"Bitched": feminization, identity, and the Hemingwayesque in The Sun Also Rises.
Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it--don't cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist. (Letters 408)
Though Hemingway implies, a paragraph later, that his friend is literally "bitched" in having married Zelda Sayre, "someone who was jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you," to be "bitched" here signifies more broadly that one is, in some cultural or existential way, dogged, wounded, even castrated "from the start." This could be a more general human problem, but the term bitched seems to narrow the field by half in implying that the condition it names is--that bad thing--to be feminized.
While feminization is not a word Hemingway himself uses, the metaphorical representation of men acting or being treated "like a woman"--that is, adopting or being forced into states of shameful passivity or disempowerment--is a central concern of many of his works. Consider the narrator's father in "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," impotently loading and unloading his shotgun after a humiliating encounter with a local Indian man, and then apologizing to his wife for slamming the door; or the shell-shocked protagonist of "Big Two-Hearted River," his "terrible panic," in Malcolm Cowley's words, "just barely under control" as he declines the "tragic adventure" of fishing in the swamp where the truly big trout are (qtd. in Kenner 150); or Frederic Henry of A Farewell to Arms, fleeing, not participating in the war on the Italian front, and powerless before the events that rob him of his wife and child; or To Have and Have Not's virile but doomed Henry Morgan, who, as his self-reliance fails him in Depression-ravaged Key West, laments "One man alone ... ain't got no bloody fucking chance" (225). Even if Hemingway, in his advice to Fitzgerald, meant only to name suffering and impotence as the human condition, the word bitched evokes modernist despair in just the gendered way that many male-produced modernisms do: as a loss of an ostensibly masculine autonomy and certainty to what is seen as a feminizing modernity. Far from denying this humiliating circumstance, however, Hemingway seems to embrace it as the very condition of "serious" literary artistry--a surprising move for an author who is still deemed the twentieth century's preeminent "man's man."
I will argue here for the centrality of the issue of feminization to understanding Hemingway's first novel The Sun Also Rises. With its seeming focus on "bulls, balls, and booze," that work might be said to have initiated the cult of cojones that is Hemingway's popular legacy (Crowley 43), but close inspection of this text reveals a proliferation of male humiliations and tender masculine intimacies, repeated transgressions of this cojonic image. Narrator Jake Barnes is impotent due to a war wound, and he faces intense humiliations at the hands of the sexually peripatetic "new woman," Lady Brett Ashley. He even takes a beating over her at the hands of the novel's much-deprecated Robert Cohn. At the same time, like Nick Adams, Frederic Henry, or Robert Jordan of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Jake--named Hem in drafts until the final stages of the novel's composition--is a patently Hemingwayesque figure: like his creator, he served in the war and is a journalist, outdoorsman, tennis amateur, and bullfighting aficionado. How do we square, then, this sensitive, socially passive observer, given to tears and quiet resignation, with the public and private legend of machismo that was already developing around Hemingway at this time? (1)
To understand these contradictions we should start with the notion of male authorship that Hemingway exhorts Fitzgerald to adopt, which demands a male subject who must first be wounded in order to "write seriously." Seriousness, indeed, was a matter of deep concern to male modernist authors for whom the "literary" evoked a cluster of stigmatizing associations with femininity, including the ostensibly female-penned popular novel and its largely female readership, the sexual "decadence" of Wildean aestheticism, and the perceived domestication and gentility of the literary establishment at the turn of the century. (2) Moreover, Hemingway and his generation grew up admiring the frontier ideals of "rough rider" and imperialist Theodore Roosevelt, who, in advocating a doctrine of "the strenuous life, the life of effort, of labor and strife" in a speech in 1899, promoted a widely influential template for proper American manhood. "We do not admire the man of timid peace," Roosevelt asserted. "We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life." Roosevelt's "victories," however, come at a steep price in labor and male suffering: the "strife" of "danger ... hardship [and] bitter toil." Thus a profession in which men do not toil and suffer is unmanly, and the man of letters might appear to live what Roosevelt would describe as "a life of slothful ease."
Two years before Roosevelt's speech, another Hemingway hero, Joseph Conrad, employed similar language of "labor and strife" in what Michael North calls "the preface to modernism" (37), the preface to Conrad's 1897 novel The Nigger of the Narcissus. But here the work is artistic and the struggle internal. Conrad's preface can be read as a call for literary professionalization, a "bringing to light the truth," but truth of a different and perhaps more fundamental kind than that of "the thinker or the scientist," those esteemed seekers "whose words are heard with reverence" (Conrad 11). Seeking to demarcate a domain of expertise unique to the artist, Conrad would have art plumb the suffering self, "that lonely region of stress and strife," to find the hard, empirical truths with which the artist might vie with the thinker or scientist for masculine social authority and professional prestige. (3) As it is for the Rooseveltian laborer, this work is consummately difficult and painful: "The sincere endeavor to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only justification for the worker in prose" (Conrad 12). The sufferings that an artist might endure are part of this justification that modernists amplified in their quest for legitimation, for a cultural affirmation simultaneously professional and masculine.
Professionalization and gender were also at issue in the high modernist concept of impersonality advocated by Eliot, Pound, and Stein. These thinkers made a virtue of the separation, in Eliot's words in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," between "the man who suffers and the mind which creates" (Sacred Wood 54), a separation that adherents to this doctrine would use to differentiate between the real and the inauthentic artist and thus between the intellectually successful artist and the failure. Stein's definition of the masterpiece, deployed in a lecture devoted to distinguishing the authentic masterpiece from the inauthentic, also illustrates this mode of thought. For her, an authentic masterpiece is predicated on the artist's ability to perform a kind of mental dissociation from the experiencing self:
And so always it is true that the master-piece has nothing to do with human nature or with identity, it has to do with the human mind and the entity that is with a thing in itself and not in relation. The moment it is in relation it is common knowledge and anybody can feel and know it and it is not a masterpiece. (498)
This passage suggests that for Stein, true art has less to do with self-expression than a kind of objective reportage achieved by mentally transcending the self. This achievement, moreover, separates the authentic, professional artist from the idler or dilettante, who lacks the discipline to escape the pitfalls of "relation," of the merely personal. This separation was all the more important for men to the degree that the divide between highbrow and mass cultural representations was colored by evaluative judgments about gender, as Andreas Huyssen has famously argued in linking mass culture to woman as "modernism's Other" (44). This is not to claim that men were victims of these forces, or that they suffered more than women from authorial anxieties or gender-based cultural pressures, but simply to observe differences in the ways normative notions of gender affected male and female authors of the period. Such historical specificities are crucial when we try to reckon the force of anxieties about masculinity as a shaping force of male modernist works.
