The Art of Omission

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

“This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.”

“It was a very simple story called ‘Out of Season’ and I had omitted the real end of it which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood. . . . I wrote it and left it out.”

“Nothing is ever lost no matter how it seems at the time and what is left out will always show and make the strength of what is left in. Some say that in writing you can never possess anything until you have given it away or, if you are in a hurry, you may have to throw it away.

David Wyatt, Hemingway, Style, and the Art of Emotion

These cuts indicate a will to have the text of the memeoir [A Moveable Feast] conform to the strictures of Hemingway’s early art of the omitted rather than to allow it to deploy the more expansive, meditative, and self-accusing quality of the later work.

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway did at times maintain that he was still trying “to write by the old rule that how good a book is should be judged, by the man who writes it,by the excellence of the material he eliminates.” In such a formulation, cutting is embraced as part of the writing rather than the editorial process. It is an act committed by a writer as he writes, not by an editor after the fact.

Delicately Broached Negation

Brian Dillon, Essayism, 2017

‘Aestheticizing’, we’d learn to say of such love; I hate the word to this day. As if there were anything available, anything left, except aesthetics, except an effort to frame the wreckage in the aftermath, at the last. The refusal of ‘aestheticization’ is a refusal to accept the worst, but dressed up as its opposite. The greatest art is nothing but delicately broached negation. I went looking for writers who would tell me that, time and again.

Books That Would Prefer Not To

Alejandro Zambra, Not to Read, 2018

Books say no to literature. Some. Others, the majority, say yes. They obey the market or the holy spirit of governments. Or the placid idea of a generation. Or the even more placid idea of a tradition. I prefer books that say no. Sometimes, even, I prefer the books that don’t know what they are saying.

. . . [W]e write only when others haven’t written the book we want to read. That’s why we write one of our own, one that never turns out to be what we wanted it to be. We say no to literature so that literature, for its part, will say no to us. So the book will be, always, a space that we weren’t expecting: a way out, but not the way we were expecting.

‘Not knowing how to write could perhaps be exactly what saves me from literature,’ says Clarice Lispector, again. In the non-fiction chronicles of A Descoberta do Mundo [Discovery of the World], Lispector insists on the desire that her stories not be stories, that her novels not be novels, and not out of any attachment to a forced experimentalism or to the kind of commonplaces that literary workshops return to again and again, with admirable patience: Lispector does not seek to surprise or captivate the reader.