Ernest Hemingway WTF



  • Remember when you were in high school and your teacher blew so much smoke up your ass about what each book meant and if you didn't get the smallest details correct on the test then you got a bad grade? Heres even a few links about The Old Man and the Sea:

    Google

    Wikipedia

     Ernest Hemingway himself proved all that was a load of BS when in a letter to Bernard Berenson, in 1952 he wrote:

    <quote>

    Then there is the other secret. There isn't any symbolysm. The sea is a sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolysm that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.

    </quote> 

     This is the kind of thing people should be taught. To think for themselves and get out of a story what you see in it, rather than what some teacher or critic tells you you should see...
     



  • No, I don't remember. I never had any teacher like that. I got an A for my essay on a film where I cynically related all the director's decisions to the need to make the film make money. I also got nothing more than a slight moan when I put uncensored swears in creative writing.

    The most annoying teacher I had was a history teacher who was anal about exactly where on the page the title and date should go, and when pen/pencil should be used. 



  • [quote user="m0ffx"]

    No, I don't remember. I never had any teacher like that. I got an A for my essay on a film where I cynically related all the director's decisions to the need to make the film make money. I also got nothing more than a slight moan when I put uncensored swears in creative writing.

    The most annoying teacher I had was a history teacher who was anal about exactly where on the page the title and date should go, and when pen/pencil should be used. 

    [/quote]

    You were lucky.  What convinced me to leave public school was my ninth-grade English teacher.  One of the books we were to read was "The Diary of Anne Frank".  Afterwards, there was a test on it, and one of the questions was "Did you like this book?  Why or why not?"  Any answer beginning with "no" was the wrong answer: he was convinced that this was one of the greatest works of literature ever.



  • [quote user="AustinW"]

    Remember when you were in high school and your teacher blew so much smoke up your ass about what each book meant and if you didn't get the smallest details correct on the test then you got a bad grade? Heres even a few links about The Old Man and the Sea:

    [/quote]

    Urg, I hated that.  Not so much the grades (I didn't do [i]too[/i] badly in that respect), but we had to disect and explain (what seemed like) every little detail of the books we read, as though every single word had been scientifically chosen to produce the best possible effect.  Totally killed any enjoyment of the books simply as good stories.



  • [quote user="AustinW"]Remember when you were in high school and your teacher blew so much smoke up your ass about what each book meant and if you didn't get the smallest details correct on the test then you got a bad grade? [/quote]

    No. Then again, my country has a decent educational system with competent teachers who actually encourage students to think for themselves. Oh, they told us what they thought books meant, sure, but they didn't insist we agree, or test us on that - they tested us on whether we could support our own own opinions with reasoned arguments.

    [quote user="AustinW"]Ernest Hemingway himself proved all that was a load of BS[/quote]

    No he didn't. That's the intentional fallacy - the lie that authors have a monopoly on interpreting their work, the lie that you can understand anything if you only know what the author meant when s/he wrote it.  That, of course, is just as much BS as the claim that some critic's interpretation is right.  The only meaning a book has is the meaning you create for yourself as you read it.

    [quote user="AustinW"]This is the kind of thing people should be taught. To think for themselves and get out of a story what you see in it, rather than what some teacher or critic tells you you should see...[/quote]

    And see, you've come to the exact same conclusion yourself!

    It's just a shame that your country's educational system doesn't encourage that kind of thing. I suspect we'd see a whole lot fewer WTFs here if it did...



  • Where did you find that quote? It's not even written in Hemmingway's style. I agree with you that people read too much into certain texts -- and its silly for a teacher to claim that one interpretation is correct and a different one is wrong -- but who cares what the author says?



  • [quote user="savar"]Where did you find that quote? It's not even written in Hemmingway's style. I agree with you that people read too much into certain texts -- and its silly for a teacher to claim that one interpretation is correct and a different one is wrong -- but who cares what the author says?[/quote]

    Only one google hit:

    The accompanying citation: Letter to Bernard Berenson (13 September 1952); published in Ernest Hemingway : Selected Letters 1917-1961 (1981) edited by Carlos Baker



  • [quote user="AustinW"] Ernest Hemingway himself proved all that was a load of BS when in a letter to Bernard Berenson, in 1952 he wrote:

    Then there is the other secret. There isn't any symbolysm. The sea is a sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolysm that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.

