Flaubertian aesthetics, modernist ethics and animal representation in Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa.
Literary animals distinctively highlight the ethics of style because animals uniquely challenge notions of sympathy, knowledge, and meaningful communication. The responsibility they force upon us is especially acute in modernism, with its epistemological skepticism and rejection of sympathetic identification. From the snail in Woolf's "Kew Gardens" to Cummings' grasshopper, animals foreground perspectivai and representational problems that test literature's stylistic limits. Few modernists are as attentive to these issues as Ernest Hemingway. His love of killing animals aside--for now--Hemingway strives ethically to match his style to their peculiar otherness. In Green Hills of Africa especially he depicts animals in Flaubertian style: impersonally but accurately. Thus they are recognized as real fellow-creatures rather than symbols or objects, yet respected as beings inaccessible to human ways of knowing and relating. Green Hills is modernist indeed, repeatedly shifting the narrative spotlight from the hunt to the animals beyond the hunter's drama. In brief but significant moments, it shifts from its primary genre, the trophy-hunting memoir, and becomes a naturalist's tale.
This is not to deny Hemingway's troubling relationship with animals. He revels in meting out death, and though he insists on the "mutual respect" involved in "real killing" (Death 127, 232), he scarcely questions his right to deploy such a fatal brand of respect. Bullfighting may be "a tragedy" in which the bull dies the hero's necessary death (Death 6), but can we sanction the killer who casts himself as Fate? When Francis Macomber literally feels for the lion he shoots, his sympathy is less compassionate or responsive than colonizing; as Ruth Mayer notes, "the contact imagined is strictly unidirectional, demarking an extreme form of takeover or intake" (256). Hemingway's treatment of animals merges with his paternalistic, even hostile misogyny, orientalism and racism (as Cary Wolfe convincingly argues in his excellent discussion of Hemingway in Animals Rites). Green Hills of Africa is typically deemed the worst offender. Later works like True at First Light are more sympathetic towards animals, revealing, according to Ryan Hediger, Kevin Maier, and Carey Voeller, the dawning of a kinder outlook.
This assessment might apply to the real Hemingway who killed real animals but learned to do it less wantonly. But the stakes are more complicated once the killings are narrativized. Narrativization adds to animal ethics the problem of representation and the various ironies that attend distinctions between author (henceforth "Hemingway"), narrating-1 ("the narrator") and narrated-1 ("Ernest"). Indeed, it is because he narrates himself killing animals that Hemingway so ably foregrounds the ethics of animal representation. His narratives alienate us, or appeal to us in distasteful ways, but this alienation highlights rhetorical nuances that might otherwise pass unnoticed. Recoiling from his hunting scenes, we are more disposed to see style apart from content; and this separation, possible only conceptually, is a good initial step towards understanding how content and style work together to produce ethical responses. Narratives that elicit strong disapproval can help us see and analyze the interdependence of style and ethics. An understandable reaction to aestheticized violence is to deplore "the very act of representing some subjects from some perspectives" (Phelan, Living 102). But any representation has a style and, therefore, an aesthetic. In works featuring disgusting acts like Lolita and Time's Arrow, style is what reveals a dissenting moral stance. Green Hills lacks the ironic structure of unreliability, yet its animal ethics are tied to Hemingway's "rigorous attention to style" and "aesthetic engagement" with animals (Hediger 37, 38).
The method of Green Hills, most evident in its animal descriptions, owes a lot to "the discipline of Flaubert" (27), the "one that we believed in" (71)--especially Flaubert's obsession with finding the mot juste (the right word) and achieving authorial impersonality. Consequently, though perhaps unwittingly, Hemingway represents animals without falling into "that unavoidable mysticism of a man who writes a language so badly he cannot make a clear statement" (Death 53). Thomas Honegger argues that "Hemingway's aim to find the animal juste" yields "distinct and real creatures" (181), but for Honegger, "the animal juste" is merely a means of describing humans (183-84). 1 argue instead that in Hemingway's generally anthropocentric narratives, applying the mot juste is an imperfect but nevertheless ethical attempt to show juste I'animal--just the animal. Mixing careful observation with defamiliarizing descriptions of animals, he makes it "difficult ... to take them as a matter of course" (Green 185).
