (that is, those born to it and those who were flush or were living beyond their means, hoping). This way assumed that the way things were is the way they were, most probably for a reason, with nothing to be done about it and in any case with nothing for them to do about it. I’m not saying this attitude was right or wrong; it just was one way people looked at things.
The other was to burn in shame and anger at being rich in a world of many poor, and if you want to play logical games you could subdivide this one into two, as well, those who
F: Lost it.
EH: You’ve got part of your mind analyzing on you, again.
F: Yeah, it’s hard to prevent that, whenever we get into logical analysis and subdivisions and stuff.
EH: Still, you can do it, and it is a skill worth practicing.
F: All right. Try it again?
EH: Those who were not comfortable with being rich among a sea of poor could react as if it were a personal failing that they were rich, or even comfortable, and these became the prey of many people with colder eyes and careful planning.
F: Real revolutionaries?
EH: Would-be revolutionaries, [or] conmen, [or] agents of various states with their own agenda – primarily Russia and Germany in the 1930s, but always England and France, and Italy and Japan. And as your time has become aware of false-flag operation in which the secret service of one country pretends to be the secret service of another country both for tactical reasons and to divert blame, so my time in the 1930s became aware of a vast undercurrent of struggle among governments and, more, among ideologies. This is how so many people became caught in espionage webs.
F: That will take some spelling out, too.
EH: Good. You’re learning. You could feel the pull toward quick resolution, though?
F: Yes I could, and I resisted.
EH: Think of it as intellectus interruptus. Delay in satisfaction may prove worthwhile.
The other – the lesser in number but perhaps more important of the two in this subdivision of those who reacted to being rich among the poor – was those who figured out intellectually (rather than, or in addition to, emotionally) that this was a rigged game. And they can be subdivided between those who wrote novels or stories or screenplays in an attempt to spread their understanding of the wheels within wheels, or the necessary historical forces in play – depending upon how their minds worked – and those who set out to act in a more direct manner, and here you have your Oxbridge traitors, and your Alger Hiss and other American traitors, and your French traitors of both left and right.
F: If we can unpack all this, it strikes me as a more typically Hemingway-esque penetration to the core by examining several sides, rather than a jumping on one particular bandwagon and beating the drums.
EH: Well, you see, it is always a temptation to narrow your field of vision, because otherwise what are you going to do? Do you sit out the struggles of your time in splendid isolation, hoping the rising sea doesn’t reach your door sill? (A little purple, sorry, but that’s just the way thinking about abstractions takes people.) Do you remain in paralysis – for that’s what it will seem like – suspended between sides each of which has its good and its bad points, its good men and bad, its promise and its threat? Do you get involved, and if so, how far, and how? None of it is simple except to the simple-minded – but it is the simple-minded who make up the rank and file of the partisans in any cause. Their leaders may know better or may themselves be simple, but it is the simple black-and-white minded person who drives conflict. The more ways you see things, the less inclined you are to assume you can intervene effectively and the less you can persuade yourself that it is possible to do good without doing evil.
Now, that’s a lot to digest, even though it came out easily enough. This is as good a place to pause as any.
F: And maybe we can come back to it later today. Maybe because I got more sleep than usual, we did all this on one instead of two mugs of coffee (so far) and if it weren’t for the need to type all this, I’d say let’s keep going.
EH: Take it as it comes. If you only work methodically and steadily, you’ll be surprised how much work you can accomplish.
F: I want to note that in the middle of your last paragraph of exposition we moved into my 100th journal since 1966. Number 99 took three and a half weeks to fill 150 sheets of 6 x 9 college-ruled paper. If not a personal best (and maybe it is) at any rate an example of how things do add up.
EH: You have found your stride, try not to lose it. And, reminder, to not lose it, don’t forget to schedule days off.
F: Okay. Thanks for this lovely connection, and we’ll see you next time.

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