The Interface: Hemingway and feelings

All right, friends. I thought yesterday, maybe Rage and Papa might be an illustrative topic.

It could be. A wider example would be something like “personal characteristics as illustrations of the effects of the invisible layer of feeling between the ‘external’ world and you as you experience yourselves.” But we have no objection to using Hemingway as an example. His life is well known, and his particular problems are illustrative, certainly.

  • There is (1) the soul as it experienced itself, (2) the soul as it interacted with the larger world, and (3) the soul as it experienced itself as interacting with that outside world. Three ways to see things; three ways in which a life may be examined.
  • The soul as it experiences itself. Each of you should be familiar with self-definition. You have certain ideas about yourself, some predefined as far as you know, and some shaped in reaction to experience.
  • The soul in interaction with the world. This you experience as life coming at you, and you coping. It is the day-to-day business of living.
  • The soul as it experiences itself living, which is quite a different thing from either of the other two. Your ideas about your life are sometimes very different from what anyone observing you would report.
  • These three factors may be seen as personal subjective, intermediate layer, and shared subjectivity, though in some ways this is an awkward understanding.

Yes, it seems to me this last point blurs what you were going to say.

Then let us put it aside for the moment and continue. There are, at any rate, the three elements: you in your personal world, you interacting with the “external” world, and your idea of the two.

  • It is only when you interact in some way with the shared subjectivity that you can come to a greater awareness of yourself considered as if individual. Alone, without the friction of contact, you are unlikely to learn anything new.
  • Note, though, that sometimes you interact with the shared subjectivity without external contact. That is, thinking about, reacting to, past contact may have its value in helping you triangulate your position. You are, in effect, interacting virtually. However, nobody interacts only
  • Well then, how does one interact? Personal face-to-face encounters, certainly. Encounters across time, as for example when you react to something written by, or about, someone long dead. Encounters with any aspect of the world that has inertia: a body in physical illness, for instance; a mind in persistent emotional distress, or in what you call mental illness; an external life lived among difficulties that seem to be matters of external circumstances, rather than anything of your own doing.
  • Any of these circumstances may be summarized by an image: You, struggling to open a door (or to close it) and meeting resistance.

And here is where we begin to discuss emotions more directly.

Correct. So Hemingway, aware that he must make his own career, is prey to a succession of emotions depending upon whatever he experiences as he lives his life among “external” events.

  • Envy, as he sees others succeed.
  • Anxiety, as he worries whether his books and stories will be supported by his publishers; whether they will appeal to his readers; whether he has done well enough in his execution; whether he will continue to be able to perform.
  • Rage, as he perceives unfair obstacles being place in his way; as he suspects critical cabals of forming to destroy him; as he seems to see his publisher doing less to support him than he deems warranted.
  • Disappointment, as he sees that his work is not being understood in the way he meant it.

And so on and so forth, and this looks only at his reactions to his career as writer, not touching on his romantic or familial encounters, nor his social or political or intellectual opinions and experiences. That is to say, this looks at only a tiny sliver of his emotional life, but it is enough to make our point.

In no case does Hemingway choose to feel a given emotion in various circumstances. He may choose to express them or not; he may choose to accept them or fight against them. He cannot choose to feel or not feel them. That much – the feeling of them – is absolutely involuntary at any given time.

“At any given time,” as opposed to over a lifetime as he does or doesn’t gain control over them.

We need to break that down.

  • One decides to accept or reject one’s impulses, and one forms a pattern of accepting or rejecting them. This pattern partially determines one’s options the next time “external” circumstances tend to provoke the same reaction.
  • Second-tier reactions will thus modify one’s environment, making it easier or harder to control one’s impulses each successive time.
  • The “external” circumstance may be more or less identical. The question is, what does it meet? Who is the person it interacts with? Putting it this way is meant to remove the flavor of accusation and emphasize a systems view.

Yes, I see that.

So look at life as we are portraying it. At any given moment in his life, Hemingway was what he had made himself to date, what was described above as (1). In that moment, something happened, calling for a reaction from him: (2). But what he thought had happened – (3) – was not necessarily what anyone else would have said had happened. That is, his experience was only partly what had happened; the rest was contributed by what he was, whether he recognized that contribution or not.

I see that. We think, “I reacted as anybody would have, in the circumstances.” But really, we reacted in the way we had to react, we being what we were at that moment.

And it is that invisible difference that we are talking about.

You don’t mean invisible difference, you mean – well, what do you mean?

We would do better to say, it is this invisible factor in your reactions. That is, though you might not think it, the way you experience your life is invisibly shaped by the presence of your emotions. At any given moment, they are persuasive. They are “the obvious way everybody would feel in the circumstances.” It is only later that you see perhaps not. But it is only the seemingly disruptive presence of your emotions that renders it possible at all for you to coexist with a seemingly external environment. When things are tranquil, perhaps you don’t notice them. When things are turbulent, perhaps you blame them, rather than yourselves or your “external” circumstances, for the turbulence. But seen or unseen, felt or unfelt, identified with or not identified with, emotions will be there, for that is how you experience the world. Only, don’t interpret this as saying you will be in an emotionally turbulent state, or even in a state that you recognize as emotion. You may, you may not.

This hour flew by. We were six or seven pages into it before I realized. So, next time, where do we start? And what shall we call this one?

Call it One Man’s Example, if you wish. Next time we may examine emotions that don’t feel like emotion. Or, another topic may suggest itself by what happens between now and then.

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