Monday, April 16, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Against Hemingway

There’s a popular quote about writing from Ernest Hemingway:

There is nothing to writing.
All you do is sit down at a typewriter and

For some he remains a literary role model. So blunt; so honest; so uncompromising. His work bleeds the self they think he was. He produced a popular metafictional character. And because he produced some worthwhile words, people see him as a reason to drink and write, to dwell without checks or balances, and so-on.

I wish to bring something to his fans’ attention:

Ernest Hemingway is dead.
He blew out his brains with a shotgun.
They did not publish the wallpaper he bled on.

Please bleed responsibly. Getting help is substantially more important than fetishizing grit.


  1. I love Hemingway's writing, but I'm all for combating romantic notions of the artist and the artist's life. About Hemingway's style: it's not as "strong" as one might think, if "strong" means consistency. There really is a 'sitting down and whacking away' aspect about it. If you look closely, for example, you'll find that on one page he'll use a lot of short sentences, while on the next page he's content to separate short phrases with commas. If one tried to argue that the difference is some kind of conscious attempt to vary the speed of the passages I would say that is doubtful. It seems more likely Hemingway thought the two approaches were interchangeable. About his suicide: could it be despair over the loss of virility, both in his body and in his writing? He didn't want to face the day when he couldn't get it up anymore.

    I really hate the romantic notion that an artist must suffer. I agree man, if you're in pain, get help.

  2. Is it the same? To not want to die as he did and to not want to write like him? I wouldn't presume writers would ever want to follow one another anyway, on the other hand.

    1. I don't want to butt in and be didactic in the comments when I was already didactic in the post. I just want to make this clear:

      Shopgirl is right that "To not want to die" is not the same as "to not want to write like him," particularly if that latter point is to simply create prose similar in some ways to his. I do not mean that his issues were entirely in his charge, or that it was caprice, or that you can only write grit when you are damaged. What I advise so strongly against is encouraging harmful approaches to composition or any other part of your life, and for the popular image of Hemingway-as-author and Hemingway-as-prototype, to sensationalize substance, emotional, familial and psychological problems as vehicles for talent. Write war stories, write minimalism, whatever, but take care of yourselves, or at least be open to getting help from others, and if it ever somehow comes down to being a deep writer or a stable human being, produce mediocre art. I would trade any number of 1-star reviews to save the lives of my friends and family.

  3. Thank you, John. I am really not a fan of Hemingway, as a man or as a writer. I read most of his collection "In Our Time" last year and some of the Nick Adams stories are okay, but his writing doesn't speak to me. I'm not opposed to the minimalist approach, but there is such a thing as cutting too much. His wallpaper would have been more interesting.

  4. The rest of his family suffered as well. He bled, they bled and I am pretty certain (and too lazy to look it up) that there are some other suicides in the family.
    Is his prose worth that? I am not certain.

    1. I went and looked it up. Five suicides over four generations. Not the best legacy to leave.

  5. I love his writing style, though I suspect I would have loathed him personally. You can admire things about a person while not wanting to emulate their entire lives. I can admire the man's technique and candor while loathing his actual lifestyle. I don't think they necessarily go together.

    But yes, alcoholism and depression are hardly romantic. It's both an important point to make, and sad that it needs to be.

  6. OMG what a downer John, you know I posted that quote a few days ago, yes I did. Anyway sometimes writing does make you feel like blowing your brains out...... but I just eat chocolate instead. ^__^


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