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.