Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Ernest Hemingway Project

(and here goes another paper from my American Literature classes)

Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American novelist, short-story writer, and journalist. But of course you know that. And you are probably familiar with the rest of his the important events in his biography, so let’s just stick to the highlights and the curious facts.
Instead of going to college after he graduated high-school Hemingway took his first steps towards his Pulitzer Prize (he received it in 1953 for “The Old Man and The Sea”) when he started working as a cub reporter for “The Kansas City Star”. It was there where young Hemingway got his main guidelines in writing and they greatly influenced the stile of his later works. Those guidelines were simple, but effective (just as Hemingway’s style as a matter of fact) - "Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative."
Along with writing and journalism Hemingway also had a strong passion for outdoor adventures and wild nature. And not only that – among the huge range of activities and interests in his life we find he following:
-Drugs – during the World War I he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps and served with the Italian Army after he failed the medical examination for the US Army due to poor vision. He got shot while driving the ambulance one day and that put him out of the driving seat and into the hospital.
-Smuggling – well, it was the Prohibition, alright? But instead of alcoholic drinks Hemingway was smuggling James Joyce’s “Ulysses” which was banned in the US since 1922.
-Traveling without a ticket – Ernest went to Europe as a war correspondent for Collier's magazine. There Hemingway observed the D-Day landings from an LCVP (landing craft), although he was not allowed to go ashore. Later at Villedieu-les-Poêles, he allegedly threw three grenades into a cellar where SS officers were hiding… Seems like Hemingway should have a cameo appearance in “Saving Private Ryan”!
-Women – four times married, not to mention the rest of his relationships. Seems like he changed the women more often than his socks.
Well, after all these “crimes” instead of getting into some troubles with the law he got a Nobel Prize in Literature, 1954. But to tell you the truth he REALLY did have some troubles with the law. In the paranoid post-WWII days due to his association (or should we say affection) with Cuba FBI’s counter-espionage and J. Edgar Hoover were suspecting Hemingway and kept an eye on him. By the way “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was written in Cuba in 1939, “The Old Man and The Sea” tells the story of a Cuban fisherman and was written in Cuba in 1951, and in “To Have and Have Not” Harry Morgan’s fishing boat runs contraband between Cuba and Florida.
Hemingway put an end to his life in 1961, after some serious psisical and psychological problems. No need for nasty details. The important thing is that nothing can put an end to his legacy and his works will remain everlasting. His huge influence is visible even in pop-culture and here are some of the most vivid examples:
Hemingway, played by Jay Underwood, was a recurring character in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. In one episode, set in Northern Italy in 1916, Hemingway the ambulance driver gives young Indy (Sean Patrick Flanery) advice about women -- only to discover that he and Indy are rivals for the heart of the same woman. (The episode shows Indy unwittingly influencing Hemingway's future writing, by reciting the Elizabethan poem, A Farewell to Arms by George Peele.) In another episode, set in Chicago in 1920, Hemingway the newspaper reporter helps Indy and a young Eliot Ness in their investigation of the murder of gangster James Colosimo.
“The Old Man and the Sea” (1999, the original French title is “Le Vieil Homme et la mer”) is a 1999 20-minute animated short directed by Aleksandr Petrov, based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Hemingway. Technically impressive, the film is made entirely in pastel oil paintings on glass, a technique mastered by only a handful of animators in the world. It took Aleksandr Petrov over two years, from March 1997 through April 1999, to paint each of the 29,000+ frames. The film won many awards, including the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.
"Mystery of the Hemingway Papers" is a television special of the famous Lupin III anime (or Japanese animation) series. The franchise is created by Kazuhiko Kato and follows the adventures of a gang of thieves led by Arsène Lupin III (the grandson of Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief of Maurice Leblanc's series of detective novels). In this special episode Lupin heads to the mediterranean island of Colcaca in pursuit of a box said to contain a draft of Ernest Hemingway's final, unfinished novel which supposedly describes the author's last journey and his discovery of great riches.
