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  • Hemingway on Politics and Rebellion
  • Robert E. Fleming
Hemingway on Politics and Rebellion. Edited by Lauretta Conklin Frederking . Routledge Studies in Political and Social Thought. New York and London: Routledge, 2010. 203 pp. Cloth. $103.

Writing to Edmund Wilson in 1924, Hemingway explained the strategy of alternating the new stories in his forthcoming In Our Time with chapters from his earlier in our time by using the following metaphor: reading the book would be "like looking with your eyes at something, say a passing coast line, and then looking at it with 15x binoculars" (SL 128).

A similar image could be applied to Hemingway on Politics and Rebellion, a collection of essays by scholars of political science. While most readers of The Hemingway Review are accustomed to viewing the man and his work under powerful magnification, the writers chosen by editor Lauretta Conklin Frederking view their subject from a distance: some miss details of the Hemingway landscape but produce excellent insights into the overall territory, while others seem to have been looking at a different continent.

Frederking writes in her introduction that:

[B]ringing Hemingway to the table of political philosophy reminds us that politics can be found in more interesting places and in more interesting ways than our traditional divisions of labor. Furthermore, this volume insists on a consideration of political rebellion and the emerging political rebel in the experiences outside of formal politics. It follows then that we cannot rely solely on our tools or ways of thinking about political science to understand politics. While art may not be wholly determinative it can open our eyes to new ways of seeing politics.


From the point of view of the literary scholar, it can be helpful to reverse this proposition: what can be learned about familiar texts from those from outside our field?

This collection is divided into three sections: "Hemingway in Liberal Times," "The Politics of Morality, Manliness, and God," and "The Impossibility [End Page 120] of Politics." Hemingway scholars will probably consider the last section, the strongest of the three, the most enlightening. In essays on To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bells Tolls, and Across the River and into the Trees, Kerstin Haman, David Winston Conklin, and Frederking herself respectively illustrate the values on which the book is based.

In the first section, Catherine Zuckert's essay, "Hemingway on Being in Our Time," illustrates both the strengths and the weaknesses of the outsiders' approach. She commits several factual errors—Nick Adams "runs away from home to join the war in Europe" (20); like Hemingway, Nick grew up "in the upper peninsula of Michigan" (24, 39); like Hemingway, Nick is an ambulance driver for the Red Cross during World War I, not a participant in the Italian military campaign (21). However, in spite of these minor lapses, Zuckert competently traces Nick's progress from his father's retreat into the Michigan wilderness, through disillusioning experiences in the states, and on into the chaos of war. In his final state Nick depicts what Hemingway saw as the modern dilemma—humans cannot live alone, and yet they are unable to "form an enduring union that would not become an empty, inauthentic, and ... oppressive sham" (39). To Zuckert, Hemingway therefore becomes a rebel against political institutions that would cure the ills of humanity.

William Curtis's "Hemingway, Hopelessness, and Liberalism" will remind some literary scholars of the leftist attacks on Hemingway during the 1930s. Basing his argument on Plato's Republic and the work of Richard Rorty, Curtis views the best literature as that which can "inspire hope in liberal political progress" (51). A lesser category of literature, into which Hemingway's work falls, consists of works that are not "relevant to the public task of constructing a more liberally just society" (51). (An example of the first category is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and of the second Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor. Enough said?) Curtis concludes by ceding to Hemingway one possible virtue: his works may serve as "an historical artifact that bears witness to a time when liberal hope was desperately under siege" (70).

Sayres Rudy's "Ethics without Theodicy" is a nicely...


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