Of course, male authorship was a vexed, crisis-ridden affair for decades before Hemingway's time, and as critics like David Leverenz, Scott Derrick, and Michael Davitt Bell have argued, authors' anxieties about masculinity were crucial to the aesthetic goals of literary romancers, realists, and naturalists. (4) But the specter of male disempowerment that is quenched with the censure of Hester at the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, for example, or with the suicide of Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance, or with the marriage of suffragette Verena Tarrant to the patriarchal Basil Ransom in Henry James's The Bostonians--that specter, I would argue, emerges in some modernist representations as a virtual fait accompli, a new condition of modern life. As Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar describe it, the American "battle of the sexes" was a conflict that by "the height of the modernist era ... both sexes by and large agreed that women were winning" (4). Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, for example, is the story of one man's long decline into feminization and social impotence. In marrying his rich patient, Nicole Warren, the psychiatrist Dick Diver trades intellectual mastery and manly autonomy for a role of inglorious service to powerful heiresses; and when his usefulness wanes, he is discarded by his female masters. Nathanael West provides a particularly hopeless example of modern male feminization in his powerless male protagonist Miss Lonelyhearts. While his drunken literary friends impotently fantasize about the rape of women authors, Miss Lonelyhearts works as a newspaper advice columnist, a job that exposes him to the tormented lives of real people for whom he can do nothing.
But T.S. Eliot's "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock," questioning the possibility of male authorship itself in such a female-dominated world, might stand as the archetypal literary portrayal of modern male feminization, taking the author's own woundedness, including his humiliations, as the proper subject matter of the modern author. The narrator lives in a world of idleness and feminine domesticity, of "braceleted white arms," "teacups," and (presumably genteel) "novels" (5, 6); he imagines himself more Polonius than Hamlet in this womanly realm, an "easy tool" impaled by casual "eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase" (4). In this penetrated, feminized position, he asks: "And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, / When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall / Then how should I begin / To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?" Yet Prufrock's bewitchment is the occasion for the poem itself, a poem in which he unsparingly, impersonally depicts his own woundedness and loss of agency. His loss of agency becomes, that is, the occasion for him to regain agency, a literary agency he achieves as the ostensible author of his love song.
In light of this paradigmatic modernist emphasis on a (redemptive) discipline of "scientific" impersonality in the face of male defeats and humiliations, it is perhaps less shocking to find Hemingway--who was, after all, aesthetic acolyte to both Stein and Pound in Paris before writing The Sun Also Rises, and who wrote reverentially of spotting "Mr. Joyce" in cafes there--depicting the enabling and ennobling possibilities of male feminization, at least for himself. That is, though Hemingway embraced many aspects of high modernist aesthetics, his biographies document a man who had little interest in being one of many. In the boxing metaphors he often used to discuss writing, Hemingway imagined fighting authors like James, Turgenev, Maupassant, Stendhal, and Tolstoy for a kind of literary championship of the world; he thus needed to separate his own form of authorial vision from that of other artists and writers (though he freely admitted that, of dead writers, "Mr. Shakespeare" was "The Champion" [Letters 673]). (5) Thus for Hemingway, feminization can enable only the special artist, the Hemingwayesque artist, who alone is able to wrest truth and literary meaning from his humiliation. To this end, Hemingway employs in his first novel a technique of authorial self-construction to imply his own exclusive possession of just this faculty.
We can read Jake as what Sally Robinson in Marked Men terms an "author surrogate," a character "who play[s] out, with varying degrees of literalness, the wounding of white male authority" (88). The author surrogate, that is, metonymically evokes the material author as victim of wrongs done to masculine superiority--as part of a bid rhetorically to restore it. In this way, Jake evokes his creator in the paradoxical posture of victimhood and superiority. Thus, though Jake lingers long in the discursive position of hapless victim, his feminization ultimately elevates him as one of the novel's only true men. This is possible in the sense that, both epistemologically and morally, Jake masters his own feminization, not only in the forthright report he provides of its devastations, but as we will see, in the resigned dignity with which--despite exquisite vulnerabilities--he endures it. If, as I will argue, the novel frames feminization as a universal condition for men, it also suggests that the shame of that condition is not to know it, shifting the basis for evaluating manhood and authorship to matters of epistemology and comportment--making how one reacts to feminization the central issue. For example, when Brett sexually rejects Robert Cohn after a brief tryst in San Sebastian, for weeks afterward Cohn is in denial about his loss of agency in the relationship; Jake, in contrast, remains accutely aware of the historical reversal represented by Brett's sexual agency, though it pains him terribly; and for the most part he displays a fatalistic dignity toward it as opposed to Cohn's romantic delusions and ignoble violence.
If we take such operations of Hemingwayesque self-construction seriously, they serve as normative constructs, operations that instruct men to be more like Jake than Cohn. They are thus vehicles by which Hemingway asseverates his own identity as the very template for masculine identity itself--a self-constructive practice, I would add, that shapes all his subsequent novels. In transforming a vanquished masculine identity into authorial mastery, Hemingway performs through the feminized Jake a novel-length recuperation of masculine authority exclusive to himself, even as he depicts the shattering of that authority for men in general. It is in this sense of performance that Jake accomplishes, by the end of the novel, what I would call the central aim of The Sun Also Rises: to set Hemingway symbolically above his literary competitors, to dramatize his exclusive apprehension of difficult truths, and to suggest a form of professional identity in which authorship and manliness are not mutually exclusive. The novel's formal structure, which depicts Jake's relationship with Brett as a kind of engine of modern knowledge, is central to this aim. By the end, we have witnessed, in Jake's developing understanding of his sufferings, the formation of a masculine authorial consciousness sophisticated enough to conceive the novel we have just read, a novel articulating male humiliation and disempowerment as the condition of authorship in the modern world.
But the very self-referentiality of what I am here calling the Hemingwayesque, a set of traits subtly exalted in the novel, raises a difficult question. For if what or who Hemingway advocates for in his novels is not some group to which he belongs--men, say, or white men, or even white male authors--but his own anxious, aspiring, biographical self, how do we reconcile this author's manifest anxieties about gender with the many other normative emphases signified by the Hemingwayesque, whether we read for race or class, or even for the subtly prescriptive stands his work takes on ethics, politics, aesthetics, or morality? A Hemingwayesque protagonist necessarily comprehends many forms of identity besides his biological maleness and attendant social masculinity: he is also typically white, American, and of the better-off, better-educated class; he desires certain objects and follows demanding codes of behavior; he respects certain books and scorns others; he has distinct sensitivities and affective capacities; and he has certain (if sometimes shifting) political and philosophical affinities. Isolating any one of these traits, it is not difficult to find, for example, a casually virulent white supremacism in Hemingway's work, as Toni Morrison finds in To Have and Have Not; or a nativist impulse, as Walter Benn Michaels finds in The Sun Also Rises; or any number of other agendas--of class, ethnicity, sexuality, religion--for which Hemingway's works might provide strong textual support. Yet as some critics have begun to point out, it may be insufficient to analyze such agendas independently from the whole complex of social, professional, civic, and familial identities that we all so transiently inhabit, even in the course of a single hour or day.