Representing animals requires a peculiar ethics applicable neither to humans nor to non-sentient life forms. The issue is vexed because animals differ from us in ways that are undeniable yet hard to define. After Darwin, the difference can't be considered essential: excluding them, at least a priori, from ethical consideration is therefore unreasonable. If an animal is, as Derrida claims, "an existence eluding every concept" (26), its evident capacity for experience gives its life value, even if its experiences are just barely conceivable to us.
Barbara Hermstein Smith is right to insist, however, that accepting ethical responsibility doesn't preclude drawing ethical distinctions (166-67). This is especially true when we turn from flesh-and-blood to represented animals. Ethical representation demands firm distinctions between human and animal, simply because animals maintain "the reticence of all consciousness that is beyond ours" (Heame 170). As Kate Soper observes, "claims of affinity between ourselves and other animals ... must acknowledge a limit at the level of representation itself. Animals, after all, do not write stories about human beings, nor puzzle over their reflection in literature" (308). Because at least some animals have thoughts, interests, emotions and individuality, they merit, like people, not being misrepresented; yet representation inevitably, unfairly anthropomorphizes them. "The only vocabulary at our disposal is a vocabulary of strictly human concerns," writes Aldous Huxley; "the things we want to talk about are non-human realities and non-human ways of thinking. Hence the radical inadequacy of all statements about our animal nature" (129)--and, I would add, all statements about animals tout court. Even the most excluded of human others can at least potentially dispute how they are portrayed; writers, moreover, can imagine how their portraits will be received. Non-human animals "literally cannot talk back to our objectifying codes" (Rohman 17).
A way out is to accept our inability to comprehend animals. This accepted, the ethical imperative becomes pragmatic: to minimize anthropomorphism. Ralph Acampora advocates accepting "an element of zoontic discovery--otherwise we risk sliding into species-solipsism" (75)--and considering other species partially accessible to us, "neither purely objective nor purely subjective," "yielding enough awareness" to be represented as part of our shared experience (74). The ethic must be rooted in empathy, the compassion we can feel "for creatures whose experience we know we can never share" but whose "capacity for complex experience" can be recognized (Nussbaum 330, 333).
To put such theories into practice, Kate Soper advocates "naturalistic" over "allegorical" or "compassionate" modes of representation (303)--as do Gillian Beer (311) and Margot Norris (6). Writing animals right would then demand techniques that disproportionately engage the "mimetic" function in characterization, relative to "thematic" and "synthetic" functions (Phelan, Reading 2-3). Mimesis can't entirely displace the other functions, but it should be prominent enough to eclipse or distract from animals' symbolic, allegorical, or structural roles. "To think, or represent, in this mode," argues Soper, "is to observe and respect the distance between ourselves and other animals," to minimize anthropocentrism by disabling "straightforward analysis" (306). Of course signifiers never give us referents, but some ways of using words help us to consider the real even as--indeed because--language fails. Nowhere does it fail better than in striving for perfection.
Though modernism is rarely associated with mimesis, Soper's naturalistic ideal is congenial with modernism's attempt to expand the realist tradition beyond human concerns--an aim memorably captured in Joyce's rendering of a cat's meow: "Mrkgnao!" (53). Several modernists saw in animals the perfect subjects for making it new, including Forster, who looked forward to novels with "animals who are neither symbolic, nor little men disguised, nor as four-legged tables moving, nor as painted scraps of paper that fly" (51). Such animals are found, argues Etienne Terblanche, in "(inter)active and open-ended" modernist experiments (218) that achieve what philosophic language, even Derrida's, cannot (223ff): sustained ethical engagements with animals. For many modernists, indeed, the limits of language and the peculiar otherness of animals were kindred problems, to be addressed if not resolved stylistically.
