- [Man] I hate the myth of Hemingway.
It obscures the man.
- His talent is stunning.
- He went against the grain.
- [Man] It's hard to imagine a writer who hasn't been influenced by him.
- In order to have something new to write, he had to have something new to live.
- [Woman] And he fell in love quite a few times.
- He's complex and deeply flawed but there he is.
- [Man] Hemingway the man is much more interesting than the myth.
- [Announcer] Hemingway starts Monday, April 5th, at eight, seven central, only on PBS.
- Hello, I'm Ron Pisaneschi, Idaho Public Television General Manager.
Welcome to tonight's virtual event: Conversations on Hemingway, focused on Hemingway and the natural world.
We're pleased to be one of nine sites chosen for these national conversations.
Hemingway spent his final days in Idaho and made his home in Ketchum.
The Community Library of Ketchum is the custodian of the Hemingway house and our partner in bringing you tonight's virtual event.
Tonight's conversation is leading up to the broadcast premier of Hemingway, a three-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
This six hour series will air on PBS, April 5th, 6th and 7th at 8 P.M. Eastern time.
The film examines the visionary work and turbulent life of Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest and most influential writers America has ever produced.
I'm pleased to welcome tonight's special guests, acclaimed filmmaker, producer and director, Ken Burns, Emmy nominated producer Sarah Botstein and American writer, educator and conservationist, Terry Tempest Williams and tonight's host is Jenny Emory Davidson, the Executive Director of the Community Library and a board member of the Friends of Idaho Public Television.
At Idaho PTV, our mission is to harness the power of public media, to encourage lifelong learning, connect our communities and enrich the lives of all Idahoans and that's why we're here tonight at this virtual event to connect and engage during this time when we can't be together face to face.
So thank you for joining us.
We hope you enjoy tonight's featured clips and conversation.
(moody orchestra music) - Hemingway was a writer who happened to be American but his palette was incredibly wide and delicious and violent and brutal and ugly.
All of those things.
It's something every culture can basically understand.
Every culture can understand falling in love with someone, the loss of that person, of how great a meal tastes, how extraordinary this journey is.
That is not nationalistic.
And I think with all of his flaws, with all the difficulties, his personal life, whatever, he seemed to understand human beings.
- [Man] You see, I'm trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across, not to just depict life or criticize it but to actually make it alive so that when you've read something by me, you actually experience the thing.
You can't do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful because if it is all beautiful, you can't believe it.
Things aren't that way.
It is only by showing both sides, three dimensions, and if possible four, that you can write the way I want to.
(upbeat music) - [Man] Ernest Hemingway remade American literature.
He paired storytelling to its essentials, changed the way characters speak, expanded the worlds a writer could legitimately explore and left an indelible record of how men and women lived during his lifetime.
Generations of writers would find their work measured against his.
Some followed the path he blazed, others rebelled against it.
None could escape it.
He made himself the most celebrated American writer since Mark Twain, read and revered around the world.
- It's hard to imagine a writer today who hasn't been in some way influenced by him.
It's like he changed all the furniture in the room, right?
(chuckles) And we all have to sit in it to some, you know, we can kind of sit on the edge of the armchair on the arm or do this but, you know, he changed the furniture in the room.
- [Man] The value of the American declarative sentence, right?
The way you build a house brick by brick out of those, within a few sentences of reading a Hemingway story, you are not in any confusion as to who had written it.
- I can't imagine how it's possible that any one writer could have so changed the language.
People have been copying him for nearly a hundred years and they haven't succeeded in equaling what he did.
- If you're a writer, you can't escape Hemingway.
He's so damn popular that you can't begin to write til you try and kill his ghost in you or embrace it.
And I think, identify that most about Hemingway is that he was always questing.
The perfect line had not happened yet.
It was always a struggle trying to get it right and you never will.
- [Man] For three decades, people who had not read a word he'd written thought they knew him.
Wounded veteran and battlefield correspondent, big game hunter and deep sea fisherman, bullfight aficionado, brawler and lover and man about town.
But behind the public figure was a troubled and conflicted man who belonged to a troubled and conflicted family with its own drama and darkness and closely held secrets.
The world saw him as a man's man, but all his life he would privately be intrigued by the blurred lines between male and female, men and women.
There were so many sides to him.
The first of his four wives remembered that he defied geometry.
- He was open to life.
He was open to tragedy.
He was open to feeling.
I liked that he fell in love and he fell in love quite a few times.
He always had the next woman before he left the existing woman.
- [Narrator] He was often kind and generous to those in need of help and sometimes just as cruel and vengeful to those who had helped him.
- [Man] I have always had the illusion it was more important or as important to be a good man as to be a great writer.
I may turn out to be neither but would like to be both.
