Yes. Your eyes don’t deceive you. That really is *the* podcast. Actually, it’s a new recording the podcast we attempted on Tuesday.
It’s been quite the day. I certainly didn’t get up today thinking I’d be writing something for the blog at 9pm. However, some days are like that. Early this morning, I was asked to write something about the US polls and I naturally leapt at the chance. Then Tim suggested we record the podcast again, which I could hardly turn down. I wasn’t exactly in the mood for a four hour edit after the week I’ve had but, at the same time, my motto is to always get back on the bike when I can. Glad I did. The podcast turned out okay, minus my film knowledge deserting me on the topic of Nicholas Cage. I thought he’d been Oscar nominated for Birdy. I had it in my head that I remembered him at award ceremonies at the time. The subject of him having his teeth removed for the role was always mentioned. Turns out he didn’t. Get any awards, that is. He did have two front teeth removed.
In other news: I probably didn’t convey my dislike of Ernest Hemingway enough. I do like The Old Man and The Sea, but I’ve never bought into the Hemingway myth. He’s very much in the mould of Hunter S. Thompson, though, obviously, Thompson was actually in the mould of Hemingway. They were larger than life characters, in a sense works of self-fiction, whose personality slipped into their writing, so much so, in fact, that it’s often hard to tell where the writing ends and the showmanship begins. Much as I love Thompson, he’s not a writer I care to read over long stretches. He’s magical at the level of the sentence, perhaps the paragraph and article. Book length, however, the waywardness seeps through.
My main gripe with Hemingway is that he became a terrible model for writers following him. Do I think Thompson would have shot himself has Hemingway not take that route? Hard to tell but I guess he’d have loved writing about Trump given he thought politics had become too boring to carry on living.
Then, of course, there’s Norman Mailer, a great writer — Harlot’s Ghost is one of favourite reading experiences — yet so problematic, largely because that Great Writer was so wrapped up in his own head with versions of himself modelled after Hemingway. He was another bully and misogynist who seemed to think both were linked with genius.
I would probably pick Mailer over Gore Vidal if asked to novelist the writer I prefer but Vidal over Mailer if asked to pick the greater critic. Vidal touched on the sentiment I’m conveying so poorly here when he described Hemingway’s “careful, artful, immaculate idiocy of tone that since has marked both his prose and his legend as he has declined into that sort of fame which, at moments I hope are weak, Mailer seems to crave.”
That “idiocy of tone” gets to the root of the problem with Hemingway the prose stylist. If you want true masters of English prose, go read and emulate Conrad or Nabokov. Failing that, PG Wodehouse. In fact, anybody but Hemingway, for whom I reserve a special place in my loathing for For Whom The Bell Tolls; one of the single most boring books I’ve ever struggled my way through. There’s even a Hemingway writing app which promises to “make your writing bold and clear”. Probably rob it of everything that makes it unique to you. Write like a robot, they might as well say, but that hardly sounds as good…
I’ve also suspected there’s a degree of anti-intellectualism surrounding his mythology. He fetishizes simple short sentences which offer little beyond flat reportage. They have certainly become a curse in American literature, with otherwise great writers like James Elroy getting pulled into the mud once they get fixated on the style. The latter wrote some magnificent books but I found The Cold Six Thousand unreadable. He keeps his sentences sort. Doesn’t say much. Six words is a long line. Like this for 1000 pages. Awful.
Hemingway’s short sentences are intimately tied with his notion of self; masculinity personified in sentences that don’t entertain the notion of complexity. They certainly don’t entertain the possibility of grace, variation, and, at some deep level, the kinds of sophistication he probably despised. Blasting away at an elephant (or some other animal) is the perfect metaphor for Hemingway blasting away at the page. I suppose Hemingway blasting away at himself fulfils the very same purpose. It’s filled with all manner of certainty, moral clarity, but, ultimately, some degree of crass stupidity.
[One addditional thought. The previous was probably a bit unfair. Whilst I think Hemingway is a terrible role model for writers, I can see why he’s a good role model for journalists. I guess that’s the side from which Tim approaches it. I’m steeped in literature, not journalism. Yet to the journalist, I can see the virtue of the writer who simply addresses the facts in a straightforward manner. No emotions. No moral abiguity allowed to creep in at the sides. Hemingway also embrace the lifestyle of getting out there, seeing the world, experiencing stories for himself. That too, I guess, is a journalistic trait. Great role model, then, for journalists. I just think he’s terrible person to copy if you want to write, though, of course, any writer starting out probably should keep their sentences short and limit the amount they allow them to run on and on… Just once you’ve mastered short sentences, move on to explore the wonderful thing that is the English language. I mean, why sit in a box when there’s so much room to stretch your linguistic legs?]