Hemingway was featured in Warner Bros. Animation television shows of the 1990s. His first appearance was in a segment in the fourth season of Animaniacs titled "Papers for Papa". In this episode, Hemingway, trapped in writer's block, swears off of writing just as Yakko, Wakko and Dot show up with a shipment of office supplies. When Hemingway refuses to sign for the delivery, the Warners chase him around the world, during which they catch a swordfish, get in a bullfight, and climb Mount Everest.
“The Hemingway Hoax” is a short novel by science fiction writer Joe Haldeman. It weaves together a story of an attempt to produce a fake Ernest Hemingway manuscript with themes concerning time travel and parallel worlds. A shorter version of the book won both a Hugo award and a Nebula award for best novella in 1991 (for stories in 1990). I haven’t read it, but it surely sounds interesting.
And last but not least, the “HemingWay” restaurant here in Plovdiv – according to what the brochure says they offer salads and dishes cooked by Hemingway’s favourite recipies and the atmosphere represents his bohemian way of life. And there are some Hemingway volumes on the shelves around the restaurant.
Let’s begin our observation on Hemingway’s work with one of his short stories. “Hills Like White Elephants” published for the first time during the Roaring Twenties (1927 to be exact) in his collection of short stories “Men without Women”.
The action of the story takes place at a train station in the Ebro River valley of Spain,on a hot and dry day. The two main characters are a man (referred to only as "the American") and his younger female companion, whom he calls Jig. The American and Jig drink beer and a liquor called Anis del Toro while waiting for the train to Madrid. For most of the time the story is concentrated on their conversation.
I won’t pretend I understood the story the first time I read it. Given no background information anout the couple I had to make guesses (and some of the guesses were quite wild as you’ll see a few lines below) about the true nature of the topic they were discussing. It left me confused, like “OK, now what the hell was that all about?”. Some stories are cryptic, some stories are symbolic, and some are plain strange. But still, it seemed to me that there was something inthere I couldn’t quite catch. I felt that way because some words the two exchanged were obviously refering to intimate relationship between them and some operation that The American was trying to talk Jig into.
"It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig," the man said. "It's not really an operation at all."
The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
"I know you wouldn't mind it, Jig. It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in."
The girl did not say anything.
"I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural."
"Then what will we do afterwards?"
"We'll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before."
"What makes you think so?"
"That's the only thing that bothers us. It's the only thing that's made us unhappy."
With all these “white elephants” I made some distant association with “pink elephants” and that “let the air in” was kind of like releasing the pressure on the brain via making a small whole on the skull… It’s called Trepanation (God, now I feel like I’ve seen way too many “E.R.” episodes). And so I got the feeling that Hemingway was refering to some mental disease or trauma of some kind.
But still, there was something else – all the time The American was elusive and sleeky… Like he was not interested in helping Jig, but tricking her into doing something against her will driven by her affection for him.
"Well," the man said, "if you don't want to you don't have to. I wouldn't have you do it if you didn't want to. But I know it's perfectly simple."
"And you really want to?"
"I think it's the best thing to do. But I don't want you to do it if you don't really want to."
"And if I do it you'll be happy and things will be like they were and you'll love me?"
He was trying to convince her to give up something. But what? All I needed was a clue to guide me. Otherwise my imagination could lead me God knows where. And the clue I found on the net was one single word enough to make it all clear – “abortion”. Ah, now I finally got it! I imagine you’ve had some fun reading my “brain damage” interpretation of Hemingway’s story. But who could blame me? That was my first encounter with “an iceberg”.
“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A good writer does not need to reveal every detail of a character or action.”
Basically that’s Ernest Hemingway’s famous Iceberg Theory. (In this particular case I’d prefer if he had revealed a little bit more about Jig’s operation, but anyway –let’s move on!) The quote above is taken from “Death in the Afternoon” – Hemingway’s non-fiction book about the ceremony and traditions of Spanish bullfighting originally published in 1932.