- [Narrator] Hemingway's story is a tale older even than the written word of a young man whose ambition and imagination, energy and enormous gifts bring him wealth and fame beyond imagining, who destroys himself, trying to remain true to the character he has invented.
- One of his weaknesses, I was going to say failings and it was a great pity, it's a great pity for any writer, he loved an audience.
He loved an audience and in front of an audience, he lost the best part of himself by trying to impress the audience.
- I hate the myth of Hemingway and the reason I hate the myth of Hemingway, it obscures the man and the man is much more interesting than the myth.
I think he was a terrific father, sometimes.
I think that he was a loving husband, sometimes.
I think he was like so many people except this enormous talent.
Hemingway is complicated.
He's very complicated.
- [Man] The great thing is to last and get your work done and see and hear, and learn and understand; and write when there is something that you know and not before and not too damned much after.
(slow music) - Welcome, my name is Jenny Emory Davidson.
I'm the Executive Director of the Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho and I am honored to be in conversation this evening with Ken Burns, director of the new Hemingway documentary, Sarah Botstein, senior producer of the documentary and the writer, Terry Tempest Williams.
This conversation is the third of nine presented as the prelude to the release of the Hemingway documentary on PBS on April 5th.
We will talk through some clips over the next 40 minutes or so and then welcome some questions from you, the virtual audience.
So please feel free to submit those via the chat function.
I am here in the Community Library's John A. and Carole O. Moran Lecture Hall, just a mile or so from Ernest Hemingway's final home along the Big Wood River and half a mile from where he is buried in the valley formed by the Pioneer and Smokey Mountains, here in central Idaho.
The snow is still a couple of feet deep outside but it was a blue bird day here today.
I want to call out my location because our conversation this evening will revolve around the theme of Hemingway and the natural world.
So I think it seems appropriate that in this conversation about a man who roamed the world on such a grand scale, from the shores of Lake Michigan to the savannas of Kenya, to the ocean off Cuba, to the high sagebrush desert right outside the windows here of the American West.
So it seems appropriate for this conversation that we are all in very different remote outposts across the country.
So I'm wondering if before we get started, Ken, Sarah and Terry, could you each just briefly tell us where you are?
Ken, can we start with you?
- Sure, I'm in the loft of my barn in Walpole, New Hampshire with my dog Chester, part of the natural world, and right outside is spectacular New England with lots of snow, maybe not two feet, but an awful lot of snow and we're enjoying the beginning hints of spring, a different smell in the air, a different angle to the sunlight and I've lived here for almost 42 years in this house or the house right over there.
- Welcome to you and Chester.
- [Ken] Thank you.
- Sarah, where are you joining us from?
- I'm in New York city, downtown Manhattan, actually three blocks from my apartment in Ken's apartment which is much quieter because my two children are not here.
(group laughs) - Thank you, Sarah, and Terry, where are you joining us from?
- I'm in Utah, Jenny, sister states, and I'm in Castle Valley, a little desert Hamlet of maybe 300 people and as I'm looking out the window, we're getting the long shadows of day with beautiful red rocks.
There's a 400 foot spire, erosional spire made of sand stone called Castleton Tower to the east and the La Sal Mountains about 12,000 feet in elevation to the South.
So it's beautiful here and we have that same blue bird sky and the winds are coming which is why I may be an march tomorrow.
(group laughs) - Welcome, Terry.
Again, I expect this to be a big conversation about a man who lived large and so to anchor our conversation across the country like this feels really right to me and I think we can begin with the premise that place matters to Hemingway, that he sought even obsessively I would say, a proximity to the wild.
Even in the few minutes of that wonderful opening reel, I think we get a strong sense of how Hemingway was a peripatetic man who could spend long hours, days and weeks on safari, out at sea, or here hiking in the mountains and high desert hunting Upland birds.
Ken, when I look at the arc of your work over 40 years I see an underpinning of profound attention to place in your documentaries, to natural and built landscapes and to relationships that develop in and are shaped by and also shape those landscapes.
I think of films from Brooklyn Bridge to The West, which changed my life, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, The Dust Bowl, and those are just some of my personal favorites.
These are works that help us to see places more deeply through layers of history and personal stories.
So Ken, I'm wondering, was there a single place with which you associated Hemingway most strongly at the outset of this project and did that change or evolve as the project developed?
- You know, Jenny, I don't really remember the person who started this project or at least what baggage was carried into the making of this film and I'm very happy about that.
It's always important for us as filmmakers to leave that baggage behind and so right now, Hemingway means to me all the places that you described from Ketchum to Cuba, from Paris to the Africa, to the deep sea fishing, all of that is hugely part of it.
