to an unknown audience
Proustian cumulative effect/  /July 02, 2011

Now we have A. E. Hotchner in the NY Times talking about Hemingway's latter days, and this interesting tidbit about the pain of cuts:

In May 1960, Ernest phoned me from Cuba. He was uncharacteristically perturbed that the unfinished Life article had reached 92,453 words. The contract was for 40,000; he was having nightmares.

A month later he called again. He had cut only 530 words, he was exhausted and would it be an imposition to ask me to come to Cuba to help him?

I did, and over the next nine days I submitted list upon list of suggested cuts. At first he rejected them: “What I’ve written is Proustian in its cumulative effect, and if we eliminate detail we destroy that effect.”

Of course a 90,000-word Life magazine article on bullfighting must be too long, must be dreary in the end. But maybe that Proustian effect was real; maybe he should have made a skeleton magazine article and a much longer book—who knows.

But the story here is the aging writer's attachment to his own affectations, his unwillingness to be light and let a story flow. Think how effortless are those sketches in A Moveable Feast!

The Times article also holds a compelling testimony on an artist's loss of vital appetite for life, when we no longer writes. A final act of artistry would be to discover a way to age gracefully, to fade away without burning out. But Hemingway did not accomplish this.

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