Life,  Reading

Hemingway’s Iceberg Style: The Art of Omission and the Mystery of Life

Hemingway is unique among writers who combine a personal legendary career with a brilliant creation. Hemingway is a legendary hero of the twentieth century, famously portrayed as a tough guy who maintained his “possession under pressure”. He himself has such an image. He practiced boxing and softball since he was a child, and he liked bullfighting, and went to the bullring himself; he also liked fishing, horseback riding, skiing, and hunting. While hunting in the African forest, two plane accidents within two days almost killed him. Participated in two world wars and the Spanish Civil War, was injured many times in his life, only had a dozen concussions, and had three car accidents:

In combat alone, he was shot in nine places and wounded in the head six times. When he was eighteen years old, he was wounded in an explosion in Italy. At first, he was regarded as dead and left him alone. The doctors took out a total of 237 fragments on his body, and those who could not be removed were not counted.

-Philip Young, Ernest Hemingway

Although Hemingway showed the image of a gladiator fighting against the whole world, in his heart he was as sensitive, vulnerable, and even fragile as Kafka, Rilke, and Camus. At the same time, Hemingway was a little more naive. Philip Young believes that the greatest theme in all American stories is: innocence meets experience, how innocent Americans go out into the world, how they encounter things that are completely different from their innocence, how they are knocked down on the road, and then it is difficult to put themselves back together and return to their original state. It is this old story that Hemingway tells, the story of a boy who is shattered by the world he grew up in. Philip Young believes that the uniqueness of Hemingway is that these innocent characters in his works will not mature or become adults, and will always have an innocent nature. Hemingway’s most autobiographical series of novels “Nick Adams Stories” is about such a protagonist. Literary historians believe that the image of Nick Adams is as immortal as Huckleberry Finn described by Mark Twain.

However, what is truly revolutionary about Hemingway is the achievement of his novels in terms of writing style, language and technique, which is the “iceberg style” created by him. “One Hundred Summaries of Modernist Masterpieces” commented on Hemingway, thinking that his novel “The Sun Also Rises” and short stories had an irresistible influence: “It is indeed unprecedented for a writer to become famous so suddenly, so casually defeat so many other writers and other writing methods, and so directly become a symbol of an era.” Harmonious, crystal-clear style”. This statement is actually aimed at a large number of imitators of Hemingway’s style. After Hemingway became famous, almost all literary youths suddenly felt that they also had the dream and hope of becoming famous in one fell swoop. During a period of time, the magazine received almost all novels in Hemingway style. Even literature classes in college classrooms have been affected. Richard Ford, a contemporary American novelist recalled his college life, saying that the homework assigned by the professor was to ask the whole class to write a paragraph in “Hemingway style” or “Faulkner style”.

It can be said that there are two kinds of writers, one kind of writer mainly influences readers, and the other kind of writer mainly influences other writers. Hemingway may be more of the latter. In particular, Hemingway’s short stories pushed his “iceberg style” to the extreme, which deeply influenced the later novelists. For example, Marquez was greatly influenced by Hemingway. He believed that there were two masters who really influenced him, both North American novelists: Faulkner and Hemingway. He called Faulkner “the writer with whom my soul has many sympathies, and Hemingway the one with whom my craft is most closely related.” Marquez believes that Hemingway has never been able to win the reputation in the field of novels, but often wins the reputation with his well-trained and solid short stories. It can be said that Hemingway’s short stories can better reflect the characteristics of “iceberg style”, and at the same time have more profound influence on other writers.

01.”With a courage that no one has ever had, he cut off the messy hairs attached to literature in English.”

Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” was first put forward in a monograph “Death in the Afternoon” about bullfighting, and it has been continuously elaborated since then. The so-called “iceberg theory” is that Hemingway compared his writing to an iceberg floating on the sea. What is expressed in words is only one-eighth of the sea surface, and seven-eighths is below the sea surface. The part below the surface of the sea is the part that the writer did not write, the part that was omitted, but this part can be felt by the readers, as if the writer had already written it. In connection with the specific analysis of Hemingway’s short story creation, the “iceberg theory” has two meanings.