But in some ways, what I localize on most of all is the upper Michigan experience of his boyhood that then translates into so many of the short stories and there's something about, I think because his persona is so large, the masculinity at times so toxic, that we blow past the fact that he was such a specific, in my film on Mark Twain, the writer Ron Powers said that Twain was an enormous noticer, Ernest Hemingway loved Mark Twain and he was, had that same attention to detail about the natural world, his curiosity about knowing ever more and to me as somebody who grew up partially in Michigan, I think I, I kind of identify.
The romantic wants to be in Paris or in the bull rings of Spain, but, or out in the, the savannas of Africa, but I do think for me, it's sort of lakes and woods and quiet and wildlife, and being with your dad, which was a hugely complicated dynamic for him.
So I guess I would start there, but I think it's important for us as we take in the totality of this complicated and at times, very, very dark figure that we don't miss his love, I think Terry used that word, his love of the natural world and the way in which that fed him and it fed his art and then fed us.
So I'm happy to receive indirectly that love that Hemingway was able to channel.
- In a few minutes we'll see a clip, I think, where we get to experience more of that Michigan landscape and his relationship to his father.
Sarah, you're senior producer of the Hemingway documentary, and I'm wondering how considerations about place, about the natural world, affected how you mapped the plan for the film.
Before this film, you have produced epic films such as The Vietnam War but immediately before Hemingway, you produced a film that was in some ways just completely different from the scope of Hemingway.
This film is College Behind Bars which is a remarkable film about a rigorous educational program in maximum and medium security prisons in New York State.
I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about what it was like to shift from a film project that was so tightly constrained in place, literally cells, and seemingly removed from the natural world to such an expansive globe trotting project as Hemingway.
What was that transition like for you?
- That's such an interesting and smart and thoughtful question.
I have, no one has asked me anything close to that in my professional life.
We actually started making Hemingway while we were making Vietnam.
So my earliest memories of actually going to Idaho and being in some of the places that Hemingway lived is that big sky country and imagining him there while we were making a film about the Vietnam war.
And then obviously, while we were also making College Behind Bars, which as you say, was extremely daunting because we had only one landscape and we thought, oh, this is gonna be visually extremely boring for an audience and actually I think ended up being a strength of the film in the opposite way that place is a strength in the Hemingway film and in Hemingway's life.
I think it, in going to the places Hemingway lived and having our crews and our teams begin to do both archival research and lives and photography in those places, you imagine Hemingway at the age he was in those places and what he was thinking and how exacting he was and how he wrote about all of those places and that's a, an extreme gift to anyone trying to make a film and luckily he lived in really great places.
So that was a treat.
- It's fascinating to think about the overlap between your creative projects and how you could be so deeply immersed in Vietnam, in war, in education in a prison system and Hemingway sort of simultaneously.
- Well, you know, Jenny, we're, I'm working on nine films at once right now so talk about crazy but I think there's an incredible similarity because while the landscape of Sarah and Lynn's film, College Behind Bars, is seemingly limited it's also focused in the interior life and the great balance to the wide open spaces of Hemingway is the fact you're also trapped in the cell that is Hemingway's mind, tortured at times, exultant at times, a variety, a whole range of kind of prism of different emotions and it's, for, as filmmakers, the process kind of remains the same and in this case, you're sort of the ballast of these two things.
This spectacular outer world and the inner dramas are, are really in both films, very, very similar.
- Mm hmm, mm hmm, Sarah, for you, was there a single place that you most associated Hemingway with at the beginning of the project and did that shift for you?
- I mean, that's, I'm gonna echo Ken.
It's very hard to remember who I was before I started thinking about and learning about Hemingway but I probably would have said Paris and Cuba and not really understood just for who I am and who my interests, some of the the deep sea fishing, big sky game hunting Africa stuff.
So for me, it was probably Paris and Cuba, but I am a, I'm a big fan of, of those big spaces and imagining him in them so.
- Well, and the film does such a tremendous job of that, of helping us to imagine this person in different spaces and what stayed the same, what seemed consistent about him, and what shifted in these different natural contexts.
Terry, you are a writer, a conservationist, a teacher, an activist who has raised our collective attention to an intimacy with nature through your many non-fiction works from Refuge to When Women Were Birds to Erosion and you were such a poignant voice in the American Park series with Ken Burns.
You give us a language for dwelling in the more than human world.
So how do you think of Hemingway as a writer of the natural world?
Is he a naturalist in his work?
- I love the film.
I just want to say that to you, to Ken, to Sarah and the expansiveness of it and it's true.
I do think of Hemingway as a lover of the natural world and I wasn't surprised being in the Hemingway House that when I was first there before it was really gentrified should I say, that all of his field guides were on the shelf?
You know, whether it was birds or stars or rocks or mammals, everything was there and I think he did have what Edmund Wilson said was a barometric precision or as Virginia Wolf talks about what every writer needs which is that divine specificity.
