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#83 The sun also rises
In a case of frequency illusion, I’ve been bouncing between The Sun Also Rises and For Whom The Bell Tolls this week. Both, of course, are Hemingway novels. The Sun Also Rises his depressive debut, For Whom The Bell Tolls, the confident masterpiece. Both, importantly for me, are based in Spain.
The frequency illusion began, as it ought to, innocuously. I listened to an interview with Hemingway scholar Mark Cirino on The Art of Manliness. As a white man, I’ve had my Hemingway decade, reading and rereading his books. Some of them, especially the odd non-fiction book Death in the Afternoon, have shaped me, probably. So, I enjoyed the interview, reminiscing of the joy I had reading these books for the first time.
The interview also brought something new, an insight I hadn’t had before. Cirino:
“if you look at his characters, his characters are intellectual, they’re either journalists, or Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms, wants to be an architect, or they’re writers or they’re painters. They’re not really tradesmen, or like blue-collar workers; they’re really not. So, I think what Hemingway’s approach was is to say, “Okay, men of action doing things that are active is not that interesting, intellectual people who are busy in thought, that’s not that interesting. What’s interesting is when somebody who is thoughtful is forced to act.” And so, How do intellectual, sensitive, vulnerable, introspective people behave at war, or when they’re hunting or when there’s a crisis, how does the mind work under that kind of stress? So what do you do when thought is either not appropriate, or it’s not useful, or actually it’s even injurious, it can detract from your behavior?”
What is interesting is when somebody who is thoughtful is forced to act.
As I tweeted this week, I think the Russian war in Ukraine will have a lasting influence on how we tell stories. First, of course, Zelensky’s uncanny ability to call people out while building sympathy, which Kasparov calls Churchillian but is so much more than that. His (team’s) talent to create videos that are laser-focused on Western sensibilities. But it is so much more than that. Bon Jovi, tweeting a video of Bon Jovi being played while the people of Odesa prepare their defenses. Volunteers like James Vasquez reporting their battles live. While NATO and the EU may be reluctant to join the fight, “the West” has already entered the conflict in its imagination.
I wasn’t there, but I imagine this is how the Spanish Civil War must have felt to people reading Hemingway’s reports or seeing Capa’s photos.
Moreover, the storytelling is fascinating because so many people of beautiful thought are forced to act. I’m thinking of the Ukrainian band Antytila that went viral with their invite to join Ed Sheeran on stage. Musicians, working as soldiers. (They received a “no,” in my opinion, because people of action can be profoundly scary to people of inaction.) The Kharkiv Music Fest that went ahead, the war notwithstanding.
On Friday, inspired by Hemingway, I decided to read John Donne’s No Man Is An Island to my son, who was home from school sick. This is the poem with the “for whom the bell tolls” line.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main;
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were:
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were;
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
It’s fun to analyze a poem with an eight-year-old. He takes it literally. Nonetheless, the message was clear. Children probably understand so much better that everything, and everyone, is connected and part of a whole. Fortunately, he doesn’t know what it means when a bell tolls (“Are people getting married?”). It tolls for thee.
While For Whom The Bell Tolls comes from John Donne, “the sun also rises” is a quote from the Bible. I’m not sure how it ended up in a pivotal scene in the last episode of the last season of Vikings, but I guess that’s why. But, of course, it wouldn’t have stood out if not for the frequency illusion.
It was good to be reminded of The Sun Also Rises. I love this book. It is Hemingway’s account of a trip to Pamplona and life in Paris by people he knew. I’ve always considered it a hopeful book. Whatever happens, there is always another story waiting to be told. For Whom The Bell Tolls, on the other hand, I’ve always seen as a profoundly pessimistic, fatalistic work. No matter what you do, the outcome is inevitable. I prefer to think the sun also rises.
Frequency bias notwithstanding, it took me quite a while to find my Hemingway books among our books. They had ended up next to Faulkner and Kapuściński (understandably) and Mantel and Cole (oddly). So I’ve been thinking deeply about the organizing principle behind this particular shelf. Still, I don’t have the slightest clue.
As always, thanks for reading and joining me in this attempt to categorize what stands out to me throughout the week. I didn’t write about the American justice system, tarmac, running with COVID-legs, or anything that also occupied me this week. Maybe a next time. Until then, take care!