One is the art of simplicity. That is to delete all dispensable things in the novel, and use less to win more, just like the Chinese ink painting technique, count the white as the black, don’t lay out, don’t want eighths, but only one eighth. British scholar Bates believes in the article “Hemingway’s Short Stories” that this simplicity is manifested in the deletion of almost all explanations, discussions, and even discussions in the novel; cutting off all colorful metaphors; stripping off the gorgeous coat of Henry James’s long sentences and terribly many adjectives: “With courage that no one has ever had, he cut off the messy hairs attached to literature in English.” Among the messy hairs in English literature, Hemingway cleaned up most neatly. Adjectives. Too many adjectives was a disaster brought to English literature by novelists represented by Henry James in the late nineteenth century. For example, James’ masterpiece “Portrait of a Lady” is full of long sentences and multiple embellishments, “You can’t finish a sentence without taking a long breath, just like a long train of freight cars, standing in front of which you can’t see the end” (Dong Heng Sunda ) . This is definitely a scholarly style of writing. However, Hemingway went to war at the age of 18, and had no opportunity for professional training at all. After the war, he became a reporter for an American newspaper stationed in Europe. When writing articles and reports, he had to send them back to China by telegram. It can be said that there is a class of writers in the history of literature who are hostile to adjectives. The great French writer Voltaire had a famous saying: “Adjectives are the enemy of nouns.” He seems to be saying that only nouns can directly reach the thing itself, directly confront and present the thing, and that too many adjectives will cover things and their inner essence, so they are the enemy of nouns. Mark Twain expressed something similar in an 1880 letter:

Use plain, simple English, short words and short sentences. This is the modern way of writing, the best way of writing – that’s how English has to be written. Stick to it; don’t be flashy, don’t be verbose. As soon as you think of an adjective, kill it. No, I’m not saying that no adjectives are used, but most of them, so that what remains has weight. Adjectives are crowded together, and the article is weak, but it is powerful if it is farther away. Once a man acquires the habit of using adjectives well, or writes profusely and garishly, it is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

The author Hemingway admired the most was Mark Twain. He said that “all modern American literature comes from Mark Twain’s book called “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. From this point of view, it is not surprising that Hemingway’s simple language style is inherently connected with Mark Twain’s proposition.

Second, the novelist Ma Yuan believes that the more intrinsic quality of the “Iceberg Theory” can be summarized as “experience omission”. He pointed out that at the beginning, many critics equated Hemingway’s omission with the traditional blank-leaving theory, thinking that it was a kind of implicit technique, and it was a big mistake. The traditional omission method is very similar to the function of the abridged number, which omits the flavor and charm; while what Hemingway omits is something completely different-substantial experience. Ma Yuan took the ending of “A Farewell to Arms” which was rewritten thirty-nine times by Hemingway (Hemingway said it was forty times in another place) as an example:

I go to the door.
“You can’t come in now,” said a nurse.
“No, I can.” I said.
“You can’t come in yet.”
“You go out,” I said. “That one goes out too.”

Ma Yuan commented in his novel:

Before that, the author didn’t tell us how many nurses were in the room, and this passage didn’t explain it, but we immediately knew that there were two nurses in the room where the body of “my” lover (Casaling) was parked. There is nothing wrong with the dialogue of “I”, but we also know the abnormality of “I” from this text.

These changes in tone are actually not hinted at in the above text, and the author does not tell us any emotional changes about the protagonist “I” in the way of narrative, but we all know it. The author makes use of the perception methods and laws shared by all people. He knows what everyone knows, and everyone knows this truth even if you don’t say it. He doesn’t say what everyone knows, but everyone still knows it. In addition to shortening the text by omitting some things, this omission also produces a completely unexpected new aesthetic method, a method whose fundamental goal is to act on the psychology of (reading) objects.

Ma Yuan’s exposition is wonderful, but his so-called “experience omission” does not actually omit the physical experience. What Hemingway omits is actually the part that we can fill in the imagination with experience. Therefore, this omission technique maximizes the reader’s participation in experience and makes the reader feel that the writer trusts his own understanding and experience ability. In this sense, Hemingway is equivalent to leaving seven-eighths of the iceberg empty for readers to fill in with experience. However, if the novelist in the past is a realist, he will tell you everything, chatting endlessly, tirelessly, without leaving any gaps; if he is a romanticist, he will desperately mobilize the readers’ emotions and sensationalize. Hemingway was also mobilizing, and what he mobilized was, as Ma Yuan said, experience. This is certainly a new aesthetic of fiction. How to further elucidate the content of its aesthetic level still needs to continue to think. But we can at least say that this kind of “experience omission” involves not only a “brevity” issue, but also involves the cognition and presentation of the world, and the novelist’s way of conveying the situations and situations in life, from which it is possible to generate a situational aesthetics of the novel.

02.”Hemingway’s short stories suggest another way of understanding modern fiction.”

