Death in the Afternoon:
The Ontological Difference
The following essay is a Heideggerian reading of Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. In Appendix D, I point out explicitly some of Heidegger’s insights that I am finding among Hemingway’s insights here.
Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon1 appears at first to be and purports to be and has for the most part been taken to be a more or less technical manual/handbook for the novice aficionado of the bullfight. It has not often been treated as a serious work or as a whole,2 though biographers and Robert W. Lewis 3 have chronicled Hemingway’s careful crafting of the work over a period of seven years. In particular, according to Lewis, the portions which have been taken as literary “digressions” were added, revised, and polished, and it is these passages which are often quoted, but as fortuitous interruptions to the work’s integrity. Nevertheless, in spite of the history of advice to the contrary, I shall take the book seriously, in itself and as a whole, claiming that its “tangential” passages are essential, that the “digressions” are the very signs that mark the way, the signals (winks, clues) that indicate the seven-eighths of the iceberg which is the substance and the support of the one-eighth that surfaces in the text.
I shall explore Hemingway’s use of language in this work and the esthetics it expresses, as they indicate and articulate what John Hollander, after Wallace Stevens, calls a “poetics of extraordinary reality” (216), more interesting even than the interesting Aristotelian, possibly Kantian, and Eliotic reflections and corrections, or the vituperative broadsides addressed to fellow-literati. The poetic power that Hemingway’s considerable art manifests here is not in any simple way to “put down what really happens,” but to attempt to approach, to broach, the unspeakable as far as possible, to bring the finest edge on the encounter, to discover what can be achieved in the bravest attempt: to submit language as far, as close, as possible to oblivion.
For my money (values in this book are always partially market-dependent), the easiest way to submit language to oblivion would be to write a technical manual about the bullfight. Death in the Afternoon supplies all the information one could expect in such a handbook. Beginning with CHAPTER TWO (CHAPTER ONE is devoted to gentling the ladies and Anglo-Americans with reference to morality, esthetics, and, in general, feelings), the facts are enumerated: first the novillada, the non-professional bullfight in which technique, that knowledge which makes the event an artistic spectacle, is “most visible in its imperfection”; then a general outline of the procedure of the formal bullfight, leading to a tour of the country, Spain, the towns, the countryside, the girls, strawberries, wines, all of which converge at the bullfights in the afternoon; add facts about climate, the seasons, and several chapters about the history of the bullfight and modern decadence. Now the fight is briefly sketched in its three parts; on to the occupational diseases of the matador. Many chapters deal with the bull, the good bull, the bad bull, above all the brave bull (“the bravery of the bull is the primal root of the whole Spanish bullfight,” 113), then with details and examples the breeding, feeding, pasturing, branding, and testing of the bull. Eventually there is the bullfight, the matador’s work with the bull (art), his knowledge, technique, especially with the cape and the muleta, and cases upon cases for illustration and fine analysis. We go through the fight again, more slowly for detail: three acts, first the picadors; next the banderilleros and then the matador; and finally, in next to the last chapter, the killing of the bull—methods, rules, tricks. (The last chapter is a poetic, partially stream of consciousness rendering, with Joycean and Eliotic echoes, of the milieu of the author’s experience in Spain following the bullfights.)
But in spite of the lists and paragraphs and pages of facts that appear to give a literal accounting of the innumerable particulars that comprise the complicacy of the bullring, in spite even of the eighty-one photographs that follow the text, the glossary of Spanish bullfighting terms, seven pages of brief accounts of fifteen individuals’ first reactions to bullfighting, a critical evaluation of the American matador Sidney Franklin, and at last a calendar of bullfights regularly scheduled in Spain, France, Mexico, and Central and South America; in spite, I repeat, of this hoarding of fact and evidence, and in it and because of it, interrupting and surrounding it, a clear impression deepens that the literal fact of the bullfight is the merest, though eventually the purest, part to the work’s whole. (Terms such as “pure” and “parts to wholes” are used after the author.)
In regard to the bullfight itself we find that a prodigious event has been attempted before us (readers) and in us: to carry us to and through the bullfight, not as simple or even innocent spectators but as participating aficionados; to traverse Spain, its regions, towns, dusty roads, high pastures and low; to gather it up in its noise and festival and rivalries in the barricaded streets and in the professional bullring where past and present personages—heroes, cowards, masters, toadies, and artists—in their cruelties, triumphs, graces, and corruptions mingle, coalesce, and disperse—nothing simple or pure except the fierce, often angry, and ultimately extravagant (and therefore magical or visionary) attempt to see. We are not thrust at once into the midst of a brutal exhibition, but are taught (in a literal and traditional, quasi-Aristotelian way at one level) to see (“This is not being written as an apology for bullfights, but to try to present the bullfight integrally” 7): first as from the gallery to see the whole, to understand the formalities, principles, purposes; moving closer to study the necessity and the value of technique and alternative techniques, and the difference and the loss in tricks; finally from the barrera behind the matador to learn to recognize danger and courage, and simulated danger, cowardice, to recognize and despise tricks; and to feel and to remember to express appreciation for art when it happens. But seeing, itself, is one subject under scrutiny—seeing as one way to scrutinize, to penetrate the inscrutable.
Death in the Afternoon evidently aspires to the condition of fact, accurate documentation on the order of history or social science. (We shall see how the author treats fact, on the one hand, and history, natural history, on the other.) Even the anecdotes, personal to the author or to the principals of the bullring, are supposedly “factual” or “true,” are not at any rate fiction. Or, contrariwise, the work can be taken as an esthetics and a poetics, as I shall attempt to show, as it demonstrates or mimics, sometimes parodies and often contradicts the thematic it literally expresses. It confuses or conflates and at last renders essentially indistinguishable general “language” and art. It is fair then to take the work as a study on the nature of language in general as well as artistic language and as a practice, a demonstration of language and of art.
It is a commonplace that Hemingway’s language is direct and concrete, that its simplicity or its “ruthless economy” (Weeks 1) is in some way responsible for its vigor, impact. In this work, which presents itself as the voice of an author talking directly to a reader, with no detour through fiction (art, artifice), an author simply telling the truth, the language seems relaxed, personal to Hemingway (we know his voice), digressing sometimes into personal anecdotes and professional shoptalk, sometimes into amusing or not amusing parodies of stories, all settling into an informal but traceable continuity (certain unsettling particulars of the subject matter aside—wounds, deaths). In fact, the language seems most personal, most direct, sincere, most “altogether frank” (1) in the last chapter (I mean CHAPTER TWENTY, discounting the last half of the book, the documentary evidence) where the author sounds like a character from a Hemingway novel.
This suggestion draws everything at once into question.
If I could have made this enough of a book it would have had everything in it. The Prado, looking like some big American college building, with sprinklers watering the grass early in the bright Madrid summer morning; the bare white mud hills looking across toward Carabanchel …. (270)
It seems that the narrator’s voice, which simply assumed (put on—like a mask; took for granted) our trust from the beginning, mocks that trust in the end. Is this treatise on purity just one more among the numerous tricks it has taught us to discover? Or is that sound of unsoundness that we have sounded (and what does “sound” mean?)4 just one among the numerous alarms set in the text for the discriminating reader?
At the beginning we too quickly presumed a simple literality.
At the first bullfight I ever went to I expected to be horrified and perhaps sickened by what I had been told would happen to the horses. Everything I had read about the bull ring insisted on that point …. (1)
We understood of course that the narrator would debunk these notions. Now we see that we were warned in the first sentence not to trust what we were “told,” what we “read,” ergo what we were being told, what we were reading. The narrator offers the same lure from the beginning to both the simple reader and the wary.
But we were not gulled, or not long, not merely, by a naive sense of complicity with the author. We were guided by the text.5
… I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced…. the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always, was beyond me and I was working very hard to try to get it. (2, italics mine)
This author persona has explained that he, a real author—not a character, not a persona—approached the bullfights in fact—in perhaps 1929, -30, -31, (eight trips from 1923-33, writes Meyers 117), in Spain—in order to “study” the ritual of the bullfight because it sets forth and formalizes “one of the simplest … and the most fundamental … [of] subjects that a man may write of,” violent death. The object of the experiment was to see clearly, without shutting his eyes, what actually happened and what the actual things were which produced the emotion they produced; to see them in order to write about them. Textual allusions invite a comparison; here is no Wordsworthian “contemplation” of emotions, their interrelations and proper association, conducing to “habits” of poetic sensibility (“Preface to Lyrical Ballads). This author’s absorption and study and apprenticeship give priority to the things that produce the emotion. Wordsworth’s concern to purify the instrument that receives a stimulus is replaced by Hemingway’s emphasis on the actual occurrence of the stimulus. Wordsworth’s poet works to represent passions, Hemingway’s to reproduce them.
Two constituents of “the real thing,” or not two since they include each other, both “actual” and in sequence: what-actually-happened and actual-things—only these and these purely were what the author wanted to write about (and at that time was unable to do so; this text is being written, he later tells us, five years or more after his stay in Spain [3-4]). No explicit philosophy, ontology, or semiology guides this thinking (though a literary tradition is developing or dissolving).6 We could call the approach phenomenological except that the self-consciousness of the word would interrupt the particular “purity” in this author’s intention to see.
Things happen. They happen as a sequence of motion and fact. The author in the barrera can see, if he has the courage to watch, what happens. He will be able to write it if he is an artist and writes purely enough. Terms such as honest, true, sincere, honorable, and, above all, not-tricked, are applied to the art of writing as to the art of bullfighting throughout the book; they do not signify moral principles, unless morality is defined the author’s way, as “what you feel good after” (4), but they signify instead the rigor that guides the seeing and knowing of things that actually happen. These assumptions become more interesting and lose their simplicity when we too suspend prior definitions and theoretic assumptions and (after the author’s method) watch what happens in this text.
What happened first was our too-credulous fall into the dream of simple language as transparent, univocal, then the awakening to duplicity. What happened next was a restoration of a kind of trust, modified and unsubstantiated, tentative and attentive.
Hemingway’s critical readership have already made the analysis that Hemingway’s language works on a minimalist principle. The criteria for purity include necessity and precision:
No matter how good a phrase or a simile he [a writer] may have if he puts it in where it is not absolutely necessary and irreplaceable he is spoiling his work for egotism. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, …. (191)
Two examples here elaborate the point: describing (and imitating) the arrogance and grace of the veronicas of the gypsy, Cagancho, the author apologizes for “the worst sort of flowery writing, but it is necessary to try to give the feeling, and to some one who has never seen it a simple statement … does not convey the feeling” (14, emphasis mine). The kind of writing required to attempt the proper effect is “the worst sort of flowery writing,” the phrase implying excess, superfluity. Therefore he writes that sort.
A second example:
The third fighter was Miguel Casielles, a complete coward. But it is a dull and ugly story and the only thing to remember was the way [he] was killed and that was too ugly, I see now, to justify writing about when it is not necessary. (227, emphasis mine)
But he writes about it at some length. He gives an anecdote about having unadvisedly told his young son about what happened at that fight, of his son’s associating the matador’s fate with his small size and the matador’s size with his own, an analogy so disturbing that whenever he closed his eyes he would see what his father had described. The solution was for the family to substitute for “death” when the subject arose (they were reading a Dashiell Hammett novel together) a comic “umpty-ump,” until the boy announced that he no longer thought about “the one who was umpty-umped because he was so small” (228). The author’s introductory “statement” (the story is too ugly to write about when it is unnecessary to do so) diverts if it does not deceive, contradicts if it does not lie, and unsettles any ordinary notion of purity; for the personal anecdote that follows is an oblique “statement” that raises, even while it displaces or places at a remove, the “unnecessary” spectre of the matador’s death. One implication is that “purity” in writing—writing only what is necessary and irreplaceable—demands fidelity to what-happens, not to an anterior principle. In this passage, by the shock of incongruity (an impurity, itself, by ordinary standards), an impurity in language—at worst euphemism, self-deception—is shown to be an essential language skill, a technique for handling danger. Comic or quotidian language may displace the thing that actually happens to effect a relief, postponement of the emotion that what-happened evokes. The substitution obstructs or turns away or filters the view of the real thing, holds it off in its danger without denying it altogether. Such language is a form of address, even of engagement or contention, which like the matador’s cape or the muleta waves the danger by. (Compare the Natural History, below.)
