Notes: The Sun Also Rises

Longing. Throughout the pages, even the epigraph, we’re reminded of what’s been lost. We see in in the expatriate Jake Barnes, who’s told by his friend Bill:

You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You have around cafes.

Jake is cut off from his home. He’s cut off, too, from being a man in the traditional sense. We don’t know his exact injury, but we are told a war wound has caused his impotence. So, he becomes a man in the expatriate sense, spending his time talking and not working, obsessed by sex though without any means of release. He passes from cafe to cafe, lost.

It’s pain that drives him back to a memory, a fragment of longing. After he’s punched in the head he walks back to the hotel:

“Walking across the square to the hotel everything looked new and changed. I had never seen trees before. I had never seen the flagpoles before, nor the front of the theatre. It was all different. I felt as I felt once coming home from an out-of-town football game. I was carrying a suitcase with my football things in it, and I walked up the street from the station in the town I had lived in all my life and it was all new. They were raking the lawns and burning leaves in the road, and I stopped for a long time and watched. It was all strange. Then I went on, and my feet seemed to be a long way off, and everything seemed to come from a long way off, and I could hear my feet walking a great distance away. I had been kicked in the head early in the game. It was like that crossing the square.”

Pain does not simply remind him of his past; it pulls him into the presence to see things anew.

Hemingway’s great restraint is never to name the longing, the lostness, never to go into soliloquies about the pain of Jake, but to narrate. He gives us dialogue and action, and the prose itself is lean and athletic. There is no navel gazing, only the rush of events, and the longing for that which has been lost.

1.26.2018: Violence

Violent conflicts create zones of silence in a society. The deeds and responsibility of the perpetrators are concealed. Thus also the suffering of the victims, the role of the spectators… The silence is often passed on to the next generation.

Israeli psychologist Dan Bar-On

Conflict…

In the best stories, the conflict is clear. I think of a writing teacher’s admonition: “Clarify the conflict, but complicate the motivations.”

Many of the self-help books and podcasts, and the ideas you see in early January about setting resolutions (and limiting goals) leading to short-lived goals, are about this one idea. Clarify the conflict.

#writing #conflict

The idea of someone

I find it much easier to love the idea of someone than the disciplined work of loving and listening, of caring for someone when they have the audacity to contradict, or disappoint, or bore me.

The writers who attend to this foible of human nature, whose characters are a bundle of paradoxes comprising a whole, are the writers I want to emulate.

#writing, #human nature

A line will take us hours…

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’
“Adam’s Curse,” 1st Stanza, W.B. Yeats
#writing #readings

What he cared about were the ends…

“Of all the Sandinista leaders I met, Humberto Ortega was the first who really troubled me. Without blinking an eye, he manipulated reality to suit his needs. And he did it with such conviction that sometimes I wondered if he actually believed what he was saying, or if he just underestimated my intelligence. He could justify anything. As time went on I realized that what he cared about were the ends. As far as the means to achieve those ends, he was utterly without scruples…

“That experience taught me, in no uncertain terms, that a war can be won with any class of people, but a fair, ethical system of government cannot be put in place if the people who take it upon themselves to do it lack those qualities, or sacrifice those values along the way.”

The Country Under My Skin, Gioconda Belli

#readings #politics