Fitzgerald-Wilson-Hemingway: Language and Experience

Fitzgerald-Wilson-Hemingway: Language and Experience

Fitzgerald-Wilson-Hemingway: Language and Experience

Fitzgerald-Wilson-Hemingway: Language and Experience

Synopsis

In this study, Ronald Berman examines the work of the critic/novelist Edmund Wilson and the art of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway as they wrestled with the problems of language, experience, perception and reality in the "age of jazz." By focusing specifically on aesthetics - the ways these writers translated everyday reality into language - Berman challenges and redefines many routinely accepted ideas concerning the legacy of these authors. Fitzgerald is generally thought of as a romantic, but Berman shows that we need to expand the idea of Romanticism to include its philosophy. Hemingway, widely viewed as a stylist who captured experience by simplifying language, is revealed as consciously demonstrating reality's resistance to language. Between these two renowned writers stands Wilson, who is critically influenced by Alfred North Whitehead, as well as Dewey, James, Santayana and Freud. By patiently mapping the correctness of these philosophers, historians, literary critics and writers, Berman aims to open a gateway into the era. This work should be of interest to scholars of American literature, philosophy and aesthetics; to academic libraries; to students of intellectual history; and to general readers interested in Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Wilson.

Excerpt

We get a sense of immediacy from novels of the twenties. However, we are now further from The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises than Lionel Trilling was from the late work of Henry James at the time of The Liberal Imagination. The twenties are rapidly receding. We need to do a certain amount of rediscovery, to examine terms that were in use then that mean something else now. Writers of the twenties dealt with concepts of experience, perception, and reality. They had ideas about what language could do and what literature might be. But we have elided meanings, and we assume that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a romantic whose themes were love and the American dream; that Edmund Wilson's criticism was based on common sense without much theory; that Hemingway succeeded in capturing experience by simplifying language, making it ever more precise. The facts are broader. Fitzgerald was a romantic but also a close student of romanticism, which is something different. Wilson was much concerned with writing as one of the [outcomes of science.] He was seriously interested in the transubstantiation of facts (the phrase comes from John Dewey) by language. Hemingway's best work is not a result of objectifying experience but rests, I think, on the uneasy awareness of its resistance to language.

From 1919 on, Fitzgerald's reviews, essays, and interviews displayed ideas about language. They were done in the absence of contemporary literary criticism—H. L. Mencken was useful in small doses, but Fitzgerald had justifiable contempt for the rest. He was well informed on . . .

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