Ernest Hemingway: Artifacts from a Life.
Scholars fortunate enough to have visited the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston understand what a treasure trove of material awaits discovery there. Not simply a repository for manuscript drafts and discards and correspondence--as valuable as those are for the simple reason that most of them remain unpublished--the collection also includes photo album upon photo album of images that few have ever flipped through, much less catalogued or requested permission to reproduce in a biography or critical study. Along with a large variety of keepsakes and ephemera, these goodies are hardly the typical flotsam and jetsam that your average pack rat accumulates over time. (It goes without saying that nary a description of the collection exists that does not describe Hemingway as a "notorious" pack rat). Rather, these objects, whether a scrap of paper, a ticket stub, or an expired passport, lend a material immanence to Hemingway's life nearly six decades after his death.
Yet not every Hemingway aficionado can make his or her way to Columbia Point. In recent years, the collection has scanned bits and pieces for online access, most notably five volumes of Grace Hall Hemingway's scrapbooks on Ernest covering 1899-1917. Unless one is only interested in the writer's childhood and adolescence, though, the scrapbooks are fun but prefatory. They can only begin to challenge the visual stereotypes that stamp the culture's limited sense of Hemingway's iconicity, whether his beefy brio, that late-stage white Papa beard, or the omnipresent wine bottle. Most of these signifiers come from a handful of widely reprinted photos, from the 1924 image of the emerging author with his hands stuffed in his pockets outside the Paris apartment at 113 Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs to Yousuf Karsh's famous 1957 close-up portrait of the literary lion in a turtleneck sweater thick as a Bundt pan around his throat. There is so much more to the man to discover, though.
The omnipresence of photos like these are one reason that Michael Katakis's handsomely designed Ernest Hemingway: Artifacts from a Life is such a game-changer. Hemingway scholars know Mr. Katakis as the formidable gatekeeper to estate permissions; what they may not know is he is also a talented writer, editor, and historian in his own right, with books on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Native American photography, and expatriation to his credit. As a curatorial guide to the collection, he offers in this coffee-table book an arresting tour of cornerstone Hemingway moments that feels both fresh and visually intoxicating, punctuated with thoughtful commentary from Hemingway Letters Project director Sandra Spanier, Carol Hemingway, former Kennedy Library director Tom Putnam, as well as "text panels" by Declan Kiely and a preface and afterword respectively from Patrick and Sean Hemingway.
Thankfully, Katakis eschews a strictly chronological organization, which can feel stultifying in its familiarity to those who study the biographical arc. Instead, he divides the book into thematic sections ("Beginnings," "Key West, Cuba, and Spain," "Artifacts from a Life," and "Endings") that collectively create the appearance of that crucial modernist device, the collage-like juxtaposition. This strategy--dare I call it cubistic?--emphasizes the contrasts in Hemingway's life and recreates the experience of scouring photo- and scrapbooks, where the randomness at any moment can transport us into the thickness of an associative memory. The verso to the table of contents, for example, features a Spanish Civil War-era Hemingway, looking slightly frazzled and unkempt with the tail of his necktie straying from his sport coat, staring warily off-center of the camera aperture (viii). Set against this photo (which also serves as the book cover) is a small reproduction of the writer's 1944 World War II noncombatant identity card. Even with a thinner hairline and a white beard, ursine but clearly combed, Hemingway appears healthier if not younger in this latter photo, if only because he gazes outward with stern determination. The confidence the pose exudes leads one immediately to conjure up an intermediary image of the artist at his peak: Lloyd Arnold's 1939 photo of the author jabbing the keys of his typewriter as he races to complete For Whom the Bell Tolls, in which he appears even more vital because he is working. That photo is not included in Artifacts from a Life, but it does not need to be given how widely it has been reproduced--it simply pops into one's head in an effort to order these other images into a chronology. Yet one realizes very soon from the contrast between the three how widely Hemingway physically transformed in short spans--and rarely in ways that support simplistic timelines of aging or decline. His vitality or elan seems to have been entirely determined by mood.
Other juxtapositions are equally intriguing. A reproduction of one of the many discarded, handwritten endings to A Farewell to Arms ("That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you") is superimposed alongside a 1954 image of a frail, dozing Hemingway (xxvii), at once lending proof to the meme-like aphorism stoically accepting mortality while illustrating the writer's own physical vulnerability. Elsewhere, a photo of Ernest and Martha Gellhorn during their 1940 China tour appears with a post-African-plane-crash Hemingway on the Pilar, his shirtless torso--he is shirtless in a striking number of these photos--looking withered and worn to dramatize the toll travel exacted on his body (67). Much later, Robert Capa photos of Hemingway hunting with his two youngest sons with Pauline Pfeiffer, Patrick and Gregory, adorn the famous page of twenty-nine potential titles for Arms ("I Have Committed Fornication but That Was in Another Country and Besides the Wench Is Dead"), all hastily scribbled, make for an eerie reminder of difficult pregnancies in both art and life (134).
The longest section, which runs roughly eighty pages (87-159) and shares the book's title, offers a generous helping of Grace Hall Hemingway's scrapbooks. Here the design by Jerry Takigawa (assisted by Jay Galster) really shines, with panels of folio pages laid out like a photographer's contact sheet, an effect also employed in the book's endpapers. Replete with the occasional use of color tints and backgrounds, the images leap off the page in a way they never do even when reproduced on glossy paper in the black-and-white photographs section of a typical biography. The scrapbooks remind us that Hemingway grew up in a world of color where an early doodle of a pumpkin was burnt orange (105), the green of a first-year science laboratory manual was olive (114), and a ticket to the Pamplona bullfights blazing yellow (174). The hues make one wish more color photos of Hemingway himself existed; the rare ones we do see mostly date between 1959 and 1961 and are inevitably tinged with sorrow.
As for text, the book offers impressionistic excerpts from the correspondence, including, rather humorously, a pugnacious 1950 missive to Senator Joseph McCarthy that makes one wish the author were around today to fire something along these lines to Roy Cohn's other most famous friend (i.e. the current occupant of the White House): "So you are always welcome, kid, in case you have dog blood, which I suspect, don't report to sopeanas [sic] but come ondown all expenses paid and if you are a small Marine you can fight any of my kids and get a reputation. I have them that weight 152 to 186. You can fight any one. But afterwards me" (76).
Compared to such verbal fisticuffs, the testimonials might seem a little reserved or reverent, yet they eloquently testify to the lure of the Hemingway mystique. Spanier's traces her fascination with the writer to a 1970s' trip to the Hemingway House in Key West and her later apprenticeship under Philip Young (who agreed to direct her dissertation only if she worked on someone other than Hemingway because he "had been done to death" ). Putnam's contribution is a wonderful account of how an archivist comes to love a subject he or she may have little initial interest in (183-93). Carol Hemingway's essay, meanwhile, is a fascinating account of how the Hemingway Room on the fifth floor of the JFK--Valhalla to many of us--was designed, right down to the placement of Waldo Peirce's "Kid Balzac" painting, the sisal rug, and the cafe au lait ceiling hue (195-99).
The most obvious antecedent to Artifacts from a Life is Robert K. Elder, Aaron Vetch, and Mark Cirino's Hidden Hemingway: Inside the Ernest Hemingway Archives of Oak Park (2016). As luscious as that book is, nothing can compare to the JFK's holdings. Michael Katakis has put together an irresistible introduction to the Hemingway Collection that will make fans want to take up residency in every corner of its arcana.
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|Publication:||The Hemingway Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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