Hemingway and Faulkner: The Modernist Twain

SAEKI Shoichi

    It was Thomas Mann, the German author of The Magic Mountain, who, in discussing Goethe and Tolstoy side by side, argued for subtle connections these authors had with the age in which they lived. I remember reading Mr. Takahashi Yoshitaka's translation of Mann's Goethe and Tolstoy, published shortly after Japan's defeat in World War II. Though the book is now lost and unavailable for reperusal, I still vividly recall finding in it numerous and wonderful instances which the German author gathered to show how the two were mysteriously connected with each other, while years and nations apart. Mann's literary savvy unraveled the not-before-suspected string after string of historical facts, which tied the two apparently unrelated literary giants.
    How about, then, the literally connection of Hemingway and Faulkner? The two lived in the same country in the same period. They were born within only two years of each other. And, as the luck had it, they died almost next to one another; Hemingway reportedly shot himself with a shotgun only a year before Faulkner died, as if to lead the way for his compatriot. I started to teach in the University of Michigan in the fall of the year in which Faulkner died, and visited his grave in Oxford, Mississippi, toward the end of the next year, en route back from Mexico together with my colleagues and students. My hotel manager, a lady in her early old age, imparted an interesting anecdote to me, saying, "Mr. Faulkner was a most peculiar person; he oftentimes passed without noticing our salutes."
    I had already heard of his well-publicized aversion to journalists, and how he sometimes flatly refused to be interviewed. I should therefore count it as fortuitous when I was able to exchange a few words with him in a lecture session in the American Culture Center and again in a luncheon party in Chinzan-so several days after the seminar in Nagano, Japan, in the summer of 1955. I particularly remember how the "lecture session" went without the novelist's address nor speech, and how Americans in the audience asked a series of unoriginal questions, which Faulkner answered politely but uninterestedly.
    I was therefore literally astounded to read an essay written by him, in a pamphlet which was sent to me from the American Embassy a while after his departure. I have already written somewhere about how I was "shocked" to read the essay entitled "To the Youth of Japan." In it, Faulkner took up Japan's "disaster and despair" in the previous war, and, to my great surprise, weighed its meaning squarely against the defeat of his homeland, the South. He said that both Japan and the South underwent similar defeats; and though he did not explicitly mention it, they were defeats brought about by the same enemy, i.e., the Yankees (the Northerners). His intention was obvious when he declared that the invaders devastated "our own homes, our gardens, our farms, as if Okinawa and Guadalcanal had been ... the precincts of Honshu and Hokkaido," and that the South went through a longer and even harsher occupation after the war than did Japan (82).
    I thought I saw in the essay the rootedness, or the kinship, to the homeland in Faulkner the Southerner. The Embassy staffs must have been dismayed and even upset, but could not have dared to offer corrections in the words of their country's major writer and Nobel Prize laureate. Thus the pamphlet safely fell in our hands, probably without being censored. We have seen several editions of the life of Faulkner published so far, including that humongous work by Joseph Blotner, but I have not had time to check them if or how they treat the similar episodes or incidents in which Faulkner's "Southernness" was so broadly demonstrated. I picked up the topic from among impressions from my first visit to the South in a book I wrote immediately after spending a few years in America in the early 60s (Thinking about Japan [Nihon wo kangaeru] 1966), but I am not aware of a single reviewer, either in book reviews or in magazine interviews, or even in private letters, who broached this subject. Well, let me return to the subject at hand without further indulging in personal recollections and private indignation. I have never seen a story reporting the meeting of Hemingway and Faulkner in Paris, though the two writers, of about the same age and definitely of the same generation, were in the city at around the same time. There seems to be no talk about how and what they felt and thought about each other. Only one, rather gossipy anecdote however strangely sticks itself out in my mind. When Faulkner was invited in 1947 to the University of Mississippi (as the story goes) and asked by a student who he considered the most important contemporary authors, he ranked Thomas Wolfe at the top and himself at the second, followed by Dos Passos at the third and Hemingway only fourth. The reason he gave for awarding Hemingway a meager fourth was that he felt "he [Hemingway] has no courage" (Lion in the Garden 58). Since Faulkner must certainly have known that his counterpart takes machismo seriously, the comment shows how good a knack he had got of journalistic satire. To an understandable rebuttal from a student, he said he had been talking about literary courage. That is, Hemingway did not have courage to venture out boldly into a literary quest for experimental forms, never having "climbed out on a limb," and settled himself cozily into well-established novelistic traditions. Sure, Faulkner is entitled to say this, for he strove to break out of all formalities and dared to be experimental all his life, while Hemingway's works stayed within the boundaries of the traditional novel.
