August 11, 2014

"One afternoon in August 1937, Ernest Hemingway strode into the New York office of a Scribner’s editor and slapped a book across Max Eastman’s face."

"He then 'bared his chest to Mr. Eastman and asked him to look at the hair and say whether it was false'... Next, he 'persuaded Mr. Eastman to bare his chest and commented on its comparatively hairless condition.'... Hemingway was simply very pissed off about a manhood-challenging review that Eastman had written for The New Republic four years earlier. Writing about Death in the Afternoon — a nonfiction account of the bullfighting traditions of Spain — Eastman repeatedly jabs at Hemingway, saying 'the only simple thing' about the book is Hemingway himself, and alleging that his literary style is the equivalent 'of wearing false hair on the chest.'"

From "The Review That Caused Hemingway To Slap the Critic in the Face with a Book."

Nice picture at the link of Hemingway sucking in his gut and looking in the mirror at his bare torso... bear torso.

No one speaks of hairy chests as the mark of manhood anymore. I watch baseball games and mute that commercial for a nose-hair trimmer that the male model uses not only in his nose and on his ears and at his nape but also on his chest. A dinky battery-powered hair trimmer on his chest.

And of course, no one admires masculinistic writers who stride into the offices of publishers and slap critics in the face with books. I doubt if it was ever admirably manly to behave like that. The verb "slap" gives it away. Well, at least he strode. He didn't slink or sidle, which is, perhaps, how today's male author would approach a publisher.

By the way... who was Max Eastman? He turns up in what might be one of your favorite books, F.A. Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom":
It is pathetic, yet at the same time encouraging, to find as prominent an old communist as Max Eastman rediscovering this truth:

“It seems obvious to me now — though I have been slow, I must say, in coming to the conclusion — that the institution of private property is one of the main things that have given man that limited amount of free-and-equalness that Marx hoped to render infinite by abolishing this institution. Strangely enough Marx was the first to see this. He is the one who informed us, looking backwards, that the evolution of private capitalism with its free market had been a precondition for the evolution of all our democratic freedoms. It never occurred to him, looking forward, that if this was so, these other freedoms might disappear with the abolition of the free market.” [Max Eastman, “Socialism Doesn’t Jibe with Human Nature,” Reader’s Digest, July, 1941, p. 39.]
Slow. Maybe he needed a good slap in the head with a book. Please, no violence. Slap somebody in the head with a book today only metaphorically. And — late clue to Hemingway —  "wearing false hair on the chest" was a metaphor. I hear the ghost of Hemingway — metaphorical ghost — saying "Fuck metaphor!" — "fuck" being, of course, another metaphor. Man and metaphor. It's a tricky business.

ADDED: That reference to Reader's Digest (where Eastman published his "Doesn't Jibe" piece) in the context of hitting somebody with a book got me thinking about Bob Dylan's "Motorpsycho Nightmare":
Well, he threw a Reader’s Digest
At my head and I did run
I did a somersault
As I seen him get his gun...
It's the old farmer who tries to hit Bob with the Reader's Digest and who (like the King of America) threatens him with a gun, and — resonantly enough — what enrages the old farmer is Bob's statement "I like Fidel Castro and his beard." Now, that doesn't mean Bob Dylan is a communist. Bob just needed to come up with something to say that would strike the farmer as "very weird" because he wanted to get thrown out. We all know Bob Dylan is right wing.

39 comments:

MayBee said...

Perhaps Hemingway doth (didth) protest too much.

Scott M said...

Yet another tactile possibility in which ebooks fall far short of the mark.

traditionalguy said...

Never underestimate the power of testosterone. It makes bull fights a necessary part of life.

Now that we are morphing Mexican across the MIA border, ESPN should start showing the Bull Fight finals. But will they have to suspend on air talkers saying BullShit?

MayBee said...

The hairy chest thing is interesting.

Television censors used to insist men shave their chests because the hair was considered too sexy. I wonder if that didn't change the way we consider male chests to be sexy.

Larry J said...

Actually, things might be more civil if the people who glibly call others racists, bigots, etc. for simple disagreement suffered some physical pain as feedback. Call me those things to my face and I'm likely to punch your nose. Odds are you won't do it again. Civility, the non-bullshit version.

It's similar to how my wife described domestic violence in her country. According to her, it's actually pretty rare. People there tend to have extended families. Should a man abuse a woman, her father, brothers, cousins, etc. will come and beat the crap out of the man. It's such a social taboo that even the offender's own family won't defend him. Feedback, forceful and quick, can be an effective deterrent. Civility, the non-bullshit version once again.

PB Reader said...

I guess that's what's behind the "no-shave" movement among women. Flaunt any hair you've got.

Uncle Pavian said...

Thanks for clearing that up. I always thought that it was either John Steinbeck or Bennett Cerf who got punched out by Ernest Hemmingway.

grackle said...

I liked Hemingway a lot when I was in my twenties. Years later I reread a couple of his novels and found him wanting. This incident is a case in point. Hemingway tries too hard to be a man. Real men don't try. They just are. Hemingway's leading male characters are unintended caricatures of masculinity. They are more of a boy's idea of masculinity.

