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Love and the Old Man and the Sea

In Paris during the 1920's, Gertrude Stein told Ernest Hemingway that his writing was inaccrochable, meaning that it was unpublishable because of its sexual content. Hemingway quietly disagreed (Moveable Feast, 25). Twenty-five years later he published The Old Man and the Sea. Critics have seldom, if ever, called this book inaccrochable. Hemingway himself said, "All the symbolism that people say is shit (Lanzendorfer)." This clear, negative construction evokes alternative mental space setups — symbolism and sexuality. (MENTAL SPACE ALTERNATIVITY).

I will investigate these alternative mental spaces within the frame, "The Affair." The Sea's affair with the old man, fisher Santiago, is the first prime input. "He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish ... something that gave or withheld great favours (Old Man, 27)." Santiago loves the Sea. Other fishers also love the sea, as do adoring fans from shore. Land dwelling life emerged from the sea. (PRIMARY METAPHOR, INTIMACY IS CLOSENESS).

Leonard Cohen's songs, books, and poetry receive popular acclaim. A sea of fans adore Cohen; his numerous affairs are well documented. Songs like "Death of a Ladies Man," "Chelsea Hotel," "So Long, Marianne," and "Suzanne" are based on his affairs. In her time, Stein would have considered Cohen's songs inaccrochable. Cohen's affairs and songs comprise the second prime input. Purchasing his books and records, fans seek intimacy with Cohen (PURPOSES ARE DESIRED OBJECTS, INTIMACY IS CLOSENESS).

By juxtaposing these two inputs wherein are many parallels, I reveal a blend of emotions that Cohen's songs evoke within the metaphors of Hemingway's text. That is, a transfer of emotion from one's body to one's mind. (MIND IS BODY).

Fishing and sex are tangled, metonymically, within the affair frame. Santiago's fishing line is looped around a green-sapped stick that dips sharply, like an inverted erection, into the water when the marlin nibbles at the bait (Old Man, 36). "Eat it well," Santiago says before he sets the hook hard into its mouth. Describing his affair with Janis Joplin in "Chelsea," Cohen sings she was "giving me head on the unmade bed ... but you got away, didn't you babe." Sport fishers may cry out, "Oh my god, I've got one on." The metaphor, PURPOSIVE ACTION IS GOAL DIRECTED BEHAVIOUR, links the two input spaces. Perhaps one must be a fisher to grasp the essence of this expressed emotion. (PRIMARY METAPHOR: UNDERSTANDING IS GRASPING).

Due to his journalist background and Stein's influence, Hemingway developed a minimalist style, allowing readers "independent meaning construction (Dancygier, 200)". Like the refrains in Cohen's songs, Hemingway uses repetition for a cumulative effect. Santiago states in varying contexts, "I wish I had the boy," referring to Manolin his ex fisher protégé. Referring to Marianne Ihlen his 1960's lover and muse, Cohen repeats, "It's time that we began to laugh / And cry and cry and laugh about it all again." Readers and listeners construct meaning dependent on their own experiences. (INDEPENDENT MEANING CONSTRUCTION).

Santiago pursues large fish in a small boat on a flat ocean. His fishing gear is simple and practical. His fishing technique is efficient and precise, developed over many years. As the author, Hemingway replicates himself as Santiago, the fisher, using metonym and simple declarative sentences. Like Santiago, he would rather be exact than lucky in his writing (Old Man, 29-30). When luck comes they are ready. Santiago is ready to catch the great marlin and Hemingway is ready to apprehend inspiration for the great novel. Cohen said that when he listens to songs he is interested in "one clear statement of somebody's interior situation ... you find yourself thinking about the urgency of expression of an emotion, and you have your tools at hand that you’ve sharpened over the years (Kubernik, 190)." (MIND IS BODY, WRITING IS FISHING, TRUTH IS SIMPLE).

With Cézanne's solid art form as a guide for his lines, Hemingway paints four-dimensional MENTAL SPACETIMES to inhabit. Clouds, a man-o-war bird, an airplane, and lines and bait probing the depths set the vertical axis. Hemingway sets the horizontal axes with references to Cuba on the horizon, the flying fish nearby, and the marlin towing the boat past a great island of Sargasso weed. Hemingway resists time compression as Santiago battles the marlin during the light of the days, and the dark of the nights. Santiago recalls seeing fish and turtles in the water from the vantage of the cross-trees of the mast-head in the turtle boats.

Cohen's "Suzanne" summons a NETWORK OF MENTAL SPACETIMES. "She takes our hand and we go down to her place near the river, hear the boats go by, see heroes in the sea weed, and Jesus in his lonely wooden tower, and then watch him sink beneath our wisdom like a stone." (COMPRESSION OF TIME AND SPACE).