Rather unfairly, modernism is viewed skeptically by much ethical criticism, which often eyes good style with suspicion. Norris, for example, bans Hemingway from the biocentric tradition for aestheticizing animals (198). Yet ethics like aesthetics are many, and some aesthetics better fit the varieties of otherness that we encounter in a modern, pluralistic world. Modernism, proposes Melba Cuddy-Keane, is particularly suited to such ethical conditions (209). Derek Attridge similarly insists that modernism is "in its effect if not always in its intention, allied to a new apprehension to the claims of otherness" (4); Attridge, discussing Coetzee, certainly has animals in mind. In his own anti-anthropocentric mission, Huxley writes of replacing "traditional language" with "another special language, more precise and, above all, less contaminated with self-interest" (131). A clear allusion to Flaubert, it is a rare moment when Huxley agrees, on matters of ethics and aesthetics with his modernist peers, who admired Flaubert's agonized search for exactitude, his detachment and his contempt for philistinism.
For Flaubert, the mot juste is an ethical as well as aesthetic ideal, a tonic for the "mots banals" of commerce, generalization and prejudice ((Euvres 1.184). To honor the most trivial object with precise terminology is to try meeting it as something real, particular and worthy of effort; it is a refusal to misrepresent through carelessness or cliche. There is, in Flaubert and his followers, a deep faith in the ethical value of percipience. The mot juste translates not only as the right word but also as thefair word. Likewise, Flaubert's ideal of impersonality lets objects speak rather than be spoken for (though we shouldn't forget that telling is involved in all showing). Reading "A Simple Heart," we appreciate Loulou not because we share Felicite's delusions but because we see--without facile symbolism, squeamishness or judgment--the parrot's body and behavior in intimate detail. Little touches like its grotesque pose in death--"head down, nails in the steel bars" ((Euvres II. 175)--are not honorific in any conventional sense, but the objective presentation, insofar as objectivity is possible, offers a collective rather than authoritative valuation Loulou, for its invites our participation. Impersonality and precision grant us freedom from the narrator's or author's moral coercion. But freedom has its costs: sharing in the ethical meaning means sharing responsibility for the ethic (Hale 200).
Flaubertian aesthetics are thus congenial with recent work in narrative ethics, which, drawing on rhetorical criticism and poststructuralism, focuses on how narratives open readers to the claims of the Other, stressing connection and recognition without requiring identification or sympathy. In this readerly activity, which Dorothy Hale calls self-binding, readers are made to "limit the self and, through this limitation, produce the Other" (190). Self-binding unsettles or at least exposes anthropocentricism, facilitating contact with alien ways of being without presuming to explain them. It is a compelling paradigm for the ethics of animal representation because it specifies that the status of alterity is "self-consciously unverifiable" (190). Offering a similar ethical project, Michael Fox and Lesley McLean assert that our "affective perception in relation to other animals must not overcome a respect for "their distinctive experience" as individual creatures experiencing particular moments (159).
By encouraging simultaneous recognition and unknowability, Hale's and similar models recall defamiliarization, whose function is both to enliven art by renewing perceptions and to elicit political engagement. Flaubertian techniques seem almost designed for achieving such complex rhetorical and ethical effects. The mot juste and impersonality pull readers in opposite directions. Through its very aptness, the mot juste invites recognition and connection; because it aims for mimetic capture, it is also potentially predatory or colonizing. But impersonality forestalls connection and shrugs off--or seems to shrug off--responsibility for the mot juste's justness. Readers must decide how it should be interpreted, and whether it is really so juste.
