I don’t know how to write like myself

The title of the post is a quote from The Rum Diary, “I’ve got no voice, I don’t know how to write like myself”.

I have been reading Death in the Afternoon, and the quote reminded me of the very first page of the book, where Hemingway is trying to explain the reason for writing the book on a subject like bullfighting.

an exploration of the nature of cowardice and bravery

…I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel , and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced. In writing for a newspaper you told what happened and, with one trick and another, you communicated the emotion aided by the element of timeliness which gives a certain emotion to any account of something that has happened on that day; but the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always, was beyond me and I was working very hard to try to get it.

The only place where you could see life and death, i.e. violent death now that the wars were over, was in the bull ring and I wanted very much to go to Spain where I could study it. I was trying to learn to write, commencing with the simplest things, and one of the simplest things of all and most fundamental is violent death. It has none of the complications of death by disease, or so-called natural death, or the death of a friend or someone you have loved or have hated, but it is death nevertheless, one of the subjects that a man may write of. I had read many books in which, when the author tried to convey it, he only produced a blur, and I decided that this was because either the author had never seen it clearly or at the moment of it, he had physically or mentally shut his eyes, as one might do if he saw a child that he could not possibly reach or aid, about to be struck by a train. In such a case I suppose he would probably be justified in shutting his eyes as the mere fact of the child being about to be struck by the train was all that he could convey, the actual striking would be an anti-climax, so that the moment before striking might be as far as he could represent. But in the case of an execution by a firing squad, or a hanging, this is not true, and if these very simple things were to be made permanent, it could not be done with any shutting of the eyes. I had seen certain things, certain simple things of this sort that I remembered, but through taking part in them, or, in other cases, having to write of them immediately after and consequently noticing the things I needed for instant recording. I had never been able to study them as a man might, for instance, study the death of his father or the hanging of someone, say, that he did not know and would not have to write of immediately after for the first edition of an afternoon newspaper.

So I went to Spain to see bullfights and to try to write about them for myself.

It is freaky to hear Hemingway’s voice in your head. I frequently imagine (without meaning to) Papa Hemingway seated on a chair with a disapproving curve to his mouth, quaffing alcohol and talking.

Bol kya naam hai tera?

Found this charming review of the book online here,

From an introduction to Papa Hemingway, and his work, here,

Also,from a footnote to Death in the Afternoon, by Norman Mailer, here.

More on the book when I move ahead.

3 thoughts on “I don’t know how to write like myself

  1. An old girlfriend once asked me what the big deal was about Hemingway. My response was almost identical to what you wrote about hearing him inside your head. He’s like a masculine angel on the shoulder of a certain kind of man, the kind of man I want to know. He’s there, leading you forward with a bottle and a bullet, guiding you with his less than angelic example. Lots of people have heard that voice and become great men. Thompson heard it and even went so far as to visit the place of Hemingway’s demise, poetically stealing those antlers that hung over the door.

    The point is, I’m glad you hear it too. I look forward to seeing what you think about the rest of this book. For me, Hemingway and those like him were voices so present in my own head it led me to write a book about it. I’m glad people are still hearing him.

    • Thank you for your astute words, Jack! Hunter has been speaking in my head for quite some time now, since I first picked up Hell’s Angels. I have started exploring Hemingway because of Hunter’s fascination with him, and feel embarrassed that I haven’t read enough of him as yet. Both of them have words that jump out of a page, and I have never been able to just read their books like other authors. Their voices ring out in the ear long after the book’s closed. I lay no claims to my greatness (or lack, thereof) but I am glad I can hear that voice too.

      Thank you again for your comment. The finding of a kindred spirit cheered me up!

  2. Pingback: Where to watch a bullfight from? (Passage from ‘Death in the Afternoon’) « Gonzo – Using an unconventional, exaggerated and highly subjective style, often when the reporter is part of the story

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