Here is the often quoted statement of principle:
If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. (192)
If the author knows enough and writes truly enough, he may deliberately omit seven-eighths of what he knows with no loss of effect.7 Unlikely advice in a work as generous with detail as this one (until the last chapter indicates the volume of relevant detail omitted and all detail becomes relevant). Upon this advice, that which is not stated is stated, or is as effective as though stated. It is the bulk of the substance of what is stated. It is its bulk that projects the one-eighth that is stated.
That which is omitted because of ignorance is not stated either, and this omission too enters the text: it marks it with a hollow place. Both silence and ignorance indicate an absence, shadow of oblivion, danger of death, but the absence marked by silence “states” the presence of what it withholds, while the absence marked by ignorance is empty.
In the earlier quotation above (2) the function of writing is to put down, to state; its perfection would be to state purely; in the passage here the dignity of stating is in not-stating, omitting or stating minimally. An example is the author’s Hemingwayish “sketch” of a picador just returned from the sorting of the bulls, “a study in apprehension”:
If I could draw I would make a picture of a table at the cafe during a feria with the banderilleros sitting before lunch reading the papers, a boot-black at work, a waiter hurrying somewhere and two returning picadors, one a big brown-faced, dark-browed man usually very cheerful and a great joker, the other a gray-haired, neat, hawknosed, trim-waisted little man, both of them looking the absolute embodiment of gloom and depression.
“Que tal?” asks one of the banderilleros.
“Son grandes,” says the picador.
There is nothing more to be said. The banderilleros know everything that is in the picador’s mind…. (56-7)
(What the author, the banderilleros, the picadors, and presumedly the reader know is that when a very large bull hits the picador’s horse, the picador is certain to fall. What follows is “everything that is in the picador’s mind.”)
Here is a more typical example of the emotional effects that mark the entire work, moments of truth, deaths in the afternoon, which flash out at the turn of a phrase: “He was twenty years old when he was killed by a Veragua bull that lifted him once, then tossed him against the wood of the foot of the barrera and never left him until the horn had broken up the skull as you might break a flowerpot” (45).
To writing as stating, above, belongs purity; to writing as not-stating belongs dignity; and dignity, we learn at the outset, belongs to death, to tragedy.
In the tragedy of the bullfight the horse is the comic character. … The comic that happens to these horses is not their death …; death is not comic, and gives a temporary dignity to the most comic characters, although this dignity passes once death has occurred; but the strange and burlesque visceral accidents which occur. … if this animal instead of doing something tragic, that is, dignified, gallops in a stiff old-maidish fashion around a ring trailing the opposite of clouds of glory…. I have seen it, people running, horse emptying, one dignity after another being destroyed in the spattering and trailing of its innermost values, in a complete burlesque of tragedy.8 (6-7, emphasis mine)
Now death or danger of death is one thing on icy city streets where a shod horse must be rescued at great risk (4), or in the village when a bull escapes from the herd and runs a cruel rampage (110-11); it is life or history. But in the bullring death is ritual and tragedy.
The difference between death outside the ring and inside undergoes a revision in the narrative. In the first chapter the value dignity is given to death outside the ring. Gertrude Stein shows the author a photograph of the greatest bullfighter Joselito and his brother in the bullring, and herself and Alice Toklas in the barreras above. The author “had just come from the Near East, where the Greeks broke the legs of their baggage and transport animals and drove and shoved them off the quay … ,” and he tells her that he “did not like the bullfights because of the poor horses” (2). The bullfight is presented here in a photograph; photographs in this work are a modern mechanical, “flat”9 representation which stops the movement of what it represents, i.e., what-happened. The photograph is presented by Gertrude Stein, the first of a series of homosexual subjects in the book who represent not something unnatural but something unwholesome in the lusty Old Lady’s sense of the word or, according to the author’s thematic, unwholesome, unwhole. The author anticipated the bullfight with the uninformed, untried, mistaken prejudice of most Anglo-Americans. Dignity was all on the side of real death, the ones he saw outside Smyrna, and the bullfight in Stein’s photograph appeared artificial in comparison.
The revision occurs in his first actual encounter with the bullring, and the point is fundamental. One encounter suffices to bring into view the bullfight as the thing it is, as a whole—tragedy (some implications for essence are explored below).10 The difference in death outside the ring and inside is not reversed; the opposition between them disappears. Death in the ring is the same as death outside, only the formalized ritual of the spectacle, tragedy, purifies and intensifies it, produces a clearer seeing. The tragedy of the bullfight brings death into a work of art. The association of the dignity that belongs to the movement of the mostly submerged iceberg, the figure for writing, above (art), and the dignity given from the beginning to “the tragedy of the bullfight” (death) is essential.11
The author first associated writing and death when he went to Spain to the bullfights in order to study the most fundamental of things that an author may write about, violent death, and in order to achieve in his writing “the feeling of life and death” (3). Later the performance of the matador in the slaying of the bull was presented in terms of art, as in many ways analogous to the art of writing, with art per se. Finally, treating the subject of the art of bullfighting serves as the occasion for an exhibition of the art of writing in precisely the terms set forth for the bullfight. That is, the work Death in the Afternoon imitates the bullfight. As we indicated above, the work gathers up the knowledge required to understand and teaches the reader to see, to know, to value, etc. Further, as some passages quoted here show, the language in the work often imitates the particular subject at hand.12
In general, this work treats its subject matter, the bullfight as art, as the principals in the bullfight treat the bull: as if the subject matter were the bull, it is admitted into the ring in the beginning, allowed to display its bravery and spirit in a more or less natural and uninhibited way; then when its tendency in one direction is detectable, it is opposed, corrected, by the insertion of disturbing barbs, i.e., the interruptions, interpolations, oppositions, enumerated above. In total and above all, the work is an orchestrated assault against the bull (against the subject of the work: violent death)—not for the purpose of assassinating (or overcoming) it, but to bring it to its finest concentration of power and bravery and hatred (its concentrated otherness); in order that it bring to the same fineness of concentration the bravery and skill and experience and knowledge and art and emotion of the matador, artist (98-99);13 in order above all that the two of them, united by the sword (the power of art), shall force “the moment of truth” (68): the flash of emotion in which immortality and mortality are seen suspended in one figure. In this analogy the matador’s sword passing through the bull and into death, the thrust which the eye of the spectator follows into the flash of emotion, is not an image but the actuality of violent death, ultimate opposition of man and bull, purified and intensified in the language or art of the ritual of the bullfight. The shock of the ultimate violence occurs at the point where seeing meets not-seeing. Against the absolute certainty of what absolutely does not “happen” and cannot be “seen” is projected the figure of man and bull, the appearing of what-happens.14
This is the point where Hemingway’s “depiction” converges with Heidegger’s point of ontic-ontological difference, the point where/when beings appear (not in themselves but) as beings, or what-happens appears in its happening. It is not my purpose to thematize the comparison of the two so much as to evoke what the works of both authors evoke: the sense of the uncanniness of “seeing” “being,” the happening of truth in language (art).
But we have claimed that this work does not purport to be art, but instead to present or to represent actual facts in the manner of description, explanation (see Bibliographical Note on the last page), i.e., non-fiction, non-art, just language doing what language does. As such a project the work not only states, in the sense of proposition, assertion, the difference between art and non-art; but it also at the same time demonstrates the difference, demonstrates non-art, language which does not set itself apart as a separate monument to itself as well as something else.
What language that is not art shows in this work, however, as we have seen, is its own duplicity, its incapacity to represent truly what happens. Non-art as non-artistic language turns false or turns up as false. For example, the author can “write like this” (135) for only so long, as though the perspective or the disposition “this” requires were artificial, uncomfortable, difficult to maintain. The phrase occurs in the opening section of “The Natural History of the Dead” where the same kind of language that renders the bullfight information is heightened or exaggerated to emphasize its impurity. This impurity, a not-true-ness, seen like the horses in reference to the whole work of which it is a part, renders non-art (natural history, humanist truisms, Whittier’s poetry) in Death in the Afternoon as a comic burlesque of art. Both art and non-art deal with what happens and eventually with death, and the difference between them is a matter of purity, which is a matter of degree: “… the real thing … would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always …” (2). The difference between non-art and art is (given luck) a measure of “enough.”15 Thus Death in the Afternoon surpasses the language of non-art which it exposes, and brings the problems of art, of non-art, of the bullfight as art, of life as art, into a work of art where they may (as problems) endure.
We have associated the work of the matador with the work of the author on the grounds of the dignity that belongs to the fundamental issue for both, death, and the purity of the work of both artists. The purity of the work depends on fidelity to the “rules” in each case. The following prescription for the matador’s attention to “the rules” recalls the iceberg principle of the author.
Nota: Although the bull will certainly be killed, either in the ring or in the corrals after the bullfight, the odds are a hundred to one that the matador will not be killed unless he makes a mistake.
… But the matador, if he knows his profession, can increase the amount of the danger of death that he runs exactly as much as he wishes. He should, however, increase this danger, within the rules provided for his protection. In other words it is to his credit if he does something that he knows how to do in a highly dangerous but still geometrically possible manner. It is to his discredit if he runs danger through ignorance, through disregard of the fundamental rules, through physical or mental slowness or through blind folly. (21)
The rules are “fundamental,” not literal:
Barrera’s method of killing, while it keeps within the letter of the rules, is the negation of the whole spirit and tradition of the bullfight. (249)
We can compare the writer’s “rules” (192-3), not arbitrary or inessential but necessary protection against the actual danger entailed in writing the true: write truly, purely, minimally, precisely and as necessary, withholding seven-eighths of what happened, consigning it to silence, not from ignorance but from knowing enough so that the proper one-eighth is strengthened and heightened to produce the true emotion. The rules describe an intention, an orientation, without prescribing technique or content. Both the matador and the author are addressing, handling, delaying, designing, creating a work of art in respect to: death. The ultimate achievement of both artists depends upon their personal integrity (no tricks), courage, skill, knowledge, experience, genius, artistry, as they bring death as close as possible, or bring their art as close as possible to death.
Originally, i.e., in the first anticipatory statement, above, what writing intends to state is “what really happened,” the always-valid “real,” which the author defines as a “sequence of motion and fact.” He wants writing to state what happened, thereby to elicit the valid emotion. In the next passage writing tends less to statement or discovers an alternative technique, but its purpose remains to achieve the same effect (“as though the writer had stated”), i.e., to produce the emotions that things that happen actually do produce.
The act of writing begins and ends with an emotion, not an arbitrary one or a selected one but the real one, the true one.16 This point is essential. Just as the ordinary sense of simplicity, of the literal, and of purity are being rewritten, so the sense of what-happens, of what really happens, and of what “really” means, is under revision. Here what-happens happens as it produces an emotion in the author who sees what-happens and might write it. All the pages of information about Spain and the breeding of bulls and the relative quality of wines inform, precisely, what actually happens in the emotional climax of the bullfight.17
Ironically, the author’s first experience of the emotion that the bullfight brings is the emotion of the spectator or reader. It is this response to this seeing that he wants to produce, to continue to produce: this emotion which is seeing—seeing which sees no object but sees instead the figure (appearing) of what-happens. This paradigm does not place the author as spectator or reader outside the spectacle; his involvement in it is the primary motivation for writing. In a passage quoted below (206-7) the matador “plays on” the spectator, and in other passages the spectator is united in one figure with the matador and the bull (213); in some sense (some sense of “actual”) it is his death as well as theirs that is engaged by the sword. The importance or the culmination of the bullfight is not in the killing or the death of the bull in itself, not what-happens in itself, but the figure of what happens which appears and the emotion that ascertains and proves it (the point of ontological difference).
