Second Hemingway Lecture

We started with Jake in the dark in a bedroom in the Hotel Montoya next door to the bedroom Brett & Mike were in, trying, as he puts it, to find out "how to live in it" (p. 152) -- what, in a world without illusions, can you believe in or do to make life meaningful? That question leads to EH's version of Wallace Stevens' "supreme fiction," EH's "code." But before looking at how the novel defines that, I said we should begin by adding up the losses that characterize the condition of the "lost generation." Of the traditional sources of meaning, what's "gone"?

Love. Despite EH's reputation as a guy who writes mainly about guys killing things, I think The Sun Also Rises is one of the great Am love stories. And it's through loving Brett that Jake enacts the "code," as I'll discuss below. But it's important to note how novel unwrites traditional love story. That's clearest at the end, where Brett's saying "We could have had such a damned good time together" (p. 251) evokes the "they-lived-happily-ever-after" formula of fairy tales & 19th C romances. The novel's very last line -- Jake's "Yes, isn't it pretty to think so?" -- is like Eliot's opening line about April as the cruellest month. In both texts traditional forms of meaning (rebirth, love) are being both evoked & wholly revoked, cancelled out.

Society, or social roles. The Sun Also Rises another story about exile: ex-patriates, its pan-European cast (Americans, British, Scots, "Jews," Belgians, Greeks in Paris, which is no one's home) resembles The Waste Land, etc. But novel's economical symbol for the failure of culture to provide meaning is Brett's title -- "Lady." The term keeps allowing EH to measure the distance between what "Lady" traditionally meant & Brett herself, with her short hair, men's hats, male vocabulary (chaps, etc.), promiscuity, and so on. Brett (to me) conceived sympathetically -- like Jake, she's a victim of modern history, trying to find her own way to live in it, but she's only a "Lady" ironically, as a reminder of all that's been "lost" of traditional forms.

Religion. Like Jake's wound & Brett's title, the setting of novel allows EH to express the loss of God with incredible resonance. "San Fermin is also a religious festival." But while the Catholics of Spain ("quite a lot of people," as Jake reminds Brett, "have God") translate the Saint from one church to another on the first day of the festival, and believe they will be saved by such rituals, the "lost generation" can only look longingly & nostalgically into the churches, while they go into all those bars to devote themselves to their ritual drunkenness (to try to escape the knowledge that they're lost). This is a good place to appreciate how much EH learned from Eliot. Though he hated The Waste Land, he uses the traditional "fiesta" the same way Eliot's poem uses the traditional Grail legend: as an ironic structure to play off of. On the last night of the festival Jake translates Brett from one bar to another, from one man to another . . .

After adding up the losses, I tried to indicate what, for EH, remains: what Jake means by saying that, though you have to pay for everything that is good, you can get your money's worth. Money is one way to pay, but clearly a debased one. One way to measure how much Jake loses during the novel is in the way he's starting to sound like Count Mippopolous at the end: he says he's glad to be in France, where you make "friends" by tipping waiters (he's thinking bitterly of Spain, & the way he's had to sacrifice his meaningful friendship with Montoya). Despite the way EH's novel sometimes resembles a credit card commercial -- know where to go, what to buy, how to pay for it -- money is clearly a debased form of "payment" for him.

Jake says you can also pay by experience -- which is why, for example, Brett can say "it feels good not being a bitch" & say it's what she has "instead of God" (p. 249): by sending Romero away, she's paying for & thus getting that good feeling. Or you can pay by learning about things -- I spent a while on the idea of ritual in the novel, & how the rituals of fishing well mean something to Jake, so he can say "it felt good" on that fishing trip (p. 128), whereas the rituals of his Catholicism are empty. But the supreme example of the one who knows how to feel good by paying is of course the bullfighter, Pedro Romero. Like all the other characters in the story, he's wounded, but in his fighting in the ring he can (alone among the cast) "wipe all that out" (p. 223), "gain" instead of "lose" (p. 220). The main reason for that is the way he pays "by taking chances" (to get to the last kind of currency Jake mentions on p. 152): by working "in the terrain of the bull," by choosing to put himself at risk, he defines or creates his heroism himself, from within (cf. 220).

This is a kind of existential heroism that can be compared with Stevens' idea of a created fiction, an asserted order, and for EH it's the way modern man can still live meaningfully, maybe even heroically. Jake can't be Romero, but he can enact a kind of equivalent in his relationship with Brett. What might look like masochism is, to EH, Jake's determination to live "in the terrain of the bull," to keep exposing his love to Brett's capacity to hurt him & preserving "the purity of his lines" through all that. Life is finally, for EH, an opportunity "to behave well" -- and thus create a kind of existential manhood. In the way he remains faithful to his love for Brett despite the way it makes him vulnerable to further pain, and loves her without letting the pain show, Jake (despite the absence of his penis) enacts a constructed manhood. It gives him a way "to live in it." It does not, however, give him a way to triumph over it. Belmonte's example of the way life ultimately requires you to pay too much, more than you have, leaves Jake in the terrain of the tragic rather than romantic hero.

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