Of Hemingway's animal writings, none presents such interpretive and ethical challenges as Green Hills of Africa. This memoir has, unsurprisingly, angered or worried critics concerned by how its animals are treated (Love 122-23; Maier 119-22; Mayer 252-59). Even critics who can imagine a positive ethic in hunting narratives deplore Green Hills; for Hediger, its ethics are nothing but "rules that permit the game of competition among humans" (41-42). I would argue, however, that such responses are too focused on judging Hemingway or his persona. Though judgment is one way to interact ethically with narratives, and eliciting it always among the (implied) author's functions, surely ethics admits of degrees and asks questions that elude the definiteness of judgment. Highlighting ethical puzzlers rather than ethical solutions, a characteristic of modernism, may ultimately be what makes a narrative "ethically admirable" (Phelan, Living 97). For J. Hillis Miller, modernism makes us responsible "for judgment when the grounds for judgment are not entirely certain" (qtd. in Hale 193). I'd go further, envisioning, like Hale, an ethic that doesn't end with judgment but "transforms the activity of ethical judgment into the production of alterity as beyond apprehension, as defined by its illimitable potentiality" (195). Nabokov asks us to judge Humbert, but he more importantly forces us to examine how and whom we judge.
Controversial narratives make not simply judging difficult, demanding special attention to the rhetorical fine points that differentiate a simplistic moral from a complex ethic--semantic polyvalence, focalization, register, syntax, irony, tense, aspect, and mood. While ethical criticism must consider how Hemingway's animals are treated in the narrative, it must also assess how this treatment itself is treated by/he narrative. Though we may object to Hemingway's hunting scenes, our objections would probably be stronger if the animals were described carelessly. Unless we believe the only ethical solution is not to write about trophy hunting at all or to condemn it unequivocally (legitimate beliefs that don't get us far with Hemingway), we might acknowledge the ethical contribution of style in coexistence with offensive content. Besides, as Fox and McLean rightly observe, the "unease" we feel when reading about violence done to animals is a form of the affective perception" (165) involved in ethical engagement.
Though Green Hills calls shooting birds a "marvellous joke" (36), there is something strikingly caring in the narrator's attentiveness to how the birds "turned over in the air" (37) and "thumped hard as they fell and as they lay, wings beating" (36). A contrast should clarify the value 1 see in this kind of description. In Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Janie also kills birds for a lark: "she could shoot a hawk out of a pine tree and not tear him up. Shoot his head off' (131). Though Their Eyes offers an overwhelmingly more complex ethical experience than Green Hills, Hurston does what Hemingway rarely does: reduce an animal to a blank signifier. Her hawk could as easily be a turkey, whereas Hemingway shows very particular guinea fowl that "rocketed up, their legs tucked close beneath them, heavy-bodied, short wings drumming, cackling" (36) and "dark ibises, looking, with their dipped bills, like great curlews" (129). Hurston's narrator celebrates Janie's marksmanship, or sympathetically channels Janie's excitement through free indirect discourse. In Green Hills, by contrast, shooting birds is a joke mitigated by the perspective of the guide M'Cola, whose laughter reduces Ernest into the clown of the piece" (37).
Hemingway's birds exemplify the distinction between the narrated slaughter and narrational presentation of animals, a distinction emerging, as I proposed earlier, from the predominance of the mimetic function. Readers might be appalled when, in "Big Two-Hearted River," Nick impales a grasshopper on a fishhook; but the description of "the grasshopper t[aking] hold of the hook with his front feet, spitting tobacco juice on it" (In Our Time 148) complicates the ethics of the action narrated by so precisely rendering grasshopper behavior. Granted a moment to perform its futile defensive action, naturalistically and without comment, the grasshopper exceeds its instrumentality, creating a specific ethical bond with readers who, briefly distracted from Nick's quest, encounter the animal. Scholes and Kellogg note that "the most mimetic characterizations seem ... to exist largely outside the area of meaning" (103), suggesting one way in which narratives produce "the Other as excess" (Hale 195). Thus Hemingway honors the grasshopper with enough unmotivated mimesis to shift the focus from Nick and his fishing to the charcoal-blackened insect.
