Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Clean Well-Lighted Life

Hemingway is at his best, I think, in his short stories.  The same may be said of Stephen Crane.  In novels, they tend to wander; in their short stories, they make a single point, and that point is sometimes profound.

Someone once said to me that Hemingway is a Stoic author.  This was said in connection with his Old Man and the Sea, but I have some problems making that connection.  I doubt a Stoic would become all that involved in landing a fish, however great the fish might be, and while a Stoic might love nature I think a Stoic would find no pleasure, and surely no grandeur, in killing one of its creatures.  Papa took pleasure in killing many, apparently.  One wonders if he took pleasure in killing himself.

Someone once said to me that Hemingway was bipolar (a guide at his former Key West home).  That may be.  It seems to have run in the family, like alcoholism.  If he was, it would make sense that this would inform his work.

I've always liked A Clean Well-Lighted Place.  Age and a few near-death experiences have given me a different perspective of it, though, which I noted while reading it again the other day.  I was pleased, first, that I didn't feel the same disappointment in rereading him that I felt in rereading Mark Twain.  Perhaps I would have if I read something less precise, though; something like For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Though I flatter myself that I don't yet qualify as an old man, I feel a kind of sympathy with the old man in the story.  I believe I have a better understanding of why he found it hard to sleep.  I suspect he found it hard to sleep because it is hard to sleep, as one grows older; or rather, it is hard to stay asleep.  There are physical reasons for this, of course.  But I think the older one gets the more one has to be distracted, even tricked, into sleeping.  Thus it becomes necessary to read or watch TV for a time, once one is awake, to fall asleep again.  And, it can be useful sometimes to drink, as the old man does.  When one grows old one has more time to drink as well as to think.  So the old man annoys one of the waiters at the cafe.

The older of the waiters admires the old man as he drinks well--neatly and with dignity.  This is important.  When you drink, you shouldn't drink sloppily, noisily, stupidly.  You should do it well, as you struggle to do other things well, like walk away from your drink when it comes time to do so, as does the old man.

The older waiter understands the old man and respects his effort to do what he does well, even if it is merely drinking brandy.  He also understands the fact that it is necessary that where one drinks is important, when you're old.  The place should certainly be clean, I believe.  A mess is self-indulgent.  It is the result of being sloppy and unthinking in your ways.  It indicates you have no respect for yourself, or for others in the case of a bar or tavern.

I don't think it must be well-lighted, though, but it may be that the light is needed to establish the place is clean, and it's more important that it be clean.  I suppose the place may be dimly lit but still well-lighted, though, in some respects.

"Our Nada who art in Nada...."  The story is the story of two men who have no illusions, who perhaps have no hopes, but this does not overwhelm them.  There are things that they can do, that they can enjoy, and they can do them well, regardless of the fact that there may well be Nada.  In doing them well they show respect for themselves and the universe.  Perhaps there was something of the Stoic in Hemingway after all.  It is more the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius than that of Epictetus, however.

No comments:

Post a Comment