The observation that gendered difference has been overvalued in relation to other, interrelated forms of identity is a foundational tenet of the burgeoning field of whiteness studies. For whiteness scholars, to blandly discuss what men do, or what defines masculinity, as if it were a singular, monolithic category, is not only to ignore such specificities as race, class, and ethnicity, which differently inflect how masculinity is lived by real, embodied men, but it also ignores the specificity of the category of white masculinity itself. Left unspecified, white masculinity has tended to function as a sort of normative, originary master brand against which all other differences are measured. To mark white masculinity is to acknowledge it as one condition among many, and not the preferred or original category from which all other forms of identity differ. Taking this argument one step further, Thomas DiPiero's recent White Men Aren't questions whether gender is necessarily important as an analytical category at all:
It certainly seems true, as Freud claimed, that fundamental antagonisms pertaining to the way we live our bodies inform the organization of our psyches at the most basic level. But what I am contesting is the contention that such a psychic organization needs to take place strictly or even largely along gender lines. (46)
DiPiero's exemplar of this overvaluation is, naturally enough, Freud himself, whose selection of the difference between males and females as the primary "antagonism" of psychological development functioned to repress, even in Freud's own case studies, the influence of other social registers of difference. The result is to read gender improperly into--and over--those other differences.
DiPiero's notion of identity as multiple, contingent, and even situational may suggest that the heavy emphasis feminist critics place on the binary of sexual difference is merely arbitrary, a repetition of Freud's--and culture's--mistake. Yet gender may not be so easily "disarticulated" from other determinants of identity, especially in the case of masculinity. Indeed, it might be more productive to consider this less as a mistake than as a clue, a way to observe how sexual difference works with other forms of difference in the establishment and maintenance of social identities. It may be that the heavy critical emphasis on this point reflects how gender sometimes functions, by itself subsuming and appropriating other forms of identity to its own imperatives. This is not to make out of gender what Frederic Jameson calls an "untranscendable horizon" (10), recentering it as the only framework that matters, but rather to inquire into the complex ways gendered difference interacts--often forcefully--with other forms of difference. DiPiero's gender seems at times almost a secondary effect, not only "inflected by" other forms of identity but "largely comprised of these things" (50; DiPiero's italics).
This last formulation is telling. If what we understand as gender is an accumulation of effects in other registers of difference, then it might be that we are not overvaluing gender's influence but undervaluing it. In theorizing sexual difference as subject to "inflection," DiPiero overlooks the perhaps more primary ways that gender, and masculinity in particular, inflects and may even drive other articulations of difference, especially in periods of historical stress and change. If modes of identity, of difference, are inseparable from each other, in particular historical and biographical contexts some forms of identity can take precedence over others and may even drive or coopt them. We might describe this process as a disciplining or channeling of identity. It is not difficult to imagine, however, many social contexts in which race, class, or sexuality would eclipse or outweigh concerns about gender. And it would be foolhardy to claim, without social and historical context, that we can know how any of these factors always or perhaps even generally works. But in The Sun Also Rises, it is gendered difference that Hemingway constructs as the encompassing factor. The novel offers a veritable
buffet of hierarchized identities--not only the novel's harshly devalued women, "niggers," "faggots," and Jews, but also aristocrats, romantics, alcoholics--and crucially, a few aspirants to literary fame, notably Robert Cohn and his fiancee Frances. Yet as I will show, Hemingway's handling and ranking of these differences does more than attest to one man's or even one group's misogyny, anti-Semitism, or homophobia; rather, these attitudes are focused and articulated through an overriding concern with one particular form of manhood.
At the heart of my argument is the observation that in The Sun Also Rises sexual difference is the driving force behind the novel's other iterations of difference. Class, religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, aesthetics, epistemology--these differences are used instrumentally to establish the superiority of one version of gender, modern authorial masculinity, which Hemingway performs through Jake Barnes. Moreover, the difference between men and women is also invoked, improbably as it might seem, to differentiate between males. This may seem strange because, at least biologically, sexual difference would seem to be eliminated when all concerned parties are, normatively speaking, "properly" equipped with penises. Yet in Hemingway's depiction of male homosocial relations, hierarchical differences between men are gendered to accord with a division between males and inauthentic males, where to be "less male" in any sense is to be "like a woman." This "to have and have not" standard of masculinity requires Hemingway to redefine manhood in some startling ways, especially in light of his public image of cultivated machismo. This essay will thus examine Hemingway's deployment of the trope of male feminization and his performance (through Jake) of exemplary mental and moral masculinities as part of his influential construction of culturally authoritative modern authorship. But because of the very multiplicity and interdependence of different elements in identity itself, I begin by interrogating how one form of identity--in Hemingway's case, gender--can become a sort of master difference, one that uses other forms of identity as criteria for authentic manhood.
If there is widespread agreement that masculine identity is a central concern in Hemingway's work, there is anything but consensus about how it functions there. For many reasons, not least his aggressively manly public posture, Hemingway's representations of masculinity have divided scholars interested in how gender and sexuality figure in his work. For some, like Frederick Crews and Kenneth Lynn, Hemingway is the anxious patriarch, paragon of a kind of masculinity so unstable as to require constant, painful proofs; for others, like Nancy Comley and Robert Scholes, or more recently, Thomas Strychacz, he is the modernist hero reclaimed, a tough-minded explorer even of the ambiguities of gender and sexuality seemingly foreclosed by his famous obsession with manhood. (6) Taken together, however, these approaches suggest a kind of stalemate that has not advanced our understanding of this surprisingly complex figure.
An explanatory framework that would account for both the demystified and the heroized Hemingway would require acknowledging his fundamental strangeness. Indeed, perhaps no major American writer has exhibited a more contradictory combination of machismo and hypersensitivity, of heteronormative and homoerotic impulses, of laconicism and expressiveness. Recent scholarship has given us an admittedly more complex Hemingway, "interested" in homoeroticism and sexual role exchange, and even gender performativity. But this figure has tended to be advanced as a sexual progressive, his "androgyny" suggesting, as Crews puts it, "that Hemingway entertained broader sympathies than his manly code implied" (91). But must our Hemingway be filleted into such a divided figure? Might not both impulses, that of Hemingway's "manly code" and of his transgressive "sympathies," spring from the same root?
