Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Importance Of Deciding To Be Ernest

One day the Professor showed us how Hemingway idles in neutral when his imagination is disengaged: He has his protagonist do things. Instead of just coming home, Jake or Nick lifts the cab door handle, leans his head forward and levers himself to the curb (but in three sentences), stands there a moment, eyes shaded beneath hat brim, facing the house, turns, walks around the cab, reaches his left hand into his left pants pocket (which jingles), etc. And there are so many things to be done with cigarettes and shot glasses.

The sentences maintain that hollow Hemingway beat that could be numbness after pain or boredom or something taut about to snap or nothing at all (but we know it is Hemingway and it is good), and at some point the imagination engages and the story progresses.

Every writer (says Hopkins) has his Parnassian style, his fallback voice for riffing on and on when he has nothing to say.Some writers have nothing else, just the carrier wave, all cadenza, all jazz, variations on the theme of me talking that talk.

Some writers play hide and seek: Find me in my style... - no, good guess, but that was just a bit of crescendo or a reflection of your own silly mug, Reader; I'm over here...no here! (That old Nabokov Kafka Tristram Shandy Borges Melville slipperiness.)

Sheer nothing to say, persisted in, becomes something to say, Beckett hopes.

Well, why not? The style is the man. Ultimately, there's no escaping what we are. But ultimately there's nothing to escape. Imagination disengages when we neglect to decide to be what we are being. Then we are no longer where art is, before the beginning, pure cause, or at the beginning of what is, the decision to be. We have become the effect of old decisions inadequately recycled.

And what if, idling, we cannot find ourselves to decide newly to be? See Hemingway in his later work struggling - numb with the shock of cold - against the current back up that stream - not making it, having trouble remembering now what it was - losing hope of ever rejoining the beginning, where he can make new decisions...

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