Conference (online and on-site) 2023 : Hemingway and South America: The transcultural fabric of the living
Call For Papers
HEMINGWAY AND SOUTH AMERICA: THE TRANSCULTURAL FABRIC OF THE LIVING
On-site and on-line international Conference to be held at the University of Le Mans (France) on November 23 and 24, 2023
The study of transculturality in Hemingway’s work, as proposed in this international conference, has a triple dimension: experiential, transtextual and intersubjective. Hemingway’s practice of transculturality was inspired by his passion for nature and the unconstrained possibilities of receiving and transmitting knowledge that the focus on nature as a universal good makes possible. This is in line with Hemingway’s desire as a man and an artist open to the world and to cultural otherness (linguistic, gastronomic, artistic…), a desire that feeds on a high sense of curiosity but also on the necessity of self-realization as a subject.
This desire translates not only into the venturous life he had, which was punctuated with numerous border crossings (South American, Asian, African, European) and long stays in various countries, but also into the appropriation of other cultures through practical exchange and sharing, and through their incorporation into his fictional universe. They take shape and life in the transtextual fabric of his writing, and in the ethical vision and attitude of his narrators and/or protagonists that develop Hemingway’s own life experiences. This triple dimension of transculturality as a process bringing together experience, intersubjectivity and transtextuality, offers a framework for a both open-ended and precise reflection on Hemingway’s relations with the world, here narrowed down to South America (in the geopolitical sense), and Cuba in particular.
Indeed, the figure of Hemingway is forever linked to Cuba, and vice versa. As the legend goes Hemingway’s “ghost” still lurks in Finca Vigía, the Havana house where he lived, which was converted into a museum housing thousands of books and other objects that are reminders of the Nobel Prize winner’s presence in the “Pearl of the Antilles.” Cuba was indisputably a source of inspiration for the author, who wrote there most of his posthumously published fiction (The Garden of Eden, Islands in the Stream, The Last Good Country, A Moveable Feast…), and especially the work that won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1953: The Old Man and the Sea. He once told a journalist: “[…] this award belongs to Cuba, because my work [The Old Man and the Sea] was created and conceived in Cuba, with my people of Cojímar, from where I’m a citizen.” He then concluded that Cuba, his “adopted country” was the place where his “home” was.
Hemingway discovered Havana in 1928 during a trip to Florida where he would reside until 1940 with Pauline Pfeiffer, his second wife. The Hemingways left Paris in 1928 and settled in Key West, a tiny island town located at the western end of the Keys archipelago, facing Cuba, 145 kilometers across the Gulf of Mexico. He began to visit the Island regularly during the 1930s, before settling there permanently after his divorce from Pauline in 1940. Hemingway bought a large property (the Finca Vigia) located in the suburbs of Havana, where he would live with writer Martha Gellhorn and then Mary Welsh, his fourth and last wife. In accordance with Hemingway’s wishes, Mary donated the property to the Cuban state, which turned it into a museum (the Ernest Hemingway Museum of Cuba).
Hemingway’s life in Cuba has left indelible traces that visitors to the island do not fail to appreciate. In addition to Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s name and memory are associated with the “Hemingway Marina,” the largest marina on the island, where an international fishing tournament – the “Hemingway Tournament –, is held annually. The fountain of the Hotel El Viejo y el Mar, named after Hemingway’s famous novella, reproduces a life-size scene of the fight between Santiago and the swordfish. The marks of Hemingway can be seen too in the city’s restaurants, in the statues built in his honor, in the places he loved such as the Floridita bar (where visitors can see a life-size statue of the author), the Ambos Mundos hotel, the Bodeguita del Medio restaurant... His memory permeates not only place but also the taste, for example the variant of the famous daiquiri dear to Hemingway, which has since been affectionately called “Papa Hemingway.” Present in the cultural memory of the island, the North American writer is also present in its political memory. When Fidel Castro took power in 1959, Hemingway did not evacuate the island despite the U.S. ambassador’s recommendations. Far from it, he publicly supported Castro’s revolutionary goals, which greatly displeased FBI boss Hoover and his agents.
Cuba was an important source of inspiration for Hemingway as early as the 1930s. The writing of many of his works was inspired by his life in Cuba and his fishing expeditions in the Gulf Stream. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1954, Hemingway paid tribute to the unbreakable bond with the Cuban people by offering the prestigious medal to the Cuban people and not to the Batista government. Indeed, he made a gift of his medal to to the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, patron saint of Cuba and of the fishermen of Cojimar, a church that the famous fisherman Santiago evokes at a critical moment in his narrative.
