Ernest Hemingway. The life of an indomitable writer, seen with a Freudian eye
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(That is: Hemingway's style was so spare because his understanding of himself was so spare. Shall we say something similar of Picasso's move from realism to abstraction?)Skip to next paragraph
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But for me such an approach to Hemingway's life leaves the essence of this great spirit unexplained - his boundless energy and creativity, the quality of his writings - among them ``classic'' short stories and novels - and the literary awards, including the Nobel Prize.
This leads to broader questions: Are biography and literary criticism to remain forever in the kingdom of Freud? Is artistic creativity always the sublimation of frustrations and emotions? And doesn't the acceptance of this ``given'' inevitably shadow much that a biographer or critic observes and writes about? Isn't it a reductio ad absurdum explanation for the roots of creative endeavor?
Yet in ``Hemingway,'' concerning the writing of ``A Moveable Feast,'' we find:
``Once again, it seemed, he had beaten his disabilities and his furies, exorcising them in the act of writing and in therapeutic recall of the streets, the caf'es, the good food and wine, the friends, the wife, and the long hours of work that made Paris in the years between 1921 and 1926 a symbol for him of the man he once was.''
Here the creative process is reduced to a form of therapy, even of exorcism. With the same Freudian approach Lynn fuels the concept of a childhood that somehow warped Hemingway's psyche. But the upper-middle-class environment Lynn depicts sounds relatively normal and packed with parental interest:
``... twice a year [Hemingway's father] liked to take his children to see the Ringling Brothers Circus at the Coliseum, and on weekends he sometimes escorted them to the Field Museum of Natural History ... [His mother] shepherded all six of them up the grand staircase of the Art Institute ... On other occasions she bought them tickets to concerts at Orchestra Hall ...''
Specifically, Lynn makes a major point of the fact that on occasion in his early childhood and for a period longer than customary, Hemingway had long curls and was put in dresses. But my family pictures of the same era indicate that before World War I this was not unusual for young boys. I have a great shot of my father in similar garb.
Starting with such events in Hemingway's life, Lynn posits a psychological androgyny in the author. Then he proceeds to find evidence in Hemingway's life and works to support the thesis.
Maybe so, maybe so, but let's remember this can be a perilous - and facile - path because any great author like Hemingway must, by definition, have the skill to identify with and write about many things - including the feelings, hopes, and disappointments of members of the opposite sex.
To sum up - a biographer tends inevitably to be influenced by his own attitudes and beliefs, and tends to shape his subject more or less to them. When we're dealing with a largely Freudian biographical interpretation like Lynn's, the degree of shaping can be high. For all a scholar's meticulous research, as in Lynn's book, there is a risk of half-truth or distortion. That's why I feel future scholars may look at ``Hemingway'' as part of an outmoded genre.
J. Denis Glover is on the Monitor's staff.