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.