For me personally bullfighting is somehow barbaric – teasing the bull and driving it crazy, then killing it in some show-off manner to please the crowd. What’s the point? I have to admit, I kinda like it when the bull takes over and the horn-mad animal chases (and sometimes kills) the bullfighter or/and some of the audience. Feels like the Nemesis of Nature – How do you feel now, you bastards? It’s not so enjoyable being chased around and stabbed, right? But in this book Hemingway speaks of the bullfighting with awe and deep respect, describing it as something deeply artistic. This is not really a surprise – he was that kind of person, enjoying hunting and confronting nature. And as we all know he was a big fan of Spain (even in “Hills Like White Elephants” the couple travels to Madrid, which as far as I know has no direct connection to the rest of the story and has nothing to do with the abortion Jig is going to have. Seems like Madrid is there like a kind of tribute, just for the sake of the Spanish setting of the story).
"The chances are that the first bullfight any spectator attends may not be a good one artistically; for that to happen there must be good bullfighters and good bulls; artistic bullfighters and poor bulls do not make interesting fights, for the bullfighter who has ability to do extraordinary things with the bull which are capable of producing the intensest degree of emotion in the spectator but will not attempt them with a bull which he cannot depend on to charge..."
Hemingway was fascinated with bullfighting (or “corrida de toros” as they call it in Spain) in 1925 when he was among the spectators at the Pamplona fiesta, later fictionalized in “The Sun Also Rises”. In a boxing match with friend and writer Morley Callaghan, Hemingway's lip was cut. Hemingway spit blood into Callahan's face and said: "The bullfighters do that when they are injured, it is how they show contempt." In his writings on Spain, he was influenced by the Spanish master Pío Baroja. When Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, he traveled to see Baroja, then on his death bed, specifically to tell him he thought Baroja deserved the prize more than he.
It is hard for me to compare Ernest Hemingway to any Bulgarian writer. Maybe I need to read more from him, or I’m not familiar enough with our own literature, or maybe we just don’t have our own Hemingway. I can’t think of some Bulgarian equivalent to Hemingway’s simple and minimalistic style of describing things and his plain and simple dialogue. And as strange as it may seem, I have decided to draw a parallel between Ernest Hemingway and H.G. Wells. What’s the common between Martians and Cuban fishermen, some may ask?
“I had rather be called a journalist than an artist.” H.G. Wells once said. His notable pseudo-documental style has influenced generations of Science Fiction writers (and not only them). The events seem realistic, more like “reported” rather than described in the manner of fiction. The stories taste more like diaries or news articles than fiction, and that’s what makes them so captivating and real. Wells described events throug the eyes of a single person in “War of the Worlds” and Hemingway does quite the same with Robert Jordan’s narative in “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. And this no-delay and quick-to-the-point writing is so typical for Hemingway also. The settings and the characters are merely sketched, without any detailed descriptions. What’s more important is the action, the story itself. Actually that’s the essence of Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory”, which was a result of his journalist background. Both authors have their distinctive ways of driving the story forward.
H.G. Welles regarded the novel as a “vehicle of ideas”. And we could say the same about Ernest Hemingway’s novels. The difference comes in terms of topics and aims. For example Wells uses the fantastic and fatal events in “War of the Worlds” to discuss topics like the depths of human nature and the animal instincts that emerge when our life is threatened, but most of the time he goes global explored mankind’s arogance and slef-assurance, and using the opportunity to make some hars social commentary. Unlike him Hemingway seems to be more into man’s own self, his stories inward centered and dealing with personal experiences and relatinships, confronting fate and nature trying to overcome your fears and push your limits, and also touching topics like death and suicide.
And for finale, instead of some clishes about Hemingway’s greatness and legacy, here’s a little anecdote:
In a letter to Ezra Pound, Hemingway describes why bulls are better than literary critics: “Bulls don't run reviews. Bulls of 25 don't marry old women of 55 and expect to be invited to dinner. Bulls do not get you cited as co-respondent in Society divorce trials. Bulls don't borrow money. Bulls are edible after they have been killed.”

1 comment:

Logan Lamech said...

Hemingway is the infamous. He catches flack for being "chauvinist" but I say what happened to all the real tough guys.

Logan Lamech