I think that his love for the natural world was the one love he was faithful to and I love that passage in A Farewell to Arms where Lieutenant Henry says to the priest, "I don't love much."
"Yes, he said, "you do.
"What you tell about in the nights, that is not love.
"That is only passion and lust.
"When you love, you wish to do things for, "you wish to sacrifice for, you wish to serve."
And when I think about that last line, "You wish to serve," what was Hemingway in the service of?
And I think for me as a writer, he was in the service of direct experience and that direct experience was with his feet on the ground.
- As you're speaking, Terry, I'm thinking also about, in the opening reel, we hear the writer Edna O'Brien say, "I like that he fell in love "and he fell in love quite a few times."
I think that in that instance, she is specifically talking about his love affairs with women and his four marriages but I wonder if that statement could apply to his relationship with landscape too.
Terry, what do you think?
He fell in love and he fell in love quite a few times and perhaps landscape was his most constant lover?
- And that wasn't without it's loss and grief.
And I remember reading Death in the Afternoon about bull fighting after I had been in Spain at a bull fight and Brooke and I, my husband, got in a huge fight because I felt that there was something about that bull fight that Hemingway was so entranced with that I felt too and I couldn't describe it.
When I read that book, I felt like something was missing and I was flushed with grief to make a long story shorter, I went into the archives of Hemingway in Boston at the Kennedy Library and there was a missing chapter and that chapter was on his love affair with Michigan and the American West and what was being lost, the highways, the intrusions, the loss of the landscape, the clear cuts and what he said is if, if you have not known that original heart, you can never describe it and so I think love is grief.
Grief is love, and that was not, those were siblings that he also felt with the land itself.
- I think that could be a beautiful segue into the next clip which I believe is going to show us some of that original heart, that landscape of Michigan in his youth, before the changes that come later.
Sarah, would you like to set up this next clip?
- Sure, we're gonna drop you into our first episode when Hemingway is a young man sort of absorbing the influences of his family, particularly his mother and his father, which inspire a great love of his for both the natural world and of nature and highlight some of his early short stories, which as Ken mentioned earlier, are featured in the film and some of our, on the filmmaking side, favorite works.
So I think you can roll clip.
- [Man] His father came back to him in the fall of the year or in the early spring when there had been jack snipe on the prairie or when he saw shocks of corn or when he saw a lake or if he ever saw a horse and buggy or when he saw or heard wild geese or in a duck blind.
His father was with him suddenly in deserted orchards and in new plowed fields, in thickets, on small hills, or when going through dead grass, whenever splitting wood or hauling water, by gristmills, cider mills and dams, and always with open fires.
- [Man] Ernest worshiped his father who spent hours teaching him how to hunt and fish and canoe, inculcating a lifelong fascination with the outdoors and with learning precisely how things should be done.
- He instilled in this boy, before the boy almost could walk, this primal feeling for the beauty of nature, just the organic love for the woods, for water.
- [Man] The last stories in the collection are Big Two-Hearted River, parts one and two.
They're about a now older Nick Adams, a writer who had been wounded and traumatized from the great war.
It was about the war, Hemingway later recalled, but there was no mention of the war in it.
Nick journeys alone to the upper peninsula of Michigan where he had frequently fished for trout before the war.
A forest fire has destroyed the town he had known.
He fears the river and the life he knew before the war had been ruined too.
- [Man] The river was there, it swirled against the log piles of the bridge.
Nick looked down into the clear brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins.
As he watched them, they changed their positions by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water again.
Nick watched them a long time.
It was a hot day.
The kingfisher flew up the stream.
It was a long time since Nick had looked into a stream and seen trout.
They were very satisfactory.
- I loved it.
I love the description of the scenery without saying anything about his inner striation.
He had some hurt or something bad that was inside of himself.
By following his description of the landscape and what he does, we feel he is cured, healed.
- I just find that segment mesmerizing.
The words from Big Two-Hearted River read by Jeff Daniels and his rich voice, the beautiful imagery of the river with the box suite in the background and the details we're getting about nature, they're not sublime, they're not dramatic.
You know, it's dead grass, it's a hot day.
It's a kingfisher.
Ken, could you just respond to that clip and what you think it illustrates about Hemingway?
- Well, you know, I love it so much because with Hemingway everything is always an iceberg, isn't it?
That what you see in the spare prose is the tip of the iceberg and what is suggested is all of that nine tenths that you can't see.
It's the art of subtraction in the work but I'm still completely blown away by what Terry said that the only thing that he was truly faithful to in his loves was nature and I think he understood in a way that this natural world was the healing force that Nick Adams, in this particular story, experiences.
You can't, as you watch Hemingway kind of unravel and the story of his life unfold, you see him in a series of escapes from certain circumstances, initial familial nuclear family, boyhood loves, first wife, second wife, third wife, children always moving away, but what is he moving towards?
