Hem and the Art of Fancy Cars

October 1, 2007

Reading a lot of Hemingway can ruin your prose. You begin to wonder whether that sentence you wrote was true. A lot of sentences are bad and a few are good and then there are some that leave you and you know are true. The true ones are the tough ones. Only true sentences are actually sentences. The rest are just a few words between periods.

I think it’s better that I resist the temptation to write like Hem. For one thing, writing like Hem would be a rejection of the YS proclivity toward mid-19th century literary stylings, and thus a disservice to our readers who’ve come to expect grandiosity in floridity (re: pomposity) from thine low and humble pensuers. For another, I’m nowhere near as good at it as Woody Allen. But, on a more serious note, I think that we’ve lost some of the ability to recognize what made Hem great. So much of his prose is rooted in the mythology of the time, the boys adventure novels and the pulps; so much of it is based around genres that no-longer resonate with us. Most people are no longer able to defamiliarize Hemingway, to separate his writing from the genres that gave birth to it. Newspapers aren’t even written that way anymore. We can still love Hemingway as a stylist, and appreciate the almost lyrical cadence with which words fall off the page. And we at Yesterday’s Salad will always love Hem for his etymological, philological stylings:
“That’s another dandy word,” Catherine said. “Explain what dandy means to your new girl. It’s an Americanism.”

“I think I know it,” the girl said. “It’s the third word in ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’ Don’t please be cross Catherine.”

[Note to the reader: Dandy is most likely derived from Scottish English, having appeared on the Scottish border in the late 18th century. It hit London around 1819. No one knows from whence it derives. The meaning of dandy as in “good, first rate” e.g. “fine and dandy”, however, does appear to have originated in the US. cf: Ogden Nash, one of Dash’s personal favorites, “Candy/ Is Dandy/ But Liquor/ Is Quicker.” INTERTEXTUALITY ALERT: the above link contains a link to an article about David Wright of the New York Metropolitans, the very same Metropolitans who blew their division lead to Yesterday’s Salad’s own Philadelphia Philadelphians. FURTHER INTERTEXTUALITY ALERT: that post was entitled, “Well this ought to be incoherent”, something this misdirected feuilleton is quickly turning out to be. Perhaps someone should alert super-criminal Princess Anne Hathaway.]

No matter your take on Hem’s philology, most agree that his stories have interesting, if problematic, depictions of gender roles and performances. In some ways, Hemingway created his own myth of a gendered world with masculine and feminine realms in order to poke holes in it, and to play with his own constructions. It’s almost as if he’s refuting Derrida’s claim in “Structure, Sign, Play” that the Engineer is a myth of the Bricoleur (wow, that was wonky; or: come back Elm Rock).

But Hem’s world is now out of date, and sorely in need of updating. What would be considered “masculine” in today’s Computer Age? The thing that came to mind immediately was the new Rolls Royce Phantom.


The Phantom’s masculinity has less to do with it’s sleek masculine lines, however, and much more to do with the fact that it gets only 9-10 mpg, or less than the model T. A manly number in the “feminine” time of fuel economy, global warming, and Hillary. Perhaps its not surprising that we continually turn away from vaginal subways.


5 Responses to “Hem and the Art of Fancy Cars”

  1. I’ll not have that something as ridiculous as 9-10 mpg is associated with masculinity. That, simply put, is idiotic. Why must masculinity be associated with pure stupidity? And a subway a vagina? Surely such a place isn’t associated with femininity merely because its a gash in the ground. These observations are quite offensive. But that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because I’m not sure I understand how precisely you are using defamiliarity in relation to Hemingway. Surely you realize that time itself works to keep forms of artistic expression unfamiliar.

  2. Not with a bang Says:


    Allow me to make a few observations about Yesterday’s Salad that might help to clarify a few things.

    1. The tone of Yesterday’s Salad is often ironic. If that is not clear from a typical posting, then it will likely be clear from the “About the Saladeers” page.

    2. dailysalad’s analogy about masculinity here is indeed ironic. We at Yesterday’s Salad are in fact public transit enthusiasts. There is a category of postings devoted to transit. There is none for cars.

