On writing, photography, and Hemmingway

Written by on July 4, 2011 in Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

An article by John Walsh tracing the reasons why Ernest Hemmingway committed suicide — laying out a trail of self-destructive and self-deceptive behavior stretching back to his childhood.

Walsh acknowledges Hemmingway’s genius, but he doesn’t hold back.

It’s easy to be spiteful about Hemingway. All his posturing, his editing of the truth, his vainglorious fibbing… But it’s hard to shake off the feeling that what he was doing wasn’t bravery, but psychotic self-dramatisation. And when you inspect the image of Hemingway-as-hero, you uncover an extraordinary sub-stratum of self-harming. You discover that, for just over half of his life, Hemingway seemed hell-bent on destroying himself.

The article gets some push-back in the comments, probably deserved, but there’s a story here worth examining intently.

Hemmingway aside, it makes me wonder about writers and photographers losing touch with themselves and reality, or becoming prisoners of the images and stories. I know what it’s like to kick words around like stones as I walk, or eat, or drive — spinning out threads of plot and dialogue, or casting about for images everywhere I look. Sometimes it takes my wife or kids several attempts to call me back to attention; and sometimes I return on my own and wonder what I’ve missed.

I’ve claimed that writing about reality, and photography, helps me engage with the world. But that’s not entirely true. It’s engagement with reality that gives me something worth writing and expressing in images. If I don’t engage first, it’s only fabrication. The world is full of that in literature and every kind of art — not to mention in journalism. Works of pretense may be more profitable than works of revelation, certainly easier to come by, but they don’t accomplish much lasting good for me to produce them or anyone else to consume them.

I’m not in position to judge Hemmingway or the value of his work, but his story makes me pause and consider my own authenticity.

About the Author

About the Author: Andy Gray is a writer and photographer living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and working with Alongsiders International. You can find him puttering around the streets of Phnom Penh on his Suzuki Viva 125, running stoplights and driving on the wrong side of the road or on the sidewalks like a local. If you see him in a coffee shop, he'll be the one typing and deleting the same line over and over again. .

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