Hemingway—How the great American novelist became the literary equivalent of the Nike swoosh.

From Slate, an excerpt from an article with the above title:

A mistake that people tend to make in reading, praising, teaching Hemingway is to assume that he was foremost a stylist. Although he was intensely concerned with his voice on the page—and although that voice became more distinctive as he aged—the Hemingway of the incantatory paragraphs and deadpan understatements (“The town was very nice and our house was very fine”) is Hemingway at his weakest. It is because we’ve come to fetishize this voice that we accept and even admire gnomic truisms like “a writer should write what he has to say”—an observation from Hemingway’s Nobel banquet speech and one of his most quoted lines—as if such raw-nut declarations came with tender insights curled inside. Most don’t. Nor was Papa, as some people (chiefly Papa) have liked to suggest, a pioneer in the craft of elision, of leaving crucial things unsaid: That tradition runs clear back at least to Henry James, a writer of a very different ilk. Instead, Hemingway’s genius rests in what he did say, in the way he used language to capture and contain a thread of experience as it wavered through time. His writing, at its best, was a way of coming to terms with disorder, with a narrative line that refused to hold.

Hemingway is due for reappraisal partly because his gamey, war-seeking, booze-quaffing corpus seems today quixotically out of sync with our twee and environmentally aware era; the Hemingway we think we know is a Zeus-hued action figurine from another time and place. Actually, though, this cultural moment is entirely resonant with Hemingway’s genius, which rose not from his bravura but from his most fragile, uncomfortable strains.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 James Ament

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