The Text, The Tweet, and Ernest Hemingway

I suppose my passion for Hemingway first surfaced in college when Dr. Zoellner (about whom I have written earlier on this blog) taught several of Hemingway’s short stories in freshman English. Of course, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” was on the list, and we may have read “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” Later it was For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Despite all the criticism leveled at Hemingway, I was intrigued by his writing; what male wouldn’t be: bull fights, fist fights, African safaris, fishing the banks of the Two Hearted River. Growing up in the midst of the feminist movement impacted perspective, naturally, and probably for the good.

When I went on to actually teach some Hemingway, I found a text called The Hemingway Review published by Ohio Northern University. The only edition I have is the Spanish Civil War Issue which includes Hemingway’s 30 NANA Dispatches. I don’t know how else to say it…the book is pretty cool and has become sort of a prized treasure of mine. In it, the editors explore Hemingway’s cable dispatches as he covered the Spanish Civil War. The discuss The Field Notes that led up to the dispatch: “The writing of a dispatch usually began with field notes of some sort. Either in a notebook or on quarter-folded pieces of paper , Hemingway jotted down his observations as he went along” (93). Later, he drafted his story “sometimes in a cablese style adopted by correspondents to cut down on cable costs by reducing the word count” (93). One set of his notes turned into the short story “Old Man at the Bridge.” Other observations that he made were notes used in For Whom the Bell Tolls. (In fact, in creative writing classes, I used to hand students a piece of paper folded into quarters and then take them on a walk around the building to make notes. Homework that weekend was to take more quarter-folded sheets and head to the mall, a restaurant, the street corner and take notes. We’d draft some into poems or stories later.)

I had been thinking for the past several months how Hemingway would have used platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Instead of his notes on folded paper, he may have sent Tweets from his phone directly from his location. Give him 160 characters (to type — not to develop) and see what sparse prose Hemingway would craft. Then I read the NY Times Op-Ed piece posted by Jim Burke on Facebook: Teaching to the Text Message. Andy Selsberg makes terrific points about precision and eloquence. His examples of what types of shorter writings can be valuable for our students to try are authentic types of writing that students encounter every day and probably produce every day as well. I see a plethora of opportunities for students produce concise writings that are rich, eloquent, and demonstrate a command of language to express a sharp insight or make a precise observation of the world around them.

Instead of saying “put your cell phone away,” I may be asking students to take them out and text me their responses.

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