It used to be that the way you got famous was by catching a big fish. The world was wide and large. The small towns that made the world had newspapers. And those newspapers were farm teams for the bigger newspapers. Sometimes, something horrible would happen and that was reported. But good things would happen too; a boy fishing with his father would catch a giant, world record swordfish in the Gulf.
People would want to read about it and everyone understood why and everyone would read about it together. You couldn’t find as many, or more, articles a click away or right next to that one telling you why to catch a swordfish was bad. Of course, there were no clicks, then.
But I still think it’s ok if we aren’t sure what’s going to happen with the loss of universal acceptance of what’s right or wrong and the invention of everything that is right being equally as wrong. When everyone was certain what was right they were less likely to negotiate with what they knew was wrong. So, great wars would happen after a period of tension building.
About 20 years of relatively peaceful tension preceded The Civil War, after which war broke out killing 600,000. Then, about 20 years of tension preceded WWI when war broke out killing 10 million. Then about 20 years of tension preceded WWII before war broke out killing 10s and 10s of millions.
Now we seem to just fight all along the way and we don’t get the times in between where everyone is happy and agreeing in big groups together. We’re probably back to the future, here. This is more similar to human history. If human history were closer to the above description of massive wars every 30 or 40 years there wouldn’t be much humanity left.
I read one of Hemingway’s stories this morning. The one in Islands in the Stream where the main character’s son fights a giant swordfish in the Gulf for six hours, nearly breaking him in the process, before the big fish gets away right as they went to gaff him. Afterwards, the characters joke about how it would have made the boy famous to catch the big fish and them famous just by association for being on the boat and doing the other little tasks that helped out like driving or pouring water on the boy’s feet when it got hot or serving up drinks.
It’s exaggeration and part of the story, I know, but it’s funny because it’s both true and unlikely. It’s not really true that everyone would come together today over a boy catching a great big fish with his dad.
Times are always getting more complex but right now they’ve outpaced our ability to make them seem ordinary. This happened on the Battlefield too where technology outpaced the Generals’ ability to deal with them tactically resulting in the aforementioned unprecedented slaughter rates in battles.
Socially, there are lots of casualties happening right now in our public discourse. But I think this will pass. The technological leaps made in warfare that lead to all those casualties are now being experienced within everyday institutions and politics. Historically, war has lead the way, outpacing society level innovations and the law’s dealing with them to catch up. This has been the case throughout human history. Law is conservative, slow and reactionary. It does not set the pace or the tone, it deals with it once it has been established, in the best way it can. Survival—war, sets the pace. Let’s hope we don’t have any more big ones.
I think the back to normal is happening already at the society level. Communities are slowly being built back up again, but they have an online life and a community life, the way people have public and private lives. The online portion is even starting to mirror geography, towns. The number of people a person can know and trust hovers around 150 which is about the max number of Facebook or Instagram likes an average person will peak at with any given post or picture or life event noteworthy enough.
As much as people like to believe their era is unprecedented, it’s all normalizing just as fast as the wheels came off. And better off. It’s better when life is simple and we get back to living and dealing with life being hard enough as it is, with universal mortality rates and all. No need to make this any harder than it already can be.
Hemingway is great at dialogue. The easy banter between six characters or so gives each one personality and makes each of them known in their own way and of a type the average reader can relate too. This is incredibly hard.
He describes action in a way that creates feeling, like you were there. He does not describe the feeling for you because feelings can’t really be described or remembered but must be had for them to be real to us. Like music, it’s another tool we use to have feeling. Music is like code or a language we all understand but which only a few know how to read or write.
It’s all different ways to get at the same feeling. Music, film, literature, or experiences and adventures all aim at the same emotion and feelings as their byproducts. That’s what we pay for. As someone trying to learn how to play upon these same emotions it’s useful to understand these things. Mastery of any craft is more about doing than merely enjoying it or studying it. But those are certainly necessary.
Hemingway was writing this story around the time that he was finishing what was arguably his best work, Old Man and the Sea. Someone around that time commented that the main character from Old Man reminded them of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Hemingway said in reply that while Lear was wonderful the sea was already “quite old” when Lear was king.
It’s that kind of wisdom and the ability to record it down in stories, letting the reader imagine it for himself, that made him such a great writer.
Things are always changing in detail. Music and sports have taken the place of philosophy that, for many, was once gotten through organized religion. Stories are still consumed but more from movies and the more realistic movies have gotten more interactive with things like video games, which itself is a common substitute for adventure to get the feeling. Its all about the feeling. No matter how the delivery system changes the subject remains the same throughout it all. You and me. That can be a comfort.