For real insight into masculinity read "From Here to Eternity." The movie is also great. James Jones was everything that Hemingway wanted to be.

Ann Althouse said...

"I guess that's what's behind the "no-shave" movement among women. Flaunt any hair you've got."

I'll believe that's a movement when I see them in their bathing suits.

Ann Althouse said...

"Hemingway tries too hard to be a man. Real men don't try."

That's what I found so intriguing about the photo at the link. Clearly, he's trying, struggling. Why stride into an office an hit another man with a book because he mocked your effort at masculinity unless it's your sore spot and you aren't really much of a man?

That might make his books interesting though. I don't know. I haven't read one in a long time. This notion that men who are real men just are… ironically, it sounds like something that would be said by someone trying, Hemingwayistically, to be a man.

mccullough said...

Hemingway got into a fistfight with the poet Wallace Stevens in Key West in the 1930s.

Hemingway won the fight. Stevens won the literary battle.

Scott M said...

Thanks for clearing that up. I always thought that it was either John Steinbeck or Bennett Cerf who got punched out by Ernest Hemmingway.

Woody Allen's got a great stand-up bit about being constantly punched in the mouth by Hemingway and then Gertrude Stein.

St. George said...

When students study 20th century literature in 100 years, they'll glom over Stephen King, not Hemingway, Faulkner, or any of the other literary darlings we've been told to adore.

King is as close to Dickens as we have.

traditionalguy said...

What the beautiful Professor is turning away from is that testosterone fueled aggressiveness just happens in men. Writers control it mentally. Golfers control it to win, like Bobby Jones once did, and Rory McIlroy did yesterday. Rory and Bobby were not naturally self controlled, peaceful people.

But it is still there. Bulls in bull fights are controlled by the matador baiting them with a red cape, but on occasions the bull wins because it has all the power, if not the self control to use it well.



William said...

In WWI, Hemngway experienced eighteen minutes of combat before being wounded. He was photogenic and the Italian government thought it politic to have an American war hero, so he became a war hero.....In many other contexts Hemingway demonstrated his bravery, but he was no war hero. However, he certainly looked like the sort of person we want our war heroes to look like and he grew into the part. J.D. Salinger had far more combat experience than Hemingway, but he didn't have the looks or range to play the part of a war hero......,Teddy Roosevelt experienced 2-3 hours of combat in the Spanish American War. TR was undoubtedly a brave man, but his wartime experience was minimal. His predecessor McKinley had been in many of the bloodiest Civil War battles and had risen from private to brevet major based on the valor of his service. McKinley was far more deserving of the title of war hero, but he didn't look the part, at least not when he was President. TR is the be given heroic status.

virgil xenophon said...

@grackle/

James Jones was born in Robinson, Illinois, just some 20mi south of where I was born and grew up (They were in our HS Conference, so we played them every year in every sport) He drank himself to death and died@age 55. I remember reading a piece in HARPER's mag shortly before his death circa 75/76 wherein commenting on the fact he had already been ordered to stop drinking by his doctor because of chirosis of the liver, opined that (para) "I just don't know how people can go through life socializing without drinks. The thought of having to attend a function where everyone else is drinking but me is a fate worse than death."

He died a year later..

David said...

I am still waiting for my chest hair to appear. It's been 60 years since I first expected it.

Michael K said...

I examine military recruits and find that about half of them shave not only chest hair but even pubic hair. This has got to be based on ability to get laid since not much else is important to that population.

Fernandinande said...

Writing about Death in the Afternoon — a nonfiction account of the bullfighting traditions of Spain

The wonders of torturing to death some stupid, passive cattle after seriously injuring them so they can't defend themselves. That's muy macho, fersure.

Only an asshole could enjoy that or find it interesting except as an example of human sadism directed toward helpless and harmless animals.

Tank said...

@Fernandinande

I just finished reading the below book. You really have no idea what it, or bullfighting is about. Maybe you should take the time to read it to judge. Nah, probably wouldn't help.

The Dangerous Summer is a nonfiction book by Ernest Hemingway published posthumously in 1985 and written in 1959 and 1960. The book describes the rivalry between bullfighters Luis Miguel Dominguín and his brother-in-law, Antonio Ordóñez, during the "dangerous summer" of 1959. It has been cited as Hemingway's last book.

Anthony said...

I just saw a commercial for this product over the weekend and just buried my face in my hands: http://gillette.com/en-us/products/razor-blades/body-razors/body-razor

Men shave their pubes because that's what the porn stars do.

I like Hemingway. I'm reading some of his short stories at the moment. The minimalism appeals to me, and the imagery and stories really stick with me more than other writers. I have difficulty reading his hunting or bullfighting stories, and often just skip them because I really dislike it. But, that was life back then.

Rusty said...

human sadism directed toward helpless and harmless animals.

The bulls are bred to fight.The fight is not only a test of the agility of the bull fighter, but of the strength and viciousness of the bull.
In the end the bull gets killed. But at least he had a better than even chance to get his executioner. Which is more than his other cattle friends did.

I think, after a time, you out grow Hemmingway.

Brando said...

