“Whitney: When Hemingway died, Dwight Macdonald attacked him in Encounter, the CIA’s London magazine. The opening scene, parodying Hemingway’s style, depicted Hemingway’s suicide, from the walk through the house to the pulling of the trigger. It was grotesque. He also tried to tie Hemingway into this area he would champion that was critical of the blending of kitsch and higher art. Plimpton noticed tons of errors in the piece. Plimpton the participatory writer was finally a critic. He wrote a twelve-page correction, yet Macdonald waited for the book version to come out and printed it as a sort of alternative view. In other words, rather than acknowledge specific errors, he tucked it into the back of the piece as an alternate take, which wasn’t Macdonald’s most intellectually honest moment. But better than nothing.
Stewart: That’s fascinating.
Whitney: Poor Plimpton; he loved Hemingway and had to tell Macdonald that the gun with which Hemingway literally blew his brains out was too long for Hemingway’s arms to reach the trigger. So in the distasteful scene attempting to spoof Hemingway while showing his darkest moment, Plimpton had to inform Macdonald that Hemingway shot himself using his toe, not his finger. It made me feel a lot of compassion for Plimpton and his love of Hemingway.
Their conversation was also part of where Plimpton would have formed the friendship with Macdonald that may have led Macdonald to dissect the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s complicated ties to the state for Plimpton. But at this moment in my research I hated Macdonald, I have to say, as dispassionately as I tried to take in the research and reading. But then later, when the CIA subsidies were revealed, Macdonald was the one who best encapsulated for his peers what Plimpton’s colleague Doc Humes believed: that secret patronage is antithetical to transparency and a free press. I read this exchange between Plimpton and Macdonald and saw Macdonald as cursing the dead man before his body was cold but then I reenvisioned Macdonald as courageous when he wrote his piece in Esquire to explain to his peers the very American value of transparency and how the CIA’s subsidies paid in secret perverted that. Doc Humes made the same case in a private letter to Plimpton the year before. Now a small chorus was forming. All hope was not lost.”

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