And what he's moving towards in almost every instant is either nature or the worst thing that human beings do which is war and in this vivifying experience, of course, war is the concentrated vivifying-ness of life as is nature in another more sublime way, his art is revealed to him, something is revealed to him and we are the beneficiaries, as I was saying before, of that kind of translation of the raw materials.
I mean, I know when we were working on the national parks and working with Terry, you know, a writer early in the 20th century said of Mount Denali, that it was, it reminded you of your own atomic insignificance and in the paradoxical way of nature, that insignificance or its realization inspirits you and makes you larger, just as the egotist in our midst is diminished by his or her self-regard and when you have an egotist as big as Ernest Hemingway also embracing nature, you've got an extraordinary explosion, a collision of, of opposing forces.
It may not end up too well but the by-product in the course of it is such spectacular and I would say transcendent art that still to this day holds fast and true.
- A collision of opposing forces that can happen in these most spare sentences.
I think that really articulates a lot of the power of Hemingway's work.
Terry, you have written about Big Two, Big Two-Hearted River and I recall you quoting a passage where Nick Adams is described, again another very small gesture, he's described as wetting his hand before he handles the trout so that he does not disturb the delicate mucus that covers the fish and protects it.
What is it that resonates with you in that short story and the clip we just saw?
- I think empathy.
A regard, a respect, a recognition of one's own vulnerability that the nature that he so sought was also his own nature and I, you know, I think about that one line in that passage.
It begins with a trout had taken him, you know, I love that and I think it speaks to his erotics of place and that he had wet his hand before he touched the trout just as you described so as not to disturb the delicate mucus.
Again, the erotics of place, the reciprocity, the gesture, you know, I think Hemingway was his own weather system and the full range of emotion was his and I can imagine that being in the land, being in wild places, it was the one place where he could truly be met as his full self because nature is not always pretty.
It's wild, it's turbulent, it's violent and I think that just as he was always in conversation with the natural world, he was constantly in conversation with death and that did not fear him.
As anyone, I think who spends time in the American West or in wild places, you know that death is part of life and so I think, again, the paradox that Hemingway was both a maker of life on the page and a taker of life as a hunter, even taking his own life but I don't see that as a tragic figure.
I see that as a very American figure where the man is so much more interesting than the myth and that also goes with the myth of wilderness, wildness, and the American psyche.
- I'm thinking about the contrast or the tension you're drawing there between the kind of vulnerability we see between the line, "A trout had taken him," you know, he's not the one in control, but also being in conversation with death and with Hemingway certainly all is not bucolic in nature.
It is violent, there is killing and that complicates things.
The next clip, I think, delves into this even more.
Sarah, do you want to set up this next clip?
- Sure, we're gonna drop you into our second episode.
In 1933, thanks to Hemingway's second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer's wealthy Uncle Gus, they are afforded a two month safari in Africa where we will show you some of what they were up to when they were there.
So roll clip.
- [Man] During the two month safari, the Hemingway party would shoot five lions, four Cape Buffalo, two rhino, two leopards, five cheetahs, a host of gazelles and antelope with which to feed the camp and 44 hyenas for what Hemingway called amusement.
- [Man] Africa, for Hemingway, provided the perfect space within which he could exercise his hyper-masculine muscles, where he could be the great white conquering hero at a time where at least, in some sense, that whole persona was coming under fire back here in America.
- [Man] I think in some ways he escaped into hunting.
I think he really loved it from his earliest days and I believe that that passion was sincere and not just a, a pose, but I will admit that it puzzles me a bit that having seen so much violence, so much killing, not just death but killing, the pleasure in killing is a mystery to me.
I don't, I don't understand it.
- [Man] I did nothing that had not been done to me.
I had been shot and I had been crippled and gotten away.
I expected always to be killed by one thing or another and I truly did not mind that anymore.
Since I still love to hunt, I resolve that I would only shoot as long as I could kill cleanly and as soon as I lost that ability, I would stop.
Things did not always go well.
(gunshot) And he often shot badly.
He suffered an attack of amoebic dysentery so severe he had to be airlifted past the snow capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro to Nairobi and kept there for a week under a doctor's care.
But despite it all, everything about the continent enthralled him and he took detailed notes planning to turn them into another work of non-fiction.
"I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke that I was not happy," he would write.
He loved the landscape, the blue overarching sky, the teaming wildlife, above all the isolation he craved but had rarely found at home.
- Sarah, could you comment on that clip and what do you do with that paradox that's so vividly illustrated starting with this list of the bounty that Hemingway got and tracked and ending with this sort of rhapsodic phrase about his joy under an overarching sky and the plains teeming with wildlife.
How do you, what do you do with that paradox?
