Monthly Archives: July 2009

The expatriate’s fate escaped

Yesterday I wrote that the reason I didn’t take any Hem to Thailand with me was because it made me into a rank imitator.  Perhaps I should have re-read some more before I left:

Hemingway-At-Paris-Cafe

Hem living it up at a Paris cafe with fellow ruined expatriates

You know what’s the trouble with you?  You’re an expatriate.  One of the worst type.  Haven’t you heard that?  Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing.  Not even in the newspapers … you’re an expatriate.  You’ve lost touch with the soil.  You get precious.  Fake European standards have ruined you.  You drink yourself to death.  You become obsessed with sex.  You spend all your time talking, not working.  You are an expatriate, see?  You hang around cafes.”

Maybe if I’d re-read that, from The Sun Also Rises, instead of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, I’d have reconsidered my trip, which ultimately lasted five and a half years.  Well – now safely ensconced back in America’s cold embrace and thus free of the danger of detriorating into a dithering expat – seems to me that the equivalent of the Paris cafes of the 20s are the lit blogs.  To wit, from Hem’s “A Paris Letter”:

“… loafers expending the energy that an artist puts into his creative work in talking about what they are going to do and condemning the work of all artists who have gained any degree of recognition. By talking about art they obtain the same satisfaction that the real artist does in his work.”

Except on many a lit blog, they don’t condemn, they praise to ridiculous excess.  Daisy chains of unearned affirmations. Writers writing about writers writing about writing.  Hem would not approve.  Hem also spent many an hour in the cafes of Paris.  Anyone care to sort out the moral of the story?

The expatriate's fate escaped

Yesterday I wrote that the reason I didn’t take any Hem to Thailand with me was because it made me into a rank imitator.  Perhaps I should have re-read some more before I left:

Hemingway-At-Paris-Cafe

Hem living it up at a Paris cafe with fellow ruined expatriates

You know what’s the trouble with you?  You’re an expatriate.  One of the worst type.  Haven’t you heard that?  Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing.  Not even in the newspapers … you’re an expatriate.  You’ve lost touch with the soil.  You get precious.  Fake European standards have ruined you.  You drink yourself to death.  You become obsessed with sex.  You spend all your time talking, not working.  You are an expatriate, see?  You hang around cafes.”

Maybe if I’d re-read that, from The Sun Also Rises, instead of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, I’d have reconsidered my trip, which ultimately lasted five and a half years.  Well – now safely ensconced back in America’s cold embrace and thus free of the danger of detriorating into a dithering expat – seems to me that the equivalent of the Paris cafes of the 20s are the lit blogs.  To wit, from Hem’s “A Paris Letter”:

“… loafers expending the energy that an artist puts into his creative work in talking about what they are going to do and condemning the work of all artists who have gained any degree of recognition. By talking about art they obtain the same satisfaction that the real artist does in his work.”

Except on many a lit blog, they don’t condemn, they praise to ridiculous excess.  Daisy chains of unearned affirmations. Writers writing about writers writing about writing.  Hem would not approve.  Hem also spent many an hour in the cafes of Paris.  Anyone care to sort out the moral of the story?

Re-reading The Snows of Kilimanjaro

About six years ago I gave up reading Hemingway. I did this because every time I read more than a paragraph of him, my own writing became rank imitation for weeks afterwards. At that point I had read and re-read everything he wrote. Some of his short stories I can still virtually recite.  I decided it was time to break free. When I made the jump across the pond to Thailand, I took no Hem. (Though “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was heavy on my mind.  More on that later.)  Until about two days ago, I hadn’t touched anything by him since.

So I was in the public library – wonderful thing, public libraries, by the way, after having lived in the Third World where such a concept is unheard of – looking over the DVDs when I saw The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Snows-of-KilimanjaroIt stars Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner and it is not very good.   I imagine it was pretty ground-breaking at the time in its use of animal footage and the Paris parts are interesting.  But the ending is classic lame Hollywood, transforming Hem’s stringent ending into an unearned redemption, and the plotline is badly skewed to reflect the prudish sensibilities of the 50s. The main highlights are the parts where lines from Hem’s story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” are incorporated directly into the dialogue.  Which, naturally, made me want to re-read the story.  So I commenced to do so.

