I Loathe Hemingway

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Hemingway DrinkingI had a professor of modern literature in college who was a self-professed “Hemingway expert”. I’m not much for self-professed experts in anything and this old coot certainly rubbed me the wrong way. His lectures were interminable. He droned on in perfect monotone as students dropped off to sleep across the class. He began the year by telling each of us, in his earnest tweedy professor way, that there were no rights or wrongs in his class. Opinions were what counted. You would be graded on how well you expressed them.

I Loathe Hemingway

Late in the year we had to write a lengthy critique of a Hemingway work that now escapes me. I set to it with no particular relish because, quite frankly, I loathe Hemingway. I think he is one of the most overrated writers of the 20th century. He was too full of himself and his titanic struggles with life. I think I’m borne out in my opinion because the Father of Machismo was too chicken to keep going until he died naturally. Instead, he cut it short with a shotgun to the mouth in Ketchum when his popularity began to wane.

In short, I said as much in my essay. Now, I’ll admit that it was not one of the most stunning critiques ever written. I didn’t much like it myself, but that wasn’t supposed to be the point according to the dear professor — the opinions were. I got the paper back with a huge D scrawled across it. His only commentary was a short note that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that my opinions had absolutely no merit in his “expert” eyes.

I was enraged. If the old fart wanted to give me the D for handing over a poorly written paper, so be it, but this “your opinion has no merit” gig was a bit much, especially after his stunningly long and boring lecture about no rights or wrongs.

Unmerited Opinions of Old Buckshot Mouth

I chose the inopportune time of the final exam to make a case of this point. I challenged him as the other students sleepily wrote soppish essays of undying love for old Buckshot Mouth. I told him I would happily accept the D for poor writing, hell, even poor penmanship, but I was standing by my opinion that Hemingway was a boor and a hack. We volleyed over it for several seconds. Me expressing my “unmerited opinions”, he expressing disbelief at the scathing critique of his scholarly life.

In the end, he raised the grade to a B because I got him to admit that he didn’t know Hemingway personally (therefore didn’t have a real clue what he was all about) and that he hadn’t even read the short story he had assigned (despite being an “expert”). He also seemed to cower at my suggestion that I would take the argument up with the dean, a “personal friend of mine” (proving once again that connections beat expertise any old day). It was a fine performance and I look back on it fondly. Not so much for the improved grade, but because I was able to get under his skin and there is always a certain satisfaction in that, especially when the pompous are involved.

Having told this story it makes me wonder where my aversion to authority comes from. I’ve certainly had my run-ins with plenty of sanctimonious windbags, but probably no more than anyone else. Perhaps one day there will be a web site devoted to my inner psychological workings and I’ll be able to find out.

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