Friday, January 23, 2004

'El sol es el mejor torrero.' 

I've read a lot of Hemingway over the years...I guess we all have...but I'd never read his 'Death in the Afternoon' until this week. What a book! I picked it up for 100 yen and in great condition about a month ago at a used book store. Then, a few nights ago on TV there just happened to be a special on NHK about bullfighting. Naturally, I could have chalked the whole thing up to happenstance, but I mean come on! So I finally got around to reading the book in earnest the other day. Really such a departure from his usual work! Very little fiction, just fact upon interesting fact punctuated by astute observations about something for which he had a passion: the Spanish bullfight. Of course, I've been to Spain several times, and I'd even seen 'The Running of the Bulls' in Pamplona a few years ago (no I didn't join in), but nothing in my past had prepared me for the depth of meaning that was being revealed to me in the pages of this book. Hemingway's portrayal of the bullfight as not so much a sport, but as more of a tragicomedy had me rivited. Of course, the story, as they say, is in the details, so I won't bore you with my half-baked rehashing of them. I would like to take the time to quote one passage at length, which actually has nothing to do at all with bullfighting. It's Hemingway writing about writing, which is something that he doesn't really do that often. Anyway, I found it absorbing, so I'm sure someone else out there will too.

'This too to remember. If a man writes clearly enough anyone can see if he fakes. If he mystifies to avoid a straight statement, which is very different from breaking so-called rules of syntax or grammar to make an effect which can be obtained in no other way, the writer takes a longer time to be known as a fake and other writers who are afflicted by the same necessity will praise him in their own defence. True mysticism should not be confused with incompetence in writing which seeks to mystify where there is no mystery but is really only the necessity to fake to cover lack of knowledge or the inability to state clearly. Mysticism implies a mystery and there are many mysteries; but incompetence is not one of them; nor is overwritten journalism made literature by the injection of a false epic quality. Remember this too: all bad writers are in love with the epic.'

Excerpted from chapter 5 of Hemingway's 'Death in the Afternoon'

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