Saturday, October 29, 2005

Writers in the Spanish Civil War

George Packer writes a lengthy piece on the Spanish Civil War and the Hemingway, Dos Passos dichotomy. I just had a piece on Hemingway turned down by The New Yorker which, as John McPhee can tell you doesn't mean it's bad. Prescient maybe? Good to see they're paying attention. Packer does a number on Hemingway, and I'm not sure it's justified.
Intellectuals can hardly keep away from politics any more than other citizens, and probably less, especially in decades like the nineteen-thirties (or this one, for that matter). But, because they typically bring to it an unstable mix of abstraction and narcissism, their judgments tend to be absolute, when nothing in politics ever is. This is why a writer as devoted to the visible, concrete world as Hemingway could nonetheless stumble so badly during his time in Spain: he lacked a sense of politics. The writer forever in search of one true sentence ended up accepting a whole raft of lies.

That's pretty harsh, but in EH's defense he was a liberalesque political voter, but in war he put politics aside to observe behavior. "I think he was a Democrat," Bud Purdy his Idaho friend said, but he sure didn't flaunt his political ideas. That's a rare thing in a writer, and Packer clearly doesn't like it.


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