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Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan. I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough. But that was how it worked out eventually (A moveable feast, 2007, p. 4).
It took Hemingway several decades to write about Paris.
I wonder if it was Paris as such or the kind of life he’s had there, which made it so hard to write about. I’ve only read about 1/3 of Hemingway’s memoirs of his young years in the city, but I’m eager to know his view on the subject. After my year in London, it took me about a year of philosophical chinoiseries before I managed to approach the real stuff. With Paris, I suddenly had a breakthrough some months ago and I haven’t stopped writing since. Even if I subtract all the things that I’ve been through the last years, it still can’t explain why it had to take me so long. I think, for me, the difficulties of getting to the core of the matter after field work is related to the existential journey that the field experience has brought about on both occasions.
In an unfinished post from some years back, I criticise the anthropologists Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson for their attack on what they call “the standard anthropological tropes of entry into and exit from ‘the field’” (Gupta and Ferguson 1997: 12). If I remember correctly, their point is that these stories exotize the field experience and enhance the strange- and otherness of the field site. That is probably the case in much anthropological writing (the first entry story that came to my mind is Evans Pritchard among the Azande, and there the Azande are far more alive and at least as recognisable in the intro than elsewhere in the book, so that was a bad example.) But that is surely not whole role of these stories. For me, the entry to as well as the exit from the field were surely full of existential experiences that readily can be likened to odysseyic voyages.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing if Hemingway can contribute anything to my disagreement with Gupta and Ferguson, but it will take me a while to find out, because I’m so busy writing that there’s hardly any time to read… :-)
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