The protagonist of The Old Man and the Sea is of Spanish origin; he lives in Cuba and dreams of Africa when he is not fishing. This complex cultural geography, conceived by an American writer, points to a powerful Hemingwayan interest in cultural otherness and the hybridization of differences. It is not specific to Hemingway’s appropriation of Cuban culture, but is part of a transcultural vision of difference, which can be grasped in the multilingualism of his writing, in the composite geography of his work, and the spontaneous incorporation of cultural traits from different societies by his characters. Although central, this aspect has not yet been addressed by commentators. Hemingway’s transcultural openness, both biographical and literary, goes beyond the cosmopolitanism of the modernists that he discovered and appreciated in the 1920s during his stay as an “expatriate” in Paris. With this writer, transculturality comes alive. Certainly, there is a “learned” intertextuality in his works but it is channeled in and by the conduits of concreteness, the daily experiences of the living... For Hemingway cultural encounters are primarily experiential. He once said: “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares; if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” John Dewey or Antonin Artaud would certainly have appreciated this cultural philosophy that understands culture as the organization of the forces of a life that is “owned” not by states and ideologies, but by citizens who nurture it with their desires and spontaneous creative capacities.
Hemingway’s obvious interest in the Hispanic world in general, his way of anchoring the literary in the living – which in itself broadens the transcultural base of his worldview and the possibilities of literary hybridizations – partly explains the attraction he had on many South American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who considered Hemingway to be his “maestro”. Some commentators have identified transtextual links with Hemingway in the work of the Colombian writer. And if we cannot affirm that the author’s ghost really haunts the place, he is still present in the hearts and minds of Cubans. One example is the novel by the now internationally successful author Leonardo Padura, who made him a central figure in his novel Adiós Hemingway (2001). From a broad cross-cultural perspective, we can also mention the novel Cuba Libre (2021), by the Belgian writer Claude Rappé, whose protagonist “meets” Hemingway, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Cuba.
There are also intangible connections that definitively unite Hemingway to the Spanish-American intellectuals. First of all, as a journalist, he left a deep enough mark that a chair of journalism at the Instituto Internacional de Periodismo José Martí in Havana was named after him – a symbol: a chair named after a North-American, in an institute named after one of the most emblematic figures of the Cuban revolutionary identity. This is an explicit recognition of the impact of Hemingway’s journalistic writing, to whom the Institute regularly dedicates conferences. García Márquez affirmed that “no writer – apart from José Martí, of course – has been the object of so many tributes, on so many levels”. It is clear how important the author is in Cuban culture, elevated to the same rank as one of the founding fathers of the nation.
There is no doubt that Hemingway, whose works are widely taught to students in the Island, is an integral part of Cuban literary education. Many articles praising the author have been published in Cuba since the 1950s. (It is worth noting, however, the more critical points of view of some intellectuals, among which some comments by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea in his film Memorias del subdesarrollo , or the words of Edmundo Desnoes in the novel of the same name: “Nosotros / los cubanos / salimos muy mal parados en la obra de Hemingway.”) Cuba is thus undeniably present in Hemingway's work on many levels. A recent biography published in the United States (Ernesto: The untold story of Hemingway in Revolutionary Cuba, by Andrew Feldman, 2019) also states that Hemingway’s writing was influenced by the novel Contrabando (1938), by the Cuban journalist Enrique Serpa, whom he allegedly knew and met at the bar El Floridita. It seems, therefore, that if one can easily argue that Hemingway is a key figure in the cultural heritage of the island, both in its tangible and intangible heritage, deeper cultural transfers would have taken place between the United States and Cuba, through this emblematic literary figure. What is the extent of Hemingway’s artistic, journalistic, cultural impact on Latin American writers, and vice versa (bearing in mind that Hemingway’s Latin American experience was largely focused on Cuba, since he only had a brief stay in Mexico and Peru), in the fields of civilization, literature and journalism? In addition, we can look at the figure of the Mexican character in Hemingway’s work (for example in the short story “The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio”), the reception of his work in other South American countries. This transtextual dimension can also be examined in light of transculturality conceived as the literary fabric of the living. These are the central questions that we could study during this Americanist conference, to which we can associate the related themes of cultural hybridity, cultural transfer, bilingualism, translation and interculturality.
- Hemingway and South America
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- CLIFTON, Sandra J., Ernest Hemingway and Gabriel García Márquez: Cultural Ascendancy and the Shaping of Literary Figures, 2011.
- DETTMAN, Jonathan, “Eclipse and Re-emergence of a Critical Discourse on Hemingway in Cuban Literature and Film”, The Latin Americanist, vol. 58, no 3 (September 2014), pp. 31-50. https://doi.org/10.1111/tla.12035
- FELDMAN, Andrew, Ernesto: The untold story of Hemingway in Revolutionary Cuba, 2019.
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The conference is to be held at the University of Le Mans, France, on November 23 and 24, 2023, in person and by Zoom, and will be open to Americanist scholars specialized in the fields of the arts, literature, cinema, linguistics, history and civilization, and more generally in the humanities and social sciences.
Please send a 300-500-word abstract, along with a title and your institutional affiliation, at the latest on July 31, 2023, to
- Rédouane Abouddahab : email@example.com
- Lucie Valverde : Lucie.Valverde@univ-lemans.fr
Papers may be made in English, French, or Spanish