What a work of art.  I appreciate it more than I did when I was younger, with more life and writing under my belt.  Ultra-real dialogue entwined with the sort of stream of consciousness that Joyce et al. could have learned a thing or two from.  Magisterial descriptions and experience pinpointed on bare turns of phrase.

If the story has a weakness, it is the constant reference to real historical events that now, nearly a century later, are fairly obscure.  Wouldn’t take more than a quarter-hour on Wikipedia to remedy the gaps in my knowledge, I suppose, but that’d be quite a lot of distracting info to keep in your head while re-re-reading.  It’s a weakness that runs across a lot of Hemingway, actually, the constant references that were common knowledge in 1936, say, but have since been misted over.  Having said that, it’s not essential to grasp all the references to grasp the upshot.

I wonder if Hem wrote this story at least partially as a warning to himself.  I wonder if he re-read it himself, in his sad declining later years.  Myself, I took (and take) the story as both a work of art and a warning.  When presented with a chance to join the workaday world that half decade ago, I re-read “Snows”, declined, and got on another Pacific-hopping plane.  I’ve sometimes questioned the wisdom of that decision but never its intent.

Hem’s anti-hero died with the bitter taste of self-inflicted failure in his mouth, at the literal and figurative foot of the mountain he failed to even attempt to climb. Most wouldn’t blame him.  It’s a steep steep path to the peak of a literary Kilimanjaro.  Failure is a near-certainty, success a remote chance.  As Hem said elsewhere,  if that daunts you, it should.  So I do my best not to let it, and climb on anyway.

Tibetan Teen Getting Into Western Philosophy

Did I say I would try to limit the philosophy-geek humor around here?  Well, I take it back.  As a philosophy major who read way more Eastern razzmatazz than could possibly be good for you, I found the following particularly side-splitting.

Tibetan Teen Getting Into Western Philosophy

OCTOBER 20, 2004 | ISSUE 40•42

LHASA, TIBET—Deng Hsu, 14, said Monday that he is “totally getting into Western philosophy.” “I’ve been reading a lot of Kant, Descartes, and Hegel, and it’s blowing my mind,” Hsu said. “It’s so exotic and exciting, not like all that Buddhist ‘being is desire and desire is suffering’ shit my parents have been cramming down my throat all my life. Most of the kids in my school have never even heard of Hume’s views on objectivity or Locke’s tabula rasa.” Hsu said he hopes to one day make an exodus to north London to visit the birthplace of John Stuart Mill.

From, where else, The Onion.  Thanks, Sam, for the link.

On the seeker and the search

The Maverick Philosopher, aka Dr. William Vallicella, is a cranky old curmudgeon who lives out in Arizona and gets to be wise for a living.  Nice work if you can get it.  Dr. Vallicella handles the task with aplomb.  If you don’t read his blog, you probably should.  Feel free to skip the technical posts.  I do.

Dr. VallicellaThough he’s occasionally a touch mean-spirited for my taste, he more than makes up for it with gems like this:

The Seeker
What is the seeker after? He doesn’t quite know, and that is part of his being a romantic. He experiences his present ‘reality’ as flat, stale, jejune, oppressive, substandard. He feels there must be more to life than work-a-day routines and social objectifications, the piling up of loot, getting ahead. He wants intensity of experience, abundance of life, even while being unclear as to what these are.  He casts a negative eye on the status quo, the older generation, his parents and family, and their quiet desperation. He scorns security and its living death.
Christopher J. McCandless was a good example,  he whose story was skillfully recounted by Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild.    In McCandless’ case, the scorn for security, his fleeing a living death, led to a dying death. In an excess of self-reliance he crossed the Teklanika, not realizing it was his Rubicon and that its crossing would deposit him on the Far Shore.  Be bold, muchachos, be bold; be not too bold.

The Seeker

What is the seeker after? He doesn’t quite know, and that is part of his being a romantic. He experiences his present ‘reality’ as flat, stale, jejune, oppressive, substandard. He feels there must be more to life than work-a-day routines and social objectifications, the piling up of loot, getting ahead. He wants intensity of experience, abundance of life, even while being unclear as to what these are.  He casts a negative eye on the status quo, the older generation, his parents and family, and their quiet desperation. He scorns security and its living death.