… the beauty of the moment of killing is that flash when man and bull form one figure as the sword goes all the way in, the man leaning after it, death uniting the two figures in the emotional, aesthetic and artistic climax of the fight. (247)
The emotion in the figure of the matador and the bull is not projected from the spectator but through him from not the artist but the work of art, the working of art (207, below), art catching up the artist and the spectator in the working of the project, the projecting of the figure which produces “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty” which leaves “you” empty and changed and sad. The most fundamental thing, violent death, is seen most clearly and purely in a work of art, defined by order and ritual, not as it has been already produced there, but as it is occurring there. Art preserves what-happens in its happening. And further, emotion as the ground of the work of art is the ground of the appearing of what-happens in true seeing.18
Thus emotion provides the means for judging and evaluating the true, the real. Traditional “truth” as correspondence or correctness deriving in ideality or in things themselves gives place to the “true” as real things really happening, announcing themselves and proving themselves on the ground of the emotion of a spectator. Compare the numerous counterpoint references to “accuracy” (e.g., 137, 189, 204), to histories and statistics (239-244).
But emotion per se is not pure and does not necessarily indicate the true. In an emotional critique of a book by the German art critic Julius Meier-Graefe written to compare paintings of Velasquez, El Greco, and Goya (written, the author says, “to have publishable ecstasies about them”; written, he says, to “exalt” the painting of Greco over both the others, 203), our author argues that an artist’s power can be assessed only in works about subjects which he loves or hates or believes in strongly. He implies also both in remarks about the critic and about Greco that the loves, hates, and beliefs of the artist (or art critic) precede and inhabit the artist’s-critic’s works. The principle is being illustrated at the same time in the author’s own contemptuous tone and at the end of the passage by his malicious epithets intended to deliver in one line a more telling judgment of a few artists than the “stupid” critic could produce in a book. Both the critic’s and the author’s judgment and writing are shaped, or distorted, by emotion that originates in prior opinion and predisposition, or perhaps we should find the critic’s prejudice so but attribute the author’s taste to a history of educating experience.
Emotion does not originate in things and proceed from them to spectators (who write it), but is already in the spectator, is the stuff of seeing, as we have suggested, and the stuff of producing as well. The best matadors, for example, are emotional, work emotionally, produce emotion; the author’s first objective is to learn to produce the emotion that actual things produce. This work itself is a drama of differing and conflicting tones, producing different emotional effects; compare the clean precision of certain pure, minimally sculptured “things that happen” (the clean, white bone, 20) with the increasingly emotional colloquial ejaculations (“This is Christ’s truth,” 242, “I swear,” 243, “By Christ,” 257). Emotion that inspires and informs the artist’s work is not one undifferentiated force. To take an unequivocal example, the “nonsense” produced by certain mystic writers (53-4) is evidence of emotion producing writing instead of the other way around. This emotion, however, which blurs the writer’s vision and distorts its objects, derives from an “unrelieved turgidness” which “a few good pieces” of a certain “sovereign specific” could easily clear away. “Erectile writing,” the author calls it, characteristic of a certain American school of “mechanical experiment,” now, happily, passing or past.
Further, though emotion is fundamental to seeing and knowing the true and to the appearing of what-happens, emotion alone cannot account for what-happens in the working of the work of art. What happens includes in addition to the emotion that is in the matador and in the spectator and in the working of art: the valor, art, understanding, and imagination of the matador, characteristics which “artistry and genius” add onto: the bravery, honor, knowledge, experience, and skill that even “day-laborers of bullfighting” must have to give a competent performance (207). Add the bravery and nobility of the bull, besides its health, condition, age, size, horns, and complete ignorance of the bullring. Add to these the innumerable particulars of Spain and its people and history, all that actually happens and has happened to provide the matador, the bull, the ritual—everything and, according to the last chapter, more, that appears in this book. Gather it all into the figure of the man and the bull seemingly suspended in time as it appears in the flash of emotion.
What appears is the figure of mortality-immortality.
… Now the essence of the greatest emotional appeal of bullfighting is the feeling of immortality that the bullfighter feels in the middle of a great faena and he gives to the spectators…. He gives the feeling of his immortality, and, as you watch it, it becomes yours. Then when it belongs to both of you, he proves it with the sword. (213)
He proves it. The eye follows the sword from the man into the bull and past toward that which does not “appear,” does not “happen.” What appears in the violence of that contradiction is im-mortality: man as not-death, not-nothing, man “taking to himself one of the Godlike attributes; that of giving [death]” (233), negating mortality.
In the spectacle of the bullfight the artist and the man, the two-in-one, meet the“wild animal” (21); the bull must be brave, simple, inexperienced (145), altogether alien to the instituted ritual of the bullfight. (Through breeding it has been possible to alter the bull’s size, the length of its horns, even its spirit; the loss of the original large, brave, powerful animals is one aspect of modern decadence. In the art motif too, the domestication or hybridization of the wild means loss of an original subject, adversary.) The bullfight sets forth a fundamental, practical, actual thing: man and art contesting nature and death. In this contest man and art do not set themselves apart from and then against nature and death so as to dominate them, slay them, man and art the victors. For there is no sense of separating or objectifying, as there is no sense of stopping or of interrupting or changing what-happens or even of catching hold of it, holding it. Formalizing the death of the bull means purifying it of randomness, if possible of cowardice or ineptitude or of dissimulation; purifying the nature of the bull and the mastery of the man; purifying, then, the opposition between the two, intensifying the violence of what happens.19 The power and intensity of the opposition renders clearer, purer, the appearing of the figure of what happens and more powerful and pure the seeing-responding emotion of the spectator. The heightened seeing makes possible the more powerful and purer “writing” that attempts to continue to produce it, to make it permanent, not as an object but as what-happens, for a long time or, with luck and if stated purely enough, always (2).
Lest restatement tend toward conceptualization, let us return to the violence itself. The complete performance:
… the complete faena; the faena that takes a man out of himself and makes him feel immortal while it is proceeding, that gives him an ecstasy, that is, while momentary, as profound as any religious ecstasy; moving all the people in the ring together and increasing in emotional intensity as it proceeds, carrying the bullfighter with it, he playing on the crowd through the bull and being moved as it responds in a growing ecstasy of ordered, formal, passionate, increasing disregard for death that leaves you, when it is over, and the death administered to the animal that has made it possible, as empty, as changed and as sad as any major emotion will leave you. (206-7)
What happens in this performance, which the author often calls “ritual,” happens in a bath of emotion, group or mob emotion, rising ecstatically toward death in the actual “performance” of actually killing an animal. Here held up in praise as pure art and as pure seeing and knowing of the most fundamental thing to “write”—i.e., to preserve in its happening—is the ghost of blood sacrifice rituals, perhaps the Christ mystery. And we “see” more clearly a problem that has haunted this book beginning with the words of the title.
The subject of this work, the bullfight, climaxing in the killing of the bull, has passed before us again and again, with less to more particularity and clarity. Our emotion—a repugnance or fear—has responded to the disturbing imminence of the subject not only of death itself but of “administering” death, of murder, the bloody violation of life and history which civilized people manage as far as possible to ignore, forget, to “umpty-ump,” or to transform through religion.20 The measure of Hemingway’s courage, his sincerity, honor, the purity and trueness of his seeing and knowing and writing, the dignity of the tragedy he presents perhaps an eighth of, is the measure—according to his standard—of the true emotion his performance raises in us, his spectators. We see the nature of the danger, of the death that Hemingway is dealing with, working a work of art on—drawing us into. Brenner calls Hemingway’s intrepidity a “healthy” corrective for especially American trepidation before the subject of death (70-74). This is something like our author’s suggestion (264-66), but in context the notion works not so much to settle as to quicken the reader’s response. Settling the unspeakable into terms of health or even into current concepts of complexity or ambiguity diverts or diminishes the force (the horns) of the phenomenon, eludes it again, eases the emotion and turns away what might appear in it. The book intends, I think, to bring the reader into an understanding appreciation of the art of the bullfight and the subject of violent death and to engage his/her emotion increasingly as the spectacle in this passage does. As we noted above, the language becomes more emotional as the book approaches the last (but one) chapter, about killing itself. But the emotion is excitement, not ecstasy, inviting overreactions such as D’Agostino’s (483-4) or Edmund Wilson’s (“Hemingway” 223); given the weight of the habit of repugnance and fear against the untracked or the “true,” in the author’s sense, it will be some time before readers will go as far into the matter as the author may be going. I will set the issue aside as I go on, retaining the disturbance as the primary disclosure of this work.
We can say that emotion is in the artist and in the spectator and in the two and more at once when art is working, that what really happens produces this emotion, and that the emotion is or is the condition for and securing of a pure seeing. We can say that not all seeing is pure, not all writing (or bullfighting) is art, not all things really happen. Finally we can say that a pure seeing inspires and climaxes this book, the open gaze which follows the sword of the matador and receives the emotion; that the emotion proceeds in and from every part—matador, spectator, bull, spectacle—climaxing as they unite in the appearing of one figure and in opposition to death. In the working of art, life and death appear in their difference, at the point of difference, to produce the figure, the emotion, the seeing. Appearing and seeing unite where they collide against death.21
Now, in the style of the author, above, we rein the discussion in: “This seems to have gotten away from” the study of Hemingway’s use of language. No, the object of writing is to produce the very emotion that what-happens produces. The author in this work has written about violent death, the most fundamental thing an author can write of, and to do so has written about it as it is set forth in the working of a work of art (the bullfight, this work). A double exposure accrues, explication and demonstration in the same.22 According to the author’s esthetic as I have read it, (1) we see the violent death most purely and may study it as it is set forth in an impermanent work of art (the bullfight), which purifies the view and intensifies the effect; (2) we see the bullfight (a working of art) most purely as it is set forth in a permanent work of art, Death in the Afternoon. There are two implications for language or art. Language or art is the institutionalizing, formalizing that (1) allows the encounter with violent death, a facing if not a seeing, without annihilation, and (2) allows the appearing of things as opposed to nothing (death). We see that one sees what-happens most clearly and purely when one sees it in a working of art, impermanent art working in life first, and then again and again in a permanent work of art, the subject of our own study.
Writing preserves what-happens in its happening. It does not represent, after Aristotle’s formulation of mimesis (Poetics), and the emotion that Aristotle reserved for the spectator is the element in which Hemingway’s writing begins, goes on, and ends. It is not emotion purified through contemplation and a habit of refined emotional associations, which then “gives importance to the action and situation,” as Wordsworth argued (“Preface” 281-82). The importance is in the actual appearing of what-happens; emotion is the site and the means of the appearing. Writing does not fall upon “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events” to evoke the proper emotion Eliot’s way (“Tradition and the Individual Talent”), for the emotion that Hemingway’s writing elicits is the very emotion that what-happens elicits, and no formula could construe the actual things that actually produce it (as Baker observes, The Writer as Artist 56-7). Language or art is not a faithful mirror or a realist denotation. It is closer to Heidegger’s charged language-dependent “presencing,” which occurs and is preserved via the work of art. It is “statement” which preserves somehow an actual “fact” as it “happens.”23 Obviously this book is full of “motion” and “fact” in the literal sense, but beyond that is Hemingway’s modified sense of the literal which we are trying to understand.