The grasshopper anticipates the animals of Green Hills of Africa, which is, like "Big Two-Hearted River," primarily a human story, its animals mostly serving to catalyze human relations. By hunting, Ernest communes with his African guides--though, significantly, only when the hunt is successful. He also uses tracking and killing to mediate his more complex relationships (aggressive, competitive, erotic) with his wife P.O.M., Pop, and Karl. Karl and Ernest's rivalry especially eclipses the animals. When Ernest kills a rhino, it is real, strange, physical, particular:
long-hulked, heavy-sided, prehistoric looking, the hide like vulcanized rubber and faintly transparent looking, scarred with a badly healed horn wound that the birds had pecked at, his tail thick, round, and pointed, flat many-legged ticks crawling on him, his ears fringed with hair, tiny pig eyes, moss growing on the base of his horn that grew out forward from his nose. (79)
Individualized by the moss and wound, the rhinoceros is nothing more or less than itself (but see Philip Armstrong's negative reading of the same passage ). But when Karl kills a bigger one, all individuality disappears: it's just "a rhino that was a rhino" (83). Ernest's rhino is reduced to "a lousy runt" (84), his disappointment that of shamed manhood: "Why couldn't he [Karl] just get a good one, two or three inches longer? Why did he have to get one that makes mine ridiculous?" (85). Competing with Karl is Ernest's primary spur; when Ernest loses, the animals hardly matter. They are similarly overshadowed by the rivalry between Ernest and Pop (or J. P.) for P.O.M.'s attentions. Indeed, it is this erotic contest and homosocial bond, not the hunt, that motivates the book's existence: Green Hills is Ernest's gift to P.O.M., who, after the safari, complains that she "can't remember Mr. J. P.'s face" (295). With Pop away, Ernest can indulge her desire "to please Mr. J. P." (95), so he promises to "write you a piece some time and put him in" (295). All the animal stories are thus subsumed to his vexed friendship with Pop--P.O.M.'s "ideal of how a man should be (64). Again, the rivalry features a rhinoceros. Pop, who hates "ornamental killing" (16), nevertheless "offer[s] up the rhino to please" Ernest: "'Shoot the bastard,' Pop said, making a gift of him" (17). This act of gift-giving generates an erotic triangle involving Pop, P.O.M. and Ernest, and though Ernest feels usurped, the rhino is the one excluded.
Animals are often also pawns in Ernest's personal struggles, their deaths allowing him to hone his art or justify his life, as Wolfe also argues of The Sun also Rises (124--42). The hunt and its representation are therefore inextricable. "A great killer must love to kill, Hemingway writes in Death in the Afternoon, in a notorious passage. Killing cleanly and in a way which gives you aesthetic pleasure and pride has always been one of the greatest enjoyments of a part of the human race. One of its greatest pleasures ... is the feeling of rebellion against death which comes from its administering" (232-33). Hemingway's language is methodically Flaubertian, covering Flaubert's elitism ("part of the human race") and faith in artistic immortality (rebellion against death"), as well as on his perfectionism ("the best thing") and detachment ("abnegation") (ibid. 232). Impersonality and precision are literary requisites as well as practical tools for matadors or, on safari, marksmen: "going into that impersonal state you shoot from" is how you avoid "a very complicated personal feeling" about your prey (Green 76, 137). Detachment is also necessary for true aim, as Pop reminds Ernest before the kudu hunt (230). "The writer," like the hunter, is "intelligent and disinterested" (2); the great killer is "a great stylist" (48). Hemingway's animal representations are therefore problematically linked with his real-life violence against them.
Most disturbing is the narrator's special pleading based on knowing "how a bull elk must feel if you break a shoulder and he gets away" (148). Having been shot, he sympathizes with animals he has injured and imagines his pain is "a punishment for all hunters." His sympathy spurs his resolve to hunt only "as long as 1 could kill cleanly," but his rationale seems less compassionate than vengeful: "if it was a punishment I had paid it and at least I knew what I was doing. 1 did nothing that had not been done to me" (148). Also dubious, his decision to hunt instead of "enlist[ing]" in further political conflicts is motivated by the need to be "responsible only for [himjself' (148)--an understandable desire, but one that neglects the unwilling animal participants. Hunting alone, he feels "something I cannot yet define completely but the feeling comes when you write well and truly and know impersonally you have written in that way" (148-49). Killing satisfies a Flaubertian ambition to "write well," while the emphasis on "feeling" prioritizes self, ambition and aesthetics over ethical engagement.