- I think I'm going to hide behind Tobias Wolf here and say that, you know, I, I don't understand the, the appeal of, of the hunt and of, you know, killing big animals and then writing it down and getting competitive with your friends and your spouse about who shot how many, on the one hand, and on the other hand, it's exactly that paradox which is then he writes beautifully about the place and those animals and his relationship to the land.
So Terry is probably better equipped to talk about what is inherent in that paradox.
I was thinking about her comment right before the clip about, you know, his kindness and his empathy to nature and to the natural world, which is not, those are not words people use to describe Hemingway in any other aspect of his life.
So it's extremely interesting, complicated paradox in Hemingway the person as much as Hemingway in the natural world I would say.
- Terry, do you want to say more about that and how you grapple with the violence that is inherent in so many of Hemingway's encounters with the natural world even as, to use Ken's language from earlier, I think it also inspirits him?
It can bring out what is most glorious about Hemingway and also what can be most difficult to understand.
What do you do with that?
- I see it in my own family.
It can begin with guns.
We see it in our country.
All we have to do is look at the insurrection on January 6th.
Again, I think Hemingway mirrors America and I think what we see in that clip is a remnant of our colonial past, of colonialism, that the land is void of people, the animals are for our taking, and then we have the, you know, the blessed solitude of the isolate.
My uncle, after Hemingway came home from his safari, my uncle went on his own safari, following him, complete with the same beard and jacket and when he came home, I was probably six or seven, we watched this array of dead animals emerge even the feet of elephants as wastepaper baskets.
The thing, even as a child that I grappled with when then was, I knew my uncle loved those animals that he killed and on his wall with these heads is a quote by Renee Dubois saying that it is in our nature, the hunt.
So I think that is a way of justifying, you know, the killing.
It doesn't work for me and I wonder how Hemingway would have evolved because I think we see essences of that in his last posthumous book, The Garden of Eden, where David and Catherine are kneeling before this elephant that he has shot and that last line of, that he sees the vacant eyes of the elephant, a withered body.
You know, that, that seems to me that that is a change of mind, reminiscent with Leopold looking at the green fire, dying of the wolf he killed.
So I wonder how he might have evolved and how we now as Americans are evolving, even from our colonial white supremacy past.
- I wonder if Hemingway helps us to wrestle with regret.
You talk about, you talked about, at the beginning of our conversation even the grief and the loss that comes with love and how he saw that in landscapes that he loved so deeply and there are moments, perhaps many moments, or perhaps an overriding sense of regret through so much of his work that tugs on the sense of triumph that we might think we see in those photographs of him with the kudu, with the rhinoceros.
- You know, again, I remember my uncle saying he got the kudu exactly right and I didn't even know what that meant, was that, you know and I think about his phrase, open fire, an open fire in the wild and an open fire in war and I think any writer today who's been influenced by Hemingway, I'm certainly one of those, on some level, views themselves as a war correspondent, the war against the environment, the war against nature even in this climate crisis and could it be that Hemingway, as the embodiment of the American spirit, shows us that it doesn't end well, that we are in a culture of denial and destruction which I think we see also in Hemingway alongside his love.
- I'm thinking, Terry, of something else that you have written and I will interrupt myself for a minute to say I see we have a lot of questions coming in from the audience and we'll turn to those in just a minute, and if you have one you'd like to submit, please do so via the livestream chat function.
Terry, I'm thinking that you wrote once, "Much has been said about the Hemingway code, "the hero holding himself together in a world "without meaning but what would happen if we reversed it, "turned it inside out?
"The hero is held together by the physical world "he or she inhabits, Key West, Paris, Spain, "Africa, Cuba, Idaho."
Could you elaborate on that and how might Hemingway, at least in some moments, actually challenge our notion of heroism?
- That's such a great question.
I want to think about it.
I just keep going back to love, that it was where his fidelity lay.
It was the one constant reoccurring character in his work and I just, I feel that as writer, he gave up on so much even maybe himself but he never gave up on the land.
He always said the land would endure and I think what he shows me as a writer is that words also endure and that literature is its own escape and that's a cycle that I think we see through the generations that he continues to inspire as the natural world inspires.
The imagination is what is sustaining.
- And I feel like that resist, a reading of him, of Hemingway, as completely a tragic figure, while his decline, his erosion, near the end of his life is painful to witness.
Ken, I'm wondering if you might speak to this too.
Are there moments or when does Hemingway appear most heroic to you?
And do you see that as being in connection with the natural world?
You know, he is after all a figure that has a unique relationship to a larger than life identity.
That's how the film is, is, is really begun, you know, Hemingway and the myth of Hemingway, but I imagine that through the film you wanted to illustrate that but also show him as human, vulnerable and complex.
