Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hemingway's Wishes and the Discussed Existence of a Human Soul

This past summer and into this semester, I have been an intern with the Hemingway Letters Project. For nearly a decade now, they have been collecting, transcribing, and preparing documents for publication. Many of these have never been released or seen before. I have handled letters that only myself and perhaps four other individuals have ever seen: the head editor, the scholar, an archival librarian, and the person to whom it was written.

Today while drinking chai with a friend at the Co-op, he asked what I was still doing in State College. I mentioned this project as well as my role as a campus ministry intern.

He asked more about the project. "But did Hemingway say that was okay?"
I paused. "Well, he actually said he didn't want his work published."
"Then why are you doing it?" Andy asked.
"It's for scholarship."
"So people can perform psychoanalysis on his writing?"
"Does that seem fair to you?"
"Well, he is dead. Do you think he cares?" I argued, defending my right to work an excel sheet and be paid for it more than anything else.

My answer did not satisfy him. I think about this conversation now and find it ironic. Andy is an atheist and does not believe in an afterlife. When dies, the personal ceases to exist. I, on the other hand, believe in  a soul, in a life that does not end upon death but continues.

Is it inconsistent then that I argue for Hemingway's wishes being inconsequential fifty years after his death as if he would not care? Is it inconsistent that Andy argue for an adherence to Hemingway's wishes if the man has no soul?


Annie said...

The practicality in me says that if Hemingway was so worried about it, he would've pulled an L. M. Montgomery and burned anything he didn't want seen after his death. Seeing as he apparently didn't do that, there's not much he can do about what's being done with his work.

On the other hand, I understand the reluctance to publish materials someone, although deceased, did not want to be widely read. I suppose it depends on the type of material, and how it would inform the currently standing literary canon. I believe that even if you and those with and for whom you work decide not to print up Hemingway's letters and stand on street corners hawking copies, they should at least be made available for those who would be interested.

Dana Ray said...

But what about the fact that once you send a letter, you don't get it back? Thousands of people have copies of letters he sent. Nothing he can do now about us collecting them and publishing them.