Hemingway for Wimps

I’m thinking of writing a book with that title, about how to look death in the face and then run like hell.

Hemingway was the most important writer of the twentieth century—not the best, but the most important.  Too schoolboy-magazine, really, but of world-class stature.

Well, what does “not the best” mean?  The novels haven’t held up.  I love The Sun Also Rises, but it’s the only one that works these days, at least for me.

But the stories are up there with the greatest: Scheherazade, Boccaccio, Chekhov, Kafka, Hemingway.  “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”—is there a wilder, more gripping story?  Gable and Peck both starred in film versions.

But that’s not the point.  The importance of Hemingway was that he defined the American man, really for the first time.  Tom and Huck defined boyhood, not manhood.  Arthur Dimmesdale, Natty Bumpo, these are versions of the British gentleman, meaning the British aristocrat, like Tarzan
the only model American men had, and the world had of American men.

Look at the heroes of the movies of the twenties.  The most popular was Douglas Fairbanks, an American version of the British gentleman.  Barrymore, Adolpf Menjou—ersatz Brits.  Ronald Coleman—a Brit.

But in the thirties, when everybody’s read the novels, or heard of them, we have the emergence of Hemingway Man: Gable, Bogart, Cooper.  Tough guys.  "If you want to call me that, smile."

The British aristocrat, all old-world aristocrats, trace their lineage back to myth, to heroes and gods who slew monsters.  Hemingway slew his own monsters—bulls, lions, charging buffalo, giant fish—he traveled the world seeking them out.  It was very strongly felt by the young men who fought in Korea and Vietnam that you couldn’t be a man unless you had stood up under a shelling—“that chastening,” as he called it.

Papa went to Paris and fished the Seine,
Take that,
And his colonel waded into Venice in the wake of less imposing men,
And he brought it all down to having balls at bottom,
Even or perhaps especially when like Jake you ain't got 'em.


It is no exaggeration to say that what we call “the sixties,” the movement and broad social feeling roughly between 1966 and 1975, was a reaction against Hemingway, the minting of post-Hemingway man.  (Nor is it any exaggeration to say that the feminist movement that gathered such strength then was a reaction against the courtly love tradition, but that’s another story.)

There had always been guys like Teddy Roosevelt, “big-stick” guys, macho guys.  Indeed, Graham Greene says that machismo is an inheritance from the Romans, and exists only in places that had been part of the Empire, and their colonies. 

Greene
Writes a prose that's nice and lean
And controls the point of view,
Which so few of them do.

But Greene was wrong about God and women and Browning and America and hot countries and everything that you would think might matta,
And he never could do what down where the fever shook he knew, and it was true, he hadda,
Which was get out of Hemingway's shadda.


But Papa wore macho with a glamour that seduced the world, and gave America, and American men—and their women—a specialness, an identity, a global profile.

Fitzgerald, who wrote the finest English prose since Shakespeare, and was a more generous man than Hemingway, who despised him, was shouldered out by Hemingway Man, and knew it, and resented it, and forgave it.  Fitzgerald was the opposite of a tough guy, and therefore in competition with the British gentleman.  He wrote very little that wasn’t designed to show that American class had more class than British class. 

F. Scott threw Dick Diver at whatever Yerp could hit him with,
And it was home grown money and a movie star he finally undid him with,
And if you could prefer an English gentleman after that book
It had to be your Gatsby-esque parvenu outlook.


But by the thirties, nobody cared.  Indeed, who cares now?  Name a recent American president, even the sitting one, who isn’t cut from Hemingway’s cloth.

Ironically—for we must have irony, I can’t live without it—he finished life as a lesbian.

Papa was in less danger from the beast
Than Uncle Henry was of getting venereally deceased.
They're our two best bravados, though lots of people can't abide 'em,
And Hem was more in touch with the woman inside him.


He became fascinated by lesbianism, put it in his novels and stories, and asked of his women that they treat him as one of them in bed.  Well, it takes balls.

One of my English professors told us that the Hemingway mystique was false if it came down to blowing your own head off, but that’s unfair.  Papa had been concussed and internally damaged in two back-to-back small-plane crashes in the jungle, and must have been in enormous pain.  With pain like that you can’t tell whether it’s physical or spiritual. Drugs, booze, shock treatments, going blind, I mean come on.

You’ve got to get out from under your heroes, and I think I have moved on from Hemingway.  My characters are as wimpy as I am.  But his presence is still there.  Norman Mailer carried it for us until four years ago.  I leave you with this:

Norman Mailer and Robert Cohn
Went walking out at sunset by the sea.
Norman said to Robert, "I know you're only here on loan
But the same guy who made you made me.
He made John O'Hara and he made James Jones
And Camus and Antonio-nee.
He made more writers than Brando made actors
But the last and best he made was me,
See?
The last and best he made was me."
They walked on in silence and the waves washed in
And Norman kicked along absently,
Put his hands in his pockets and thought about things
And looked about as glum as he could be.
He said, "Brando won't speak to me,
Marilyn wouldn't sleep with me, 

I'm short and ugly and my thing's too small to see,
And what I want to know, what I called you here to ask you is,
Do you think he would have liked me?"
Cohn looked at him sharply and Mailer brought his guard up, said
"Well you punched him out, you should know!"
"Norman," whispered Robert, "you're confusing fact and  fiction.
It was Jake with whom I came to blows."
"Yeah but Papa let you beat him, he could feel you in your fists!
Do you really mean to stand there and say
That you didn't feel the victory engorge you like grace?
You fought the bull, boy! And you lived another day!"
But Cohn just whispered, "Papa don't care,
                          Papa don't care,
                          Papa don't care,
                          Papa don't care,"
And faded in the gloom and then was gone.
And Norman hung his head and trudged back to his room
And sat there staring at the gun.