Facts, the “actual things” that produce the emotion, have not so much an austerity or rigor of identity as a purity, essence. The fact which this author writes about is violent death. What actually happens to produce the emotion when at the climax of the bullfight the matador thrusts the sword is the fact which these pages of detail and history and fable and speculation make up. Writing will preserve (“[make] permanent,” 3) the fact that happens, will produce the same emotion. Now “flowery writing” produces emotion—for novices. For example, after a figurative and technically showy (as to rhythm, pacing, euphony, mime) description of a veronica (14), we read, “Any one who has seen bullfights can skip such flowerishness and read the facts which are much more difficult to isolate and state” (emphasis mine). The narrator classifies flowery writing with the “picturesque,” useful only for growing out of, into experience and knowledge of the better “true,” the truer ungarnished “fact.” “Erectile writing” too, above, is emotional, but it does not produce the emotion that actual things produce; on the contrary, emotion produces the writing, emotion originating not in the fact but in the writer.
The purity of facts is their actuality. As things that happen, facts always occur individually and experientially, and yet seen truly a fact appears repeatedly essentially the same. Thus the author can claim that the reason why “the bullfight has never been explained” is that people have not “admitted” such unconventional things as the comic effect of the disembowelled “old-maidish” horses (7); the implication is that the horses’ part in the tragedy is truly incongruous, that forthright accounts would agree. But though facts reappear essentially the same, different spectators will have different reactions to them. The fact about personal reaction is that it is immediate and unpredictable. The author gives his own experience as evidence (and appends to the text a catalog of testimonials), not “because of a desire … to write about himself and his own reactions, considering them as important and taking delight in them because they are his, but rather to establish the fact … that the reactions were instant and unexpected” (8, emphasis mine). The most essential point is that facts occur in experience, not idiosyncratic but “true” experience, and cannot be conveyed in language until they have been “seen,” responded to. “… you will know when you first try it whether you like it as a thing or not from the effect it will have on you” (12). And, “It is of no use [unnecessary] to describe the state of … , nor speak of the aspects of this … because every one has some contact with them sooner or later …” (85).24 The primary application:
At this point it is necessary that you see a bullfight. If I were to describe one it would not be the one that you would see, since the bullfighters and the bulls are all different, and if I were to explain the possible variations as I went along the chapter would be interminable. There are two sorts of guide books; those that are read before and those that are to be read after and the ones that are to be read after the fact are bound to be incomprehensible to a certain extent before; if the fact is of enough importance in itself. So with any book on mountain skiing, sexual intercourse, wing shooting, or any other thing which it is impossible to make come true on paper, or at least impossible to attempt to make more than one version of at a time on paper, it being always an individual experience, there comes a place in the guide book where you must say do not come back until you have skied, had sexual intercourse, shot quail or grouse, or been to the bullfight so that you will know what we are talking about. So from now on it is inferred that you have been to the bullfight. (63, emphasis mine)
Seeing fact truly is already a kind of knowing, after and only after which “it is of [any] use” for an author to “describe” it. Seeing-knowing experientially means seeing-knowing essentially25 so that once one sees-knows, “[one] will know what we are talking about” however it may afterwards appear in whatever variation of experience possible; and every experience is different. This is the principle that explains why “people will know the first time they go [to the bullfights], if they go open-mindedly and only feel those things they actually feel and not the things they think they should feel, whether they will care for the bullfights or not” (10).26 The restrictions about feelings are essential to the definition of fact, the essence of fact, as we have seen.27 But the seeing-knowing essentially, which may occur at the first encounter with the fact, is not the seeing-knowing which does not just “occur,” but develops with time and careful apprenticeship, learning. The author’s first seeing-knowing experience with the bullfight:
I remembered, at the first bullfight I ever saw, before I could see it clearly, before I could even see what happened, … in the midst of this confused excitement having a great moment of emotion when the man went in with the sword. But I could not see in my mind exactly what happened and when, on the next bull, I watched closely the emotion was gone and I saw it was a trick. I saw fifty bulls killed after that before I had the emotion again. But by then I could see how it was done and I knew I had seen it done properly that first time. (234-5)
In the first experience the novice spectator could not see clearly owing to obstructions and confusion; yet the “moment of emotion” occurred because the killing was “done properly.”
It is impossible to believe the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure, classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal and a piece of scarlet serge draped over a stick…. But if you should ever see the real thing you would know it. (207)
The real thing evokes an essential seeing, even if unclear and partial. At the next bullfight, watching closely, the author “sees” (without emotion; the emotion does not come) that the killing is a trick. He sees accurately. The killing is a trick. He watches fifty bulls more, until he can “see in [his] mind exactly what happened,” and then with the next bull he experiences the emotion again; now he knows that the very first killing had not been tricked. There is a seeing without and a seeing with emotion. The “real thing” produces the latter. The flash of emotion, which is not perception and not cognition, enables and validates true “seeing.” The essence in this essential seeing is the essence of the thing, the “fact.” It is not a platonic Real. This essence is “actual,” is what occurs in what-happens. It is not a God-guaranteed essence; indeed, the author distances himself from the Christians at the beginning and maintains a steady, often acerbic opposition thereafter. It is explicitly set against a romantic or an egotistic individual identity (against Huxley, 190-92), though things are always individual and unique (against Eliot, 99-100). This seeing as the ground of experience is not Kant’s transcendental apperception, for its law of ordering, which means purifying and intensifying encounter, the rule that orders parts to wholes, names essence which is without content, and wholeness which is without definition, and produces neither perceptual representation nor conceptual knowledge. It is not Derrida’s trace, for though meaningless it is not objectless; without content it is nevertheless not empty. It is more nearly the pre-Socratic eidos (Heidegger’s interpretation, e.g., Being and Time 61) or the moment of the Heideggerian ontological difference, not only as the occulted non-origin but also as the groundless ground of beings.
Fact is distinguished from aspect, mere appearance.28 The horses are usually gored, often in a visceral spectacle, and American or British or otherwise squeamish spectators have demanded that they wear a padding which restrains their entrails as they race about the ring. But this objection is not a true one since it is based on aspect and not fact. As objectionable as the appearance of the butchered horses is, the horses’ condition is not alleviated by the padding, but only their appearance. The horses are not in pain since pain comes later, about a half hour after the wound; “there is no proportional relation in pain to the horrible aspect of the wound” (9). When with experience one comes to “appreciate values,” then s/he will “prefer to see the horses with no protection worn so that all wounds may be seen and death given rather than suffering caused by something designed to allow the horses to suffer while their suffering is spared the spectator” (12).
Aspect is differentiated from fact in the Faulkner parody (179-82). What the newspaperman takes at first to be a cruel and perverse violation of one young man by another becomes in fact a happily accommodated homosexuality, though the henna “wow” at the end unsettles the denouement. The misfortune of “those unfortunate people” may be an “aspect” that belongs to the Old Lady or even to Faulkner rather than a “fact” of the people themselves. Though the author is a traditionalist in his impatience with mere appearance, his penchant for proposing unorthodox distinctions and categories and finding the truth to be occasionally or somehow false place him nearer to Heidegger’s thought than to Plato’s.
We intimated earlier that this book pretends to “fact,” that is, presents the aspect of fact, while it really, essentially, aspires to art and poetics if not philosophy or ontology. Now we see that the aspect of fact is never what this work pretends to, but is precisely what it works to overturn, expose. The “fact” is what is under review here, review and revision. We are taught to “see” a difference in actual fact and aspect, mock-fact here, as the mock-naturalist and the mock-historians present it.
Toros Celebre, for example, “is a book, now out of print in Spain, … which chronicles, alphabetically by the names the breeders gave them, the manner of dying and feats of some three hundred and twenty-two pages of celebrated bulls” (110), with the occasional inclusion of a bull unremarkable in the long run but timely, that is, topical and of commercial appeal in the short. This timeliness—as belonging to the exigencies of the moment which passes away—of not only a few bulls but also of the book itself, now out of print, is the point of distinction in chapter one between the author’s former journalistic motivations and his purer artistic purpose (2). The difference is in the end one of degree. This work continually points out its own timeliness, for example in remarks such as “Saleri may have retired by the time this is published” (201); in the addition at the end of photographs, which fasten on one moment of an event which is all motion; and of topical information, the “Reactions” and “Estimate” and “Dates.” We note also that every transaction in the bullring from the unforgiven horse-traders’ to the most artistic matador’s is (like the journalist’s) motivated in part by economic interests, usually a compromising factor.
But timeliness in this work, for which timeliness is an issue, becomes a distinction of aspect as compared to fact and distinguishes facts in the ordinary sense from the author’s revised fact—what actually happens: fact which is preserved or preservable by art. What marks the latter is its “exceptional” character, in the case of bulls their exceptional bravery, at its best the quality the Spanish call “nobility” (113). This is no incidental “fact,” but a special one since “the bravery of the bull is the primal root of the whole Spanish bullfight,” and the whole Spanish bullfight is the fact being written about in Death in the Afternoon. Toros Celebre goes to the root of the problem of the bullfight then, and in a factual, i.e., objective, way, presenting three hundred twenty-two pages of facts about the bravest bulls in their bravery: their deeds and dying. Yet Toros Celebre reduces fact to aspect. The alphabetical arrangement of the facts allows the reader to choose at random Hechicero, the Wizard who sent at least seven picadors to the hospital and killed seven horses (signifying exceptional bravery: “It is only by his conduct against the pic that the bravery of a bull can be judged and appreciated,” 113) or Vibora, the Viper, who jumped out of the ring and gored a carpenter (an event notable probably for its current notoriety). Facts about brave bulls defying punishment in the ring are mixed indifferently with “facts” about bulls out of control charging into the stands or off the streets scattering random destruction.
This presentation of fact as general information robs the exceptional facts of their power to produce the real emotion. Two examples: “… the bull, pursuing the boy, climbed the stairs to the first floor, where, according to the book, he caused great destruction. He probably did.” The remark “He probably did” speculates about what actually happened as an aside, outside the writing. This writing is not “producing” what-happened. “Destruction” umpty-umps the “actual.” The narrative itself obstructs the view. More important, this “destruction” in a list of destructions loses its ability to articulate destruction. There is no “seeing” in this “factual” account, and there can be no knowing response. In another case a bull “jumped the barrera and got into the grandstand, and, driving through the spectators, the book says, produced the imagined disorder and damage” (111, emphasis mine). The same insensitivity to the actual marks the histories cited later to attest to the validity of claims that the bulls and the matadors and the bullfights were grander in the past (239-44).
Facts are what the author wants to write about, to make endure. In his vernacular “facts” are disclosed and validated in a direct seeing. But he writes, “I have seen two carpenters gored myself and have never written a line about it.” Direct seeing alone did not make these events exceptional. We assume that they did not produce the emotion that actual facts produce. We recall the “fact” of the bullfight, at its best the noble bull, the matador of genius and artistry. But only rarely—twice in fifty bullfights for the author—does the spectacle give the emotion that facts produce. The difference in the author’s experience was a difference in the killing itself (it had been done properly and artistically), which is a difference in completeness, wholeness, in purity and intensity. The bullring with its order, ritual, had provided a focus and a heightened emotional atmosphere for the spectacle and for the exceptional when it occurred. It was this focus that made it possible for the author to “study” violent death here as he could not in life outside the ring, in “timeliness.” What “actually happens,” fact, does not appear in the unexceptional. Facts as everyday happenings or as general information, are like words themselves which the author says “from loose using have lost their edge” (71). The differences that articulate what happens in fact and in writing get buried or suborned by the ordinary, the timely, the mercenary.29
Another dimension to the problem may be noted. The difference in aspect and fact is the difference in mere appearance and appearing, but it is not a moral or an absolute difference. The author describes a kind of apprenticeship of seeing, which begins with aspect, sensitivity to the appearance of suffering in the horses, and graduates through seeing experiences to a more genuine knowing, letting suffering appear as it is. The difference in aspect and fact is a difference in intensity in what-happens and a difference in the seeing emotion; and difference is a difference of “enough” (“…writes truly enough”), a difference of degree. In the last chapter we find that everything that happens seems capable of appearing essentially and integrally and could endure in a work of art. The problem is, as here, the lack of “enough” book to address it all.