I argue that a complex attitude toward male feminization is at the heart of both Hemingway's sexual orthodoxy and his transgressions, since in his view the proper modern author, culturally and professionally pressured to demonstrate manly authority, must yet abandon many traditional markers of that authority precisely due to perceived changes in the conditions of modernity. Hemingwayesque identity is key to this paradox in the way it articulates not, as we would expect, traditionally physical or socially dominant forms of masculinity--forms of masculinity that Hemingway represents as no longer adequate to a feminizing modernity--but moral and intellectual faculties that allow the author, as opposed to the common man, subtly to overcome his disempowerment by acknowledging it in his art, "scientifically" turning "damned hurts" into new forms of modern knowledge. For Hemingway to assert masculine authority, that is, he must disavow dominance--especially physical and sexual dominance--in favor of traits he suggests are more epistemologically adequate to modern conditions. He does this by relentlessly, prejudicially contrasting Jake with the novel's racial, sexual, and literary others in a kind of foil system that works to establish the superior epistemological profile of the Hemingwayesque author. (7)
To see this system in action we begin with the novel's preeminent foil, Robert Cohn, whose main function arguably is to embody or enact difference itself. I have proposed that Hemingway makes sexual difference into a kind of master difference in the novel, one that uses other forms of difference as criteria for manhood. Robert Cohn illustrates this phenomenon in the way that each of his distinguishing characteristics--his literary aspirations, his Jewishness, even his niceness--are framed as sexual differences, differences from the normative Jake. A novelist who despite his mediocrities enacts a sort of dominance over Jake by beating him up and sleeping with Brett, Cohn nonetheless functions to establish the feminized Jake's claim to authorial masculinity. If the baseline of modern masculinity is, as I will show Hemingway suggesting, a state of feminization, then other differences must be mobilized to distinguish between men. Eschewing weaker arguments that could be made about degrees of feminization, Hemingway chooses the route of difference--or, as with Cohn, multiple differences--to define his category of authentic authorial manhood. Thus Cohn's Jewishness, niceness, and impercipience are all gendered traits in Hemingway's representation, traits that suggest Cohn's lack of the very epistemological masculinity that distinguishes Jake among the characters in the novel. Cohn belongs, in other words, to another sexual category entirely, despite his physical advantages over Jake as a real (not would-be) lover to Brett and a trained boxer--traits we might expect to find celebrated by Hemingway based on his own later womanizing and his amateur passion for boxing. If, in his letters and public life, Hemingway emphasized these traits as markers of manhood, in his art, manhood is signified primarily as epistemological superiority.
While Jake's feminization emerges in the revelation of Cohn's tryst with Brett, Jake preempts this humiliation in the novel's opening by implying his own artistic and epistemological advantages over Cohn. He demonstrates the same literary faculties of objective observation, analysis, and transcription that Hemingway will later advocate to Fitzgerald. This appeal to authorial objectivity, even toward one's own suffering, finds its fulfillment in Jake's empiricism and literary antiromanticism, rigorous "mental masculinities" that are contrasted with Cohn's softheaded literary approach. Thus, though Jake works in Paris as a reporter, he is also a literary man, allowing Hemingway to perform his own literary-critical bona fides through his Hemingwayesque surrogate.
For example, Jake exhibits a tough-minded literary sophistication in mocking a book that Cohn admires. He sees W. H. Hudson's The Purple Land as a "very sinister book if encountered late in life. It recounts splendid imaginary amorous adventures of a perfect English gentleman in an intensely romantic land, the scenery of which is very well described" (9). This critique punctures Cohn's genteel anglophilia and moony romanticism, forms of epistemological distortion characterizing the dilettante and the aesthete, those effeminate bogies of high modernism. Jake allows that Cohn's own book had been "not really such a bad novel as the critics later called it," but adds "although it was a very poor novel" (5-6). In passing such judgments, Jake demonstrates his freedom from the kind of gendered weakness that Cohn's sentimentality and lack of critical rigor signify. Enamored with a middlebrow novel that Jake views as if from above, Cohn cannot see the modern world without delusion--precisely what his critique of Cohn indicates Jake can do.
To borrow some terms of rhetoric, Hemingway is not interested in making an evaluative claim about Cohn, an intracategory distinction, but wants instead to make a definitional claim, one that makes distinctions between categories. He evokes the terms of sexual difference to distinguish between persons of the same sex, and thus his identity category of the inauthentic (that is, the non-Hemingwayesque) man approximates the category of woman. Indeed, as we will see, the romaticism that excludes Cohn from the category of epistemological manhood returns at the end of the novel to discredit Brett Ashley. What seems to drive Hemingway in creating this category of male inauthenticity is a fear of taxonomical confusion: how does one tell the real man from the counterfeit? Indeed, so concerned is Hemingway with the taxonomic instability between man and not-man that almost every difference is retooled and mobilized as an adjunct of sexual difference--that is, a difference that mimes or replicates between men the hierarchical division between men and women. Thus do we find Hemingway making much of differences both large and small, manipulating them to support that one crucial, engrossing difference--between the real man and the imitation.
Consider, for example, Cohn's accentuated Jewishness, which I would argue functions here less as a denigrated racial category than as evidence of gender inauthenticity--and thus as a counter of Jake's authenticity. To suggest that Cohn does not belong in the category of proper manhood, Jake narrates his friend's life as a series of lame approximations; Cohn the Jew, the alien, can only imitate the behavior of a "real" American man. He learns boxing only "painfully," suggesting that he does not acquire this skill with the ease of a "natural" or authentic man (4). In the world of literature Cohn is equally "unnatural." His money buys him influence with a literary review, but his engagement is not with the aesthetic or intellectual questions of belles lettres but with the crude "authority of editing" (5). Indeed, Cohn is almost comical as an aspirant to Hemingway's new norms of masculinity, falling ridiculously, romantically in love with the sexually itinerant Brett and missing every cue of proper male behavior as a member of the "herd" of men surrounding her. But these cues, as well as these judgments, are given us by Jake, so that what we might otherwise be tempted to interpret as signs of Cohn's civility and humanity--his distaste for boxing, his disgust for the barbarity of the bullfight--become instead signs of his categorical exclusion.
If Hemingway's mobilization of racial and other differences in constructing a newer, truer masculine identity suggests a kind of authorial desperation, Jake himself practices only a quiet, ironic dignity. Indeed, dignity in the face of feminization is crucial to the novel's ideological project. Though Hemingway's representation of the "lost generation" suggests a modern world in which everyone is dominated by something, this universal or existential "castration" has poignancy for only a few men. Such men--Pedro Romero and the arrow-scarred Count Mippipopolous, for instance--display a "right" notion of male social comportment, a kind of resigned "moral masculinity" that takes feminization as a strangely enabling condition. Though these men too fall short of Hemingwayesque authorship, Romero lacking the modern sophistication of that status, the Count its vocational dedication to seriousness, they are nevertheless portrayed with a level of pathos that is denied to other characters. They thus reinforce Jake's norm-setting function, which is predicated not only on epistemological mastery but on his fine sense of emotional restraint.
Not coincidentally, Hemingway's prose style is famous for this very quality, but with the result that his prose has been tautologically gendered masculine by many critics. Even if crafting a distinctively "male" prose style was Hemingway's intent, his construction need not be ours. When Hemingway's prose is admiringly described as terse, tough, hard, hard-boiled, muscular, or lean, deriving its power from short declarative sentences, we accept too readily the premise that expressiveness is a womanish thing, and the best a male writer can do--short of bemused silence--is to whittle back his words to avoid crossing into some prolix feminine. But I would even contest the descriptive accuracy of such adjectives in reference to Hemingway's work. Though his style does achieve an effect of simplicity, many of his sentences are ambitiously, artily long and complex, even sprawling. Moreover, while he does treat some matters in an ostentatiously hard-boiled way, the scope of Hemingway's subjects include psychological, sexual, and emotional revelations--the topics of fear and sexual role exchange, for example, appear in almost all of his novels--that might seem better avoided by aspirants to masculine iconicity. What has been whittled back in Hemingway's style is a certain order of psychological explanation, and this is what his famous iceberg analogy describes, although it evokes both a conventionally gendered and a gender-transgressive modernist literary practice.