“Hills Like White Elephants” can be regarded as a classic among Hemingway’s short stories. It was written in 1927 and included in Hemingway’s collection of novels, Men Without Women. The plot of the novel can be summed up in one sentence: When an American man and a girl are waiting for a train at a small Spanish station, the man tries to persuade the girl to undergo a minor operation. The novel did not directly explain what surgery it was, but experienced readers can guess that it was an induced abortion. The whole novel is basically composed of a dialogue between a man and a girl. At the beginning, the atmosphere between the two seems a little dull, but the girl takes the initiative, saying that the outline of the distant mountains “looks like a group of white elephants” in the sunlight. But the man was a little absent-minded. He only cared about one topic, which was to persuade the girl to have an operation. The girl seemed nervous and worried, and the man repeatedly explained and comforted her: it was really a very simple operation, not even an operation. No big deal really, just a puff of air. I thought this was the best way. But if you don’t really want to do it yourself, I will never force you. The girl finally got anxious: If you say it again, I will scream. At this point, the inner tension of the novel reaches its peak, and the man puts his travel bag and waits for the train to enter the station. When I came back, I asked the girl: Do you feel better? The girl gave him a smile: I feel great.

And so the novel ends abruptly. This is a typical Hemingway-style short story ending, which critics call “zero ending”. Contrary to O. Henry’s unexpectedly dramatic ending, this “zero-degree ending” slides past blandly, like an end but not like an end, leaving the reader in a daze in mid-air. The concept of “zero degree ending” may be triggered from Roland Barthes’ “Zero Degree of Writing”. The so-called “zero degree of writing”, in the eyes of Roland Barthes, is the way represented by the existentialist master Camus, that is, a “neutral” and “non-emotional” writing style that avoids emotional color and subjective intentionality. The endings of Hemingway’s short stories also have “zero degree” characteristics, do not specify the theme, do not express intentions, refuse to explain and judge, and are not even like endings. We don’t know what will happen to the man and the girl in the future, have they had surgery? Did the two break up after the operation, or are they still living a happy life as before? Hemingway doesn’t seem to care about any of this. He was just like a photographer who happened to pass by a small station in Spain and secretly filmed a conversation between a man and a girl, and then they got on the train and left, and the story ended. Where do they come from? who is it? Where are you going again? Why did you come to this small station? Hemingway probably didn’t know, and neither do we readers. The whole novel uses a very typical purely restrictive objective narrative perspective, just like a camera with a fixed position, what it captures, the reader sees. There is very little intervention and involvement of the narrator, and it can even be said that the non-omniscient narrator knows almost as much as the reader. The novel omits too many things. Including the identity of the characters, the background of the story, and the ins and outs of the plot. Therefore, it is almost futile to try to make a firm judgment.

Critics understood the novel to be generally moralistic, with Bates saying: “This short story is one of the scariest stories Hemingway, or anyone else, ever wrote.” “Something was ruined for the girl; not only her past, but her future. She was terrified.” Richard Ford said: “I appreciate this story because it is very modern. time.” For example, the French translation of the novel translates the title as “The Lost Paradise”, which means that the innocent girl lost her heavenly past in the induced abortion incident. This past paradise may refer to the innocence of a girl, or it may refer to the happy and happy times in the past. But in fact, “Hills Like White Elephants” is by no means a moral novel, but a situational novel with multiple possibilities.

Among all the comments, Kundera’s interpretation is the most insightful. In the Chinese translation of “The Betrayed Testament”, Kundera spent nearly ten pages discussing “Hills Like White Elephants”. He argues that in this short story, which is only five pages long, one can imagine countless stories from the dialogue: the man is married and forces his lover to have an abortion so he can deal with his wife; life, who suggested to her an abortion while being fully prepared to take on the role of father herself if she refused. As for the girl? She could have consented to an abortion for her lover; but it could have been her own initiative, losing her nerve as the deadline for an abortion approached…

Kundera’s interpretation enables multiple conjectures about the plot of the novel. And the character of the character is also multi-dimensional: “A man can be sensitive, loving, and gentle; he can be selfish, cunning, and hypocritical. A girl can be extremely sensitive, delicate, and have a deep sense of morality; she can also be willful, artificial, and like to lose her temper hysterically.” More importantly, the subjective motivation behind the dialogue of the characters in the novel is hidden. Hemingway omits all explanatory hints, and even if we can feel the rhythm, speed, and intonation from their dialogues, we cannot judge the real psychological motives.

