Sunday, April 08, 2007

Point Counterpoint: Faulkner vs. Hemingway

As retired English majors, Ms. C and I have nothing better to do than argue about icons of 20th century American literature. No, not King and Grisham. I'm talking Faulkner and Hemingway, southern shut-in gentleman versus crazed debaucher.

Liz: Okay, I'll get the ball rolling. Hemingway showed better than anyone that "less is more." His sentences run seven words, not seven pages, something a certain Oxford, Georgia resident, whose passion for clauses was matched only by his passion for obfuscation, could not always boast.

Ms. C: Hemingway was lazy. He relied on the reader to supply imagery and context. It's not a work of art to leave a canvas blank and ask the client to imagine his own masterpiece. Faulkner can be accused of being too wordy, certainly, though Melville takes the cake in that department. Faulkner, however, knew the value of immersing oneself in the narrative completely, no holds barred. Hemingway was too busy slinging back the absinthe and counting his cats' toes to appreciate real artistry.

Liz: If Faulkner ever immersed me in a narrative in which I actually wanted to be immersed, I would be impressed. Instead, in novel after novel, he drops me into the middle of crazy town without a map. I never know what the hell is going on in his books. All I know is that it usually involves mildly incestuous siblings and a resurrection. If I wanted that, I could watch the Olson twins go to Easter mass. With Hemingway, it's always a nice straight shot from A to B to C with a stop for boozing and womanizing on the way. And let's not even start on the polydactyl cats who are -- paws down -- the coolest author-bred cats in the world.

Ms. C: If you like your novels not to tax you overly, then by all means, pick up a Hemingway novel on your way to the beach. Feel free to use it as a coaster or a rudimentary clam digger. But you wouldn't do that with Faulkner, as you wouldn't do it with Shakespeare. Faulkner's stories can not easily be put aside, or understood, because, like a fine gourmet meal, they must be savored and EXPERIENCED.

And if we're going to talk animals, I'd match Faulkner's bear to Hemingway's pampered pusses any day!

Liz: Two things. First, Hemingway would shoot that bear, eat it with his bare hands, then wear its head for a hat. And second, he used to be able to make Fitzgerald cry. I think that counts for something, don't you?

Ms. C: Hemingway was so chronicly blitzed, he'd have shot his own foot off before he ever got near that bear, and everyone knows Fitzgerald was a namby pamby! He'd cry if you spilled his martini! Also, Faulkner was a Nobel Prize winner with sexy Southern charm.

Liz: Okay, this is the part my debate coach always hated: the part where I start to agree with the other side. While I still contend Hemingway influenced at least two generations of writers who have shaped American fiction and deserves his place as an American master, I'll admist he was kind of a tool bag and he hated women and Dorothy Parker never liked him, which makes him kind of a loser in my book.

Ms. C: I'm inclined to believe, from Hemingway's fiction, that he didn't know any more about women than Screech. Faulkner, though, there's a man who'll hold the door for you.

Liz: You have swayed me, Ms. C, you have swayed me -- this time!


Ruthie Black naked said...

True! I never met Hemingway or Fitz, but Faulkner was that knid. Well, he apologized for NOT opening the door for me - - to worried about lighting his pipe as soon as we got outside. It was in '58 in New Orleans . . .

Ruthie Black naked said...

Ooops I forgot to say that you have a beautiful blog.

Ruthie Black naked said...

Here Sweetie, let me whisper in your ear:
it's Oxford, Miss., not Georgia.

billf said...

The fact that you don't know Oxford, MISSISSIPPI from GEORGIA shows that everything else you have to say about Faulkner is irrelevant. You simply do not know his work. You can't read any of it and not know it's in MS; too bad Hemingway didn't write the CliffNotes version for you.

an interested party said...

Mrs. C, you can't deny the emotion that wells up when you read those final lines of FTA. Before that last sentence I hadn't cried reading a book since I was 8 and read "Where the Red Fern Grows"!

Hemingway doesn't need to TELL you, he SHOWS you; he leads you to conclude for yourself (see his following quote, a question rather than a statement.)

Alas, we should let the two speak for themselves. The following are real quotes.

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - Faulkner on Hemingway

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" - Hemingway on Faulkner

So who has the upper hand there? I think the answer is clear.

Bob Long said...

I love them both, but I have to believe that Faulkner would have had a much harder time culling his prose than Hemingway would have had ramping his up. It isn't just that Hemingway was a reporter. His prose spoke to the rhythm of a world beginning to be swamped by endless imagery from verbal and non-verbal media alike. Hemingway's dictum that one should write every day, stop only when having written one truthful thing, but stop leaving something left unsaid for the next day, is the best advice anyone has ever given to young writers.

Anonymous said...

Hemmingway writes well, but Faulkner enriches the soul.