Seeing has an esthetic character. Learning to see and to know is a developing of taste. But though the author gives an explicit esthetic character to seeing, comparing the appreciation of the bullfight and a proper killing to the appreciation of fine wines, music, art, etc., “esthetic” is only one characteristic of this seeing among others. The bullfight is also compared to sports, to war, to sexual intercourse, to commercial enterprises. Practically speaking, every category for cultural life seems applicable; and “practically” is the key, not the practicality of the Galicians and the Catalonians, who take no “intelligent interest in death” (264-66), but the “practical” in the last sentence of the text, “There were a few practical things to be said,” the practical in practice, action, the actual.
The naturalist parody in the introduction to “A Natural History of the Dead,” both exploits and develops the aspect-fact relation. “That persevering traveller, Mungo Park,” pious naturalist, “self-called Humanist” (139), upon one desperate occasion in Africa in a moment of hopelessness caught sight of a tiny, intricately formed flower and took heart, saying to himself that if God had troubled Himself to give attention in such a place to “a thing which appears of so small importance,” and which bore no resemblance to Himself, he would certainly, etc. But Mr. Park is not seeing truly, the fact of the flower is ignored and exploited as an appurtenance of a self-portrait, and any principle he espouses is marked for review. Our mock-naturalist narrator launches a similarly naturalistic study of “the dead”—all “observation,” all “seeing,” all “facts” of the dead readily available under conditions of war. “In war the dead are usually the male of the human species although this does not hold true with animals, …” (134). After many interesting “facts” about dead animals comes an account of a mission to recuperate the bodies of women killed in a munitions explosion.
We drove to the scene of the disaster in trucks along poplar-shaded roads, bordered with ditches containing much minute animal life, …. I remember that after we had searched quite thoroughly for the complete dead we collected fragments. Many of these were detached from a heavy, barbed-wire fence which had surrounded the position of the factory and from the still existent portions of which we picked many of these detached bits which illustrated only too well the tremendous energy of high explosive. (135-36)
But the Natural Historian does not fail to appreciate the gifts of nature.
… the fact that it had been so immediate and that the dead were in consequence still as little unpleasant as possible to carry and deal with made it quite removed from the usual battlefield experience. The pleasant, though dusty, ride through the beautiful Lombard countryside also was a compensation for the unpleasantness of the duty …. (136)
What this “study” of the dead attempts to exclude is the fact of death and the emotion it entails. The failure to admit death, like the failure to admit the comic role of the horses, above, prevents the explanation of the dead, robs the “facts” about the dead of their trueness, prevents seeing-knowing. Each of the facts surrounding, for example, the field of dead women, above, is denied its significance—the long hair of the women or “the occasional absence” of it, their not unpleasant fresh flesh broken up “along no anatomical lines.” Later in another “factual” description of dead soldiers the “fact” of swollen corpses, of emptied pockets and strewn paper announce and renounce death. Our response here is a backlash of emotion against the lack of emotion in the language, elicited here by the bitter parodic tone of the narrative, and is not an emotional “seeing” of the dead but an emotional seeing of the sophistry of the naturalist’s language, substituting mere appearance for fact. It is our author’s language that we respond to against the emptiness (the hollow place, above) of the “history.” In a page of natural history the denial and what it denies would be more subtly suppressed, and the effect would be a not-seeing.
Then this rejoinder:
One wonders what that persevering traveller, Mungo Park, would have seen on a battlefield in hot weather to restore his confidence. There were always poppies in the wheat in the end of June and in July, and the mulberry trees were in full leaf and one could see the heat waves rise from the barrels of the guns where the sun struck them through the screens of leaves; the earth was turned a bright yellow at the edge of holes where mustard gas shells had been and the average broken house is finer to see than one that has never been shelled, but few travellers would take a good full breath of that early summer air and have any such thoughts as Mungo Park about those formed in His own image. (138)
This battlefield breathes death, a kind of gaping, asphyxiating presence of absence. The one-eighth of the fact that appears declares the rest to our seeing, knowing emotion. The difference in this passage (a sampling of A Farewell to Arms) and the naturalist parody is the secret of the iceberg principle. Most of what is “known” is not “described”; the knowing constraint of explicit language, “truly” written, “magically” (13) sets forth, sets free, the thing-happening, produces the seeing emotion.
This principle explains in part the effect of the language throughout this work, beginning with the title. The text does not acknowledge the disruption that death is working against the simple order of its surface. The text which admits the disturbing “fact” of death, does not admit its effect, allows no conclusion, and so the reader’s opposition, repugnance, the emotion that “sounds” it, is given no shape, no stabilizing form, no relief.30 Death in the text unsettles the textuality, texture, apparent order, of the text. However pacific or remote the enumeration of simple “facts” over whatever number of pages of just information, this continual intrusion of death continually usurps the simplicity of the otherwise mundane. Death like the dangerous bull is near, gets waved up and waved by according to the arrogance and grace of the author.
Thus the aspect-fact difference discloses levels of textuality, from mere appearance, surface, to an actual functioning that disturbs even as it creates that surface. “A Natural History of the Dead,” for example, functions to interrupt the seeming linearity of Death in the Afternoon, bringing into play certain oppositions to the thematic and stylistic aspects of the text. As we have noted, its style and its theme mock the style and theme of the preceding text, unsettling the reader’s sense of ground, dispelling the illusion of reliable (transparent) language, so that afterwards the reader, chastened, changed, continues, but uncertainly.
This loss of stability or solidity is produced again in the thematic of the doctor-lieutenant opposition in the story. This story is Hemingway’s Billy Budd and pits rule and order against bravery and moral sensitivity, with the less than satisfying triumph of law. The doctor’s position and the lieutenant’s cannot be separated along moral or essential lines. On the doctor’s side are the Hemingway virtues of practicality, fact over appearance, and the utility of rule; on the lieutenant’s side bravery, a seeing for which the distinction between the dead and the living has not been lost, even in wartime, and a disregard for rule that comes from familiarity with administrators (188), for example doctors who ignore suffering on traditional grounds (220). We may say that the doctor plays the lieutenant as the matador the brave bull, using his own strength against him; but tripping and kicking are not arts but tricks, and the doctor violates his own code in spilling the iodine and wounding the soldier. The nature of contest is to bring to light the essential qualities of the contestants. Here as in the bullring, the backdrop against which the contest appears is the fact of death. What death brings to the afternoon, the still-living man brings to the dead-house anomaly, absolute difference, with in this case the edges worn with overuse under conditions of war. For the doctor the difference is nada, but since in this work it is the very difference upon which everything that happens depends for its appearing, the doctor’s nada (unlike the waiter’s in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”) is loss of precision, which means loss of seeing. Still it is impossible to accept or to reject either the doctor’s position or the lieutenant’s. Brenner gives the best postmodern response: “Having presented [a] half-dozen perspectives, Hemingway dares us to choose only one as the correct one” (75). The opponents contesting each other are the fact appearing in its happening here, without resolution or conclusion.
The instability of language is recapitulated in the author’s express treatment of words per se. Words are not facts and they have no essence. The same word carries different meanings for different people according to their different experience and predisposition. To Jean Cocteau the word “decadence” means his friend and protege Radiguet’s unfortunate inclination toward “les femmes.” “So you see, madame, we must be careful chucking the term decadence about since it cannot mean the same to all who read it” (71). Words do not mean; they accommodate meaning. “[Love] is a word that fills with meaning as a bladder with air and the meaning goes out of it as quickly” (122).
Words are separate from inherent concepts (the notion of the arbitrariness of the sign) and may lose their power to recall them with precision. “Madame, all our words from loose using have lost their edge but your inherent concepts are most sound” (71). Precision would mean not correct usage (“Old lady: I must learn to use these terms correctly,” when the author explains the meaning of “horseshit,” 95) and not horseshit, i.e., “unsoundness in an abstract conversation or, indeed, any overmetaphysical tendency in speech.” A word to be precise would convey or precipitate a true seeing:
Old lady: You mean?
Not exactly, but something of the sort.
Old lady: You mean he——?
Words or not-words, according to the iceberg principle, when their edges are sharp, call (and recall) to mind exactly—truly, purely—what happens; evoke, re-evoke, the true emotion. The function of words, as of the work of art, is to provoke the appearing of something, a seeing. Words made the author’s small son “see it” when he closed his eyes, above, so that the author “[wished] for the thousandth time in [his] life that [he] could wipe out words that [he’d] said” (228). But words can function to evoke seeing only if one has already seen the thing that the words recall.
I will not describe the different ways of using the cape, [etc.] … because a description in words cannot enable you to identify them before you have seen them as a photograph can. (176)
(The passage is ironic; it describes and imitates the butterfly quite, directing the reader to the photograph at the end which “shows clearly what it is”; but it is all movement, manner, pacing, danger, of which the photograph freezes one instant.)
Words are temporal. They call things from past or present experience into appearance. This moment (if we invoke temporality) of “seeing” is the point of ontic-ontological difference in Heidegger (différance in Derrida). To speak of delay or asynchronism would be to force the moment into the conception of time as a sequence of now’s. In Heidegger these points of difference in time are overpassed, set aside as secondary representation; in primordial temporality there are no such points.
We examine temporality in Hemingway’s description of the work of language (art). Things that happen produce a seeing emotion (2). The seeing responds to the happening which comes first—not first in time but first in command. The emotion which is being produced is a seeing, but in life the seeing is haphazard, contingent, timely. In the bullring, in art, the matador-artist directly faces and addresses the thing (the matador brings death itself into the ring, the author brings the entire bullfight into his work), not in order to command or vanquish it but in order to bring it to appearance, set it forth. Words and works of art follow upon or respond to things that happen and preserve their happening. Or, to correct the sequence, the emotion that responds to things that actually happen is the unarticulated seeing that can be invoked by words, language, art, in a purifying, formalizing seeing. Words are not things that happen, but they hold and convey such things. Time is the possibility that they may and the manner of movement by which they do so.31
As we are beginning to see, in Death in the Afternoon no word or “statement” rests in itself, for countering it, silent or explicit, often juxtaposed to it, is always another “statement” to unsettle it. The principle:
The sun is very important. The theory, practice and spectacle of bullfighting have all been built on the assumption of the presence of the sun and when it does not shine over a third of the bullfight is missing. The Spanish say, “El sol es el mejor torero.” The sun is the best bullfighter, and without the sun the best bullfighter is not there. He is like a man without a shadow. (15)
Where is the best bullfighter? There is a chain of bullfighters: the sun, the bullfighter, the shadow. Remove the sun and there is no shadow; that leaves the bullfighter. But “without the sun the best bullfighter is not there.” Being there means projecting a shadow; a shadow is a sign of substantial existence, a material (immaterial) validation. Where is the actual, the “real,” the “true,” in the chain? The man (the bullfighter) standing between the sun (the best bullfighter) and his own shadow appears in this chain to be himself a reflection of the sun, a platonic image. No, this sun, though generally reliable in Spain during the bullfighting season, is essentially unreliable and unpredictable, belongs to nature in Hemingway and is related, I think, to “luck,” that constant unconstant variable in every Hemingway equation.
