Worrying about the prospect of death

Angel Capellon, in Hemingway and the Hispanic World, has a chapter on “Hemingway’s Tragic Sense of Life,” in which he argues that Hemingway’s attitude toward death — and therefore toward life — was very Spanish, and of course I agree. However, on page 166, he quotes Miguel de Unamuno (in The Tragic Sense of Life) to this effect:

“Why do I want to know whence I came and whither I am going, whence and whither everything around me, and the meaning of it all. Because I do not want to die utterly, and I want to know if I am to die definitely or not. And if I am to die altogether, then nothing makes any sense. There are three solutions: a) I know I am to die utterly, and then my despair is incurable, or b) I know I will not die utterly and then I resign myself, or c) I cannot know either one thing or the other, and then I am resigned to despair or despairing in resignation, a despairing  resignation or a resigned despair, and therein the struggle.”

This makes no sense to me at all. I propose d) I know I will die in the sense of being able to interact with the world directly and will not die in that my awareness will remain, although probably different, transformed by my new conditions, and thus there is no need for denial nor resignation.

I see that death does preoccupy people. but this attitude makes no sense to me. It is as if, having been given a gift (one’s life), one is then paralyzed (or perhaps motivated) by the fear or certainty of eventually losing it! What does this do to the joy of the gift? It poisons it. Why not accept that you’ve been given a gift, and live it as it comes, as best you can, and not worry so much about the fact that it’s going to come to an end at some point?

That’s how Hemingway’s heroes act, it seems to me.

Jake Barnes seems to life this way, paying as he goes, hoping to find out the meaning of life but not putting off the living until after he figures it out. Thomas Hudson has lived this way, but losses of various kinds have reduced his world to his work and his drinking and his duty. Richard Cantwell, Harry Morgan, Robert Jordan all have lived not oblivious to death but in counterpoint to death, realizing the value of life from each moment to the next.

I don’t see resignation or despair, just a sort of realism. You live your life and enjoy it as best you can, and wait to see what happens. Where is the need for despair just because it’s going to end at some time? Despair might come if it looked like it wouldn’t end.

And then there’s this confusion about immortality – some of these scholars seem to think that one’s being remembered — celebrity or notoriety or even fame — is immortality. But it isn’t. Immortality has nothing to do with being remembered or forgotten by others. It has to do with not ceasing to exist. And if one disbelieves in the existence of the non-physical, how can he believe in the existence of what they call the “after-life”? Yet we know we are immortal. The confusion comes in society’s assumption that the material world is what is real and the non-material world is speculative or non-existent.

I’ll never understand it. No doubt, this is a deficiency in me, that I can’t see the problem as real. But I don’t understand it.


Hemingway: Helping people to feel

An excerpt from Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway

[May 18, 2010] Papa, I suppose that “The Doctor And The Doctor’s Wife” is built upon your life but is no word-for-word autobiography, even necessarily disguised autobiography — and critics who approach your work go wrong to think so.

That’s right. A writer takes what he knows and tries to render it so that it’s truer than the real thing, so that people who weren’t there can get it even though they weren’t there. So you have to intensify and magnify and simplify and clarify — and you have to do all that without distorting the subject! It’s like Georgia O’Keeffe painting her tiny subjects huge, so you can’t help seeing. Now, this is not a blanket endorsement for Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting style or subject matter. It’s an illustration. She painted tiny things in proportion but huge, so if you glance at it, you have a chance of getting something of what she had seen, and if you looked longer, she had done it so carefully that you couldn’t keep seeing more and more closely into it. My writing, the same idea: The real thing has to be portrayed larger than life, starker, changed in so many ways, if it is going to have the effect on you that the original emotion had on me.

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Hemingway book retitled

I had to retitle the forthcoming Hemingway book, because my publisher was afraid we might be sued — publishers are always afraid of being sued, and for good reason, this society being what it is. The potential grounds were that people might read the title Hemingway on Hemingway as being a collection of quotations — this despite the fact that the subtitle clearly said Afterlife Conversations, etc.

So, now it is going to be called Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway: A Dialogue on His Life, His Work and The Myth. I don’t think the title is quite as nice as what we had come up with originally, but anything for a quiet life! The book is scheduled to be printed next month, and of course i am anxious to see it.

Legitimate Suffering and Mental Illness

I included this exchange in my forthcoming  Hemingway on Hemingway.

Legitimate Suffering and Mental Illness

Sunday, August 8, 2010, 5 AM. Just spent most of an hour posting [on my website] a couple of conversations from May…. It was interesting to read the pieces from May 24 and 25. I had forgotten that it was from Carl Jung that I first got the concept that Hemingway represented a complete man, that his great attractiveness to people stemmed from his wholeness. Obviously that didn’t prevent him from experiencing and ultimately succumbing to serious personality problems, but it does change the picture. All right, so here we go. Dr. Jung, I have been using a quotation of yours as a part of my signature in e-mails for some time, but only yesterday — at your prompting? — did it occur to me that I didn’t quite understand it. It rings true intuitively but it could do with some explanation. “The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering.” What is “legitimate suffering,” and for that matter what is mental illness, and how are they thus so intimately connected?

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Hemingway book finished

I feel like saying, “here I am again, back from the dead!” More to the point, I’m back from last revisions (I hope!) to Hemingway on Hemingway: Afterlife Conversations on His Life, His Work and the Myth, my seventh book, which is to be published later this year by Rainbow Ridge Books, the imprint owned by Bob Friedman, my old partner at Hampton Roads.

I  suppose the easiest way to explain what I’m doing is just to append the Introduction.

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Hemingway on sexuality and loneliness

One of the joys of keeping a journal, however diligently or not one does it, is the occasional review, the look back at roads trodden. Naturally, year-end is a convenient time. Found this conversation with Papa Hemingway which was of interest.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

7 AM. So, Papa, talk to me about loneliness. For I got a clear sense, last night, of how lonely you got, and how often.

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S.C. Exhibit highlights Hemingway prose

Original article at http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/dec/18/exhibit-highlights-hemingway-prose/

Exhibit highlights Hemingway prose



Sunday, December 18, 2011

In the spring of 1935, Ernest Hemingway was lamenting the placement of his home on a list of Key West tourist attractions.

His regular Esquire magazine column was devoted to his tongue-in-cheek protest that he had no desire to compete with the Turtle Crawls (No. 3 on the map), the open-air aquarium (No. 9) or the Sponge Lofts (No. 13).

“Yet there your correspondent is at number 18 between Johnson’s Tropical Grove (number 17) and the Lighthouse and Aviaries (number 19),” Hemingway wrote. “This is all very flattering to the easily bloated ego of your correspondent but very hard on production.”

The idea of Hemingway actually writing must have seemed a curious concept to readers of the day.

Continue reading S.C. Exhibit highlights Hemingway prose