- Well, very often the people who create the myths are, of course, trying to mask that vulnerability and it is, of course, that vulnerability and your honesty about it, that is going to produce the most true writing and so I find him most heroic when he is giving me an access to what's true and so going back to your comment, Jenny, about regret, I think with regard to the arc of hunting and all of that, we also have an early natural relationship to it.
As, as Terry was saying earlier, there's a kind of myth of Hemingway, but there's also a myth of the wilderness as this kind of pristine place, not the very dangerous and kind of unforgiving place it is and I think even in the, in the killing of things that native peoples always had a very symbiotic relationship to the animal that they were killing and always preyed and thank the gods for this and understood the way in which this animal had provided, we've strayed very far from it and you can see at the end of his life, he's also going back to it.
He puts up his rifle on his second trip to Africa and keeps his camera and his observations are happening and you begin to, Hemingway suggests the kind of evolution and de-evolution and re-evolution that can take place and so I find most of all, and again speaking to Terry's extraordinary words, there is a kind of permanent landscape of literature that he left us.
It's Terra Firma, and it's pretty enduring and for me, regardless of the distractions of the media, the bold face name, despite the dramas and the psychological stuff that's going on all the time, all that undertow, all that chatter, what in the end endures like the land are these words, these very plain simple words that get at the heart of it.
You know, we feel he's taken those animals in Africa where the trout takes him and yet he's still searching always for that very sensual, very, you know, physical sense of what nature can deliver in terms of experience and he messes it up.
He screws up a lot but he also is putting himself in, in that way, and I want to say that I find that not dissimilar, as I said before, to this movement towards war, having to go to World War I, having to go there, having to go to Spain, having to finally let go of a lot of reservations and end up in World War II, not as a correspondent, he ends up as a combatant which is against the law.
He's shooting at other people.
He's trying to bag a human being to add to that list and just as that quote in Africa is saying, "I have not done to anything what hasn't been done to me."
This is a very, very complicated and it echoes Theodore Roosevelt, who one feels in his horrific San Juan Hill experience, that he's looking himself to add another trophy to his, his list and this is not a very pleasing figure but one we have to look at because this is activity that human beings engage in.
- I'm going to start drawing on some of the many questions that are coming from the audience.
So I think we'll be able to get to at least a few of them.
This one comes from Betsy and it's interesting to me because Hemingway doesn't go to these places totally alone.
She asks, could you speak to Hemingway's experience traveling with others and how those other people influenced his perception of place?
- That's a really good question and it's a wonderful one because when you're standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon it matters very much that you were looking at what the Colorado River is revealing, Precambrian Vishnu Schist that is 1.7 billion years old, nearly half the age of the continent, but it matters just as much whose hand you are holding as you look at this and human, and he liked to travel alone in Europe, but it was always to then make contact with other human beings and he liked to travel with family.
He would do, was taken as a boy with his family to these places, Walloon Lake in Michigan, out in fishing experiments, it, you know, expeditions with his dad to patients with, with his doctor dad.
All of these things are, are part of this, and that sometimes, even the deep sea fishing, this is, these are not solitary.
What's solitary is the writing.
What's solitary is the discipline necessary to get up and distill this raw material but for him it's with a drink in hand and an arm around a wife or a of a good friend or an antagonist or something like that.
He's in the company and it matters very much.
It's a, it's a wonderful question.
- I love that.
It just, it matters just as much whose hand you are holding and I think of Hemingway, and this connects to another question, how those experiences also are always mediated by other representations, other books that have been read, other art that has been seen.
Mar-ek from Chicago asks this question, tell us about Hemingway's relationship to nature painting.
How does art change how he interacts with the natural world?
And Terry, I'm thinking of you because I think that you have, you are I think the only person on the panel who has spent the night in Hemingway's Home in Ketchum and you may recall that taped to the wardrobe in what, of course, was Mary's bedroom alone for 25 years after Hemingway's death there, is a big landscape painting, just a reproduction, just taped to the wall, but a big painting by Cezanne.
What do you think of Hemingway's relationship to art or how art might have influenced his work and his relationship to nature?
- Well, he talked so beautifully about Cezanne and the colors and the brush strokes and again, what was so important I think to Hemingway, going back to the grand Canyon, was that, what was removed from the picture, from the painting, from a manuscript, was as important as what remains.
You know, those choices, those decisions, and I think he defined himself in many ways by the absences of people, as well as the presences of people and, you know, his life was defined by art, the art of war, the art of writing, the art of his relationships.
I think Gertrude Stein was so important for him.
She saw him for who he was, not who he wasn't, and I think in terms of his gender fluidity and his obsession with androgyny was also part of this that he writes, where, when someone, when Cezanne paints, is he male or female or is it the quality of light?
So I think there was freedom in his viewing of art and it was also a source of his great inspiration.
