Monday, October 20, 2008

Feasting on Hemingway


I'm currently in the middle of reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway and all I have to say is: Oh. This is how I feel right now.

In real life Hemingway was well-known as what one might call an "asshat," that is to say- he sucked. I'll admit the book smacks of misogyny and though it is billed as a "memoir" it completely rests on the idea of Hemingway being a starving artist in Paris during the 1920s when in fact his wife had an inheritance and his "starving" was more anorexic and less poverty driven.

If you can put all that aside, A Moveable Feast is the best book I've read in a very long time, and that is not just because it subtly undercuts Gertrude Stein who I find absolutely intolerable. I hadn't read any Hemingway before this and it's funny because apparently he pioneered the style that I love and I had absolutely no idea. His writing is sparse but emotional. "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know," he writes. Yeah. And then do that over and over for however many pages you want your piece to be.

I think reading this while in Paris makes it all the more moving because the things he says about this city are just so on point that I find myself audibly gasping in the Metro while reading them: "But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight."

God, Hemingway, it's like no matter what you are sad, even when you're happy you are sad, and that is something I can relate to in a horribly effortless way.

The book is just written from this place that I find extremely resonant at this point in my life. He is a young writer fucking around in Paris, trying to figure out himself and his writing. It was published posthumously, but the feeling of the struggle is still there. There's this subtle "us vs. them" mentality; Hemingway is young and he's taking on this avant garde establishment that has already aged, a la Gertrude Stein. He's taking wisps of what they've created and pioneering this style that is so clear it is painful. Isn't that what all young writers want to do? We all think we're going to change the face of literature. The idealism that is in this book is in our bones, until the rejection letters and the angry editors and the anonymous commenters beat it out of us, it is there. I want to keep it as long as possible because look what happened to Hemingway when it was siphoned out of him: he wrote about this idealism in a retrospective way, because he didn't have it anymore, and then he fucking killed himself.

-Jess

1 comment:

rebekker said...

Not just killed himself, not just shot himself, but shot himself...with a rifle. Imagine that for a second.

The lesson one needs to take from that is: a certain amount of unhappiness and competition is inherent in being a (decent) writer but that a predisposition to unhappiness won't just go away if you're successful. My solution, because I'm not Hemingway, is be a great reader rather than a mediocre writer.