Moveable memories

More or less by chance, Susana picked up and now we have both reread this charming, gossipy posthumous book by "Tatie," as his then-wife Hadley calls him in the book.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. 1964. Victoria, Australia: Penguin Books Australia, 1973.

I remembered so little from an earlier reading years ago, just a little of the Fitzgerald stuff, that this felt like a totally fresh experience. Finished it the day before yesterday, and I loved it. Then today I was in the Strand used-books store and saw "the restored edition" introduced and edited by EH's grandson Seán Hemingway. As the Wikipedia article makes clear, there's room for lots of controversy about the editing of EH's manuscripts, which he had never put together in a final form before -- despairing over memory loss, likely due to shock treatment he had received for other ailments -- he shot himself ("July 2, 1961, some three weeks short of his 62nd birthday" says the Wiki bio.

Whether EH would have organized the chapters in the same order as did his widow, Mary, and even if in some places she combined paragraphs from different manuscripts, it is still unmistakably (or "unmistakeably," as he would have written it) his prose. And it all feels true in Hemingway's sense. Not necessarily true factually (Ford Madox Ford may not really have smelled that bad, for example), but true emotionally, to the way Hemingway felt as he began to lose his memory about those events of 35 years earlier. (His memory was helped and stimulated by the rediscovery of a trunk full of manuscripts and letters he had left behind in Paris in 1928, according to the intro to the "restored edition".) So this becomes for me another illustration of the complex processes of memory as we age, on which Elkhonon Goldberg has so much fascinating information. I sympathize with Hemingway's view, that what is "true" is what is honestly felt. What other truth can we know? Because all information is mediated by our senses, which may decive us, and captured and recalled through brain circuitry which evolves as we do.

But mainly, besides these reflections on memory, I admire Hemingways artisanry. The book (in the familiar edition edited by Mary Hemingway) is, as Hemingway invites us to consider it, a novel. The story of how a young man seeking fame achieves it at the cost of his innocence. And in the course of telling the story, he gives some good tips on story-writing. Most important for me, just find one "true" sentence and that's enough to get you started, and always be sure you have some idea of what happens next before you knock off work to think about something else. Good tips.

Wikipedia: A Moveable Feast

Wikipedia: Ernest Hemingway)

Ford Madox Ford

See also Elkhonon Goldberg, The wisdom paradox: how your mind can grow stronger as your brain grows older. New York: Gotham Books, 2005. I referred to it briefly in a note on Eros and Thanatos last month.


Siege mentality

This novel by the first Man Booker International prize winner (2005) is also the first fiction I've ever read from Albania. Ismail Kadaré wrote Kështjella, here translated as The Siege, in 1969, when Enver Hoxha -- Mao Tse-Tung's only ally in Europe -- feared Soviet invasion in the wake of the invasion of Czechoslovakia & fomented national anxiety about a possible siege. The idolized 15th-century Albanian resistance leader George Castrioti, known as "Skanderbeg" ("Lord Alexander"), is mentioned frequently but (prudently) Kadaré never describes him directly or lets him appear. Kadaré's strong insistence on the Christian faith of the defenders is probably historically accurate for the period, just prior to the actual Ottoman conquest and conversion to Islam, but was politically uncomfortable in Enver Hoxha's Albania.

In 1990 Kadaré, Albania's most celebrated novelist, left for France & began revising this and other works, expanding this novel with pieces that had been cut by censors in 1969; the French translation, on which this English translation is based, is of that expanded version. Here you can find my plot summary and commentary on Kadaré, Ismail. The Siege. (Original: Kështjella. Roman, 1970.) Trans. Jusuf Vrioni (Albanian to French); David Bellos (French to English). New York: Canongate, 2008.

Photo: Skanderbeg statue in Tirana from Trip Advisor

According to this Wikipedia article, the historical Skanderbeg did not abjure Islam and rebel against the Ottoman sultan until 1443, holding out until 1466, so this novel stretches history in several ways. But the details of siege warfare sound authentic, and even though this particular siege is an invention, the Ottomans did suffer some equally disastrous defeats as depicted here before their final, overwhelming triumph.


Our friends, the Freudian little people

We're in D.C., at the Dumbarton Oaks guest house, where the Dumbarton Oaks Museum has included a piece we own (pyramid in the photo) in their exhibit of Charles Simonds' sculptures, drawings and videos. They've put Charles' fantastical dwellings for tiny people and other sculptures in appropriate spots among the pre-Columbian (Mayan, Inca, etc.) pieces that partly inspired them. It's a lot of fun. His parents were both Freudian psychiatrists, and you'll see a lot of Freudian references -- or jokes -- among the works. We love to visit the Dumbarton Oaks museum on any pretext, anyway. There is a pre-Inca woven tunic of such fine weft that Susana has to keep returning to believe it. And I also get very involved in the other collection, of Byzantine mosaics and artifacts.

Susana acquired this marvelous pyramid from Charles more than 30 years ago, when he was just starting out. I should have taken a picture when we were in the gallery yesterday, to show you the setting in the show, but I didn't. This blog El estante del fondo includes excellent photos of this and other Simonds pieces, along with intelligent commentary (in Spanish).