Also by Robert MacLean, the "Toby" books,
Will You Please Fuck Off? at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords;
Foreign Matter at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords; 
Total Moisture at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords; 
and these, too,
Mortal Coil: A Comedy of Corpses at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DE, Amazon IT and Amazon ES;
The President's Palm Reader: A Washington Comedy at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon IT and Amazon ES; and
Greek Island Murder at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon IT and Amazon ES.

The Accidental Monkey

"It was supported by unassailable arguments that did not persuade."—Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon
The fundamentalists are right to oppose the Theory of Evolution, but for the wrong reason.
 

There is no contradiction between Darwin and creationism.  The Catholic Church accepted him a century ago—seven days, seven eons, big deal (no more Galileos for them!), and the Big Bang makes a majestic Fiat.  The Tree of Life tells the story that way (a tedious experience), and it’s what most interviewees in the street more or less believe.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a good pop-culch movie.  The prison sequences drag a bit, and it’s a little too much like watching a cartoon, but dramatically it held me. And its emotional strength derives from a sense of our identity with the apes, and with all animals.

But no.  While we can't ignore the fossil record, it won't afford such glib conclusions as Darwin wants to sell.  The Theory isn’t really a theory, in the proper sense of the word, because scientific method requires that a theory be testable.  Nothing in Darwin is testable.


“Science,” said Paul Valéry, “means simply the aggregate of all the recipes that are always successful.  The rest is literature.”

Fundamentalists reject the Theory because they think the world was created 6000 years ago like it says in the bible.  I reject it because it’s not science.

What it is is the medieval Great Chain of Being—rising from minerals to fish to animals to men to angels to God—stood on its side and extended in time.  The "missing link" should be found any day now—a day that ever approaches but never arrives.  It is an article of faith in this religion that the missing link will, perhaps in tomorrow's news, arise like a redeemer, for we yearn for continuity with something, even if it's monkeys.

Am I from Mars?  Well, maybe.

But I’m glad to note that there are others like me.  Stanley Kubrick satirized the Theory in 2001.  In a gesture of victory an ape throws his bone-club, the first tool, into the air and, leaping the longest gap ever in a piece of editing, it becomes a space module.  No explanation needed—our myth, and therefore invisible.  But if being the fittest were just a matter of incremental brain circuitry the computer HAL (read IBM) would win.  (See also Some Thoughts on Stanley Kubrick.)

The theory is a tranquilizer to enable us to handle the astounding fact of our existence.


So who are we?  What are we?  There are two possibilities. 

Either we are creatures of a deity we disappointed, sinners in the hands of an angry God, as Jonathan Edwards put it—this is David Lynch’s view on the thing (see Greece versus the Puritans); or we entered this labyrinth on our own bat, with no guarantee of the value of anything in it, including ourselves.

Two possibilities?  They’re endless.  We’re in a state of play with our existence.  Like Caesar the chimp, we don’t know who we are.


And that’s the scientific answer—and one reason Caesar is the most human person in the film.  The others assume they know who they are.

Certainly he’s smarter than my own characters.

So rather than do a dance I’ll give you a poem:

The accidental monkey
‘S a metaphysics junkie
With bothersome abysses on his mind;

Preoccupied with dying,
Interminably trying
To turn around and glimpse his own behind.

His finger in his yin-yang
He contemplates the Big Bang,
The earliest ancestor he can find,

Unless it’s all that room
The Bang had to go boom—
Or does it create space as it unwinds,

A spreading dance of gravity
In a potential cavity
Like that in which his finger is entwined?

A cosmos so anonymous,
How can it but be ominous
That such vast masonry was left unsigned?

Reality extrudes him.
Its structure still eludes him,
His probing finger warmer but confined.

Enigma born of distances
And exquisite resistances—
Too seamless not to seem that way designed.

Theisms, whether mono
Or other sorts of guano,
Have left his spirit largely unaligned.

Perusing Darwin’s Theory
He feels a little leery
Of sepia-toned free-market states of mind.

Amino acid soup-erman
Whose wake-up call so overran
’S the one myth all the apes have not maligned;

But too unscientific
To offer much specific,
As willing as he is to be resigned.

The spiral strands of rubble
He surveys through the Hubble
May possibly bear others of his kind.

Would that be any better,
To get an email letter
From some strange breed of orphans just as blind?

Abject on a conveyor,
Hunched over as for prayer
He’s hummed through life bowed down by double bind.

The horizontal motion
Admits no meta-notion,
His view cut off both forward and behind.

A bas with this banality!
He opts for verticality—
His heart leaps up and stands in him star-high!

A fallen god no longer,
Already he feels stronger,
Astral banana peeling off the rind!

Abyss-wise up is down though
And starry heaven’s clown so
Has raised his head it’s lodged in his behind.

Divine but rather stupid,
Of Morpheus and Cupid,
And to this grosser matter self-consigned,

The accidental monkey
At least is his own flunky,
And buoyed by this he hop-turns to the grind.



Also by Robert MacLean, the "Toby" books,
Will You Please Fuck Off? at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords;
Foreign Matter at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords; 
Total Moisture at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords; 
and these, too,
Mortal Coil: A Comedy of Corpses at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DE, Amazon IT and Amazon ES;
The President's Palm Reader: A Washington Comedy at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon IT and Amazon ES; and
Greek Island Murder at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon IT and Amazon ES.