Academic journal article Cithara

Imitating Hemingway: "After Such Knowledge . . ."

Academic journal article Cithara

Imitating Hemingway: "After Such Knowledge . . ."

Article excerpt

[T. S. Eliot, "Gerontion," I. 33]

I remember clearly when I first read The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby, two preeminent novels of my generation. It was during my first year at Horace Mann High School (then For Boys) in the winter of 1950-51 . But I recall as well that I felt as if I had read these books at an earlier stage of my life. It was as though they had been waiting for me to read them. I felt as if I belonged to these words in a way that made little sense in the light of my family background, even if my father had, in some poetic moments, written some vers libre poems. I wanted, somehow, to write novels like Fitzgerald and Hemingway one day.

I have a vivid memory of sitting next to the radiator in our apartment on a cold winter day after school, when no one else was at home, and reading The Sun Also Rises. Our apartment on Fort Washington Avenue in Upper Manhattan, Washington Heights, overlooked the Hudson River and had expansive views in all directions except south. I could look east to the Bronx, north to Bear Mountain, and west to the Palisades. It was easy to believe, looking at the dazzling span of the George Washington Bridge, that I would be able to travel one day.

I wanted to "go to Spain in the summertime" (The Sun Also Rises, p. 10) with Jake Barnes and Robert Cohen. I could feel the pull of the Iberian Peninsula before I knew its exact contours. W.H. Auden's lines in "Spain" (W.H. Auden, Selected Poems, published 1937) spoke for me before I knew the poem or anything about the Spanish Civil War (pp. 54-57).

Many have heard it on remote peninsulas,

On sleepy plains, in the aberrant fishermen's islands,

In the corrupt heart of the city,

Have heard and migrated like gulls or the seeds of a flower.

They clung like burrs to the long expresses that lurch

Through the unjust lands, through the

night, through the alpine tunnel;

They floated over the oceans;

They walked the passes: they came to present their lives.

I wanted to travel on night- trains to faraway places. I wanted in this way, among others, to imitate Hemingway. I didn't know then that I had more in common with the Jewish-American expatriate Robert Cohn than his tennis and drinking partner Jake Barnes. I didn't have a "hard, Jewish, stubborn streak" (p. 10), but I was JewishAmerican (even though I didn't pay too much attention to this identity in the highly assimilationist post- WW II era). It wasn't until years later that I realized with some embarrassment that The Sun Also Rises had a disturbing streak of anti-Semitism in it. At the time I put the emphasis on a moment of compassion for Cohn's "suffering" (p. 182); today I would see it differently (as might Hemingway). The discovery of this difference is part of my theme.

I wanted to become a foreign correspondent and to wear a Burberry trench coat as soon as I learned that Hemingway had been sent overseas by the Toronto Star (ByLine). I didn't know if he wore one, but I assumed he did, and the tragic photo of him walking "in the woods near his home in Ketchum in the final winter of his life" (last photo in the Lynn biography after page 337) suggests that I was right. No matter, I was living through images then.

I wanted to "present" my life, but I didn't know then that the life I would (or could) present would be quite different from Hemingway's or from the life that Hemingway always believed he was leading. I wanted to imitate Hemingway's style in his description of Romero's bull-fighting, "the absolute purity of line in his movements" (p. 168).

I longed to use language so that it would be a "proof" of my "existence" somewhat in the sense that Isak Dinesen means it in Out of Africa (p. 121) when she describes giving an identity to a "Native of Africa" through story-telling, and I wanted to use language as an expression of the "core" and "essence" of my personality (Rollo May, p. …

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