Saturday, June 2, 2012

Immortality or Worm Food?

Love him or hate him, Ernest Hemingway is hot these days. More than fifty years after his death by self-inflicted gunshot wound, the ever prodigal Papa is once more showing up in films and new books. Most notably in Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris and presently in HBO's Hemingway and Gellhorn.

It all makes me wonder: what makes one writer immortal and another forgotten almost as soon as his or her body becomes food for the worms?

Hemingway was a romantic individual. Handsome, big, outspoken, he was an adventurer, traveler, and a fan of the ladies. He also had a real cool name. One wonders if the author would have become a phenom had his name been Irwin Lipschtiz. But no matter what's in a name, his work was groundbreaking, especially the early stories that came together collectively in the 1924 volume, In Our Time.

I think it's possible that good writing might not be enough to make one immortal. Like Norman Mailer (who followed the Hemingway macho, bad boy line pretty closely), or even Elizabeth Gilbert (who has become a dynamic and charismatic speaker aside from a mega-bestseller), it's important that a writer also develop a cult of personality in order to achieve the kind of fame that will last and last.

Are seeking immortality in your writing?  Or as a writer, are you seeking the immortal?


  1. So true. Many of the great writers we remember and idolize now are known just as much for their personalities or personal issues as anything else. Not just Hemingway, but Faulkner (flamboyant drunk), Fitzgerald (heart-broken Romantic) or even Capote (bitchy talk show stand-by).

  2. Absolutely...Henry Miller, Parisian lover...Hunter Thompson, Gonzo drunk...the list goes on...

  3. The problem with being dead is that you're dead and won't care much about the idea of immortality, or feel it, or experience it and therefore won't enjoy the fruits thereof (as if any was ever available to be plucked by the dead).

    What I do hope, though, or rather, what I think might be ideal, is that one's work stand the test of time for future generations. If that can be achieved and somehow you managed to influence people after you're gone, then that is good. Maybe not for you, but for the people you influence.

    It is a question of the legacy you leave behind. Not only to your readers and future writers, but a legacy that your own family can enjoy. Immortality in the writing, therefore, seems to be the better goal, in my opinion.

  4. This is a good question, because there is something about existence that is the antithesis to romance. It's easier to draw a perfect portrait of somebody when he's dead. David Foster Wallace being the latest example. He is sealed in the purity of memory and it's driving his literary bff Jonathan Franzen completely nuts.

    I try not to bother with such questions when I write. So many writers do, nowadays. They create personas and they work at it so much more than they work on their craft. I went to school with this guy Nick who had the greatest persona ever, but who wrote one play a year. I try to tune myself out and let the work speak.