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A Farewell to “Great Men”

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“Why do you read this trash? It is inflated trash, Hemingway. By a dead man.”

“I like to see what they are writing,” I said. “And it keeps my mind off me doing it.”

– Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, “Une Génération Perdue,” A Moveable Feast

I was reading (and watching) a hit piece in the New Yorker today that takes the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre to task for botching an elephant kill in Botswana eight years ago. “The Secret Footage of the N.R.A. Chief’s Botched Elephant Hunt” includes video of the fatal shots; it’s nasty stuff, trophy-hunting endangered animals, and when I read that LaPierre’s wife, Susan, cuts off the elephant’s tail (“Oh, it’s like a fish almost, with the center cartilage,” she says.”) to mark the beast as their kill, it has an anachronistic feel — and there’s nothing romantic about it. When I read that the elephant’s front feet were eventually made into stools for the den, I was disgusted that such ostentatious egotism still has legs.

Apparently, Mike Spies, senior writer for the anti-gun online journal, The Trace, was trying to show LaPierre what it’s like to be taken down by a boom-gun. Spies, the bush sniper, hits point-blank, right between LaPierre’s running lights. Like the elephant in the piece, who wasn’t looking for trouble, LaPierre goes down in a heap. BOOM: By Spies account, the head of the NRA is an incompetent boob, a fumble-thumbs with guns, who misses the kill spot repeatedly at close range; even the old bull seems to look up with one dying eye in wonder. BOOM: Good heavens! the comfortably middle class New Yorker seems to opine, you drove your organization into bankruptcy! Of course, had LaPierre not missed his mark (or had he discovered he was being secretly filmed and executed the cameraman on the spot), we never would have seen the snuff film or read the hit piece.

You come away feeling that New Yorker, using Spies Trace blog entry wholesale for the piece, has an agenda: Gun control pressure is in the air; Biden’s feeling it like a prostate problem. Guns on the loose in America now number in excess of 400,000,000, so that concern is understandable. But the piece got me thinking. Recently, I finished watching the three-part, six-hour PBS mini-series Hemingway, a Ken Burns and Lynn Novick production. And I’ll tell you, suddenly I felt like Joan Baez in that old song “Diamonds and Rust” where she answers the phone and she’ll be damned, there comes that voice of Dylan again from “a couple of light years ago.” (For the record, it didn;t seem to faze Dylan; he hooked up with his old lover shortly thereafter for the Rolling Thunder Revue Tour — the ever-relevant Woody Guthrie number, “Deportee,” a highlight of their mike-sharing.) Except this time, it’s me not Baez, and I find myself considering Hemingway again for the first time in ‘a light year.’

I’m a postmodern, fully relativized son-of-gun now. I haven’t believed in the Great Man theory since the clowns were all shot out of the Canon by the feminists and other lefty literati decades ago. I’ve attended more than one Good Riddance party. I’ve asked attractive women at such bong-passing parties questions like, “What does Hemingway have that Toni Morrison doesn’t have?” Seemed like a good pick-up line at the time, but she just kept saying to me, “Hey, I’m up here,” before finally sashaying away. (At least, that’s how I read it.) And it’s true, what does Hemingway have that Morrison doesn’t. (I’m up here, reader.) Well, they have blue eyes in common. But sadly, I can picture Hemingway among southern slaves picking cotton shooting at wild geese, admiring the industry of slaves while ignoring their plight.

Really, the Question that comes to mind is why Hemingway? Why now? What were Ken Burns and Lynn Novick after? Not long into the viewing the work seems dated already. By the time I was finished watching, I was partially satisfied, but it seemed to me a series that belonged in the era of Carl Sagan and Cosmos; there was something sentimental, even MAGA-desperate about it, as if the snug-comfy middle class ‘folk’ possessed their own pensive nostagitations about an American past not coming back. Like Joan Baez, I could see myself going back on a readerly tour with Papa, delving into his short stories, reliving his Paris years, learning over again the virtues of minimalism as a writer. But it will never be the same. As Will Rogers used to say, Nothing is the way it used to be, and never was.


© CounterPunch

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