American Literature and the Dream

By Frederic I. Carpenter | Go to book overview

20. HEMINGWAY ACHIEVES THE FIFTH DIMENSION

IN Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway prophesied: "The kind of writing that can be done. How far prose can be carried if anyone is serious enough and has luck. There is a fourth and fifth dimension that can be gotten." Since then many critics have analyzed the symbols and mythical meanings of Hemingway's prose.1 A few have tried to imagine what he meant by "a fourth and fifth dimension."2 But most have agreed that the phrase is pretty vague.

"The fourth dimension" clearly has something to do with the concept of time, and with fictional techniques of describing it. Harry Levin has pointed out that Hemingway's style is lacking in the complexity of structure that normally describes "the third dimension," but that it offers a series of images (much like the moving pictures) to convey the impression of time-sequence and immediacy. Joseph Warren Beach has suggested that "the fourth dimension" is related to an "aesthetic factor" achieved by the here's recurrent participation in some traditional "ritual or strategy"; while "the fifth dimension" may be an "ethical factor" achieved by his "participation in the moral order of the world." And Malcolm Cowley has also related "the fourth dimension" of time to "the almost continual performance of rites and ceremonies" suggesting the recurrent patterns of human experience, but has called "the fifth dimension" a "mystical or meaningless figure of speech."

But is the prophecy of a fifth dimensional prose "a meaningless figure of speech"? Certainly Hemingway has often attacked the critics for indulging in grandiose abstractions. Perhaps in Green Hills of Africa, one of his poorer books, he may have lowered his guard and relaxed his muscles. "The fifth dimension," moreover, has no accepted meaning to modern physicists. But Hemingway's art has always been self-conscious, and in the years of his apprenticeship in Paris he often discussed this art with Gertrude Stein--a trained philosopher, and an admirer of Henri Bergson's theories of the two kinds of "time."3 Finally, I think, "the fifth dimension" is too strikingly specific a figure of speech to be "meaningless," although it may be "mystical."4

Actually, the specific phrase "the fifth dimension" was used in 1931 ( Green Hills of Africa was published in 1935), by P. D. Ous

-185-

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American Literature and the Dream
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Part I 3
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - The American Dream 5
  • Part II 11
  • 3 - The Transcendental Dream 11
  • 4 - Emerson 19
  • 5 - Bronson Alcott:Genteel Transcendentalist 30
  • 6 - Walt Whitman''s Eidolon 40
  • Part III 51
  • 7 - The Genteel Tradition:A Re-Interpretation 51
  • 8 - Scarlet a Minus 63
  • 9 - Melville and the Men-Of-War 73
  • Part IV 83
  • 10 - The Pragmatic Realization 83
  • 11 - Charles Sanders Peirce:Pragmatic Transcendentalist 94
  • 12 - William James and Emerson 105
  • 13 - Sinclair Lewis and the Fortress of Reality 116
  • Part V 126
  • 14 - The Romantic Confusion- The Devil in America 126
  • 15 - The Romantic Tragedy of Eugene O''Neill 133
  • 16 - Death Comes for Robinson Jeffers 144
  • Part VI 155
  • 17 - Thomas Wolfe- The Autobiography of an Idea 155
  • 18 - John Steinbeck- The Philosophical Joads 167
  • 19 - The Time of William Saroyan''s Life 176
  • 20 - Hemingway Achieves the Fifth Dimension 185
  • Part VII 194
  • 21 - The Good and the Bad 194
  • 22 - The Logic of American Literature 199
  • Notes 208
  • Index 217
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