Generally speaking, the dominant motive in a novel is an important means of revealing the theme and intention, such as the baked potatoes that Bloom carries with him repeatedly in Joyce’s “Ulysses”. A similar leading motive in “Hills Like White Elephants” is the girl’s metaphor about the white elephant, which appears three times in the novel. But it is also difficult to make a definite judgment from this metaphor. We can say that the girl is subtle, sensual, and poetic, while the man is unresponsive to her metaphors, and the man is solid or uninteresting. But Kundera believes that people “can also see a kind of affectation, pretentiousness and pretentiousness in her unique metaphorical discovery”, showing off her poetic imagination. If so, the girl’s talk about the world not being theirs after an abortion can only come down to the girl’s penchant for lyrical show-offs. We often encounter such lyrical women in our lives.

Kundera finally concludes: “Nothing is clear behind this simple and ordinary dialogue.” This makes “Hills Like White Elephants” a story that can be told multiple times, a story that can be interpreted again and again with different causes and consequences. This multiple interpretation is brought about by the art of omission. Once Hemingway supplemented the background introduction and explained the ins and outs, the novel may be very clear. But Hemingway’s brilliance is that he never makes everything obvious at a glance. He wants to hide seven-eighths of the iceberg, so he presents a situation that can withstand multiple conjectures. Instead, it is a novel technique that is truly faithful to the truth of life.

What we really face in life are situations where we can’t figure out the cause and effect. I often like to listen to people I don’t know chatting on the train or in a small restaurant. Sometimes after listening to them, I will guess who these two people are? What are you going to do? What is the relationship between the two people? It is more interesting if it happens to be a man and a woman. If it is a couple or a lover, you can usually guess it by listening to a few words they say. If it is not, it will be more difficult. At this time, I thought of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, and felt that this novel was really perfect. This may have something to do with the way Hemingway wrote in his early Paris days. From his memoir “Moving Festival”, we can know that Hemingway was very poor, often hungry, and the hotel he lived in was very cold, so he often went to the coffee shop to write. If the cold wind is blowing outside and the cold is pressing, the stories in his novels will also happen in the winter when the wind is howling. If a girl with a face as bright as a newly minted coin comes in, Hemingway’s thoughts will be disturbed, he will become extremely excited, and he would like to write the girl into the novel.

“Hills Like White Elephants” is exactly what Hemingway met a woman who had just had an abortion in a restaurant before lunch. After chatting for a few days, he started writing this novel, and ended up finishing it in one go, even forgetting to eat lunch. This way of writing is easy to contextualize the novel. The narrative of the novel often only chooses a cross-section of life, a limited space, and a short period of time to objectively record the events that happened, avoiding the explanation and explanation of the author or even the narrator, so that the novel situation presents the inherent complexity and ambiguity of life itself.

The same ambiguity, what is the difference between Hemingway and Kafka’s novels such as “The Castle”? It can be said that Kafka was a meditator, and he poured thoughts into his novels; while Hemingway rejected thoughts, or “hidden thoughts”. Philip Young said that Hemingway’s style is “unthinking” and needs to “stop thinking”. Bates called Hemingway’s language “a bullish, instinctive, thoughtless language.” So Hemingway’s art of omission may not only omit experience, but also omit thought. His novels may not have as many profound things as other modernist novels, but they are still rich in meaning. These meanings are brought by the richness of life itself, which can also stimulate readers’ imagination and ability to recreate texts. This led Hemingway to offer another kind of novel whose motivation was not to generalize some deep thought, nor content merely to provide abstract philosophical schemes. Hemingway’s novels don’t care about these things, and truly successful novels don’t provide exact life schemas. They pay more attention to presenting the original life situation and the original story, and it is this original situation that contains the inherent complexity, relativity and various possibilities of life. “Hills Like White Elephants” is just such a novel, which rejects any single value judgment and single value orientation, especially moral judgment. This relative position and motivation are consistent with the art of ellipsis and purely objective restrictive perspective in Hemingway’s novels. This is the one in which the author’s voice is hidden the most in Hemingway’s novels. The novel is almost independent of the author, as if the life situation itself presents itself there.

