May 5, 2009

Nothing Doing

Al Filreis has a new post with embedded audio on Cubist language. Wonderful! He uses two exemplary quotes:

Stein: "Any one doing something and standing is one doing something and standing. Some one was doing something and was standing. / Any one doing something and standing is one doing something and standing. Any one doing something and standing is one who is standing and doing something. Some one was doing something and was standing. That one was doing something standing."

Hemingway, from "On the Quai at Smyrna": "The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight. I do not know why they screamed at that time. We were in the harbor and they were all on the pier and at midnight they started screaming. We used to turn the searchlight on them to quiet them. That always did the trick. We'd run the searchlight up and down over them two or three times and they stopped it."

These examples are perfect for the point Filreis is making, but side-by-side they beg the question of use. (It matters if you're of the tribe that thinks artful writing has some use.) Stein writes about nothing, is all flaunt, like a bonbon, all empty calories; Hemingway writes about something, and something important, humanly and in the larger design of his story. Doubtless he learned from Stein, but could never learn the virtue of empty calories: he thought writing should be about something important, and when he couldn't seem to write about that something anymore he took his life just shy of age 62 (some commentators blame manic depression or haemochromatosis). Stein died at 72 of stomach cancer, brought on perhaps by all those sweet bon mots.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting. The Stein passage reminds me of a broken record in my great-aunt’s parlor, while Hemingway sounds like he’s trying to light a cigarette in a breeze.

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  2. Old Hem probably was. Think Bogey in To Have and To Have Not. "You know how to whistle, don't you?" says drop-dead gorgeous Bacall. "Just put your lips together and blow."

    I miss broken records—or the scratched ones, at least. That crackling evidence of long intimacy....

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