Pastoral Genocide

True At First Light
March 4, 2008, 1:45 am
Filed under: Literature | Tags:

“In Africa, a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.”

With such flourish of dreamy hyperbole, Ernest Hemingway dove headlong into his last, great adventure. Dramatically dysfunctional, True At First Light tries unsubstantially to distance itself from the oligarchies of colonialism that Hemingway himself helped create. It’s a portraiture of man who is no longer himself and cannot remember, for the life of him, what and who he used to be. Hemingway’s Africa is plagued by his desire to be profound, the hapless yearning for enlightenment among the unenlightened. The theater is inherently racist as Hemingway perceives himself just short of messiah, a demigod among dogs. It is Hemingway at his worst, bloated and voluminous and unaware that he is neither the priest nor the sacrificial lMB. However, it also here – trapped within the constraining devices of the posthumous – that Hemingway’s legacy burns brightest. Edited and constructed by his son Patrick, Hemingway is a caricature of stoicism. He is the last of the great men, the elders who unapologetically sought adventure as a modus of living. He is piss and vinegar and fire and the unrelenting blue of the sky that sits above the African plains. Most importantly, however, Hemingway has conquered self-doubt, the claustrophobia of accepting anything less than glorious personal triumph. It’s pathetic in an aggrandizing way, an attempt at inflation of the pettiest sort. But for all this folly and foolishness, True At First Light possess an unparalleled beauty that transcends the residual elegance of its presentation. Because, at its core, True At First Light is simply a son painting a picture of a man he hardly knew, a father who was greater in death than in life.


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