Hemingway describes his art of omission in Death in the Afternoon: "The dignity of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water" (192). "Dignity" seems strange as an attribute of an iceberg, suggesting that Hemingway is less concerned with writing about external realities than inner ones--especially those unruly things, emotions. His reserve in psychological description would thus seem to be attuned with such masculinizing modernist prescriptions as imagist Richard Aldington's "No slop, no sentimentality" (qtd. in Kaufman 60) or Pound's antiromantic proscription of ornamentation and excess adjectives. This ethic of restraint is given voice (if not clearly endorsed) in various places in Hemingway's work, as in "The Short Happy Life of Frances Macomber," where Robert Wilson counsels: "Doesn't do to talk too much about all this. Talk the whole thing away. No pleasure in anything if you mouth it up too much" (Stories 33). Yet by writing "Macomber," a "mouthing up" of fears about male feminization, Hemingway himself violates Wilson's advice. If, strictly speaking, Wilson's attitude would proscribe male authorship, Hemingway finds room for it by underlining male stoicism and expressive restraint while simultaneously indexing a melodramatically suffering male subject that pleads--always implicitly--for sympathy and respect. (8)
Iceberg theory is crucial to this narrative feat in that the burden of discovering and analyzing male emotion is shifted to the reader, sparing the Hemingwayesque narrator the indignity of having to discourse too directly on his own suffering. Thus the technique does not seek to banish male emotion but only to stylize its expression. Indeed, this suppression has the rhetorical effect of intensification. If Hemingway's proper man is like his iceberg, then the metaphor suggests both repression and a kind of portentous, veiled expression: though seven-eighths of his emotional being may be moving in tearful riot below the surface, the iceberg man presents to observers a "dignified," dry-eyed mien--all the while encouraging sympathetic speculation about what is happening in those depths. The technique is thus a form of male masochism, as male suffering is pleasurably indulged and exhibited by the very restraint that ostensibly hides it.
If Jake is an embodiment of iceberg masculinity, what operates below the surface centers on his response to Brett. Though his genital wound predates his romantic involvement with her, she makes it consequential and humiliating, and she inflicts similar pain on Robert Cohn, Pedro Romero, and Mike Campbell. Indeed, The Sun Also Rises accords to women a frighteningly personal power to wound, despite their lack of real social power. Hemingway directs attention away from women's social powerlessness (Brett is broke and relies on men to support her hedonistic lifestyle) to the capacity of individual women to rend individual men. This is a strategic substitution. As Sally Robinson argues, "Representations of wounded white men most often work to personalize the crisis of white masculinity and, thus, to erase its social and political causes and effects" (8; Robinson's italics). Though Jake was wounded in the war, the trauma of that wound is also potently linked to the "battle of the sexes" identified by Gilbert and Gubar. In Hemingway's version of this representational war, women have the power to feminize men even when they are themselves disempowered, a construction that shifts the focus from women's collective grievances to individual male ones. (9)
To adopt woman as a signifier of male suffering is to erase the structural causes of female suffering almost completely. Brett's castrating sexuality--the keynote of her characterization--is central to this erasure. Brett "turn[s] all to jelly" when Jake touches her, goes off with Cohn for a tryst in San Sebastian, and finally lays libidinous eyes on the young bullfighter Pedro Romero (26). She herself worries that her actions are those of a "bitch," and she ultimately reins in her desires to spare Romero from destruction: "I'm thirty-four, you know. I'm not going to be one of these bitches that ruins children" (242). Though her change of heart, if credible, does seem to illustrate one conventional interpretation of the novel--Hemingway's desire to offer an ethical response to the lostness of the lost generation, we are given little reason to believe that Brett will be able to control herself in the future. Jake suggests as much at the end, when, to her comment, "We could have had such a good time together," he responds, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" (247). Though Brett regrets her role in this particular iteration of sexual agency, Jake's gendered "pretty" suggests that it would be feminine naivete to expect, in the future, anything less than more of the same.
Grace under feminization
Despite the novel's suggestion that female sexuality afflicts all men and male relations, Jake's own wound--the wound, that is, of a Hemingwayesque author--ultimately differentiates him from the novel's other characters in a way calculated to suggest Hemingway's artistic mastery. To trace the path from feminization to triumphant artistry we must further examine Jake's behavior under the blows of some intolerable humiliations.
Jake and Brett have an oblique conversation about proper masculine comportment in the early days of the fiesta. Jake notes that Cohn, who has refused to relinquish his romantic aspirations toward Brett despite her clear lack of interest, has "behaved very badly" (181). Brett agrees, "Damned badly. He had a chance to behave so well." The exchange restates the now-familiar paradox: male feminization can be a sort of opportunity for men, a chance to prove themselves by "behaving well"--that is, by resigning themselves to the inevitability of female sexual agency and thus to their own modern powerlessness. Brett compliments Jake: "You wouldn't behave badly" (181). And Jake behaves very properly indeed, maintaining his public passivity and iceberg emotionality (albeit with several private lapses) in the face of an astonishing series of mortifications.
Notably, Jake gets an opportunity to behave well as soon as Brett makes her first appearance. Brett is castrating to men if only in her all-desirableness, which necessarily pits men competitively against other men--yet she also feminizes the victors, the men she sleeps with. The boon of being chosen is short-lived, as men quickly discover the capricious and temporary nature of their selection--which only intensifies their competitiveness. Jake's Hemingwayesque qualities seem to win her love, but no man can possess her body with any permanence.
Jake feels the mockery of this situation at the bal musette when Brett drunkenly enters the club with a group of effeminate, apparently gay men. Jake is intensely angry to see Brett in the company of such men, whose mere presence associates her with a sort of sexual anarchy, a refusal to respect the bounds of sexual propriety and proper object choice: "With them was Brett. She looked very lovely and she was very much with them" (20). A moment later, he repeats it--a sticking point: "And with them was Brett." Brett is not just with the men but with them, allied with them in transgressing traditional sexual boundaries. Though Hemingway often represents sexual role exchange in intimate and heterosexual contexts, in this public context, Brett's embrace of male homosexuality suggests a sort of pathology by association. But Jake's anger with these men, in contrast with his muted reaction to more intense humiliations ahead, is significant for a more crucial reason: they challenge Jake's face-saving performance ethic. To borrow David Savran's phrase, Jake can "take it like a man" when some other feminized man sleeps with his beloved, but that suffering, and the high dignity with which it is invested, is mocked when Brett is "with" these particular men.
