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  • Assistant Professor Eisuke Kawada, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

    07 11, 2017

    Studying the "Ethics of Reading" through Hemingway's Literature

    Tsukuba Future #078

    Ernest Hemingway is a major figure in classic American literature. While the author's terse style and dreams of adventure continue to have a following of passionate fans, many people seem to take the cold view that these are no longer relevant, and Hemingway is often referred to as a misogynist author who wrote about the male "spirit of adventure" in a chauvinist world. With these fiercely differing views of Hemingway, what meaning do we find in an analysis of his work in today’s world? Prof. Kawada takes a fresh look at Hemingway’s work from the standpoint of the "ethics of reading."

    It is said that the great Hemingway intended to write in a way that didn’t require the reader to use a dictionary. The first time he read Hemingway, though, Professor Kawada recalls that he doubted the simplicity of that writing style. That comes as no surprise, as the author of numerous classics himself stated that he observed the "iceberg principle" in his writing, meaning that seven-eighths of the iceberg is hidden beneath the water, and that the essence of his writing is also purposely concealed beneath the surface.

    Over the course of his career, which began in the mid-1920s, Hemingway left us many short stories and novels, among them The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, and died in 1961. Now, more than half a century after his death, occasional dabblers in literature may assume that all that can be studied of Hemingway has been done, while in actuality, this profound author presents us with new topics to contemplate in every era.

    A popular author from the time of his earliest works, Hemingway has nevertheless often been branded as a chauvinist or misogynist. If we reread his work from a modern-day perspective, however, we will discover that he depicted a male-dominated society inhabited by oppressed women and naïve men unnoticing of that oppression, and that he accurately represented a reality that was not openly discussed at the time. This sensibility also becomes apparent in the well-known classic The Old Man and The Sea, which is generally considered to be the story of a tough old man and his friendship with a young boy. But Prof. Kawada tells us that if we delve into the text, another aspect of the story surfaces. The old protagonist for some reason reads the English language newspapers and loves to follow Major League Baseball. While the old man is Cuban, Hemingway depicts him as a human being that sympathizes with America, a country intent on cultural colonization. The author’s subtle theme is manifested in the image of post-colonial-yet-still-colonized Cuban society that is slipped beneath the surface, making its mark on history. It is only now in the present era that we can see this idea clearly.

    In contrast, Hemingway's concise writing style reflects the cultural and political background of modernism in his trimming away of all unnecessary ornamentation. Together with Picasso, Cocteau and Chanel, Hemingway attended avant-garde author Gertrude Stein’s salon. Influenced by the way Stein shaped her succinct writing style, Chanel created a design that liberated the female body with a simple, sleeveless "little black dress." Hemingway, who eschewed exuberant ornamentation in his writing when he penned The Sun Also Rises, depicted a female character wearing such a black dress, implicitly expressing his support for the women’s equality movement. Female characters do not appear often in Hemingway’s works, and when they do, they are not talkative. However, Prof. Kawada asserts that this characteristic serves as an historical record of oppression of women.

    Prof. Kawada takes a fresh look at Hemingway's works from the perspective of the "ethics of reading" advocated by the deconstructionist literary criticism of the1980s. It is not with preconceived ideas or intuition, but rather by contemplation of that one-eighth of the iceberg described by the author that we are able to interpret the submerged portion of the iceberg in an ethical and scientific way. For example, in many of Hemingway's works, there is no clear climax, representing, as it were, a betrayal of the male ambition for reaching a zenith. Nevertheless, stigmatizing Hemingway's work as chauvinist or misogynist and ignoring the one-eighth on surface is in a way contrary to the ethics of reading. According to Prof. Kawada, we can apply this ethical way of reading to society as if it were a text. Only an effort towards ethical reading of the reality of this world will lead to fair interpretations.

    Prof. Kawada has enjoyed a wide range of experiences in his life. After graduating from a Japanese high school, he studied analytic philosophy at Columbia University, followed by a master's program in post-structuralism at the University of Tokyo's graduate school. Then he turned to English and American literature for his doctorate, also taking time off from school as he made a career as a musician. That change of field and musical expression, he says, ultimately helped Prof. Kawada to hone his literary sensibilities. Prof. Kawada intends to continue his systematic study of the development of stylistic aesthetics in Hemingway’s short stories.

    Prof. Kawada draws on his diverse life experiences


    Prof. Kawada plays guitar and sings in a band. In 2010, he performed at the Rising Sun Rock Festival at Ishikari Bay in Hokkaido.


    Article by Science Communicator at the Office of Public Relations

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