Culture

True Zero in ‘The Sun Also Rises’ By Ernest Hemming Way

Triangles are the Smallest Stable Structure

So the narrator is also in love. Big surprise, Hemmingway. As if this reveal wasn’t set up from the get-go. Is Modernism about becoming self aware, with stories are that self referential? From the 21st century, The Sun Also Rises looks like child’s play. I’ve got my Internets, my social medias, and my hyperlinks all reflecting me back to me at the speed of light.

Today we are now so over exposed that the sun cannot but rise.

The biggest scandal is that I cannot see myself. This is the problem in psychology, that we are not aware of what we actually want and why we want it.

And yet, Hemmingway exposes this scandal here in narrative form. Subtle? You get a hints of it. The narrator, we — us — want the woman, who would dare love an-other, saved. That’s the liberal in us, for sure. To forgive. To accept. To be open. We gain awareness of humanity, and for a brief moment, include everyone else but forget ourselves.

Which is what the narrator does. (Or does he?) And thus, the sun sets but the sun also rises.

Stories are our worlds. And this slice, this was just a day “in the life.” So life goes on, this time reflecting the reader’s biases and identifications with the narrator.

Even if the method is pedestrian by today’s standards, so it is neat and rough, like a Monet. Quaint.

No wonder why I resisted reading Hemmingway for so long.

He’s still too (literature-wise) close for comfort.

The genius, for me, is the assumption that at the end, maybe she will or won’t stay.

What you think happens at the end of this story reflects back onto you. And so like J Alfred Prufrock, does he or does he not? Showing us who he is isn’t something Hemmingway easily commits to. We don’t know the narrator’s total past with Brett, we only know what’s in this story. They were, then they are not, then they were again. So much for exploring the depths; so much for the Allegory of the Cave. You are the Earth, depths dismissed for the sake of the Sun.

Hemmingway leaves us to commit ourselves and live out the characters beyond the last page, in much the same way that The Graduate could. Thus, we (or the narrator) know who we are by knowing who the characters are for us.

Do we finish out our Oedipal triangles by accepting them? Where do we draw the line in terms of who we identify with?

What kind of ending is this?

Stable Difference needs Triangles

Which means that in order for there to be a choice, there has to be three positions (however they are marked). A thesis, an anti-thesis and a subject who chooses.

The subject is split between thesis and anti-thesis. Materialization of this split highlights all the positions.

The split between these choices means the subject is actually outside the choice. Hence, we have the basis for the triangle where the subject is the third deciding the first two.

In terms of The Graduate: accepting the daughter and rejecting the mother, is equivalent to accept being the son while rejecting being the father. Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock is split between two women, so his sense of self is split (of course the movie resolves the split). Benjamin is the third deciding between two. In terms of Oedipus, Benjamin is suspended between being dad or son. But his decision is only possible because Benjamin was tempted and thus split in twain.

Deciding reifies Benjamin into a true subject.

Likewise, Anti-Oedipus isn’t just a rejection of that narrative of control whereby society is the Name of the Father echoed by the mother — Anti-Oedipus also outlines how society functions by making us reject ourselves.

So why do we need three? Why not two as with Self and other?

In all situations the chosen side doubles up, materialized as an echo against an other to draw a boundary. The subject chooses the echo who seconds the subject (a sidekick shows that Good side is not wrong, because the One is not alone, and that the One protects the weaker second). The three positions stabilize difference, but how the three interplay is how society is built upon difference as a choice.

To put it another way, social difference is a vector (which has direction and magnitude) whereas pure difference is scalar (which is only magnitude).

Society is a Choice only if there is a Schism

Vectors appear depending on how you enter the story. If you enter it from the sidekick’s point of view, then the hero mediates your conflict with the villain. If you are the hero, then your sidekick (echo) justifies your conflict with the villain (by being a victim).

When we judge one side as being good and the other side as being evil, violence appears to justify the split along its border. In the process, violence is justified by the split as the split is justified by violence. The end result isn’t ontological, but reflexive of the truth of group-belonging and group purity.

The characters will always interplay as to who is enabling who, who is supporting who. In terms of Rick and Morty, either Morty dots Rick’s “i” (as the sidekick) or Rick enables Morty to be an I (as a sidekick who can make choices). In a much more complex, layered way, the other characters all negotiate their positions with each other in order to see who is “dotting” who; who enables/excludes who and who belongs and who does not. (Season 3 sees Jerry’s denial as weaker than Rick’s denial, since Rick gets the family and Jerry is excluded.)

