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“What Is Africa to Me?”:
Modernism’s Double Life in Hemingway and Larsen

Smith College / University of Massachusetts, Amherst

This essay reads several of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories together with Nella Larsen’s Quicksand. The two authors were born within a few miles and a few years of each other; they are both known for careful, precise, elegant prose; their fictions are similarly bound up with, perhaps inextricable from, their lives. Perhaps they were the same person? Through interlaced commentary, the essay offers a test case for conceiving the author as function: what, if anything, happens when we classify and distribute differently? what prevent us from doing so? The premise of this essay (much like the fictions of Hemingway and Larsen, and indeed of modernity itself) assumes the possibility of an abstract, ahistorical and imaginary space for the constitution of its subject. The belief that one might put aside history, tabula rasa – that the positioning of self as either subject or object is something which we determine (instead of that which determines us) – is a fiction which goes deep into what it means to be modern, or to be American. Such fictions inevitably fail in the telling: the imaginary is refuted by the real.

Ernest Hemingway, Nella Larsen, American prose fiction, biography, imaginary, history, narrative, primitivism, feminism



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