Hemmingway sort of seemed like one of those guys so insecure about his lack of manliness he had to go about proving himself all the time. As if he had something to hide.

Teddy Roosevelt had a bit of that as well--for him it was the shame of having a father who bought his way out of the Civil War draft, so TR had to prove himself a patriot and a warrior. As brilliant as he was in most respects, that weakness showed itself through his lifetime. Fortunately he never blundered us into any needless wars (though as a private citizen he did support our entry into the First World War, and even crazily requested to lead a cavalry unit--imagine how that would have turned out if Wilson let that happen!).

Scott M said...

Hemmingway sort of seemed like one of those guys so insecure about his lack of manliness he had to go about proving himself all the time. As if he had something to hide.

How tall was he?

Scott M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HoodlumDoodlum said...

Interestingly enough it was the Reader's Digest condensed version of The Road to Serfdom that made Hayek's book a bestseller and him a intellectual star.

William said...

I saw one bullfight and never wish to see another. The bullfighter gets to wear a shiny outfit and to strike heroic poses before the women on the high ramparts. In that respect, there's a certain element of Bronze Age warfare to the sport, so perhaps it scratches some primitive itch.. The bull suffers, but the fight and the struggle is part of his make up. Perhaps there's some primitive satisfaction for him as well. The most pitiable creatures are the horses. The horses have no great need to prove that they are braver than an enraged bull or to establish dominance in the arena. There's not much in the sport for horses...... In the fight I saw, a bull pushed his horns into the side of a horse and kept pushing and turning his horns into the entrails of the poor beast. It was horrible to look at. Perhaps Picasso drew that picture of the neighing horse from memory of what he saw at a bullfight....Maybe Hemingway reached his audience because Western Civ was one big bull fight, and it was more fun to pretend to be a matador than a gored horse.

Rusty said...

Scott M said...
Hemmingway sort of seemed like one of those guys so insecure about his lack of manliness he had to go about proving himself all the time. As if he had something to hide.

How tall was he?

Something like 5'9'' or 5'10''
My late fathers business partner was Hemingways last wifes cousin. Somewhere I have a picture of the three of them outside Hemingways house in Cuba.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Interesting that no one else seems to have noticed that the article's author is also named Max Eastman. A grandson out to defend Grandpa's honor by trashing Hemmingway? Who knows?

Anonymous said...

This was the original draft for 'The Short Happy Life Of Francis Macomber'

On the other hand, from cockfighting to bullfighting to bare-knuckle boxing to fraternity hazing, I tend to think of this as a force that needs taming and civilizing.

Ignore it and cram it into ideology at your peril.

At some point, a man may become a parody of the life he chose for himself, as Hemingway did so publicly. So changeth the man, and groweth unto what a man may become. In his time before death, a man may become many things.

Is death a quiet hole to slip through in the corner of a hospital room? Your children's lives living beyond yours? A slipping away into oblivion?

The way you treated others, in memories also fading?

More pain until there is no more?

Anonymous said...

Too bad Papa's not around today to try that on Vladimir Putin.

St. George said...

In the man's defense, he did put himself out there...going on safari, deep sea fishing, God knows what else.

Can you imagine the howls if some movie star, say, Brad Pitt, went big game hunting or starting blasting precious ducks out of the sky? Brad's playing Mommy to a gang of children.

Ann Althouse said...

"Interesting that no one else seems to have noticed that the article's author is also named Max Eastman. A grandson out to defend Grandpa's honor by trashing Hemmingway? Who knows?"

No. That is the reprinted original.

Michael K said...

"Only an asshole could enjoy that or find it interesting except as an example of human sadism directed toward helpless and harmless animals."

As opposed to an asshole who posts a comment on something he knows nothing about.

Watch the second video and tell me that is not courage.

Eeyore Rifkin said...

Slapping Eastman with his bullshit was a metaphor. Socking him would have been a potent metaphor too. It's fun to have this insight into Hemingway's editorial process.

JimB said...

David: Hang in there. The hair that should have grown on your chest will show up in your ears and nose. Ask me how I know.

Uncle Pavian said...

If nothing will do but that we must have a sport that involves bulls, let us revive the ancient Minoan practice of bull-leaping. It's not only more of a challenge, but it's better for the bulls. Plus, the team uniforms are like, totally hot.

LarsPorsena said...

In many ways "Papa" was a fraud.
In WWI he could have joined the Foreign Legion or the Lafayette Escadrille to face death. In the Italian ambulance service he merely observed from a distance those who stared death in the face.
His wounding was the merest chance.

He would run with the bulls in Pamplona but he could never be a bullfighter.

His 'war' correspondent days (Spain and WWII) were spent in rear areas with well-stocked larders.

His balls finally dropped the moment he stuck the shotgun in his mouth.

Michael K said...

"His 'war' correspondent days (Spain and WWII) were spent in rear areas with well-stocked larders."

From what I know, this is not true, He had a bunch of "correspondents" and hangers-on with him in France and they "liberated" the Ritz before the allies got there. In fact, he met his wife there.

Writers are different and he was a very good one. Few are really action types. I've read everything he wrote and his observations are excellent whether or not he was as brave as those he admired and wrote about.