restricted access 3. Memory and the Sharks
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3 Memory and the Sharks Sergio Perosa translated by Mark Cirino • It is well-known that Hemingway’s ideal of life, and his favorite theme, is “grace under pressure.” But his best fiction originates in “emotion recollected in tranquility,” as William Wordsworth defined it in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads—in the remembrance and in the memory of experience more than in experience itself (as tends to be the common belief). In Hemingway’s oft-quoted “The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water” (DIA 192), the part that remains below water, the submerged seven-eighths, is the assimilated experience of the writer, that which he can leave out precisely because he has assimilated it, because it becomes his second nature. It is through his remembrance, or his memory, that he “makes up” or invents his stories, according to the double meaning of the quasi-Poundian term “to make it up” that Hemingway repeatedly applied to fiction and to the process of writing. Throughout his life and his career, Hemingway seemed to waver between the exigencies (for the writer) of experience and of imagination or invention, which only memory, that submerged seven-eighths, can reconcile for narrative purposes. It is useless to focus on the many passages in which Hemingway insisted on the absolute necessity of direct experience (of A Farewell to Arms he writes of having mainly listened to convalescing men in hospitals until other people’s experiences “get to be more vivid than your own. You invent from your own and from all of theirs” [SL 800]). More significant are the moments in which he reasserts that one invents from the experience that one has of the 31 Cirino & Ott.indb 31 3/23/10 9:34:31 AM 32 sergio perosa world (“How much more the writer learns from experience than one can truly imagine”) and that only through invention and imagination, through “making it up,” that experience can transform itself into narrative material. “That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best—make it all up—but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way” (SL 407). Elsewhere Hemingway seems to privilege pure invention. He praises Stephen Crane’s writing of The Red Badge of Courage “before he had ever seen any war. But he had read the contemporary accounts, had heard the old soldiers, they were not so old then, talk, and above all he had seen Matthew Brady’s wonderful photographs. Creating his story out of this material he wrote that great boy’s dream of war that was to be truer to how war is than any war the boy who wrote it would ever live to see. It is one of the finest books of our literature” (MAW xvi). A Farewell to Arms is based on the same principle: “I invented every word and every incident of A Farewell To Arms except possibly 3 or 4 incidents. All the best part is invented—95 per cent of The Sun Also was pure imagination. I took real people in that one and I controlled what they did—I made it all up” (qtd. in Bruccoli 203). Hemingway was perfectly aware of the substantial difference between journalistic reportage and fictional transposition: the first depending on direct experience, the second on the emotional yield and inventive rendering of facts, on the transformation of real experience into fictional truth. As we read in Death in the Afternoon: “In writing for a newspaper you told what happened and, with one trick and another, you communicated the emotion aided by the element of timeliness which gives a certain emotion to any account of something that has happened on that day; but the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always, was beyond me and I was working very hard to get it” (2). “The real thing” has a typical Jamesian sound and tone; “the real thing” is what one imagines beyond lived reality. What mediates between experience and invention, or what allows the passage from one to the other for narrative purposes, is the operation and the distancing of memory working as filter and cushion, removing and softening the direct contact or relationship with immediate reality. “I try always to...


Subject Headings

  • Memory in literature.
  • Hemingway, Ernest, -- 1899-1961 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Geography in literature.
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