Yet there is a valuable ethic in it. Ernest aims to do justice to "the country" (194) by writing something with more than "journalistic value" (193), for in his view "the damned Safari books" he knows are sensational, inaccurate, and selfaggrandizing: "They all have this damned Nairobi fast life or else bloody rot about shooting beasts with horns half an inch longer than some one else shot" (193-94)--a statement that ironizes Ernest's earlier sore losing to Karl.
Green Hills shows not only Ernest's heroics and "Garrick performance" (269) but also "the country and the animals" (194). Counter intuitively, it critiques hunting through style just as Hemingway's later novel The Garden of Eden critiques hunting, according to Wolfe, through the deconstruction of gender, race and species differences. In this novel, Wolfe argues, the protagonist David's participation in the competitive, imperialist and "sacrificial enterprise that excludes women, animals, and children" (166) is subverted by his "cross-species identification" (165), which "expos[es] the sacrificial economy of speciesism--the unquestioned availability of 'animality' as a means of naturalizing and grounding racist discourse" (167). Green Hills also undermines "the sacrificial economy of speciesism" but does so mainly stylistically, by punctuating and puncturing the hunting narrative with oddly arresting animal descriptions.
Yes, Green Hills favors people: globally, at the level of plot, human dramas overshadow the vividness, reality, and strangeness of the animals, but it also repeatedly weaves in what Linda Vance calls "lesser narratives, stories that operate within, and are influenced by, these larger spheres" (168). Portraying himself as a hunter truly interested in his prey, the narrator fuses his rugged hunter with the gentler persona of the naturalist. Watching the Sea of Galilee, the narrator reports seeing "many grebes, ... and I was counting them and wondering why they never were mentioned in the Bible. 1 decided that those people were not naturalists" (294, my emphasis). Through its "lesser narratives," Green Hills offers itself as a naturalist's tale, the "reverse of the Bible" (191)--that quintessential^ human story, which gave man dominion over beast and bird
Had Hemingway aimed for mere sympathy with animals, he might have shown us their thoughts, though this would weaken Green Hills' claim to be "an absolutely true book" ("Foreword" n.p.). Alternatively, he might have given objective, field-guide accounts of color, shape, size, habits. But he avoids both extremes. With Flaubert's "discipline" (27) for detail and accuracy, Hemingway mimetically foregrounds animal reality and corporeality; the sable is thus "a large, deep chestnut-brown animal, almost black, the horns black and curving handsomely back, there was a white patch on the muzzle and back from the eye, there was a white belly ' (261). Such repetitive detail is, despite Hemingway's commitment to verbal economy, anything but overdone, for it lets us see the animals, their shape, coloring, behavior. The description of the sable is typical: it is detailed nearly to the point of narrative failure, syntax and narrativity straining under the weight of adjectives and nouns.
What we don't see is the animals' mind; at most we can infer, tentatively, emotions or thoughts from their movements, as when kudus, "big, grey, striped-flanked antelope with ridiculously small heads, big ears," travel in "a soft, fast-rushing gait that moved them in big-bellied panic through the trees" (138). If Hemingway tries to cast animals as complex characters, he holds back from trying to reveal their unknowable interiority. Nor do we sense that the narrator knows more than we. Rather than turn toward the subjective, Hemingway's aloofness cuts both ways: denied access to animal minds, we are also spared their anthropomorphized reduction into products of Ernest's mind. Showing only exteriors, the descriptions prevent us from identifying exactly who is focalizing or whose prejudices dominate
(Ernest's? the narrator's? ours?). The narrator's detachment may suggest emotional indifference to animals, but its rhetorical effect is quite the opposite: it whets the reader's desire to make the connections the narrator withholds. To this end, it is with ethical urgency that Hemingway seeks the mot juste.