Without the sun “the best bullfighter” is insubstantial, not actual (fact-ual), is only these words then. The sun—something given, not by the bullfighter or the bull or even by the spectacle, nor by history or all of Spain, but just given or not given—provides the possibility for the actuality, the being there, of the best bullfighter (the sign of which appears in the projecting of a shadow). The sun casts the light, the shining, against or in the face of which the bullfighter appears and projects a shadow. The uncertain sun is the possibility, and the insubstantial shadow is the security in a practical sense for the best bullfighter’s being there, a fairly precarious foothold. This does not say that there can be no bullfighter without the sun, but that there can be no best (exceptional, above) bullfighter. And no best bullfight either, since more than a third of the theory, practice and spectacle of the bullfight depends upon the undependable sun.32
This image invites another: a portrait of the artist—the author, with luck and writing “purely enough” (2).
People in a novel, not skillfully constructed characters, must be projected from the writer’s assimilated experience, from his knowledge, from his head, from his heart and from all there is of him. If he ever has luck as well as seriousness and gets them out entire they will have more than one dimension and they will last a long time. (191)
If the author’s “project” is his shadow as well as his sword, then he projects not only the appearing of what happens but also its validating sign. As we have seen, language or art is not itself a fact; yet it makes fact (things that really happen) appear. Much has been written about the Hemingway style and its uncanny effects. Critics tend to agree that the effect of his language is poetic, lyric—personal, concrete, immediate—and take it to be as intellectually limited as it is extraordinarily affective. I cannot explain the phenomenon of the shadow, but I am tempted in the direction of the shadows in Malcolm Cowley’s 1945 essay. Commenting on a passage from “Now I Lay Me”:
Although the events in the foreground are described with superb accuracy and for their own sake, we now perceive what we probably missed at a first reading: that there are shadows in the background and that part of the story takes place in an inner world. (42)
Later Cowley quotes the passage from Green Hills of Africa in which “a fourth and fifth dimension” are declared for writing if the author is “serious enough and has luck.”
It is more important than anything else he can do. The chances are, of course, that he will fail. But there is a chance that he succeeds.
It is much more difficult than poetry. It is a prose that has never been written. But it can be written, without tricks and without cheating. With nothing that will go bad afterwards. (47)
… without understanding his choice of words, I do know that Hemingway’s prose at its best gives a sense of depth and of moving forward on different levels that is lacking in even the best of his imitators, as it is in almost all the other novelists of our time…. (47)
And later, concluding:
Most of us are … primitive in a sense, for all the machinery that surrounds our lives… ; and Hemingway reminds us unconsciously of the hidden worlds in which we live. (50)
The validating shadow appears in this light to be the emotion of the spectator, that one chance in fifty occurrence, when a serious spectator catches the figure of what happens. But in this work everything is working twice, once in “life” and again in art which brings life into view and preserves it. In the second sense, art (language) is the extraordinary re-producing of the extraordinary event, the insubstantial ground of substantial reality. As Leon Edel, denouncing Hemingway’s lack of style, of seriousness, of maturity, of substance, has stated, ironically for my purpose: “He has conjured up an effect of Style by a process of evasion, very much as he sets up an aura of emotion—by walking directly away from emotion!” (19).
Nota: The event figured above, sun-bullfighter-shadow, is motivated not by a principle of accommodation but by a principle of repulsion, the man blocking the sun, the shadow emptying the man’s substantiality in signifying it. “Statement” is the sign (shadow) of confrontation, often denial, in Death in the Afternoon. Thus, as we have seen, this narrative, which appears in the beginning to be a transparent window onto the thoughts and motivations of the author or an accurate representation or replica of the facts that make up a factual reality, the bullfight, soon runs into another kind of narrative in which a new tone, differing, doubtful or negative, draws what had before seemed real into quotation marks. The two (and more) kinds of narrative have been left, placed, in antagonistic juxtaposition. Some of the counter-narrative appears as digression; the author runs off into matters or interests of his own, literary or aesthetic or artistic analogies or speculations, and then draws himself back to the subject, perhaps with apologies (11, “This seems to have gotten away from bullfighting, …”). Since Hemingway readers are more interested in these matters themselves than in the “stupid brutal business” (2) of the bullfight, these interpolations are likely to be taken for the central subject and the bullfight for artifice, a vehicle, perhaps a symbol, and a decoration. The “difference” between the bullfight narrative and the esthetics is superficial. Indeed, this is at one level the interpretation I am making here, but as a preliminary outline against and beyond which (differing) Hemingway’s attempt and achievement come into view. Another fundamental issue of difference comes to light too in this primary analogy. The bullfight by the nature of the opposites that it binds together, brutality and beauty, death and esthetics, is a crude and embarrassing art piece. Confrontation and denial inhere in the subject matter. Disparity and disunity, and something more, a kind of gross or indecent affront to the culture’s moral and esthetic sensibilities, characterize the project from the outset.
The work we are reading is a study of the nature of art, the artist, and the work of art. It is a “study” as a painting or an etude may be. In the image above, art (language) was the shadow of the bullfighter, the matador addressing the bull; here at two levels we see the figure: first, the text is the shadow of Hemingway addressing a subject, which happens to be, second, an “author” addressing a subject, in both cases the figure of the matador’s approach to the bull. Addressing, like seeing, like slaying, indicates opposition, difference. Language and art in Hemingway, not figured but enacted in the tragedy of the bullfight, are the way an author addresses a subject, by all means—mimesis, parody, irony, understatement, overstatement, omission, contradiction, emotional language, unemotional language, literal language, figurative language—to evoke the true emotion. Success, contingent on purity of writing and luck, is all in the effect. In the flash of that emotion appears the figure of what-happens.
The principal thing for Hemingway in his work as a whole, in this work in particular, as in his life, is the underlying fact of death. “All stories, if continued far enough, end in death” (122); death, “the most fundamental” thing. Perhaps the central Hemingway problem is the antagonism between life and art. The bullfight is art in life and life (death) in art. The matador manifests the genius and strengths and virtues that Hemingway honors in characters (“living people,” as he claims here) throughout his canon. Art is not a replication of something, but an essential direct grappling with it. In such an event it is impossible to disentangle life and art or even to give precedence to either.33 Life involves art; life lived artistically is lived most truly, intensely. Art involves life, works its work on life itself, right up to the point of death. And as this work shows and gathers into one image, it is at this point, death in the afternoon, that seeing happens. At the climax of the bullfight, against the shock where the blade disappears, appears the figure of man and bull (and spectator) in their several oppositions. Death against the afternoon. Against the opposing nada34 rises a country, a people, an afternoon—in thousands of particulars the articulation of what-happens.35
The shock the sword sends and its disclosure are refigured powerfully, as the frequent allusions of critics attest, in the anecdote about the cowardly matador who made “a simple technical error.” The passage also displays the function of language to make things re-appear, endure. The author watched a novillada (a non-professional bullfight) in which the matador Hernandorena, nervous, already ridiculous with his jittery feet, in order to force himself to stay in one place to meet the bull dropped to his knees, a position that would entail the use of a certain technique which Hernandorena had not mastered. When the bull charged, the man did not use the muleta properly to direct it past his body, and the horns caught and threw him. He stood up, looked about for his sword and cloth, and
I saw the heavy, soiled gray silk of his rented trousers open cleanly and deeply to show the thigh bone from the hip almost to the knee. He saw it too and looked very surprised and put his hand on it while people jumped over the barrier and ran toward him to carry him to the infirmary….
At the bullring the spectators laughed at his nervousness and in the evening in the cafe no one expressed sympathy after the goring. But for the author the subject was fundamental, the problem “depiction”:
… waking in the night I tried to remember what it was that seemed just out of my remembering and that was the thing that I had really seen and, finally, remembering all around it, I got it. When he stood up, his face white and dirty and the silk of his breeches opened from waist to knee, it was the dirtiness of the rented breeches, the dirtiness of his slit underwear and the clean, clean, unbearably clean whiteness of the thigh bone that I had seen, and it was that which was important. (20)
The prose is invisible. It leads up to and then away from the figure. But the figure: rising up out of and against the words themselves, the clean white bone is the shock from which the words fall away, and it is that which is important.
Brenner compares Death in the Afternoon to Walton’s Compleat Angler. I offer it, as Cowley (Brasch 223ff.) offered The Old Man and the Sea and with similar reservations, as Hemingway’s Moby Dick: in its (mock-) epic intention, in its encyclopedic collection of information; its habit of abrupt departures from and into forms, literary play; above all, in its theme, the white white bone. The matador’s approach to his subject is cooler than the captain’s, emotional but not mad, deliberate but not scheming, emptied of malice as it is emptied of meaning. The dreadful intent remains, no longer blasphemous or perverse except among the ignorant or the insincere, but in its skeletal and classic purity as absolute anomaly: death in the afternoon. Without origin or end, there appears in the frameless interim the figure of the project of the artist. And on a lucky day, against the shining sun, what happens casts a measurable shadow.
Appendix D: Heideggerian Insights
Projective saying [Das entwerfende Sagen] is saying which, in preparing the sayable [in der Bereitung des Sagbaren], simultaneously brings the unsayable as such into a world [das Unsagbare als ein solches zur Welt bringt]. (Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art” 74)
Death in the Afternoon is Hemingway’s “The Origin of the Work of Art.” That is, like Heidegger’s essay, this work tracks the artwork to its source, examines the constituents of the work as well as its work (its working) and the work of spectators/readers/critics to make and keep the work(ing) possible. Hemingway’s author’s determination from the outset to “see” exactly what happens in the work of art, i.e., in the climactic moment of the bullfight, a resolution which draws him in concentrated attention to witness the event again and again, yields a seeing that is more than perception and different from objectification or analysis. Similarly Heidegger approached the artwork “directly” to receive the disclosure of “the happening of truth [das Geschehnis der Wahrheit]” in “The Origin of the Work of Art” (70, e.g.).
In the Hemingway work, what seeing sees is the actual fact of what happens. Words such as “fact” and “real” or “actual” are honed to a new edge, and the disclosures they make are often analogous to the postmetaphysical “ideas” of Heidegger (eidos as appearing). For words are working for Hemingway no more simply or “literally” than they have worked for the other authors in this book, no more simply or literally than they worked for Heidegger. In Death in the Afternoon the word does not merely “give” (Heidegger’s generous word) an object or a meaning or answer; it more often withholds, distorts, blocks. Hemingway’s author “tacks,” shall I say, his way to a definite, extraordinary “meaning” among and against words (genres are words too, voices are), using them against themselves and each other, to transgress, overpass, contradict their explicit or ordinary significations; he maneuvers not randomly or haphazardly but precisely (see above) and forcefully. “What calls for” all this language, i.e., the uncanny, calls for the canniest language (yet without tricks). Words work obliquely, contrarily, privatively—to, in the end, “give.” Fundamental here, as in Heidegger’s thought, are silence and absence and the unsaid, as prior, primary language. (See Heidegger’s examination of discourse in Being and Time, Section 34; see the presence of absence in “The Anaximander Fragment,” 35f., the naming of the unspoken, 38.)
