Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jottings : Slice of Life -59 ( Ernest Hemmingway - master of the narrative form)

Jottings : Slice  of Life -59 ( Ernest Hemmingway - master of the narrative form)
On a beautiful summer evening on July 2 1962, Ernest Hemmingway, walked down to the basement of his farm house in Idaho, pulled out his favorite shot gun - oiled, cleaned it; bought it up to his living room; sat down facing his large window that opened up to the acres of wavy farmland, put the barrel to his head and shot himself. The literary world, friends and critics, fans, his wife weren't in the least bit surprised or shocked. If there was a way Hemmingway was going to die, it was to be through his own hand, by his own means and only in this manner. For a man who lived his life at its very edge, no other kind of death would have done him justice. Suicide was the violent climax his genius persistently craved for, or could have accepted with dignity. Quietly, after few days of cursory investigation and a nod from his wife, the coroner declared his death to be “accidental” and closed the file on the greatest American writers.
His death in this manner was not in the least bit ironic. From 1918, when from the first time, as a debonair , young, virile corp he enlisted himself to volunteer as an ambulance driver during world war 1 - an effort that nearly killed him, then to report first hand in ragged lands of bloody Spanish civil war, thereon to Cuban jungles and the second world war, Hemmingway took his pen and paper where blood and adrenaline flowed. Nearly seven times, death had her loving arms around hemmingway, only to allow his grit determination and occasional help from his family get him out of her firm grasp. It was not for him the ordinary, peaceful, objective life of a writer. He needed to be in the midst of battle, at the very edge of life, with death staring at him in the eye. Only then would the terse, structured and disciplined prose that he wrote with so much passion emerge from his tormented, male chauvinistic depths. Never was a writer so much troubled, sexually driven, openly abusive and intolerant, so full of brilliant insights into human nature and; and yet, capable of writing the most sensitive, artistic prose time and time again, under the most adverse circumstances. He was an enigma to himself and literature.
In all, Hemmingway produced seven novels, six short story collections and two works of non-fiction ( a collection of his journalistic pieces) in a writing career that spanned 40 years. In between , he found time to marry four times under different circumstances. Each of wives alternatively were his muses first, sexual mates next and soul mates last. They were his only grip on reality, when everything was crumbling around him.It was only with them at his side ( or periphery of his life) he produced feverishly the best and renowned works for which is known worldwide.
I have come to believe that an author's overall vision can only be honestly understood by reading what they wrote in chronological order. I have heard many readers talking eloquently about Hemmingway after reading couple of books (many - just one). They would talk about either “farewell to arms” - which is his most popular work, or “from whom the bell tolls” - setting during the Spanish war, and reach the erroneous conclusion that Hemingway was a “war writer”. Yet, if one has the patience to read him as he unfolded himself from his first Novel in 1926 “The sun also rises” to his last “the old man and the sea”, one would realize that Hemmingway’s primary interest was man’s moral and ethical predicament under extreme stress and in an hostile world, where for millions daily struggle is the only condition they know. War was only a pretense, a stage for his characters to flower, talk, express and die. In his first novel “ The Sun also rises”, hemmingway sets the tone of his life’s work. In ten pages, somewhere in the middle of the novel, he embarks upon a description of Bull fighting. In terse, controlled prose, which was to become his hallmark, Hemmingway elevates the art of Bullfighting to a metaphor of Man’s struggle. In few striking paragraphs during that description, one will be left wondering, if Hemmingway is writing about the bull fighting the matador, or the matador fighting the bull. The force, speed and directness of his prose hits us like tidal waves - lashing upon the shores of ones being with force and disdain. His writing had this unique “Stream of consciousness” quality without its relative obscurity (like Joyce).
In 1952, towards the end of writing career, he produced, from some unknown depth of his being, a work that will resonate across ages, even if all of his other books fade away. He wrote a 130 page novel “The old man and the sea”. In hemmingway’s terms, it was the crescendo of his life’s work and philosophy. The tenacity of an old fisherman, his big catch, the ferocious sea, the frightening swarms of sharks, His pity and respect for his prey, the young boy who awaits his arrival on the shore , and the old man’s eventual redemption after three harrowing days in the middle of an ocean against all odds - is a masterpiece of literature, existential philosophy and gripping terse narration. Only Moby dick by Herman Melville comes close to the intensity of Hemmingway’s austere prose. In 1954, hemmingway was given the Nobel prize, and in their citation , they mention
“ his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style”
Last week, one night after work, my eyes accidentally fell upon “Old man and the sea” buried deep in my library, while searching for something else. It is a faded paperback copy presented to me by a friend of mine many years ago. I have read this book at least five times. each time for a different reason. And now , when I held it again in my hands, the pull was irresistible. I read it once more in about an hour, losing myself again in the brilliance of its scope and the precision of its execution. On the front page , My friend had inscribed the following words “
“To Bala, Philosophy Personified….”..
And I remember him telling me, “ I couldn't think of a better inscription”.
Well, “The Old man and the Sea” is and will remain one of my favorite books, and so will the entire Hemmingway repertoire. A tormented genius. But again, can genius be anything else?
God bless…
yours in mortality,

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