Play and parody are key, since Brett's gay friends take gender roles as opportunities for jest and impersonation, as when one affects the idiom of a Southern belle: "I do declare. There is an actual harlot" (20). With their campy refusal to take seriously the gendered dicta through which Jake negotiates his powerlessness, they make a mockery of his predicament, revealing him, indeed, as something of a drama queen. If Jake's manhood is defined as a certain order and manner of suffering at the hands of woman, this masochistic tableau is dangerously queered by any suggestion of the artificiality of gender categories. The men playfully inhabit a social space that is to Jake a hell--to be a man in a supplementary position to a woman. Laughing and "simpering," they offer a view of that unhegemonic position deprived of its (iceberglike) submerged majesty, deprived especially of its "dignifying" trauma, as if to be unmanned were simply a lark. Thus, rather than parodying masculinity, the men parody male feminization, depriving it of its ennobling potential--ennobling, that is, when properly indexed under the tenets of iceberg aesthetics.
Later in the evening, however, we see this aesthetic properly, seriously performed, as if to recuperate it from the contamination of the bal musette scene. When Brett takes up with another suitor, Jake excuses himself with a "rotten headache" and returns without evident emotion to his apartment, where he methodically reads his mail and newspapers. Even in alluding to his wounding--"The old grievance. Well, it was a rotten way to be wounded and flying on a joke front like the Italian"--his affect is grimly humorous. Yet Jake is distraught, has been, it seems, distraught all along, as we find out in the following (flatly delivered) reportage:
I lay awake thinking and my mind jumping around. Then I couldn't keep away from it, and I started to think about Brett and all the rest of it went away. I was thinking about Brett and my mind stopped jumpingaround and started to go in sort of smooth waves. Then all of a sudden I started to cry. Then after a while it was better and I lay in bed and listened to the heavy trams go by and way down the street, and then I went to sleep. (31)
Revealing his trauma, Jake keeps a tight grip on "it." Repeated three times, this "it" each time indexes--without articulating--a different stage of his suffering. The first "it," keeping Jake's mind jumping, would seem to be the existential kernel of feminization itself--the humiliation of Jake's "bitched" modern existence, including his thwarted love for Brett. The second "it" abstracts the existential pain from Jake's suffering: thinking of Brett, all the rest of "it"--his generalized angst--goes away. After he cries, shocking in the context of his dispassionate narration, "it" gets better. Jake backs away from his encounter with these unnamed reals, which tells us not only of his lonely condition of disempowerment but also of his seemly comportment under that curse, his adherence--notwithstanding these austerely described tears--to proper iceberg masculinity. Yet he has given us few specifics about his suffering; "it" has guaranteed Jake's dignity by remaining submerged, however much we as readers are enjoined to theorize about the invisible depths of his crisis.
At Brett's side in Paris and Pamplona, Jake is pathetically unprotected from his feminization at Brett's hands. It is thus neither minimized nor ironicized--though at one point it is strangely eroticized. When Brett stops in with Count Mippipopolous, Jake lies face down on his bed in the other room listening to their voices and feeling "rotten"--an iceberg adjective that, like sore, names a feeling without indulging in untoward analysis. When Brett comes in to comfort him, he gushes, "Oh, Brett, I love you so much" (54). She comforts him richly, maternally: "Poor old darling," stroking his head as he lies facing away from her--a classically melodramatic pose suggesting a crying child or a woman spurned. Yet in this almost pleasurable lapse from stoicism, Jake has not lost control so much as ceded it-to Brett. He thus behaves well by surrendering to Brett's will, reminding us not only of his hurt but also of his resignation, a vital preliminary to facing (or facing down) the hard fact of modern male feminization.
Later at Zelli's, Brett's promiscuity seems to have extended to miscegenation, and here again we encounter racial difference converted into a kind of gender inauthenticity. Hemingway disposes of this racial threat just as he did with Cohn, by using racial difference to assert the superiority not of whiteness as such but of Jake's Hemingwayesque masculinity, an ideal for which whiteness is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Jake is dancing with Brett near the stage when she greets the "nigger drummer," explaining, "he's a great friend of mine.... Damn good drummer too" (62). Conscious only of his new rival's bodily difference ("He was all lips and teeth") Jake cannot escape the man's invasive shouts, chants, and smiles, an intimation of black male sexuality that may-by the delicate mode of implication required of the period's fiction-have worked the same sweaty magic on Brett that now moves the dancers ecstatically about the floor.
Physicalized too is the novel's other black man, a boxer whom Bill Gorton has rescued from an angry crowd in Vienna. Bill drunkenly narrates:
Wonderful nigger. Looked like Tiger Flores, only four times as big. All of a sudden everybody started to throw things. Not me. Nigger'd just knocked local boy down. Nigger put up his glove. Wanted to make a speech.... Then local white boy hit him. Then he knocked white boy cold. Then everybody commenced to throw chairs. (71)
Bill's "local boy" interestingly becomes a "white boy" when he is overmatched by his black opponent. And indeed, the point of Bill's story turns out to be the vast physical superiority of the black boxer: "'My God, Mr. Gorton,' said the nigger, 'I didn't do nothing in there for forty minutes but try and let him stay. That white boy musta ruptured himself swinging at me. I never did hit him'" (71). Though Bill's anecdote may seem a mere flourish, Jake himself is a "white boy" who, in a sense, "ruptured himself swinging" at an enemy. And Hemingway's association of blackness with physical and sexual mastery reminds us of Jake's pointed dissociation with such measures of manhood. A black man may demonstrate superiority in the ring or in bed, but Hemingway evokes such traditional proofs of masculinity in order to devalue them in favor of Jake's moral and intellectual exclusivity. Indeed, both of the novel's incidental black men display a childish simplicity that contrasts sharply with Jake's highly sentient, world-weary suffering.
The novel's heavy reliance on such contrasts suggests the importance of exclusivity to Hemingway's self-constructions in and beyond his fiction. In jibes at writers like Poe ("skillful ... dead" [Green Hills 20]), Hawthorne, Emerson, and Whittier ("very good men with the small, dried, and excellent wisdom of Unitarians" ), Henry James (his fictional men "all talked like fairies" [qtd. in Baker 189]),T. S. Eliot ("you cannot couple T. S. Eliot and Joseph Conrad in a sentence seriously and not laugh" [qtd. in Reynolds 226]), Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and others, Hemingway suggested the exclusivity of his own modernist aesthetic, despite its orthodoxy in the context of the doctrine of impersonality examined above. Presented in The Sun Also Rises less as a series of artistic choices than as criteria for manhood, that aesthetic seems to have exclusion as its primary function. Perhaps jealousy and anxiety motivated these literary criticisms, but that is just the point: Hemingway used The Sun Also Rises to define masculinity in a way that would exalt himself and exclude most of those peers who were, in 1925, regarded as his professional betters.
If Hemingway's representation of feminization frames a kind of miserable domitability as the human condition, it also casts his apprehension of that fact as evidence of his own epistemological supremacy, saying, in effect, that in the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king. The novel's roster of the disempowered also includes Brett, who, though she has power over men, is less than free in many other ways--in her alcoholism and libido, in her economic thralldom to men, and in the romantic delusions that cause her to seek out, as she does with Romero, "true love." This fact, that the novel's most powerful character is herself dominated, suggests that Hemingway wants to call into question almost all claims of cultural authority besides his own. The fatuity of such claims is contrasted with the dignified suffering and enlightened epistemological stance of the Hemingwayesque modernist author, a man who is willing--and intellectually and emotionally able--to confront the basic facts of modern existence. In effect, acknowledging feminization and rightly behaving in response to it creates a kind of exemption from some its most damning ramifications. Thus does Hemingway wrest cultural authority from his very sense (or fear) of disempowerment.