But even if you step outside the characters and focus solely on plot structure, you still get a triangle. Only with plot as a “characterless” situation, what is at stake still relies on a “decision maker.”

The presence of the antagonist offers a choice for the situation to go for them, or for the protagonist.

No matter how you put it, difference can only appear in the presence of an other as the other marks the borders for that difference as being a nameable thing. Only after that difference is recognized, can we have an attitude about it. Where you start your conception is where the split appears to branch into a triangle.

When you have direction, as with time and plot, the future will always be split (possible futures). If you have a character, then the character will be the one who is split (possible choices). Likewise, flashbacks further the splitting (of either the future or the character).

Going back to The Sun Also Rises, at first, the narrator and Brett were obviously together, but then Brett went with other men, eventually picking one who was completely outside the circle. In the final cut though, Brett goes back to the narrator. Their alignment is where we end the story, as it wraps around. Brett is split between many men, and so to be around Brett, the narrator split himself as well, accepting the lovers as friends and rejecting his feelings for her through drink and isolation.

This split of self is how people are. In fact, the split of possible identities/futures/selves appears to be why even happy people cheat. If we do not integrate all our desires into our situation, we run the risk of being controlled by the desires we refuse to recognize. We run the risk of being “possessed.”

The Devil is a need run amok, but only when we pretend that need is not there.

When we deny our own behavior, or our own needs, we (literally) neutralize the situation by seeing others (or seeing ourselves) in terms of the opposites of what we are. We only conceive of a desirable difference, but only if we negate around that difference.

What we neutralize and how we choose to characterize where we are depends largely on how we “fit” ourselves in relation to difference. The direction we need to take to maintain difference will depend on where we enter the triangle from. Stories change depending on who tells it. Our relationships will shift depending on who we think we are in relation to others.

Who We are Depends on Who has Agency

Unless we locate where we find the choice for actualization (unless we find the third position), we get endless dialectical play. In the case of two (like Republicans and Democrats), neither duality can resolve itself because they are equal in their contestation. The third position (you, God, or the 5th Element — Love) needs to make the choice.

The third is literally the tie-breaker, which may be anyone/thing:

  1. the sidekick (who is tempted by the villain)
  2. the hero (who needs to decide which path)
  3. the thing of power (that which can actualize the decision)

Essentially, all three positions are functionally the same, as they make the decision. In the first six Star Wars movies, Darth Vader is the thing of power, the sidekick/hero (who is the Padawan), and the hero/villain.

All three positions can be seen in Star Trek: First Contact, even though the crew by definition can never waiver. Data is tempted by the Borg Queen, Zephram Cochrane needs to decide which path, the Borg want control of the past. What is interesting about First Contact is that humans can only decide to be united in Good once the Vulcans are there to recognize and embrace them.

Finding this third position is exactly how Slate Star Codex is able to resolve his beautifully written article: I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup. He realizes that stability in terms of the two groups can only be found when he makes the decision as to who the outgroup is (in relation to him).

Resolution isn’t just the ending. Resolution is also what we consider to be normal.

In Search of Normal

Let’s put normal in the middle of our diagram. If we assumed that all three positions had their own content, we’d see this:

ABC can be defined to be normal but only if ABC is always, which in this diagram is obviously not the case. Of the seven positions, only one has ABC. So difference for all is not normal.

Normal, that is, nothing out of place, can only occur when we only recognize the upper half of the diagram as being actual. The force of this recognition entails complete externalization of all difference around normal, even while those differences are present (but invisible) within normalcy.

True Zero

The ending of The Sun Also Rises, also negates others, so only the narrator and Brett are alone. Whether this final position is stable or not, we do not know. The story ends. So even if Hemmingway leaves us with a choice, he lands on a situation as being that-which-resolves… Being alone together is the thesis, separation is the anti-thesis. If he wanted a weaker thesis, he could have ended in this way:

The narrator walks away from Brett. When he is outside the building, he hears her calling his name. He turns slightly to look back.

When we see the multitude of possibilities, we see that Hemmingway did choose this ending (for whatever reason) and that choice for him, says it all.

Hemmingway shows us what is essential here, within the constructs of his characters.

At least Hemmingway knew when to put away the typewriter.


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