Hemingway: Making acquaintance with the dead

June 17, 2009

7:20. Bob Friedman, having met Mariel Hemingway, is interested in the idea of Papa adding a message for his granddaughter. But this strikes me as grandstanding – not to mention, grandstanding on thin ice.

Still – Papa? Anything you’d like me to pass on to your granddaughter?

How would you expect to convince her that it was a real message?

Well, actually, I don’t think it could be done. I just thought I’d ask.

And you wouldn’t mind a little demonstration yourself, as reassurance.

That’s about it. But I don’t expect one.

Good.

 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

6 AM. Papa, I know that Bob would still love to have a message from you to your granddaughter. So would I if you wanted to send it, but on the other hand – well, you know.

I do, and I recognize the cross-currents within you. Tell Bob, I know of his dissertation on men and war because you know of it because you know him and he knows it. If you had read it, it would have been a shorter circuit, but everything connects sooner or later.

Just because you’re interested, I’ll say a little about the process as we experience it.

I’m famous and I die and on your side people keep reading me and keep writing about me. It all sorts out automatically in degrees of closeness. My family talking about me is one thing, my friends, another; acquaintances, another level further away, people reading me in school, say, another.

It isn’t organized in any way, I’m trying to show you that there are different degrees of closeness, just like in your own lives. The world has billions of people – that doesn’t mean you’re equally affected by all of them, and how could you be? There’s close and there’s far and there’s might as well not even exist.

Well, put it this way. Once a man’s family and friends are gone, he’s alone in the world. There are degrees of relationship in everything. Some things are closer than others, it’s that simple. It’s true of spatial relationships and it’s true of people. You have your family, your lovers, your close friends, your acquaintances, etc., as I said. The nearer ones have more effect on you than the farther ones do. It’s clear enough, surely.

But it sorts out another way, too. There are those who are closer or farther from you temperamentally. My mother and I weren’t at all close intellectually, or even emotionally except in opposition. Her reaction to the story-telling part of me isn’t nearly as close to me as  [F. Scott] Fitzgerald’s, say, or even Morley’s [Morley Callaghan]. They came closer to my writing center, you might say. And I don’t mean to pick them out particularly. They’re just examples. Max Perkins certainly understood me better than Fitzgerald, for instance.

But see, in that case there is an example for you. Scott Fitzgerald was close to my emotional life and my writing life and my – what do you want to call it? My emotional everyday life. So that’s three categories.

Oh hell, this is getting too theoretical. The simplest thing is to say that those who know you best may know you in different ways. They may be related to you, they may spend a lot of time with you, they may have shared common tasks, or maybe they just know you because you’re the same thing somehow. Hotchner and me, for instance.

So what I wanted to tell you is that over here, somebody who has been famous has left lots of cords hanging down that people can yank. But not everybody’s yank is of equal strength, and not every yank goes past a certain threshold. So mostly we aren’t particularly aware of it.

Some things get our attention. Hotchner spending enough time to write a book about us couldn’t help but get my attention even if I hadn’t known him. But him being a pal and reading my stuff and writing about me, of course he’s going to be front and center. Mary writing about me (good or bad) or Marty or anyone I lived with – of course I am going to be there. But somebody reading my stuff and not even particularly understanding it or being moved by it – how can that get through to me, and why should it? What would it add for me or for them?

Besides, it matters if people think you’re dead or if you’re alive to them. Bob thought I was dead, and so he wrote about what he could conclude I thought and felt by what I had written. That didn’t touch me. But if he had had deep feelings about me and had written from them – I am not saying he should have, I’m explaining differences – if he had written from deep feelings about me, I’d have heard. If he’d written from deep instinctive sympathy with me, I’d have heard. Writing more or less as an exercise, however sincere and interested he may have been, I didn’t.

But now, you see, there is another hook. It is as if I met him through you and now I pick up his dissertation with the interest you acquire when you know the author. You see?

I do, I think. You’re saying that we can make the acquaintance of “the dead” through our own sympathetic response to them, and they will respond and perhaps be changed.

That’s it exactly, and isn’t that what you’ve been doing since December 2005?

I’ll have to tell Bob. If he can believe it, he can open a whole new world. Edgar Cayce, anybody else who ever meant anything to him.

Yes – and this is the point of the book you’re working on now, isn’t it? You don’t talk to people just for what you can learn, and not for what you can get out of them, but for companionship.

Thank you, Papa. That’s the point. I’ll bear it in mind.

One thought on “Hemingway: Making acquaintance with the dead

  1. I found this very moving. It sounds like it’s a positive benefit to them as well as to us, that contact through “deep feelings” and “instinctive sympathy.” And that “they will respond and perhaps be changed,” through “companionship.”
    This helps explain why they resonate with us. I’ve long had a resonance with Jeanne d’Arc, so I read about her and am currently reading the transcript of her trial. I’ve had some communication with her, which I wouldn’t be doing without your examples of doing it, and it’s additionally helpful to hear their side of it from Hemingway.

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