    The two authors thus lived the same moment in history. In response to World War I, they both enlisted themselves in military (though their services in war differ). As everyone knows, Faulkner entered RAF as a plane pilot candidate, but only received training in Toronto, Canada, and did not see the real action. Hemingway on the other hand started his career as newspaper reporter a few years afterward, and that, as if foreordained, in the same city. Both of them hated New York. Both eschewed publishers' parties. Probably they never had a chance to be in the same place and to have a few words with each other while they were alive. All the same, I would like to insist that they were literary contemporaries, and were, moreover, "modernist" writers. This is the main subject of this essay.
    The young Hemingway was definitely a "modernist," though the fact often as not seems to be overlooked. Do I have to re-emphasize, for that matter, the simple fact that Hemingway in his twenties, as was Faulkner in his, was an avid reader of Winesburg, Ohio, and a zealous worshipper of Sherwood Anderson? They were like those Japanese authors who unanimously admired Dazai Osamu. In their literary creations, we can see the older writer's "influence" more distinctly in Hemingway; but Faulkner did not fall far behind. In real life, he had obviously more dealings with Anderson; it is a well-known fact that Faulkner was literally chasing after the master in New Orleans.
    But, of course, the fad for the Ohioan was short-lived and superficial for both of them. In his memoir, Hemingway writes of the way he frequented the house of Gertrud Stein and how he met Ezra Pound and helped him with his magazine editing. If we take these episodes into account, surely we can recognize the stamp of "imagism" in Hemingway's early sketches, which are almost too stoically reticent. It is widely known that Pound learned from the English translations of haiku the motto of treating "images above all--and nothing but images," but we Japanese scholars ought to have looked more closely and deeply into the unexpected stimuli and influence our traditional verse form had on other countries' literatures. I now would like to propose to my fellow researchers to look into how Hemingway's sharp curtailing of words, his concise phraseologies and use of silence in his short stories, were derived from the Japanese literary tradition of effectively using silence and margins.
    However, the questions of how Hemingway saw his own modernist experience in his apprentice years, and whether or not he embraced it afterward, are more difficult to answer. It is quite certain that he gradually distanced himself from Pound and Stein in his later years. Pound's inclination and approach toward Fascism did not exactly help, and Stein's publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas seems to mark the turn of Hemingway's interest in her. Be the case as it may, the readers of Hemingway's posthumous Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast, will invariably be surprised by the unkind way he treats these two literary forerunners. It comes close to an old feud fired up again. It will not be being too Japanese to feel squirmish about the indifferent and almost hostile attitude that Hemingway takes toward these two, to whom he used to be so close and deferential in his twenties. I myself found Hemingway in the memoir disapprovingly pathological and inimical. Obviously he was in depressive moods, as was often the case in his late years, and the woes of his anxiety and lack of confidence sometimes drove him malignantly defensive, and even positively aggressive, against the ones who were close, if not too much so, to himself in youth. Or at least so I came to think of this matter.
    Once, however, we set out to think critically about Hemingway's entire oeuvre, there is no way we can bypass the sophistication he brought to the form of the short story and its brilliant outcomes, which ever so evidently testify to Hemingway's absorption of imagism and the way imagism affected him. The establishment and further perfection of the "Hemingwayesque style" in short fiction was one of the most iridescent contributions made to the 20th-century literature; and it could not have been conceived, I would venture to say, without the stimuli and influence from modernism, especially imagism, which Hemingway digested in the youthful years he spent in Paris.
    What about the modernist elements in Faulkner, then? The question is a vertiginously baffling one, which leads to labyrinthine ramifications. Should we just wonder at the daring audacity of the one who could summarily dismiss Hemingway as having "no courage"? Should we resign ourselves from the task of categorizing the one who, in the absolute solitude of his own mind and apart from any influence from the contemporary modernist movement, managed to create the entire world of "the Yoknapatawpha Saga"?
    All that is left for us common readers may well be just to admire his dogged tenacity to achieve this, without trying to attach to him some sort of literary label. Just put him alongside with other gargantuan literary giants such as Dostevsky, Laurence Stern, and Rablais, and be done with literary genres and movements! But, as for me, I had an occasion to talk personally (though for a short time) with him over a lunch, and it is not easy to wipe out the impression that he is a polite and bashful Southern gentleman. When we shook hands, I was surprised to get a faint, but unmistakable, whiff of whisky from him. Presumably he had felt too much reservation about sitting at the same lunch table with strange Japanese--I still remember sensing palpably the exquisite combination of bashfulness and modesty, arrogance and sensitivity, in the great author.