    [/quote]

    From what I've read about good ol' Ernie, it's entirely possible -- nay, probable -- that he was lying in that letter in order to embarrass some critic who went overboard. (That is: the book did indeed have symbolism -- and as an aside, critiques of scholarship gain credibility when spelled correctly -- and Hemingway knew it, but because he was angered by some particular interpretation of said symbolism which was then highly publicized, he sent a letter repudiating symbolism, knowing that it would be quoted and make the source of the interpretation look like a fool. That sounds like his sense of humor.)


    Haven't read much Hemingway, though. What I've read leads me to believe that he is like Edna Ferber: vastly overrated by both his contemporaries and immediate successors.


  • A great example of this is the poem by Robert Frost, A road less taken. Ive always gotten ticked off at teachers, and supposed "authorities" on literary works who claim everything must mean something, and attach some self imposed view on what an author meant.

     Now granted I did this thesis when I was a junior in high school, so I do not remember the publication the interview with Mr. Frost took place, but in that interview he reported that he had simply been up for a very long time that day, was exhausted and had alot more work to do on his work before he could get some much needed rest.

     I have always thought that literature can have meaning, and that that meaning is what it is to you, which isnt to say anything to anyone else.

     

    Tim

     



  • [quote user="Iago"]

    The only meaning a book has is the meaning you create for yourself as you read it.

    [/quote]

    That's the solipsist fallacy :P
     



  • [quote user="Iago"]

    The only meaning a book has is the meaning you create for yourself as you read it.

    [/quote]


    I was actually a CS / English double major in undergrad, and I actually enjoyed doing literary analysis.  I took a lot of literature, math and computer science courses during
    undergrad, and found the literature classes to be the most difficult by
    far.

    I understand your point though; sometimes it can seem pretty far-fetched to read meaning into a text.  If this is the case for you, I suspect you're looking for the wrong things in your analysis.  Every coherent text has themes and motifs (i.e. repeating ideas that recur throughout the text).  Your analysis can be as simple as identifying a theme and the events that make up a theme.  There is no need to attempt to read each object in the text as a complex metaphor.

    There is also no need to be hostile about literary analysis, especially towards your teachers.  I reject outright the oft-repeated idea that teachers are commonly less intelligent than their teenage pupils.  Furthermore, I would have a healthy respect for people who are good at literary analysis - their ability to filter and distill huge amounts of information into coherent ideas is not unlike the abilities of some of the best computer scientists.



  • Reminds me of the (albeit apocryphal) quote attributed to Freud: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."



  • [quote user="Iago"]No. Then again, my country has a decent educational system with competent teachers who actually encourage students to think for themselves. Oh, they told us what they thought books meant, sure, but they didn't insist we agree, or test us on that - they tested us on whether we could support our own own opinions with reasoned arguments.[/quote]

    Implying that the poster comes from a country with a broken education system - based on a single statement from a single source. Your powers of deduction are amazing.

     Guess what - there were poor teachers just as bad as the teacher referenced in the post you replied to in your "country"; don't take such pride in your country, it is very small-minded of you. In fact, the story could be about a teacher FROM YOUR PRECIOUS COUNTRY!! Think about that a bit and let your mind explode from trying to understand it.

    sincerely,
    Richard Nixon
     



  • [quote user="AustinW"]

    Remember when you were in high school and your teacher blew so much smoke up your ass about what each book meant and if you didn't get the smallest details correct on the test then you got a bad grade? 

    [/quote]

     

    I've always felt a bit worried when the teachers where explaining us every single detail in a book and what the author had meant, ... it often seemed a bit far-stretched, and I was doubting that the author would really mean that much.. in fact when I was a kid I even thought it was very difficult to be an author because of all those seemingly unrelated things you have to hide behind every sentence so that literature teachers can go hunting for them...

    I guess a lot depends on the educational system of your country (i'm french) - but even more on the teachers you have (which are mainly human beings).

     

    One funny WTFey story about that : I don't know how many you know the french writer Georges Perec, - but he's quite famous - I've been told that his son once had to study one of his father's works in class. The young Perec came back with the assignment and got the help of his father to write his essay. He later came back from school with a really bad mark, ...and a commentary along the lines of "You didn't understand anything to the author's thinking !"

     ...
     



  • My favorite lampooning of the excesses found in literary academia is in the movie "Back to School".

    Rodney
    Dangerfield's character was supposed to write a paper on one of Kurt
    Vonnegut's books.  Since he was hiring pro's to do all his school
    work, he hired Kurt Vonnegut himself to write the paper (yes, that was
    really him in the movie). 

    Later, the professor of his
    literature class fails him on that paper, saying that whoever he got to
    write it doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut.

     


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