- Kristin from Galloway, New Jersey asks a question that I think builds on this.
She says, does Hemingway ascribe gender to nature or is the natural world a landscape where he explores gender fluidity?
- I can just jump in terms of the landscape of Hieronymus Bosch because I spent seven years watching that painting and one could call it an act of madness but I felt Hemingway's ghost there.
You know, he stayed at the palace across from the, from the way there, the Ritz was also nearby where his haunt was but in The Garden of Eden that Scribner's published, that was really pulled out of the manuscript from 1946 that he just kept going back to that was over a thousand pages handwritten.
It was all about androgyny.
It was all about that center panel of Hieronymus Bosch, the garden of delight, where, you know, whether it was about homosexuality, whether it was again an erotic landscape or whether it was about men being women and women being men it hardly mattered.
The ground beneath their feet, the stability of those antics, the fluidity was the land itself and it was alchemical as I think he was looking at how sex was alchemical, fluid not fixed and that must have been so turbulent for him when he was so fixed in the toxic masculinity that, that he promoted.
- This is very challenging to bring these questions to a close.
(laughs) I think for a final question, I'd like to ask each of you, if you could have one picture, a mental picture or on your desk of Hemingway in a place that you feel like embodies something important about him to you, what would that picture be?
Where would he be?
Sarah, can we start with you?
- Oh my goodness.
I can't believe I get to go first on this one.
I had a whole carousel of images go across my head but I think Terry was asking earlier, I think some of the photographs of him with his boys in these places, there are so many beautiful photographs of Hemingway on a dock with a big fish with his boys and the various expressions over time of the relationships that I think were often the most positive in those moments, to Ken's point of whose hand you're holding, that even in the ways Hemingway was difficult with his boys was amazing at teaching them and bringing them out on those adventures.
So I love those images of both him and the people that were with him.
- [Jenny] Thank you, Sarah.
- And still very iconically Hemingway at the same time.
- Terry, how about you?
- It's such a great question and I'm surprised by what is in my mind.
It's Hemingway holding one of his black cats which to me is, his six footed cats or six toed cats, but I think it's Hemingway holding his darkness and then alongside that Santiago slash Hemingway in the boat and The Old Man and the Sea saying to the warbler who finds her way to his line and he said, "I wish I could take you with me."
You know, the gentility, the strangeness, the darkness, how he held it all in place.
- Thank you, and Ken?
- You know, I had two thoughts.
One was that I didn't really care where he was.
It was as Terry was suggesting sometimes the absence even of him, the writing endures, and so to me, it's the empty Parisian cafe that has not yet woken up or everyone has gone to bed or whatever it might be but the street life has gone and you realize the empty vessel that landscape place is to be filled by human observation and human precision, by human art but I thought that the big loud voice came over me and said, no, it's Indian Camp.
It's coming back from this horrific scene of a woman having a very difficult caesarian section by, you know, without anesthetic, by lantern light, with a pen knife and her husband unable to, to do this, slits his own throat, and on the way back, young Nick Adams is peppering his father with, you know, the questions about suicide and births and stuff like that but at the end, as he dips his hand in the warm water, as the sun is coming up, he's really certain that he's not going to die which is of course the exact opposite of what Hemingway is telling you.
It's just these moments of vivified and well seen and well connected to place moments provide us this intimacy with our, our mortality.
We, you know, that we're gonna pass, you know.
This is not going to last.
The sun also rises from Ecclesiastes, this is, this is the thing.
Things are gonna go on and yet in that recognition, in that little caesura, in that space, is an infinite amount of time and in that, in this moment, is the immortality that we're all frantically seeking and are never going to have and every once in a while, Hemingway gets it.
So the hand in the water with your dad rowing across the lake back from this horrific scene.
- This is what we need in the world.
I feel these kinds of films, stories, books that get us to look so closely at a single detail, a single moment in time that helps us to understand our own humanity better.
Thank you so much, Ken Burns and Sarah Botstein and Terry Tempest Williams for this conversation.
I think it is an especially poignant time to consider literature and the humanities and the natural world.
Thank you for the great stories that you bring into the world.
They make us all richer and they make us a community.
For more information on Ken and Sarah's documentary, Hemingway, and to register for upcoming events related to it, visit the website, pbs.org/hemingway.
The documentary will be broadcast on your local PBS station, April 5th, 6th, and 7th.
I know we all cannot wait for those days to come.
You also can find the book at your local bookstore here in Idaho at Chapter One in Ketchum and Rediscovered Books in Boise or check it out at your local library.
Thank you to Idaho Public Television for its collaboration with the Community Library on this program and thank you, the viewers, for joining us this evening to talk about Hemingway his life and his work.
- Good night.
- Jenny, thank you.
- Thank you, Jenny.
- So great.