Christopher J. McCandless was a good example,  he whose story was skillfully recounted by Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild.    In McCandless’ case, the scorn for security, his fleeing a living death, led to a dying death. In an excess of self-reliance he crossed the Teklanika, not realizing it was his Rubicon and that its crossing would deposit him on the Far Shore.  Be bold, muchachos, be bold; be not too bold.

Preach on, Brother Vallicella.

That first paragraph: it’s how I’ve felt most of my life.  Nonetheless, the realities of contemporary American life close in, and since I’m in no position to pull a Chris McCandless, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, hard choices have to be made, most of them not much conducive to the continuing of the search.  No sense in complaining about it.  (Maybe it’s okay to lament a little.)  As another wise man said, So it goes.

Harvard Press goes online; what’s next?

Look at this – Harvard University Press is going to publish 1,000 digitized books on Scribd.  Scribd, you may recall, came under pressure for alleged copyright infringements a few months ago.  Evidently this doesn’t bother the Harvard folks, who are suffering some fiscal pressures of their own.  Upshot: anyone with google can now access books that formerly would have available only on musty university bookshelves, or at hundreds of bucks a pop on Amazon.scribd

Now, you and I aren’t likely to rush out and read these tomes (typical title: Manipulative Monkeys: The Capuchins of Lomas Barbudal), but they do illustrate the point I was trying to make in comments here and elsewhere yesterday: the future is digital.  Harvard doesn’t exactly represent the black-flag-waving anarchist set, and they’re doing it.  By the same token, while twit-lit may just be finding its feet, it’s got the future on its side.  What web-lit currently lacks in ModyDick-like gravitas will no doubt be made up for by … well, I don’t know what just yet.   Don’t think anyone does.

Ain’t it exciting?

Harvard Press goes online; what's next?

Look at this – Harvard University Press is going to publish 1,000 digitized books on Scribd.  Scribd, you may recall, came under pressure for alleged copyright infringements a few months ago.  Evidently this doesn’t bother the Harvard folks, who are suffering some fiscal pressures of their own.  Upshot: anyone with google can now access books that formerly would have available only on musty university bookshelves, or at hundreds of bucks a pop on Amazon.scribd

Now, you and I aren’t likely to rush out and read these tomes (typical title: Manipulative Monkeys: The Capuchins of Lomas Barbudal), but they do illustrate the point I was trying to make in comments here and elsewhere yesterday: the future is digital.  Harvard doesn’t exactly represent the black-flag-waving anarchist set, and they’re doing it.  By the same token, while twit-lit may just be finding its feet, it’s got the future on its side.  What web-lit currently lacks in ModyDick-like gravitas will no doubt be made up for by … well, I don’t know what just yet.   Don’t think anyone does.

Ain’t it exciting?

Twittification update: twitter666

Following my post on the twittification of America, the estimable Brad Green kindly directed me to a “literary journal” composed entirely of tweets. There are lots. I read a few. Some are mildly amusing;

lionelritchieCD: Wait! She touched me! Oh… she was reaching for Kenny Rogers. Fuck.

some are mildly interesting;

a_gravedigger: went to hardware store to buy new gloves, clerk said-what are these for, i said, you don’t wanna know son.

some are clever-for-the-sake-of-clever:

A_BULLY: i’m a much bigger fan of the punch to the stomach than i am of the punch to the thigh

But none flirt even remotely with being “perfect little statements into gems of intent, meaning, clarity.” (My definition of a worthwhile aphorism.) Not that they’re trying to to be that. Not sure what they are trying to be. Probably they’re on to something. They just don’t know what.

Current state of twittified web-lit

Current state of twittified web-lit

Tweets have a long way to go. Not saying they won’t get there. They might. Web-lit is evolving. I’ve got great hopes for it. Humble beginnings are required. twitter666 has them in spades.

The, ahem, future?

Its future?

Whatever web-lit evolves into, these tweets will be as cave paintings to, say, Paradise Lost or Pale Fire or Proust. Or something entirely less wordy. Like waka or the prosings of the great master himself.

In any case, I’ve emailed the man evidently behind twitter666, Sam Pink, inviting him to comment. Let’s hope he puts in an appearance.