It is in this sense that Hemingway’s short stories suggest another way of understanding modern fiction. If most modernist novels hide a deep pattern, then looking for this deep pattern in Hemingway’s novels sometimes hinders a deeper understanding of his novels. This is the paradox of the critical way of finding deep patterns. That is to say, the habit of exploring the in-depth mode of the work will just hinder a deeper understanding of the work. The reason for the paradox is that the search for in-depth models ultimately yields only abstract concepts and schemas at the philosophical level, while the rich and concrete perceptual and experiential existence of the works may be dismembered or even discarded. The same principle applies to “Hills Like White Elephants”. Only from the perspective of situationalization, instead of saying that it is the scariest story and a moral text at the beginning, can it be possible to find a more appropriate entry point. From this we can say that Hemingway’s short stories have enriched our understanding of the essential prescriptiveness of the genre of fiction. This is the meaning of Hemingway in fiction. “Mountains Like White Elephants” enlightens us that the essential definition of the novel itself may coincide with the richness of human living conditions. What the novel discovers is the initial situation of life, and it is the relativity and richness of the great world.

03.”The homage to the true mystery is the most valuable thing in Hemingway.”

Back to the topic of the art of omission. Hemingway’s “iceberg style” not only brings simple and plain language, skill of omitting experience and style of concealing thoughts to his novels, but also makes his novels have a certain mysterious color and atmosphere behind the presentation of the situation. When reading his novels, there are always some unclear things. Marquez said:

The essence of his short stories gives the impression that something has been omitted from the work, which is precisely what gives it its mysterious elegance.

Richard Ford also said:

I think Hemingway was keeping secrets, not revealing them. He doesn’t get too close to this overly complex world, either because he doesn’t want to in principle, or because he can’t say much more, and I don’t trust him for that. Of course, I didn’t fail to take something valuable from Hemingway, which is an homage to the real mystery.

The secret kept by Hemingway is obviously not an agnostic secret in the sense of mysticism, but refers to the fact that we live in a complex world, which is not easy for us to understand. There are always some things that are covered, there are always some things that we cannot obtain direct experience, and there are always some things that show us different content due to our different viewing angles. For example, if “Hills Like White Elephants” were written by an American man himself or by a girl, it would definitely look different. And more importantly, Ford believes that some things may be difficult or impossible to say. For example, Hemingway’s earlier short story “Indian Camp” tells that Nick Adams and his father went to deliver an Indian woman when he was a child. After delivering the baby, Nick’s father said, “Time to see the smug dad. Dads are always the hardest when it comes to the little things.” Finding that the newborn’s father was quiet, he said, “I must say, he’s really calm.” When he opened the Indian’s blanket, he found that the man had cut his throat to between his ears and was bleeding. Nick’s father’s first reaction is: “Take Nick out!” The novel writes at this time: “There is no need to do this. Nick is just at the door and has a clear view of the upper bunk.” This is Nick’s earliest traumatic memory.

Philip Young believes that Hemingway was obsessed with themes of violence and violent death, and this story may tell us why in the first place. Hemingway himself said that the best training for a writer is an unhappy childhood. The novel “Indian Camp” is read through the eyes of a child. Nick must not understand why the Indians commit suicide. He asked his father over and over again, but his father couldn’t explain it clearly. Nick finds it inconceivable that the novel doesn’t tell us why, and so do we readers. Another example is “The Sun Also Rises”. One of the core issues is what kind of injury the hero Jack suffered in the war. If you don’t understand this, you can’t read the novel. But Hemingway didn’t say what the injury was from the beginning to the end, and readers can only guess for themselves. Richard Ford has an explanation:

I may now know why the Indian killed himself—too many doctors, too much pain and insult. I may have a better idea of ​​what Jack’s injury was. But I also learned that there are some important things for everyone at any given time that cannot be said, either because they are too important or because they are too difficult to put into words. I think I learned this first and best from Hemingway.

“Honor to the True Mystery” was regarded by Richard Ford as the most valuable thing to learn from Hemingway, which may not only be about tricks, not only the art of omission, not only the technique of fiction, but finally involve the problem of taboo. Although the “lost generation” represented by Hemingway had fun and indulged in sensuality, that generation was a generation that was definitely serious. At the same time, the era of Hemingway was still an era in which human beings still retained many taboos, whether it was cruel taboos or beautiful taboos. There are some topics that writers are reluctant to directly write about in novels, and some topics cannot be spoken about publicly, let alone discussed in public. These taboos are potential constraints rooted in instinct, humanity and psychology in every era, and no matter how advanced a writer is, he often cannot go beyond the limits of his era. This can be best understood by comparing the “lost generation” of the twenties with the “beat generation” of the sixties. Perhaps it was this age of many taboos that finally endowed Hemingway’s iceberg style with a genuine sense of mystery.

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