In what I call his esthetics, above, Hemingway privileges art as traditional esthetics does, but the privilege is reassigned. Art (writing, here) is exceptional language, superior to, say, reportage, by a difference not of kind but of degree, a measure of “enough”: enough “purity” of “statement” (these words accrue special definition in the study). Heidegger too privileges art, privileges poetry among the arts. However, the privilege extends throughout what he calls “language,” for, “Language itself is poetry in the essential sense [Die Sprache selbst ist Dichtung im wesentlichen Sinne],” he writes (“The Origin” 74). But “language itself” is not considered as “an expression and an activity of man [Ausdruck und Tätigkeit des Menschen]” (“Language” 208), and the speaking of language is not a human appropriation of language but the appropriation of the human by language. Still Heidegger and Hemingway agree that poetry and ordinary language are essentially the same, with a difference of “enough”: “Poetry proper [Eigentliche Dichtung] is never merely a higher mode (melos) of everyday language [Alltagssprache]. It is rather the reverse: everyday language is a forgotten and therefore used-up poem [ein vergessenes und darum vernutztes Gedicht], from which there hardly resounds a call any longer [kaum noch ein Rufen erklingt]” (208).36 I should add that for Heidegger (as well as Hemingway) the difference between poetry and everyday language is not the difference between poetry and prose: “The opposite of what is purely spoken [rein Gesprochenen], the opposite of the poem, is not prose. Pure prose is never ‘prosaic’ [Reine Prosa ist nie ’prosaisch’]. It is as poetic and hence as rare [selten] as poetry” (208).
The “call” of language (the “of” working twice), and especially of the work of art, “gives” being in its Being. That “giving” is “depicted” (Hemingway’s word) in Death in the Afternoon with particular subtlety and power: everything coming together in climactic emotion—matador, bull, spectacle, spectators. The thrust of the matador’s sword into the bull carrying the eye of the spectator along the blade into: death. The emotion. The appearing of the “figure”: all the participants manifest in the unity of their opposition—phusis, eidos: being and seeing happening. And the double exposure: the artist projecting the subject of art via art, and via that project another violent defiance of Nothing; there appearing in the bright conjunction of these oppositions the opponents in their differences: artist, worthy subject, audience, and artwork(ing), to “give”: the emotion, the figure—the appearing (not presence but presencing) of an “actual” thing “really” happening (Hemingway 2).
Note the participation of the audience. For Hemingway as for Heidegger the audience or reader or critic shares responsibility for the work(ing) of art. Hemingway’s author teaches and chides, insults and pleads with spectators and readers to move them to expect, demand, appreciate, and reward great art. Heidegger goes farther: he attributes as much createdness to the preservation of art as to the creation of it. Farther yet, in Heidegger “createdness [Geschaffensein]” inheres in art itself, and creators and preservers belong to this createdness (not the reverse). Hemingway articulates no such “art,” but in his esthetics the more-than-human “emotion” which pervades and emanates from all the participants seems to be the ground of the happening of art as well as the stuff of its happening and the notice of its validation; and this “emotion” (“ecstasy” 206-07) corresponds with Heidegger’s “art” at least insofar as it is the origin of the work of art as what “lets … the creator and the preserver, originate, each in his own nature [läßt … Schaffende und Bewahrende, in seinem Wesen entspringen]” (“The Origin” 71). Heidegger’s “letting originate” has cut itself off from any first cause or maker and depends upon a nonpresent (and nonabsent) “it gives,” whereas Hemingway’s “emotion” is a word reappropriated without being uprooted from its traditional meaning. That is, in a systematic but unorthodox way Hemingway describes something we have no word for; it includes or involves what we have called “emotion,” but it transgresses the limits of the word’s ordinary meaning. Is the word losing its sharp edges, according to Hemingway’s explicit critique of language? Or is it expanding or bursting or evolving? In any case what the word makes us see is something like Heidegger’s “art” even though Heidegger does not use the word “emotion” (or other terminology for what we take for human characteristics, such as “intellect” or “mind”) to discuss it. If we wamt to surmise how the ordinary notion of emotion is involved in Heidegger’s “art” [Kunst] we might construct a schematic of Dasein’s structures, including especially mood (Befindlichkeit, die Stimmung, das Bestimmtsein), or we might make a sketch of the there [des Da]" as the Open [das Offene] where beings rise into appearance), and devise close comparative readings of, e.g., Being and Time, An Introduction, and “The Origin” for the happening of truth in language or in the work of art. The exercise would be reductive, however; it would lose the ground Heidegger gained when he abandoned rational analytic terminology, and it would interrupt my purpose here.
To continue the general comparison, then: in the poetics of both Heidegger and Hemingway the work of creating is always unique and the work of preserving is equally essential to the work(ing) of art. (Compare Hemingway 99-100, 162-64, e.g., with Heidegger’s “The Origin” 66ff.) “It is only for such preserving that the work yields itself in its createdness as actual, i.e., now: present in the manner of a work [gibt sich das Werk in seinem Geschaffensein als das wirkliche, d.h. jetzt: werkhaft anwesende]” (“The Origin” 66).
The reader of Death in the Afternoon does not read with impunity. Certain annoyances frustrate the reading, irritants such as erratic style or subject matter not yet brought to rest, a tendency to digression, repetition, contradiction, etc. The discomfiture points toward what is disturbing in the work: its very subject matter—the fact of violent death—and its continuous reiteration. There are two Heideggerian resonances.
First, the “fact” of death. This “fact,” Hemingway’s author tells us, is “the most fundamental” subject for a writer, and it is its ultimacy, its outreaching itself, that brings about the finest “seeing.” Death or oblivion, in contrast or in reaction to which one may see what-happens—and most purely in a work of art—is fundamental too in the thinking of Heidegger. For example, Dasein’s Being-towards-death [Sein zum Tode] provides the possibility that Dasein may “see” its own individuated, authentic potentiality-for-Being-a-whole (Being and Time H. 260-67).37 Or, just as primordially, Dasein’s Being-in-the-world is discussed as a “falling” fleeing in the face of the “nothing [Nichts]” and “nowhere [nirgends]” of the world, the Being “not-at-home [un-zuhause],” (Being and Time H. 186-89, “An Introduction” 158). It is against nothingness as horizon that beings arise into Being: appearing, presencing (see the discussion of phusis, eidos, and aletheia throughout the Heideggerian canon). In An Introduction Heidegger characterizes apprehension (noein) as “a de-cision [Ent-scheidung] …for being against nothing and thus a struggle with appearance” (167-68). Truth itself is aletheia, “Being-uncovering [Entdeckendsein]” (Being and Time Section 44 and every work thereafter), a “wresting” of being from nonbeing (An Introduction; see final statement 201ff.). And the work of art is one “way in which truth occurs [Wahrheit west]” (“The Origin” 61-2). “The working of the work [Die Wirkung des Werkes] … lies in a change, happening [geschehenden Wandel] from out of the work, of the unconcealedness of what is [Unverborgenheit des Seienden], and this means: of Being [des Seins]” (72).
The second Heideggerian resonance with what is disturbing in the Hemingway text is the disturbance itself; that is, with the very first words of the title, Death in the Afternoon opens up the conflict between not-being and being (death and the afternoon), or it brings the conflict into view and holds it there without resolution. As I note above, there are innumerable deaths in the afternoon throughout the work. At one point my reading deadends when I find I cannot or will not proceed (p. 148), leaving the problem at hand as the work leaves it: unresolved. I—readers, the “spectators” in this case—am moved (disturbed) to “see” essentially—that is, to see what-happens in its happening. In “The Origin” Heidegger describes the work(ing) of art as “an instigating [Anstiftung] of … striving [Streit]” (“Origin” 49) between not-being and being (earth and world), a strife that remains a strife. One telling passage shows how the work of art opens the strife and maintains it: “In the tragedy [“the linguistic work”] nothing is staged or displayed theatrically [wird nichts auf- und vorgeführt], but the battle of the new gods against the old is being fought. The linguistic work [das Sprachwerk], originating in the speech of the people [im Sagen des Volkes aufsteht], does not refer [redet] to this battle; it transforms the people’s saying so that now every living word [wesentlich Wort] fights the battle and puts up for decision [zur Entscheidung stellt] what is holy and what unholy, what great and what small, what brave and what cowardly, what lofty and what flighty, what master and what slave” (43).
Hemingway’s primary affinity with Heidegger is in what is primary in the work of both: the emphasis on the necessity of death as the possibility or the actuality of seeing and of “being,” or, what amounts to the same for both, of seeing being (the ontological difference). Death is not cause for morbidity in Heidegger, though it is the basis of existential anxiety. “As the outermost possibility [äußerste Möglichkeit] of mortal Dasein, death is not the end of the possible [Ende des Möglichen] but the highest keeping (the gathering sheltering) of the mystery of calling disclosure [das höchste Ge-birg (das versammelnde Bergen) des Geheimnisses der rufenden Entbergung]” (“Moira” 101). In Hemingway too it is the occasion for everything that counts: seeing without flinching, or courage; love; glamour.
All violence [Gewalt-tätigkeit] shatters against one thing. That is death. It is an end beyond all consummation, a limit beyond all limits [Er über-endet alle Vollendung, er über-grenzt alle Grenzen]….It is not only when he comes to die, but always and essentially [ständig und wesenhaft] that man is without issue [ohne Ausweg] in the face of death. Insofar as man is, he stands in the issuelessness of death. Thus his being-there is the happening of strangeness [die geschehende Un-heimlichkeit selbst]. (An Introduction to Metaphysics 158)
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932.↩
Allen Josephs’ “Death in the Afternoon: A Reconsideration,” The Hemingway Review 2.1 (Fall 1982): 2-16.↩
“The Making of Death in the Afternoon,” Ernest Hemingway: The Writer in Context, ed. James Nagel (Madison: U of Wisconsin, 1984): 31-52.↩
For a Heideggerian discussion of the word see What Is Called Thinking?, New York: Harper & Row, 1968, 128ff.↩
Gerry Brenner has explored the duplicitous or multifarious art of concealment in Hemingway’s practice in Concealments in Hemingway’s Works (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1983). See a devastating example of this art pointed out in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Earl Rovit and Gerry Brenner in Ernest Hemingway, rev. ed. (Boston: Twayne, 1986) 19-23.↩
Much has been written about Hemingway’s anti-intellectualism. Hemingway states in the Introduction to Men at War (1942):
Tolstoy … could invent more with more insight and truth than anyone who ever lived. But his ponderous and Messianic thinking was no better than many another evangelical professor of history and I learned from him to distrust my own Thinking with a capital T and to try to write as truly, as straightly, as objectively and as humbly as possible (xvii-xviii, quoted in Jeffrey Meyers, Hemingway: A Biography [New York: Harper and Row, 1985] 134).
