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The Bulls of Hemingway

     WAISers know that I am politically incorrect. Many writers on Spain, such as Maurice Barrès in Du Sang, de la Volupté et de la Mort, have concentrated on what Spaniards call the Spain of the tambourine: a land of bullfights, flamenco dancers and death. This is an insult to a country which has a great tradition. Nobel literature laureate Ernest Hemingway falls into this category. Rightly do Spaniards use the word literatura to dismiss something as nonsense. Hemingway was a mess as a man and an ignorant of the complexity of Spanish history and politics. For whom the bell tolls (1940), having been made into a film, is commonly hailed as the greatest book on the Spanish Civil War. It is, in fact, literatura. Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, and the centennial is being marked with uncritical eulogies. This month sees also the festival of San Fermín, a Christian martyr executed in Pamplona in 287. It is an insult to his memory that his execution is marked with festivities beginning on July 7 and continuing for nine days of carousing and bullfighting. Hemingway popularized the event in America, so that young Americans go to Pamplona to join the mob of young idiots running down the street ahead of the bulls. Several runners were gored this year, without my shedding a tear. The mayor, this year a hysterical woman, declared the fiesta open. I hope that in the church there are three or four remembering the saint. They get no publicity. Presumably Hemingway did not know who San Fermín was and didn't care. It turns out that Hemingway's knowledge of bullfighting was almost as bad as his ignorance of Spanish history.Transaction Publishers is issuing a new edition of Bullfighting by John McCormick, professor emeritus of comparative literature at Rutgers University. He studied bullfighting with several leading bullfighters and used his knowledge to demolish Hemingway's alleged expertise. Why a scholar who has written important books like his biography of George Santayana would spend time studying the art of bullfighting I do not understand, but then I have colleagues who yell at football matches. If his secret motive was to debunk Hemingway, sane people owe him a debt of gratitude.

Ronald Hilton - 07/09/99

More on The Bulls of Hemingway

     Linda Nyquist agrees with me on Hemingway's bulls:
     Thank you for your views on bullfighting and the Pamplona idiocy. For years, while living in Mexico, I had to endure criticism for my views on bullfighting, and other forms of cruelty to animals, on the basis that "I didn't understand the art," and blah, blah, blah. As I got older, and less eager to seem amenable to my hosts, I was able to articulate just how I felt about this blood spectacle. Since when is watching an animal killed art? or entertainment? What message does this send, especially to children? How is one's own heart hardened by this activity?
     If you sanctions this kind of cruelty to animals, you cannot possibly be truly kind to other life forms, including mankind. And on what do I base this view? Look at Mexico, as an example. There is tremendous cruelty to animals there, and there is an almost total lack of social programs for suffering humans, as well. Outside the family, there is almost no charity. Is there a correlation? I believe so.
     I love Mexico, but I have long been angry at the Catholic Church for (1) suggesting that animals have no souls and therefore feel no pain, and (2) not talking from the pulpit about the need for kindness to all of God's creatures, including animals. In October the animals are blessed, and then thoroughly abused for the next 12 months.
     My comment: The animals are blessed in honor of St. Francis, who died on October 3, 1226. He loved animals and, if we believe the story of the wolf of Gubbio, the animals loved him. Italian Catholics are different from Spanish Catholics, and the Pope has tried to get the Spanish Church to fight cruelty to animals. Priests were forbidden to attend bullfights. In a village in eastern Spain there is a tradition of throwing a goat from the church tower. The priest has been pleading for an end to this tradition.
     Spaniards are cruel to animals. When I was in the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, a story appeared in the press about an Englishman who was fined for going on vacation and leaving his canary without food. The Spaniards laughed at this absurd sentimentality.
     The Catholic Church varies from country to country. As for animals not having souls, the story goes that an American went to a local priest and asked if he would say a prayer for the soul of his dog. When told that animals have no souls, he replied that the Protestant clergyman had agreed to say a prayer for the dog, so he was going to reciprocate by giving $1 million to his church. The priest promptly said "You didn't tell me that your dog was a Catholic."

Ronald Hilton - 07/11/99