    3. This is not to say that we at YS endorse masculinity as a positive over a negative feminine. ‘Just saying.’

    4. Ergo, this post can be seen as a criticism of Hemingway-style masculinity. For the record, Hemingway wrote beautifully. He was also clearly an asshole. And his conception of masculinity was remarkably circumscribed.

    5. Finally, the term “defamiliarize.” While writers at YS are divided over the merits of higher literary criticism and theory, we universally support the use of the technical terms of literary theory, both as intended and as blatant malapropisms. This is particularly so when such terms can be applied to subjects that have little to no relation to where the terms have historically been applied.
    So, two takes here (although according to Derrida, your own interpretation may vary):
    a. The modern reader cannot defamiliarize Hemingway because the cultural milieu from which Hemingway arose is itself unfamiliar. In essence, there’s no familiarity which one might de-.
    b. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, every new work of literature fundamentally changes how we look at past works. Thus defamiliarization remains impossible.
    (c. *secret answer* dailysalad has a roulette wheel of literary theory terms which he likes to sprinkle into postings at random. strange but true!)

    Yours in interwar Barcelona,
    -not with a bang.

  3. dailysalad Says:


    First, thank you for reading. I’m glad Mr. Notwithabang answered some of your questions as I was without power last night and unable to do so. His answers both match what I would have said, and are different. So, to recap:

    I am hardly the first person to suggest that Hemingway created gender distinctions in his world, or, to put it in a more lit-crit term, that he engaged in acts of gendering. He treats realms that are purely masculine, i.e. boxing, war, and those that are mixed but trending masculine, big-game hunting, fishing, and leaves women out of the stories. But what’s most interesting about Hemingway is the way he undercuts these assumptions. A text like “Green Hills of Africa” will adamantly create big-game hunting as a masculine space, only for this to be complicated by the child’s “feminized” pov in “Garden of Eden,” or for Hem to portray women as expert fishermen and the like. Again, this is why Hemingway remains so interesting.

    My comments about a “masculine” space, and “feminine” space in the modern world should have been written “sous rature” as they were intended as a joke. Still, masculinity has in some ways can be regarded as man’s ability/want to claim mastery over the outside world, to conquer nature. In that regard, I think cars are emblematic of male performance. As for subways, one hardly has to be a Freudian to see how a long train penetrating a tunnel can be viewed as a phallic. As NWABBAW said, I’m pro-transit and anti-car. And while I wouldn’t actually define a subway as feminine, I do think that car ownership is part of the mythical construction of the modern American male, especially a fast one that let’s other males see his superiority. So, like any joke, it’s only funny because of the societal values buried underneath.

    As for the use of defamiliarization, I believe that Notwith has hit the point head-on. Except that he’s totally wrong. In “Art as Technique” Shlovsky explains that to “defamiliarize” is to show something familiar as if it had never been done before. Hemingway’s early stories defamiliarized the adventure story genre and pulp genres they came from. They showed familiar ideas in vastly new ways, using intricate theories of repetition in sentence structure and words. Or, if you wish, Hemingway engaged in a “misreading” of the earlier work to use Bloom’s language. My point was that Modern readers lose this element when they read Hem. They lose how he rose above what came before because they are not familiar with what was there. We can still appreciate Hem as fine literature, but we have lost an element, albeit a recoverable one.

    I agree with Notwithabang, but I disagree in his contention that I am misusing defamiliarize. Perhaps my definition is slightly expanded, but still one in current usage. Mostly, I am using it as a technique of reading, and not as a technique of production. As for the T.S. Eliot quote: I don’t know why you are jumping to the conclusion that defamiliarization is impossible. It is still possible in all its meanings.

    Thank you very much for the comment, and I hope you’ll keep reading.



  4. […] girlfriend of ibiteyoureyes. But that is hard to do (quick like Marion) and, also, it hurts my manliness. So I fell back to wandering. And then I thought (with naivety!) that maybe I could find a place […]

  5. […] and Yesterday’s Salad-in-small. I’ve even been accused of having a “roulette wheel of literary theory terms” which I use when the mood strikes me, or when I run out of other things to write about. […]

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