"All shot to hell"
Jake arrives at this mastery late in the novel, only after sounding the depths of the feminization that is its precondition. That feminization reaches its nadir when Brett finally goes off with Romero. Their affair has led to a climactic bullfight in which the matador, beaten up badly by Cohn the night before, triumphs over a series of bulls the next day despite his hurts. As Romero is carried off on the shoulders of the crowd, Jake aches with the young bullfighter:
They were all around him trying to lift him and put him on their shoulders. He fought and twisted away, and started running ... toward the exit. He did not want to be carried on people's shoulders. But they held him and lifted him. It was uncomfortable and his legs were spraddled and his body was very sore. (221)
Imaginatively entering into Romero's pain, Jake reminds us of its cause--the beating by Cohn. Thus even in the midst of his triumph, we are reminded of the matador's feminization. Though this defeat ironically allows Romero to behave well--he rises again and again to fight Cohn despite clearly being overmatched, and admirably fulfils his professional responsibilities the next day despite his condition--his heroism, if made more poignant by his being dominated by Cohn, is also circumscribed by it.
Hemingway, however, can achieve what Romero cannot: an artistic heroism that allows him rhetorically to transcend feminization. Though Romero's bullfighting metaphorically evokes the art of a Hemingwayesque writer--in action he is "straight and pure and natural in line" (167) and a producer of "real emotion" as opposed to the "fake emotional feeling" (168) produced by most bullfighters--this implicit metaphor cuts only one way. A writer, that is, may do as a bullfighter does, achieving purity of line and "real emotion," but the bullfighter can never approach the (true) writer's art, especially if, like Romero, he is invested in the masculine dominance ritualized by the bullfight. Compared to that of Jake, Romero's response to feminization is unreflective and self-destructive--in a word, unmodern. His Old World belief in masculine dominance--evidenced in his wanting to "tame" Brett through marriage and by making her grow out her hair--appears childishly ineffectual beside Jake's mature resignation. Romero fails to recognize the hard modern reality at the center of the novel: the emergent supremacy of female sexual agency.
Jake, of course, has a devastating appreciation of this reality. When Brett telegraphs him to fetch her from Madrid after she has left Romero, he signs the return cable "Love Jake" and reflects:
That seemed to handle it. That was it. Send a girl off with one man. Introduce her to another to go off with him. Now go and bring her back. And sign the cable with love. That was it all right. I went in to lunch. (239)
Another series of its suggests the importance of what Jake is encountering--a summary of his feminization at the hands of modern woman. But what has happened that Jake can so casually end this momentous reflection by going to lunch? Whence this state of detachment, this condition at once despairing and coolly accepting?
With Hemingway's iceberg emphasis on hidden depths, it should not surprise us that Jake achieves this state while underwater, shortly before he receives Brett's cable. Jake has traveled alone to San Sebastian, the site of Cohn and Brett's dalliance just weeks before, and a city named after the oft-painted saint who was traditionally depicted bound to a column, pierced from every side with arrows. (10) San Sebastian is thus a sort of symbolic epicenter of feminization, evoking not only Brett's sexual agency but its result: masculinity beset--immobilized, wounded, penetrated from all sides. Though critics have sensed the importance of this chapter, most have tended to frame its action in the simple terms of disappointed romance--Jake finally accepting the impossibility of his love relationship with Brett. (11) Yet what Jake comes to terms with is a harder and more surprising fact: modern male powerlessness ending what had seemed to be a timeless patriarchal supremacy.
This realization begins atop a raft for swimmers where Jake sits with a paradigmatic pair of young lovers, blissfully, casually absorbed in each other and isolated by the sea. The planks of the raft are comfortingly hot in contrast to the cold water around it, and the girl has undone the top of her suit and is "browning her back" (235) in the sun. As the boy talks to her, the girl laughs and turns her "brown back in the sun," a repetition that emphasizes the sexual glamour and romantic allure from which Jake is estranged. Leaving that primal heterosexual scene, Jake dives "deep once, swimming down to the bottom. I swam with my eyes open and it was green and dark." Above him the raft, with its pair of lovers--who at this late point we know are probably doomed romantics--"made a dark shadow." Almost nothing, of course, has happened, yet we can recognize the moment as a quiet epiphany. Baldly put, Jake has taken his departure from the doomed, islanded happiness suggested by the raft and literally opened his eyes to "dark" reality: the male disempowerment and benighted romanticism in modern heterosexual relations.
Jake's epiphany even has a punch line. Brett's telegram means that Jake will have to cut short his vacation to join her in Madrid. He deadpans, "Well that meant San Sebastian all shot to hell" (239). Painting the last arrow in his portrait of the artist as woman-martyred modern man, Jake is just as "shot to hell"--bound, dominated, penetrated--as the saint he jokingly evokes. Yet at this point, penetration may be less relevant than beatification--the process by which a wounded, vanquished man becomes elevated by and reverenced for his suffering. Saint Sebastian is often figured with eyes cast toward heaven, suggesting, even in his agony, the serenity of divine sanction. Jake's decision to go to lunch suggests a similar, if seriocomic serenity. Indeed one might argue that a connection between healthy appetite and inward serenity is a constant in Hemingway's oeuvre, a congenial "objective correlative" for an author obsessed with eating, drinking, and living fully (239).
When Jake arrives in Madrid, his elevation seems to coincide with Brett's diminution. Noting the disarray of her hotel room, he tells us, "She kissed me, and while she kissed me I could feel she was thinking of something else. She was trembling in my arms. She felt very small" (241). Here Jake seems to reevaluate the devastated Brett, who has proven just as subject to disempowerment as the men she unmans. Though in leaving Romero, Brett seems to have resisted her profligate tendencies--and is trying to feel good about it--it is Jake who is sanguine. He has returned to himself, insisting, Hemingway-like, on his pleasures, telling the barman (as one issuing a declaration), "I like an olive in my martini" and taking Brett to eat not in some dive but at Botin's, "one of the best restaurants in the world" (245-46). There he partakes lustily. Without appetite herself, Brett notes Jake's returned vigor: "You like to eat, don't you?" "Yes," he answers, "I like to do a lot of things" (246).
After lunch, riding down Madrid's Gran Via, Brett invites Jake into their familiar dynamic: "Oh, Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together. "Jake, however, now surpasses Brett's limited understanding of their shared reality. Instead of responding immediately, he notes ahead a mounted traffic cop, his raised baton evoking law and consequence. Indeed, law is precisely what Jake has come to terms with--a bleak modern law of male feminization under which he has long suffered but now owns as a kind of exclusive and elevating knowledge. The car slows, pressing Brett closer against him, but Jake sees this apparent unity for the radical separation it really is. Gently declining Brett's invitation from a point of view beyond all such comely illusions, he replies calmly, agreeably: "Yes, isn't it pretty to think so?"
