Sunday, December 1, 2013

Oct 16, 2013

                              The house was sleeping, and the darkness outside imprisoned the windows. I started to read a Hemingway short story, "Fathers and Sons". Besides this one there are several others from that period, "Summer People", for instance, that though rarely anthologized are unusual. As was this starless morning for me, these stories are dark, almost sinister. Their realism is blunt, direct. Many of the details are the last that would come to mind when you think about beauty. But the style is precise, clean, gritty, in the vernacular, mostly common words given a new light by their correct use and setting. It taps the pure fount of American English to a fault, the which, I might add, in this case written by a globe trotting linguist who in the greater part of his life seemed to avoid the country of his origin. This story and some of the other later masterpieces seem more intensely autobiographic than the early stories that we read in school. Does the middle-aged Hemingway, several times husband and father, eschew the imagination for the actuality of more immediate memories? Perhaps the time lost between the conception and the execution was shorter. When we are young the stories bank up fast, so it may be ten years or more before a certain conception is dealt with, then the original impression is dulled by time — and often becomes less painful to deal with. More complex still are stories forgotten about which suddenly emerge into memory as if from nowhere. When we are old, why not write what happened yesterday because what else is there? So time has no time to dull the original experience. No matter how you do it...the fresh colloquialism "alternatively" comes to mind: you may do it this way or alternatively you may do it another way...wait for the execution to come, or do it day after tomorrow, armed with copious journal notes...you will get nowhere without somehow rounding up for yourself an intellect. It is a subject I have wondered about since I was nineteen: what is intellect and how do you get it? By intellect, I don't mean the general intelligence you are born with. We are all smart enough: some do better in life, others do better in school, some manage, others get lucky, every dog will have his day, and so on. So this is what I was thinking about as the darkness encasing my window began to lighten. One day long ago I asked Hannah Arendt if you had to read every book in the library before you could start writing. She said, "No!" To this day I am not embarrassed by that question. The professors who were protecting her from the student peasantry like thugs a despot were embarrassed that they had not caught the crazy kid in time.  As the years passed and I ran into a few more literary people, I admired Ms. Arendt more for that blunt, one word answer than for her numerous famous books.  A blunt answer to a blunt question is a rarity. Now the sun has risen, filling my dooryard with light, as I knew it would. It is one thing I am certain of. The dawn I am certain of; but how a Tolstoy or a Yeats or a Hemingway came to be I can only guess. Maybe one day someone will explain it to me.


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