The narrator's very striving for exactitude is alienating because it paradoxically undermines mimesis, but also because its results are, by traditional literary standards, jarringly ineloquent, overwritten, rambling, or stilted. A kudu is "big, long-legged, a smooth gray with the white stripes and the great, curling, sweeping horns, brown as walnut meats, and ivory pointed, at the big ears and the great, lovely heavy-maned neck the white chevron between his eyes and the white of his muzzle" (231); another, even stranger, is "no more like a real bull than a spike elk is like a big, old, thick-necked, dark-maned, wonder-homed, tawny-hided, beer-horse-built bugler of a bull-elk" (138). Such descriptions are too rare, complains Ernest, who "cannot read other naturalists unless they are being extremely accurate and not literary" (21).
Precision ennobles: we see how animals move and look, an imagistic rightness approaching the clarity of epiphany. But where epiphany might be reductive or totalizing, Hemingway's images are too fragmented to cohere: compounds confuse syntax and the rhythms of fine writing; vehicles are more unfamiliar than their tenors; animals, which Adam colonized through naming, are polyonymous. An animal is thus more than its name, symbolic association, popular image, or even taxonomic status.
There is justice in using the word that "sound[s] exactly" as the thing itself suggests it "should sound" (Green 52), Hemingway suggests, but his take on this ethical imperative results in mots justes that are more alienating than illuminating. This is especially true when English fails to supply them. "I must learn to use these terms correctly," says the "Old Lady" of the Spanish lexicon of bullfighting (Death 95). Good hunters, like good writers, supplement their native tongue's deficiencies. Ernest's rival Karl is therefore censured for "hunting an animal whose Swahili name he could not then remember," a failing linked with his getting "excited and miss[ing]" shots (62). Knowing native names underlies Ernest's desire to write an honest safari book (193); a vital step in his growth as both writer and hunter is hearing Swahili as "natural, no longer to be italicized" (52).
At its simplest, he estranges by giving animals two names. As both "waterbuck and "kongoni" (52), the antelope is more present than with either English or Swahili term alone, as if the words interacted synergistically. The resulting defamiliarization also makes it harder to forget the real animal--a strange, live "simba" rather than a lion (42), which by that name is so embedded in our cultural and religious imagination it might seem merely emblematic. Using "simba," Hemingway partially liberates the lion from Western iconography, as if reviving it for a new naturalistic tradition. Mirroring "lion, lion, rhino, buffalo, kudu, kudu" with "Simba, Simba, Faro, Nyati, Tendalla, Tendalla" (241), he also unmoors the animals from the potentially co-optative narrative of scientific description: the doubling undoes the reductive Linnaean fiction of one species, one name.
The use of Swahili also highlights how verbal precision and authorial impersonality interact to produce the text's peculiar animal ethic. Without authorial guidance, Swahili words are disorienting. They provide the crispness of the right word but the resulting image remains dissonantly unfinished and the portrait of the animal rather strange. Now, as Randy Malamud notes of Marianne Moore's poetry, this simultaneous "appeal to/detachment from" animals is not predicated on close contact (126); Moore's exactitude, he argues, is more commendable for being mediated through other writers' descriptions. By hunting, the flesh-and-blood Hemingway would thus compromise the ethical value of his representations (ibid. 125). Malamud's claim is persuasive, but I wonder how sustainably we can meaningfully engage with recycled textual animals. In any case, Hemingway like Moore produces animal portraits whose alienating strangeness is ethically provocative.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Hemingway's accurate but odd taxonomic similes linking two very different species. The African "ibises, looking ... like great curlews" (129) are both more vivid and stranger for resembling an Arctic shorebird. A kudu smells "sweeter than an eland" (234), a ranking unlikely to enlighten most readers, but enriching the sensory moment through strange kinship--especially when the olfactory image is enriched with bovine and botanical accents: "the breath of cattle and the odor of thyme after rain" (231). The "generuk, that long-necked antelope that resembles a praying mantis in its way of carrying itself' (160), is part herbivore ungulate, part predatory insect. As with spoonerisms, the "parts remain distinguishable, and yet there is a constant small excitement in their being yoked together so deftly and so improperly. An equivalence is at once asserted and questioned" (Ellmann 90).
