Does he look queer to you?
Adam Gopnik, in the New Yorker, relishes the irony of the recent posthumous conscription of Papa by the academical Homintern.
Itâ€™s difficult for people who werenâ€™t around at the time to grasp the scale of the Hemingway cult in twentieth-century America. As late as 1965, the editor of The Atlantic could write reverently of scenes from a kind of Ernest Hemingway Advent calendar: â€œWine-stained moods in the sidewalk cafÃ©s and roistering nights in Left Bank boÃ®tes. Walking home alone in the rain. Talk of death, and scenes of it, in the Spanish sun. Treks and trophies in Tanganyikaâ€™s green hills. Duck-shooting in the Venetian marshes. . . . Loving and drinking and fishing out of Key West and Havana.â€ It was real fame, too, not the thirty-minutes-with-Terry Gross kind that writers have to content themselves with now. To get close to the tone of it today, you would have to imagine the literary reputation of Raymond Carver joined with the popularity and political piety of Bruce Springsteen. â€œPapaâ€ Hemingway was not just a much admired artist; he was seen as a representative American public man. He represented the authority of writing even for people who didnâ€™t read.
The debunking, when it came, came hard. As the bitter memoirs poured out, we got alcoholism, male chauvinism, fabulation, malice toward those who had made the mistake of being kind to himâ€”all that. Eventually there came, from his avid estate, the lucrative but not reputation-enhancing publication of posthumous novels. The brand continues: his estate licenses the â€œErnest Hemingway Collection,â€ which includes an artisanal rum, Papaâ€™s preferred eyewear, and heavy Cuban-style furniture featuring â€œleather-like vinyl with a warm patina.â€ (What would Papa have said of that!) But few would now give the old man the heavyweight championship of literature for which he fought so hard, not least because thinking of literature as an elimination bout is no longer our style. We think of it more as a quilting bee, with everyone having a chance to add a patch, and the finest patches often arising from the least privileged quilters. In recent decades, Hemingway has represented the authority of writing only for people who never read.
Suddenly, though, there has been an academic revival in Hemingway studies in which, with an irony no satirist could have imagined, Hemingway, who in his day exemplified American macho, has, through our taste for â€œqueering the text,â€ become Hemingway the gender bender. The Hemingway Review can now contain admiring articles with subtitles like â€œSodomy and Transvestic Hallucination in Hemingway.