Having just watched the later, 60's film version of Hemingway's The Killers (after the Tarkovsky and Burt Lancaster)
featuring one Ronald Reagan, I cannot help but feel I understand these comments about "time and space" in a whole new way. Ronald was an odd duck wasn't he (the word, "stilted" seems invented just for him, back when art of faux-working class swagger and unflinching confidence was quite enough). A common thought: why was America always so much behind the times? Anyway this guy Rx is saying something very much in the manner of cognitive dissonance with this mashup; perhaps usefully provoking:
Those familiar with the story and even those not may find this engaging article by Ron Berman useful reading:
An excerpt or two:
Finally, in 1925, a year before the writing of "The Killers," an article appeared in The Drama on the subject of "The Vaudeville Philosopher" (which may be the right category for Max and Al). It decried the new sensibility of national ressentiment:
There are certain standard subjects that are used almost every night on vaudeville stages through the country. An audience, composed of many persons mentally fatigued after a day's work, learns a philosophy that embraces such precepts as: marriage is an unfortunate institution to which the majority of us resign ourselves; women are fashion-crazy, spend money heedlessly and believe that their husbands are fools; politics is all bunk. Prohibition should be prohibited . . . marital infidelity is widespread; clandestine affairs of most any sort between at least one married person and another of the opposite sex are comical; and finally "nothing in life really matters. The main thing to do is get all the money you can and keep your mother-in-law as far off as possible." (Beuick)
A few years later, writing about the social mood of the mid-20s, Fitzgerald described "a wide-spread neurosis" and a significant change in American character. He ascribed the change to the boom, not the bust. Vaudeville seems to have picked up the various kinds of national resentments - many of them in the world of ideas.
Max and Al refer to a subject later mentioned by Walter Lippmann in A Preface to Morals about one persistent aspect of our national character: Americans simply did not want to be aware of the way things actually were; they preferred, in fact, to remain deluded about what "the idea" was for anything. Lippmann thought that Americans generally failed to explain the facts of their lives. We wanted to see an orderly moral world, so we invented one. We ascribed "everything which happens" to "the duty of the universe" toward us. But the idea that "the universe is full of purposes utterly unknown" seems utterly unknown to Americans. A phenomenon like, let us say, the advent of Max and Al to the town of Summit is a kind of philosophical demonstration that accepted ideas have no authority.
Yet, in the terms used by Lippmann, what Max and Al represent "is in the nature of things." Lippmann was to conclude that few Americans could bear to analyze their experience because that would mean the acquisition of a sense of evil (18388,
emphasis added). If "The Killers" had a moral, that would be it.
Evil has many forms. Hemingway's dialogue quickly enters the realm of moral imponderables. Movies, which are entertainment, are in fact explanations. Andreson is going to be killed as part of a professional, hence moral, obligation. Fate is circumstance:
"All right," George said, "What are you going to do with us afterward?"
"That'll depend," Max said. "That's one of those things you never know at the time." (284)
Rather small and colorless words carry burdens too large to assess: do, afterward, and depend mean decisions made as Joseph Conrad imagined them, with one's feet not touching the earth. They do not refer themselves to any "idea": certainly not to justice or meaning, but only to circumstance. Max says that he likes George, and he probably does. But Al may yet blow his head off. Why has all this been revealed? "We got to keep amused, haven't we?" (285). The dialogue keeps circling back to the premises of the two-man act, which has more to say here than the hoarded sum of western moral thought.
We recall that throughout Hemingway's lifetime, beginning with William James and continuing with John Dewey, there had been a great, self-conscious, and enormously effective attempt to ground the life of democracy precisely in those western moral meanings. That was cleat to Mencken, who understood that James had defined the meaning of American moral life in a "long and glorious" philosophical reign over the reading audience (266). And Dewey was to be described by Henry Commager in The American Mind (100) as the arbiter of national ethics: "for a generation no issue was clarified until Dewey had spoken" (qtd. in Ryan 19).
One silent conclusion of this story is that moral explanations of the kind they had so richly provided for America had failed. That is why such explanation is either absent or ineffective, and why the premises of idealism and pragmatism are so intensely ridiculed. Outside the story, for its readers, there is the enormous moral authority of those who have defined for us the nature of social life - but inside the story they are invisible. The rather large sequence of ideas that George and Nick address - -on the meaning of logical action, on universal meaning itself, on the relationship of value to act - have been silently negated. Max and Al replace philosophy. As Edmund Wilson had stated a very short time before, the art of the "pointless" is central to the cultural moment.(4) ...(read the rest)