    From these impressions, I would imagine Faulkner would have had a bad start with Pound; nor could he have had an easy time with Hemingway, even though both are well-known heavy drinkers. Even if he had had an occasion to stay longer in Paris and to have personal dealings with such modernist forerunners as Pound and Stein, their friendship would not have gone far. In spite of all this, however, (and this is a most interesting point,) if we survey Faulkner's masterpieces, his "modernist" characteristics are unmistakably, authoritatively and genuinely there. We have but to acknowledge his modernist blue blood when we look over his representative works such as The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom!. A whole-hearted and almost physiological modernist like him must be hard to come by, either in contemporary America, or of any other nationality for that matter. Myriads of questions would then pop up in our minds. How could Faulkner acquire and develop such powerfully modernist concepts as he did? It seems that he was an avid reader of his own making, browsing poets probably from Keats to those at the turn of the century, and leafing through novels by Conrad and widely beyond, believing his own ability to sense out greatness. With mountains of various Faulkner studies published every year, there seems to be no book or article minutely detailing his reading habits. Natural as it seems to wonder how his pertinacious adherence to the stream of consciousness and internal monologues (as quintessential among his modernist techniques) had been developed and maintained, I have not been able to find one scholar or critic who consistently fathomed the depth of this subject. One would not walk around the name of James Joyce as the major proponent of the stream of consciousness; nor would it be appropriate to forget Honoré de Balzac and his Human Comedy series as the originator(s) of romansfleuves, which the "Yoknapatawpha Saga" novels emulate. So I mentioned, half fearfully, the names of Joyce and Balzac to the author on my once-in-a-lifetime occasion. I did not expect to hear from him something worthwhile. In fact, I was not a bit worried that he might be displeased. But Faulkner tersely answered that he had read both of them. I could not go further. It seemed improper to bother him with questions like what he liked and disliked about Ulysses or how he evaluate Joyce's work as the whole, especially with others present at the lunch table. I also feared he might take these questions as criticizing his originality as author.
    Looking back at the time, I now feel I was a little too cautious, since internal monologues and the stream of consciousness are virtually common assets for the 20th-century modernist novelists. But, 44 years ago, a little daunted in front of the great author, I could not go beyond that. Afterward, I had a chance to translate As I Lay Dying (in Chikuma's World Literature series in 1974) and the experience, though difficult and perplexing sometimes, made me realize the natural flow of the chain of internal monologues in his novel. The technique for Faulkner (as I understand it) was nothing experimental nor borrowed; it was something which comes inherent in his narratives. Though tortured by his sentences, it was nevertheless a rewarding experience. Of course we can see examples of internal monologues so masterfully manipulated in "Snows of Kilimanjaro" and other stories. But these examples show that Hemingway was only appropriating the "common assets" of the 20th-century novelists. The two authors' attitudes toward modernism are thus not only contrastive but also involve a multitude of interesting contradictions and profound paradoxes. Hemingway must have vividly tasted modernism up close when young, but in his later years he turned away from it, and even vilified his former teachers and advisors, as if to pour out his personal rancor.
    Faulkner, on the other hand, while exploiting "modernist" techniques, still embraced a deep-seated connection with the Southern culture and history. If asked whether he would consider himself as a modernist, he would have nonplused the questioner with a dismissive answer. Should we then simply throw away the term "modernism" as literary genre and category? The 20th century saw, both in the novel and in poetry, a development of new techniques, tones, and physical characteristic, totally different from those in the 19th; it is not well-advised thoughtlessly to discard our natural and understandable impulse to give the name of "modernism" to these changes and clarify them. But we also have to be careful in drawing such a sweeping generalization; we have not only to consider each and every case among various objects of research as special, but also to be cautious about the paradoxical nature of individual conditions. Without undergoing the process of minute examination of "modernism," it is out of the question to trumpet around such words as postmodernism or deconstruction.
    These are only preliminary considerations in addressing a major question of our time. How critically to assess and evaluate modernism is a question which we cannot evade in discussing the 20th-century literature. I would like to pursue the topic further, and be very happy to await the coming of those with the same interest.
(Tr. TAKAO Naochika)