Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway

What a surprisingly strange and disjointed book this is! A collection of obviously carefully worked fragments that never quite cohere into an overall narrative, A Moveable Feast is both an occasion for its author to settle old scores (against the dead-by-publication Ford Madox Ford and Gertrude Stein, as well as other lesser names) and a sometimes highly illuminating look at writerly process. The book frequently falls into bathos; indeed, some sections seem to take bathos as a formal principle: beginning with incomparable lyrical description, moving on to an encounter written in strict Hemingwayan dialogue rhythms, then ending in anticlimactic triteness with Ernie and Hadley sharing a typically saccharine exchange.

Two sections especially intrigued me on this reading: the long Fitzgerald section, in which Hemingway devotes a quarter of the book to the project of taking back everything he says in the section's opening elegiac paragraph, and the odd, contradictory, conflicted "Birth of a New School," in which the author puts his own homophobic hysteria on display and then retreats into an image of himself mothering his baby. In other words, he takes a traditionally female role in a domestic space immediately after publically putting down a local queer. Very suggestive and self-deconstructing, the section reveals a bit more, it seems, than the author might have intended.

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