Hemingway as His Own Fable

Alfred Kazin in The Atlantic Monthly:

A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway.

[Ed. note: This review was originally published in the Atlantic Monthly, June 1964.]

Earnst So much impulse to autobiography probably springs from some deeply uneasy sense of one’s self as detached from early kindred and natural ties. But to a writer like Hemingway the effect of such detachment is not to make oneself powerless, but, on the contrary, to be seized by the possibilities of a new subject — by the self as an aesthetic and dramatic unit whose moving, walking, eating, drinking, loving, fearing, and tasting become marvelously vivid material. People today are notoriously not more independent and self-directing than they used to be, but more personal, more concerned with the self, more solicitous of and interested in the self than people used to be. Romanticism, psychology, and middle-class solicitude for oneself have made up the background of our interest in Hemingway. And it is the intense, almost clinical accuracy with which Hemingway has been able to convey the self’s sensations, as if each were called up for some separate erogenous zone, that is behind the physical excitement with which one reads Hemingway even at his worst. Hemingway is the great modern poet of the self as all-sufficient subject. What the self thinks, wants, eats, drinks, loves, and hates, Hemingway had put into relief as sharp and beautiful as the head of a lady poised against far-off mountains and valleys in a painting of the Italian Renaissance. But to be this much concerned with the exact feel of pebbles in your boots and the shock with which your shoulder can receive the recoil of a gun, with the coldness of a martini glass in your hand and the brightness of the stars overhead as you make love, is to identify the strength of writing with the presentation of the self. So much emphasis on the self as artistic subject is to turn other people into irrelevancies and distractions.

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