Other critiques: Lionel Trilling, “Hemingway and His Critics,” Partisan Review 6 (Winter 1939): (56-7); and Steven K. Hoffman, “Nada and the Clean, Well-Lighted Place: The Unity of Hemingway’s Short Fiction,” Essays in Literature 1, 6 (Spring 1979): 91-110.↩
Hemingway states the principle again and again. One working example is quoted by Bernard Oldsey, “Hemingway’s Beginnings and Endings,” Ernest Hemingway: The Papers of a Writer (New York: Garland, 1981) 42, in which all mention of war or of Indians is omitted from “Big Two-Hearted River” and the name of the subject river is changed, without, the author claims, loss of the importance of these. “The test of any story is how very good the stuff is that you, not your editors, omit.” Harry, in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” waiting it out and unable to write, thinks: “There wasn’t time, of course, although it seemed as though it telescoped so that you might put it all into one paragraph if you could get it right,” The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962) 18.↩
The passage burlesques Wordsworth’s Platonism as well, particularly “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.”↩
George Plimpton interview, “Ernest Hemingway,” Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, 2d Series, ed. George Plimpton (The Paris Review, Inc., 1963) 234.↩
There are numerous references throughout this work to the principle of the thing as a whole, of parts to wholes, and the prose section of the book ends with such a reference, which recalls the iceberg principle:
Let those who want to save the world if you can get to see it clear and as a whole. Then any part you make will represent the whole if it’s made truly…. (278)
Hemingway’s notion of tragedy and wholeness enters into or draws into itself Aristotelian notions, but either they are brought in like ornaments or relics—and Hemingway eschews both—inessential, secretly contradicting or subverting Hemingway’s thematic; or they are brought in like the Trojan horse, inhabited with alien meanings. Hemingway’s tragedy differs as participation and confrontation differ from imitation, as an infinity of actual, changing, articulable, rankable “facts” differs from unity and totality, as living people differ from characters, as death differs from truth, as lucidity differs from catharsis. Comparing explicit themes in this work and in the Poetics—tragedy, mimesis, wholes, necessary and irreplaceable parts, plot as ordered sequence of incidents, spectacle, catharsis, rules—argues that Hemingway is answering Huxley’s charge (190-2), and without becoming a popinjay.↩
“The essential relation [Wesensverhältnis] between death and language flashes up before us, but remains still unthought [ungedacht]. It can, however, beckon us toward the way in which the nature of language draws us into its concern [uns zu sich be-langt] and so relates us to itself [bei sich verhält], in case death belongs together [zusammengehört] with what reaches out for us, touches us [was uns be-langt]” (Heidegger, “The Nature of Language-,” *On the Way to Language“, New York: Harper & Row, 1971, 107-08).↩
See for example the three conditions of the bull, levantado, parado, and aplomado, 145-7; quite techniques, 176-7; even killing, 244-5.↩
The old man and his fish reciprocate a similar violence and love in The Old Man and the Sea (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952).↩
Compare Heidegger’s discussion of the unity of phusis and logos and at the same time the separation and opposition between them (Aus-einander-setzung) in An Introduction 130ff. The “essential striving” between being and nonbeing (the “motion [Bewegung]” or “agitation [Bewegtheit]” or “happening [Geschehen]” 48ff.), which characterizes the work of art, is the subject of “The Origin.” Compare Heidegger’s “figure [Gestalt]” (64f.).↩
Michael S. Reynolds (“Unexplored Territory: The Next Ten Years of Hemingway Studies,” Oldsey 11-23), comparing this work to The Green Hills of Africa, concludes similarly on the basis of the esthetics he finds there: “… although we call these books non-fiction, there is no non-fiction. All writing is fiction, in a sense” (17).↩
My reading is at odds with Nancy Comley’s (“Hemingway: The Economics of Survival,” Novel 12 [Spring 1979]: 244-53) in regard to emotion in Hemingway as well as to the economic principle.↩
The sense of “really” here includes the “sense of place” which Carlos Baker describes: “Hemingway … has trained himself rigorously to see and retain those aspects of a place that make it that place, even though, with an odd skill, he manages at the same time to render these aspects generically…. Hemingway likes the words country and land. It is astonishing how often they recur in his work without being obtrusive. He likes to move from place to place, and to be firmly grounded, for the time being, in whatever place he has chosen” (Hemingway: The Writer as Artist [Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972] 50, 148). This groundedness could be compared with Williams’ emphasis on ground. Hemingway’s evocation of place is more richly “actual” than Williams’, but the sense of thisness and actuality takes precedence here over locality. Hemingway’s notion is closer to Heidegger’s “world” than to the “dwelling” with which we compared the local in Williams.↩
The event of art as I am describing it here recalls Heidegger’s description of the work(ing) of art in “The Origin,” in that (1) art (a nonbeing grantor of being) is the origin of artists and works of art; (2) art is the mutual operation of createdness, creator, and preserver; (3) art is the site of the active appearing of the world-earth conflict (being versus not-being); and (4) art is a way in which “truth” as Being-uncovering happens.↩
Compare the world-earth contention in Heidegger’s “The Origin” 42f., 55f.↩
Joseph Waldmeir justly compares the bullfighter to the priest intermediating the “‘feeling of life and death and mortality and immortality’” (166), but makes no inference to the poet-priest intermediating what-happens, “Confiteor Hominem: Ernest Hemingway’s Religion of Man,” PMASAL 42 (1956): 277-81, rpt. in Hemingway: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robert P. Weeks (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1962) 161-68.↩
Another implication for emotion in the passage quoted above: the power of the emotion aroused by the bullfight is not greater than or different from the power of “any major emotion.” Emotions seem to be the stuff of seeing and knowing—not knowing about, but knowing in the sense of securing the seeing of, having.↩
The effect is the same as in Heidegger’s use of van Gogh’s painting of peasant shoes in “The Origin.” Inquiring into the nature of equipment (his primary inquiry addresses the work-being of the work of art) Heidegger takes the painting as a convenient representation of such an entity. The nature of equipment is indeed discovered, but this discovery is embedded in another one: it was the painting (as art work-ing) that disclosed the being of the shoes. Thus the thinking finds that it has “unwittingly” already learned that disclosure is the work-being of the work of art.↩
Hemingway’s insistence on the actual is modified in the case of character, as we note. Baker traces the author’s apprenticeship in writing the truth; first a strict “observation of action, set forth in unadorned prose” (The Writer as Artist 60): “You see I’m trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across—not to just depict life—or criticize it—but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing.” (1925, Carlos Baker, ed., Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961 [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981] 153)
Eventually, however, with accumulated knowledge and experience he allows “guesses, fiction, motivations, imaginations” to inform his “inventions,” though the purpose remains the same, to seize and project for the reader what he often called “the way it was,” to, Baker quotes Hemingway, “produce a truer account than anything factual can be” (The Writer as Artist 64). In the Plimpton interview in 1963 Hemingway states similarly: “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality…” (239).↩
Bloom calls Hemingway one of the “late and dark … negative theologians” of “the Emersonian religion of self-reliance” (Modern Critical Views 2-3), but in my view what Bloom calls Hemingway’s “Real Absence” indicates not a negative meaning (this is his difference from Melville) but a context of unconceptualized, nonconceptual, factical relationships working in what happens. His Real Absence marks the point of ontological difference all right, but an ontology does not follow; refusal to fill in the blanks renders his “void” anomalous if not absurd in the tradition. (It is something like Nietzsche’s or the young Heidegger’s radical revision.)↩
Heidegger uses words associated with seeing and with light to denote the character of Dasein as clearing (“Aletheia-Offenheit-Lichtung, Licht, Leuchten,” Being and Time, footnote H. 133); existential understanding takes the place that intuition or “pure beholding” held in metaphysics from Parmenides to Hegel as the ground of “seeing.” (See “Moira.”) Seeing and essential “knowing” are explicitly conjoined in techne: “To know [Wissen] means to have seen [gesehen haben], in the widest sense of seeing [weiten Sinne von sehen], which means to apprehend what is present, as such [vernehmen des Anwesenden als eines solchen]” (“The Origin” 59; see also “The Anaximander Fragment,” Early Greek Thinking, Harper & Row, 1984, 36).
As for experience, Heidegger gives priority to being-there (Dasein). For example, in order to understand (evil) one must have a “preconcept [Vorbegriff] of it,” which “can take hold [zugreifen] only when what is to be conceived has already been experienced [das Zubegreifende zuvor erfahren ist]” (Schelling’s Treatise 106). See especially What Is A Thing?, in which Kant is interpreted as bringing “experience” into rational metaphysics (summary 238ff.). “In short, being is no longer determined out of mere thought [bloßen Denken]” (240), but involves also “the letting-stand-against (Gegenstehenlassen) of experience [des Erfahrens], and, therefore, of the actions of the subject [Handlungen des Subjekts]” (241).↩
It is also the principle that offers a non-psychological basis for Tom Stoppard’s observation that Hemingway’s prose “[makes] the reader do the work,” proving for us that “prose in itself does not describe at all…. In fact, it is the associative power of words rather than their ‘meaning’ that makes prose work on its ultimate level,” “Reflections on Ernest Hemingway,” Ernest Hemingway: The Writer in Context, ed. James Nagel (Madison: U of Wisconsin, 1984) 22.↩
Compare Heidegger’s “mood” in the “there” in Being and Time. From “The Origin” (Poetry, Language, Thought, Harper & Row, First Harper Colophon ed., 1975, 25): “Perhaps … what we call feeling or mood [Gefühl oder Stimmung], here and in similar instances, is more reasonable [vernünftiger]—that is, more intelligently perceptive [vernehmender]—because more open [offener] to Being than all that reason which, having meanwhile become ratio, was misinterpreted as being rational [mißdeutet wurde].”↩
For “aspect” [Ansehen] in Heidegger see An Introduction to Metaphysics 102f.; for several aspects of “appearance” (Erscheinung) see Being and Time H. 29-31, for “semblance” [Schein] H. 222 and Nietzsche, Vol. I 213ff.↩
Compare the priority—and the deficiency—of the everyday in Heidegger. Everyday Dasein as falling, thrown fugitive from authenticity provides the primary human understanding to and through which Being “calls” (Being and Time 225ff). And Being is no being; calling is voiceless (see What Is Called Thinking? 128ff.).↩
The idea that language functions to relieve this kind of pressure is Kristeva’s, though I do not wish to invoke her thematization of the subject, of originary drive, or of the essential function of language.↩
I have cited Heidegger’s definitions of words throughout this book. Hemingway, like each of the other Americans, brings his own precision to his own definition, but the break with representational language and the word’s essential openness and active, actual relation to “life” (not to presence, for “life” is permeated by uncanniness, mystery, death) are general characteristics he and the others share with Heidegger.↩
Heidegger discusses Plato’s image of the sun in The Republic, where as the “Good [Gute]” it provides to seeing/knowing and to being seen/being known not only their medium but also the conditions of their possibility, including knowers and beings (Nietzsche, Vol. IV 167ff.).↩
Living is “moving in the picture,” as this draft passage struck from “Big Two-Hearted River” presents it:
Nick, seeing how Cezanne would do the stretch of country, stood up. The water was cold and actual. He waded across the stream, moving in the picture. (Item 274 of Hemingway Collection, p. 96, quoted by Oldsey 47, emphasis his)
And art is, of course, the “cold and actual” in the picture.↩
Steven K. Hoffman gives a Kierkegaard-Heidegger-Buber reading of the nada in Hemingway’s short fiction which is appropriate and strong in my view except in its temptation to conclude, to conceptualize, an “existentialist creed” with more reassurance than Hemingway does, for whom the wound always stands agape.↩
“Projective saying [entwerfende Sagen] is poetry …. Actual language at any given moment [Die jeweilige Sprache] is the happening of this saying [Geschehnis jenes Sagens], in which a people’s world historically arises [aufgeht] for it and the earth is preserved [aufbewahrt wird] as that which remains closed” (“The Origin” 74).↩
The problem is not only in forgetting but in using language, as the “most dangerous of possessions [der Güter Gefährlichstes]” (Heidegger quotes Hölderlin, “Hölderlin and the Essence” 273ff.), dangerous according to Heidegger because while it grants to entities the possibility of existence, it grants also the danger of the loss of existence. That is, language can express both “what is purest and what is most concealed [das Reinste und das Verborgenste], and likewise what is complex and ordinary [das Verworrene und Gemeine],” but it does not announce itself as one or the other, one often appears as the other (and in fact it is necessary that language become ordinary, lose some of its efficacy, in order that it work as human language). Thus language in its capability of “saying” both “the pure and the ordinary” endangers what it enables, i.e., existence, and itself as well (275).↩
“The ‘nothing’ [Das Nichts] with which anxiety brings us face to face, unveils the nullity [die Nichtigkeit] by which Dasein, in its very basis [seinem Grunde], is defined; and this basis itself is as thrownness into death [Geworfenheit in den Tod]” (Being and Time H. 308). Being-towards-death is “the null basis of its own nullity [der nichtige Grund seiner Nichtigkeit].” “The nullity by which Dasein’s Being is dominated primordially through and through [ursprünglich durchherrschende Nichtigkeit], is revealed to Dasein itself in authentic Being-towards-death [eigentlichen Sein zum Tode]” (H. 306).↩
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