No less nuanced and slippery are Hemingway's ambiguous focalization and mutative style. Though popularly equated with objectivity and a paratactic, repetitive and declarative style, his range is extraordinary. In Green Hills, his typical hardboiled style is punctuated with remarkable bouts of lyricism, free indirect discourse and even labyrinthine interior monologue (281-83). If some reflect Ernest's shifting moods (boredom, impatience, disorientation, excitement), others reveal something of his prey. From the welter of styles emerges an animal "in its alien and natural otherness" (Soper 306), and none more so than the hyena, whose death is initially narrated in a disturbingly incongruous style:
Highly humorous was the hyena obscenely loping, full belly dragging, at daylight in the plain, who, shot from the stern, skittered on into speed to tumble end over end. Mirth provoking was the hyena that stopped out of range by an alkali lake to look back and, hit in the chest, went over on his back, his four feet and his full belly in the air.... But the great joke of all.... the pinnacle of hyenic humor, was the hyena, the classic hyena, that hit too far back while running, would circle madly, snapping and tearing at himself until he pulled his own intestines out, and then stood there, jerking them out and eating them with relish. (37-38)
Presented in a burlesque tone, with archaic and mock-lyrical syntactical inversions (and perhaps an allusion to Leopold Bloom, who eats offal "with relish [Joyce 53]), these killings (note the iterative "would") are unsettling because the narrator drops his usual detached and often ironic attitude towards Ernest and apparently endorses the killings: "nothing," he reports, "could be more jolly" (Hemingway, Green 37). Grotesquely, this perspectivai rapprochement invites readers to laugh along.
Then something remarkable happens. M'Cola utters the hyena's Swahili name, "Fisi," triggering a shocking change in style:
Fisi, the hyena, hermaphroditic, self-eating devourer of the dead, trailer of calving cows, ham-stnnger, potential biter-off of your face at night while you slept, sad yowler, campfollower, stinking, foul, with jaws that crack the bones the lion leaves, belly dragging, loping away on the brown plain, looking back, mongrel dog-smart in the face. (38)
Shifting into a corporeal, rhythmically-stilted and biologically-acute homage to an unsightly but suffering being, the passage condenses the elements of Hemingway's animal ethic: bilingual nomenclature; interspecies comparison ("mongrel dog"); and accurate description ("hermaphroditic" because females boast a pseudopenis). Thus described, Fisi is no longer subsumed to Ernest's perspective, as though the narrator now feels compelled to stop the narrative bullying. Ernest's careless mirth is replaced by facts, graceless pseudo-Homeric epithets and syntactic lapses, none attributable to any focalizer. Reading this passage, Mary Allen prefers Hemingway's seriousness to M'Cola's laughter (182), but it is M'Cola who turns the "dirty joke" (38) into a more complex ethical response; "delighted sorrow" (38).
Anyone reading Green Hills of Africa for an animal-friendly ethic will be disappointed. Yet, for all the horrors it describes, the description itself has ethical value we shouldn't overlook. If style doesn't redeem shocking content, it certainly complicates our ethical response and, perhaps, encourages more attentive reading and consideration of animals. Thus "oryx might indicate not just some generalized victim with a "worthless" hide (158), but an animal as singular and vivid as "a fat, plum-colored, Masai donkey with marvellous long, black, straight, back-slanting horns (156). Simultaneously recognizable and defamiliarizing, the oryx and many other animals in Green Hills of Africa reflect Hemingway's modernist technical and ethical appropriation of Flaubertian principles. And though 1 began by claiming unique ethical status for literary animals, the peculiarities of animal narrative ethics may yet teach us about fairly representing anything--or anyone, from intimates to the neighbors we don't know or inhabitants of other lands or eras. Asking how best to write animals thus allows us to ask a more general question close to the hearts of Hemingway and his fellow modernists: how to write.
I thank Melba Cuddy-Keane and three anonymous readers for invaluable criticism, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for funding.
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Daniel Aurelaino Newman
University of Toronto
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|Author:||Newman, Daniel Aurelaino|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2013|
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