The Bullfighter's Monkee by Kevin Tully
American writer John Dos Passos had no balls. Or so Hemingway said. A Dos Passos biography is interesting. A Hemingway biography is very interesting. Dos Passos, being of Iberian blood like Santayana, is exotic in unexotic USA. Hemingway is American, rugged and casually brutal in an American self conscious, questioning way. Not questioning the rightness of killing or brutality; questioning the masculinity of those that do. Questioning it as only those with gender confusion and the need to prove otherwise will do? Was Hemingway attracted to the carnal aspect of natural, brutal manhood? I guess we will truly never know. Dos Passos appears even.
Dos Passos embraced Communism with a Humanitarian's vigor. Hemingway cravenly toyed with it as a novelist. Hemmingway is a god of Fiction. Dos Passos is forgotten except in places of higher learning. Hemingway, the man, is a cultural icon.
Hemingway was a much better literary builder of imaginary humanity. Hemingway was a much better self-promoter. Dos Passos had something studied to say about his witnessed pathos of the planet. Hemingway belittled and lampooned his friends.
Hemingway was my literary hero as a younger man. Hemingway was a literary pathfinder, as was Dos Passos. I want to believe that Dos Passos' influence has had a much stronger and lasting influence on literature.
Hemingway loved bullfighters and fighting marlin. I loved Hemingway for that. Then I loved him for his attraction to Gertrude Stein. Then I loathed him for his treatment of his weaker characters and his dismissal of Dos Passos as a "Pilot Fish."
As a young man I wanted to drink and hold forth like Hemingway. As an older man I'm reading a biography of Dos Passos. As an older man, I am sad to say, I see Hemingway as "The Bullfighter's Monkey". In somewhat elderly retrospect and after living forty or more years since reading, "A Moveable Feast" and "The Sun also Rises" I see his rampant, theatrical masculinity as flaccid and Dos Passos as being sufficiently endowed.
Dos Passos was a realist. Hemingway was a self-absorbed Romantic. It has been suggested that Dos Passos' experience with Hemingway in Civil War Spain critically injured his ability to creatively move forward. Was Dos Passos a victim of Hemingway's neurotic brutality? Is Hemingway an avatar for current American Conservative politics and much of popular culture? Is the muscularly degenerate state of things a reflection of Ernest standing over an eviscerated wildebeest or gasping marlin?
Dos Passos went on to support Goldwater and Nixon in later life. This confuses me greatly. Possibly this says something about us now. What happens to idealists and humanitarians when confronted with the brutality and the selfish banality of mankind -- is it possible they can fall back on the comfort of strident rules and demagogues? Is fascism what happens when folks no longer trust and find hope in their fellow man?
Reflecting on Communism after experiencing its hand in the Spanish civil war, Dos Passos is reported to have commented, "Progressive politics without human dignity is a sham." His admiration for Communism waned and then died after this experience. He came to believe that the Capitalist system would ultimately be the best for all. However, what he wrote and believed as a young socialist still uniquely applied to him at his end, "...somehow men's predatory instincts, incarnate in the capitalist system, can be canalized into other channels, leaving free communities of artisans and farmers and fisherman and cattle breeders who would work for their livelihood with pleasure, because the work itself was enjoyable in the serene white light of a reasonable world." Oh, if it only could be so.