A hero acts with courage against adversity. The protagonists in Cohen's songs must deal with the consequences of their troubled love affairs. How does one go on after it is over? A former champion, Santiago hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days. He is old; his wife is dead; he is broke. The people of his village think he is done as a fisher. Before Hemingway published The Old Man many critics thought Hemingway was done as a writer. Like many writers, Cohen suffered from existential angst. By 1970 he began to "believe all the negative things people said about my way of singing (Ratcliff, 24)." The metaphors, DIFFICULTIES ARE IMPEDIMENTS TO MOTION, and PERISTENCE IS REMAINING ERECT, establish four-fold links among Hemingway the writer, Santiago the fisher, Cohen the writer and musician, and the protagonists of his songs who is Cohen himself.

Santiago fishes far out to sea, beyond the other marlin fishers. He offers his bait, a bouquet of sardines hooked through their eyes. Santiago thinks that sometimes his lady, the ocean, withholds her favours, and "if she did wild and wicked things it was because she could not help them (Old Man, 28)." She is his only source livelihood. The sea birds reveal where fish gather. In the song "Show Me the Place," Cohen asks his lover, "Show me the place where you want your slave to go ... Show me the place where the suffering began." (KNOWING IS SEEING, INTIMACY IS CLOSENESS).

But Cohen and Santiago are too old for their pursuits. The singer, Nico, had rejected Cohen advances with her words, "Look, I like young boys. You're just too old for me (Warner)." While Santiago has been fishless, Manolin's boat caught three good fish in one week. The ocean also favours young boys. But Santiago was a champion fisher and holds the local record for the largest marlin. His lady, the ocean, has been generous with him for many years. Now, once again, she favours him with a record-breaking marlin.

Are the sharks that attack and devour the marlin Hemingway's metonym for literary critics (Williams, 49)? Harold Bloom, the great Mako shark himself, has scant praise for The Old Man's critics or for the book (vii, 1-3). Was Phil Spector Cohen's Mako shark?

At about the time that Cohen and Suzanne Elrod were separating, Cohen entered into a partnership with Phil Spector to produce the album, Death of a Ladies' Man. Both men "appeared to be well past their commercial prime (Ratcliff, 32)." Regarding the song by the same name Ratcliff says, "There is clearly only one 'she' in the narrative, and the song reprises all we have already learned about Cohen's relationship with Suzanne Elrod." Cohen was about to publish a book of poems and vignettes and probably had high hopes for this new album.

Some selective cross mappings between the song, "Death," and The Old Man:

"The man she wanted all her life was hanging by a thread" ↔ Santiago hangs onto the fishing line for three days, from his soon to be ex-lover, the ocean's point of view.

"I'll never see such arms again in wrestling or in love" ↔ Santiago had been a champion arm wrestler in the taverns of North Africa, his muscular arms enabling him to catch large fish.

"His style was obsolete" ↔ Santiago fishes uses hand-lines in an open skiff, while other fishers use more modern equipment.

"She beckoned to the sentry of his high religious mood" ↔ Santiago, too proud to fish with the other fishers for average sized marlin, sets out by himself

"I'll make a place between my legs, I'll show you solitude" ↔ Santiago chooses to fish far out in the deep, dark water, lured by his knowledge of the whereabouts of huge marlin.

"Trying hard to get / a woman's education but he's not a woman yet" ↔ Santiago learned his craft as a marlin fisher from what the ocean has taught him through experience.

Cohen abused his affair with Suzanne with the song's inconsiderate closing lyrics, "I guess you go for nothing if you really want to go that far." After Cohen's voice tracks were recorded, Spector commandeered control of the album's commercial production. It was released "to a chorus of critical disapprobation (Ratcliffe, 33)." Scavenger sharks devoured what was left of the marlin during Santiago's return to the harbour. Just its skeleton remained. Santiago probably died after his ordeal. (LIFE IS A CYCLE OF UPS AND DOWNS).

References:

Leonard Cohen:
Cohen, Leonard. Book of Longing. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2006.
Cohen, Leonard. Chelsea Hotel
Cohen, Leonard. Death of a Ladies Man
Cohen, Leonard. Death of a Ladies Man. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1978.
Cohen, Leonard. Show Me the Place
Cohen, Leonard. So Long, Marianne
Cohen, Leonard. Suzanne

Ernest Hemingway:
Hemingway, Ernest: Complete Poems. Revised ed. Lincoln, U of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Movable Feast. Restored ed. New York: Scribner, 2009.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner, 1952.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Infobase, 2008.
Dancygier, Barbara and E. Sweetser. Figurative Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014.
Kubernik, Harvey. Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows. Milwaukee: Backbeat Books, 2014.
Lanzendorfer, Joy. 11 Facts about Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea
Ratcliff, Maurice. Leonard Cohen: The Music and the Mystique. London: Omnibus Press, 2012.
Warner, Andrea. "Leonard Cohen, the women he loved, and the women who loved him." CBC, 2016 ( Leonard Cohen)
Williams, Wirt. "The Old Man and the Sea: The Culmination." Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Infobase, 2008.

© Elmer Wiens

 

 

   

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