Hemingway and the Mechanism of Fame: Statements, Public Letters, Introductions, Forewords, Prefaces, Blurbs, Reviews, and Endorsements.
As any author who deals with Hemingway's reputation must, Matthew Bruccoli acknowledges his indebtedness to John Raeburn's Fame Became of Him (1984), still the single best critical monograph on the construction of Hemingway's public persona. The fact that Raeburn's excellent book didn't immediately spark more studies of Hemingway's reputation is a testament to the deeply entrenched academic idea that modernism is separate from the marketplace. This idea, and the prevalent understanding of modernism's cultural stance as generally elite, has come under revision in the last few years. There has been a surge in materialist books including Lawrence Rainey's Institutions of Modernism, Derek Attridge's Marketing Modernism, George Bornstein's Material Modernism, and Aaron Jaffe's recent Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity. Obviously Hemingway's celebrity makes him perfect for this critical trend, as evinced by Leonard Left's important (yet flawed) Hemingway and His Conspirators as well as sections of Catherine Turner's Marketing Modernism Between the Two World Wars and Loren Glass's Authors Inc. Yet there is lots of room for further study. None of the aforementioned works does justice to the complexities of how Hemingway (or the Hemingway persona) captured the public's imagination. None looks at the role of his own self-marketing and characterization, measures how the media appropriated his image, or studies how celebrity affected his writing and private life.
Bruccoli's Hemingway and the Mechanism of Fame contains the primary source material for filling in some of these critical gaps. This new compendium of Hemingway ephemera contains over one hundred items written by Hemingway and constituting his "Mechanism of Fame." They include "fifty-four statements and public letters; twenty introductions, forewords, and prefaces; twenty-nine blurbs, reviews, and endorsements" (xxi) and vary in importance from negligible to essential. Although I would recommend the book, I am at times tentative about its content and editorship. Bruccoli's preface states that the volume was planned prior to 1979, but was stopped with the death of Vernon Sternberg. If the book had appeared in the early 1980s, it would have proven a wonderful companion to Bruccoli's edited Conversations with Ernest Hemingway (1986). Since then, however, many of the longer, more important pieces have become available elsewhere, twenty of them in Robert Trogdon's Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Reference and its corresponding DLB volume. Examples from the Trogdon collection include New Masses articles such as "Conrad, Optimist and Moralist," "Who Murdered the Vets?," and "Fascism is a Lie." Much more interesting and harder to find are other longish pieces ranging from a short biography of Milton Wolff for an art exhibition catalog to Hemingway's forewords for Joseph North's Men in the Ranks (1939). and Francois Sommer's Man and Beast in Africa (1953).
Yet the real charm of this book and its efficacy lie in the neglected ephemera: book cover blurbs, promotional copy for the 1953 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus program, defensive letters to editors, and product endorsements. Taken singly, they are of "negligible" impact. Taken together, they help construct Hemingway's persona. Even if some of the pieces contained here are available elsewhere, the book's cohesive portrait of self-promotion relies on the onslaught of ephemera-the more ephemeral, the better. Reading the book from cover to cover, rather than dipping into it as a reference, gives the impression of unified self-marketing despite the fact that the material spans almost forty years. The trajectory of fame moves from bohemian insight (or pretension) to ultra-commercial product endorsement.
The book offers surprises for the casual reader of Hemingway and, if not surprises, at least rediscoveries for the Hemingway scholar. For example, Hemingway's prefaces, introductions, and reviews for other authors' books illustrate his knack for self-promotion--what Bruccoli labels megalomania. The way Hemingway takes a preface purportedly about another's writing and ultimately makes it about his own writing or subject expertise is uncanny and needs to be scrutinized. Likewise, seeing all of Hemingway's writing on art and artists in one place, such as his article on buying Joan Miro's "The Farm" and his introductions for gallery programs, serves to reify exactly how formative and heady the Paris art scene was for an astute student like Hemingway; they illustrate how he aspired to write with the eye of an artist. The most concentrated grouping of articles--mid-1930s material dedicated to the Spanish Civil War--highlights that war's overlooked importance for both Hemingway's writing and persona. The book also displays Hemingway's all too unappreciated humor, often wonderfully self-effacing, as in the introduction to Kiki's Memoirs.
The book is not exhaustive, nor does it claim to be. But Hemingway and the Mechanism of Fame is only 145 pages long, and could have done with some fattening up. There are some pieces missing that would have added to its construction of the Hemingway persona, such as his review of Gertrude Stein's Geography and Plays, published in the Paris Tribune in 1923, or his recipe for a "Death in the Afternoon Cocktail" in So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon, Sterling North and Carl Kroch's 1935 cocktail book by thirty "leading authors" (Hemingway's recipe, together with a wonderful caricature, appears first). To be fair, such omissions--and there are others, especially from the 1950s--might be due to copyright problems. Or perhaps the editor simply thought they did not contribute to the "mechanism of fame."
The lack of any statement about the editing process is also troublesome. For example, I would have liked to know why Bruccoli included some pieces from the transatlantic review and not others. The closest we have to a general editorial statement is in the preface: "All texts and illustrations are located, with the exception of readily available mass-circulation magazines and newspapers. [sic]" It is obvious that some word or words have been left out. A few pages later, "Hamingway" shows up in the introduction. Typographical errors occur in every book, but taken with this book's omissions, its brevity, the absence of an editorial statement, and the lack of an index, which I find unforgivable in any academic book, they suggest that the editing was somewhat lackadaisical--not enough to dissuade me from recommending the book, but enough to merit mention.
Also troubling is a certain petulant tone in the general introduction and in the background information provided for the selections. Usually Bruccoli deftly contextualizes each piece with relevant facts, but at times he drops in statements that judge in an obtrusive manner: "[Hemingway] also provides an egregious example of his corny nature communion" (126); "By 1952 the Hemingway act had taken over the genius ..." (115). But this is rare. More troubling are these snarky statements in the introduction: "Hemingway's work has withstood the depredations of political correctness, feminism, deconstruction, and postmodernism" (xvii, emphasis added) and "[Hemingway] may have damaged the profession of authorship by providing readers with a distorted model for how writers were supposed to live and work: writers who didn't emulate Hemingway were regarded as minor figures or hobbyists or sissies" (xvii). The first statement is problematic for those of us who think Hemingway's work and reputation (as well as Hemingway studies in general) would have profited from more such critical attention during those decades when Hemingway studies seemed to be confined to biography and psychoanalysis. The latter statement is unsubstantiated and seems a bit grandiose to me.
But these minor problems do not detract from the book's overall intention and effect, or from the convenience of having hard-to-find material gathered in a handy volume. Indeed, the collection's marketing-inspired rationale is long overdue. The book reminds us that there is an awful lot of uncollected Hemingway material still out there which needs to be republished, most obviously the Esquire and Ken pieces not collected in By-Line. We must also realize that after a relatively early point in Hemingway's career the mechanism of fame got away from him; Hemingway undeniably cultivated his persona, and academia has attempted to redefine it, but media attention and formulations really gave it lasting life. Whereas the material in this volume is undeniably important, we cannot limit our scrutiny to Hemingway's own writing and mythmaking. We must also look at the dissemination and reception of the persona in the marketplace. Hemingway's persona as it existed in the public's mind, as separate from the persona he advanced, is a fiction every bit as complex and worthy of study as any of Hemingway's writings.
--David M. Earle, Kent State University
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|Author:||Earle, David M.|
|Publication:||The Hemingway Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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