Friday, August 10, 2012

"For Whom the Bell Tolls"

Simone De Beauvoir, Nelson Algren and Ernest Hemingway

Algren appears in Simone De Beauvoir’s “Force of Circumstance” as the hero of low life. It’s not surprising that Algren’s preoccupation with reading Chicago was so structured around the hobos, pimps, drug addicts, prostitutes. The Chicago School was well entrenched around the study of urbanism, where it was believed by Robert Park and his followers that the city was the ecological zone of everyday survival, and the physical circumstance of location would help us understand the mental life of the inhabitants.
Simone De Beavoir writes of Algren with love and longing. He had been her friend and lover, but she was unable to break from Sartre, and Algren saw no future in their friendship. She writes on pg 262, of her memoir published by Penguin as “The Force of Circumstance,that “Algren was going to remarry his ex-wife. As  I walked along the beach during the last days of October, between the dunes dusted with gold and the changing blue of the water, I thought to myself that I would never see him again, nor the house nor the lake, nor the sand being pecked at by the little white waders; and I didn’t know which I would miss most: a man, a landscape, or myself. We both wanted to keep our goodbyes to a minimum…..Atlast I said that I had a very nice time there and that at least we still had a real friendship for each other. “It’s not friendship,” he replied brutally. “I can never offer you less than love.”
Algren had written a letter to her, where he said, “One can still have the same feelings for someone, and still not allow them to rule and disturb one’s life. To love a woman who does not belong to you, who puts other things and other people before you, without there ever being any question of your taking first place, is something that just isn’t acceptable. I don’t regret a single one of the moments we have had together. But now I want a different kind of life, with a woman and a house of my own…The disappointment I felt three years ago, when I began to realize that your life belonged to Paris and to Sartre, is an old one now, and it’s become blunted by time. What I’ve tried to do since is to take my life back from you. My life means a lot to me, I don’t like its belonging to someone so far off, someone I see only a few weeks every year…."
In Notes from a Sea Diary:Hemingway all the Way, Algren shows us his real and only great love was perhaps Hemingway. Published in 1959, it received rave reviews. Algren  was after all a prize literary figure in the 1950s.What Algren does is describe the life of the harbours replete with stories of alcoholism and prostitution, fights and tedium. He researches the class and family backgrounds of the prostitutes of Bombay and of Calcutta, one of whom he almost falls in love with, and meanders through the unlikely routes of sea smuggling and landings and corruption and colonialism  along with some hard hitting prose focussing on critics of Hemingway. Algren’s greatest love was Hemingway, and his greatest hate was jargon. Attacking a critic, he wrote in this slender book, “Jargon, therefore, is the corruption of prose deriving from the writer’s own corruption.” Further on he writes,
“Ernest Hemingway’s need was not to write declarative sentences with a beautiful absence of subordinate clauses. It was not to meet celebrities: he was on speaking terms with Georges Clemenceau, Benito Mussolini and Mustapha Kemal before he had heard of Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. He was one of the most highly paid correspondents in Europe. Therefore the man had at his disposal a lifetime of meeting celebrities while living comfortably with his wife and children in the capitals of the world; enjoying that degree of fame a foreign correspondent earns….Hemingway didn’t care for it either way. He was a soldier whose life had been broken in two. He didn’t come to the Moveable Feast as to a picnic begun in Kansas City now being continued in the Bois De Boulogne. He had seen the faces of calm daylight looking ashen as faces in a bombardment…”
The point of writing and reading and critiquing, Algren seemed to believe was the immediate enjoyment of life and it’s recording, not the successes or failure, not being finally remembered or  even read or not!

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