1. John Raeburn reports that press accounts of Hemingway's life in the early 1920s frequently embroidered his manly exploits, though he also suggests that Hemingway may have started some of these legends himself (23-25). From childhood an admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and the "strenuous life," Hemingway was noted among his Parisian acquaintances--and in early press accounts--for his boxing skills, for amateur bullfighting, and for his (voluble) devotion to any and all forms of athletic prowess. In addition, Hemingway was at this time, according to Robert Mammon, "talking a great deal about courage, and how a man needs to test himself to prove to himself he can take it" (qtd. in Reynolds 214). Reynolds comments: "With Roosevelt as role model, Hemingway was never completely satisfied with being merely a writer.... All his life he was in search of America's mythical West ... where a man stood alone, physical, and self-reliant" (25). As I will argue, this ideal had a heavy, if paradoxical, formal impact on Hemingway's art, where unease at being "merely a writer" is assuaged through an emphasis on manly epistemological mastery.
2. Cassandra Laity, and more recently Ann Ardis, have argued that the figure of the decadent Wildean aesthete lies behind some aspects of modernist masculinization. But John Gaggin, echoing Hugh Kenner in A Homemade World, suggests that Hemingway and mentors Pound and Stein had much in common with the decadents, especially a privileging of craft, of ars gratis, and an ideal of artistic detachment. Ardis's finding that the "Joyce-Pound-Eliot strand of modernism" marked a "retreat from a supposed valuing of scandalous sexuality in the wake of Oscar Wilde's trials" (7) thus contextualizes Hemingway's own apparent need to masculinize authorship as a kind of reaction formation to his sense of a decadent authorial paternity. See also Frank Lentricchia.
3. In Modernism, Mass Culture, and Professionalism, Thomas Strychacz argues that modernist writing strategies shared a "profound identity" with the "ethos of professionalism" (26) that was emerging in the American middle class at this time. At the heart of this ethos is the "symbolic capital" accruing to expert knowledge and esoteric discourse, especially in contradistinction to the discourses of mass culture. For Strychacz, both modernist writing and professional discourses
emerge at the same time in response to a common historical necessity.If a body of formal knowledge underpins a professional's power within mass society, then the idiom of modernist writing-- arcane allusion, juxtaposition, opaque writing, indeterminacy, and so on--performs precisely the same function within mass culture. (27)
However, the difficulty of modernist writing is not only this esoteric character, which might take the form of a very indoors form of pedantry, but the suffering on which one can focus the kind of "scientific" attention that Hemingway recommends to Fitzgerald.
4. Leverenz's Manhood and the American Renaissance and Alfred Habegger's Gender, Fantasy, and Realism in American Literature were perhaps the first works to explicitly address the impact of gender anxieties on male authorship. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Between Men and Epistemology of the Closet remain crucial studies of nineteenth-century male authorial anxieties and were a central inspiration for this essay, as was Lora Romero's chapter on Nathaniel Hawthorne in Home Fronts. And Bell's The Problem of American Realism, in its focus on the epistemological trappings and self-distinguishing truth claims of literary realists and naturalists (terms Bell would problematize), was important to my understanding of the epistemological stakes of male-produced modernisms. I am also indebted for many insights to Scott S. Derrick, whose Monumental Anxieties was another central model for this study. Most important has been Derrick's emphasis on masculinity and the cultural authority of authorship, which he suggests
may, in fact, serve as one of the chief motives of the writing process.... The subject of a narrative, then, may be generated as a vehicle for a desire to achieve the imagined good of authorship and thus serve as a narrativization of this desire. (23)
5. In a 1947 letter written to William Faulkner, Hemingway discusses the literary boxing prospects of John Dos Passos ("a 2nd rate writer on acct. no ear. 2nd rate boxer has no left hand, same as ear to writer, and so gets his brains knocked out"), Turgenev ("beat Turgenev, which we both did soundly"), and De Maupassant ("still dangerous for three rounds") (Letters 622). This dismissal of the French short story writer's staying power suggests Hemingway's idea of the novel as the more challenging and decisive form, requiring the writer to stay in the ring longer. This may explain why Hemingway's novels are more manipulatively self-constructive and fraught with authorial anxieties than his stories.
He used the same boxing metaphor in a letter to Charles Scribner two years later, boasting of being a "man without ambition except to be champion of the world." In his bout with Henry James, he would "hit him where he had no balls and ask the referee to stop it" (673).
6. Theories of androgyny accounting for Hemingway's simultaneous hyper-masculinity and obsession with sexual role exchange began with the posthumous release of The Garden of Eden in 1986 and Kenneth Lynn's 1987 biography. Then Mark Spilka complicated the picture with his 1990 study Hemingway's Quarrel with Androgyny, which argued that androgyny was an Edenic state Hemingway felt he must repudiate throughout his career. More recently, Thomas Strychacz makes a case for Hemingway's sexual progressivism in Hemingway's Theatres of Masculinity (2003), which argues that Hemingway's work "predicts the formidable critique of masculinity raised by feminist studies" (10).
7. John Raeburn suggests that Hemingway used his nonfiction and magazine writing as a sort of autobiographical countercanon in which he made a case for a broad, middlebrow acceptance not dependent on his literary endeavors. But Raeburn discounts the way the novels and stories might work to secure a similar acceptance from highbrow audiences--as in The Sun Also Rises, with its elevation of Jake's vocationally specific intellectual and moral "masculinities."
8. For an alternative account of Hemingway's style and handling of emotion, see Thomas Strychacz's "The Sort of Thing You Should Not Admit."
9. Cohn's fiancee Frances Cline also illustrates this phenomenon, her wounding viciousness representationally outweighing the wrongs being done to her by Cohn.
10. Hemingway's representation of feminization shares the erotic masochism found in some Renaissance representations of the saint, yet I take his implied identification with this homoerotic icon as a hard-boiled joke on his own male disempowerment. The issue is complicated by the author's frequent representations of sexual role reversal and moments of emerging homoeroticism in his works, as well as his own suggestion, in The Garden of Eden and elsewhere, that he may have enjoyed being sodomized by his wives; yet these clues no more connote homosexuality than any number of other sexual proclivities. Still, though I have no stake in protecting Hemingway from suggestions of homosexuality and would be unsurprised by any future revelations of same, I understand such fantasies in his work in the context of his implicit complaints about the burdensomeness of normative masculinity, even as he worked to naturalize it. That is, homoeroticism (as in the sexually suggestive "male idyll" scene in The Sun Also Rises) and episodes of sexual role reversal allow Hemingway's male characters to escape the angst and competition between men that is occasioned by female sexuality.
11. I am indebted to Ellen Andrews Knodt for pointing out this minimalist epiphany, though I assign it a broader set of significations.
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|Title Annotation:||Ernest Hemingway|
|Publication:||Twentieth Century Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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