The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnThe Perfect LifernIt is possibly a good thing that more writersrnare not sportsmen and outdoorsmen.rnThe relationship between art and sport isrna complexly curious one, since a case canrnbe made for a sporting element in writingrnthat is, of course, wholly cerebralrn(though not necessarily noncompetitivernand nonviolent). In writing, as in thernnonliterary arts, the artist, like the truernsportsman, quickly discovers his chiefrnadversary to be himself; not, like thernhunter’s quarry, the elusiveness of thernartistic ideal. Also like the sincere sportsman,rnthe dedicated artist-sportsman, orrnsporting artist, understands that the finalrnobject of all his striving and attention isrnnot the ostensible one but somethingrnbeyond it: the apprehension of materialrnand spiritual realities accessible onlyrnthrough ritual, and art. This truth,rnwhich was undoubtedly known to thernprehistoric hvmter-artists who createdrnthe cave paintings in the south of France,rnhas been largely forgotten by modernrnwriters and hunters (“sportsmen”), whornin recent times have divided themselvesrninto tribes so alien to one another thatrnthey have difficulty in recognizing themselvesrnas fellow human beings. Hemingway,rnwhen he is not being taught as anrnexample of closeted fag literarv genius, isrndismissed as a “hunter-writer.” Andrnwhile contemporary successors to earlierrnhunter-writers like Fenimore Cooper,rnTheodore Roosevelt, William Faulkner,rnand Hemingway do exist, they findrnthemselves increasingh’ at professionalrnrisk when they attempt to mix their twinrnidentities in their work: exterioriy by a literaryrnestablishment that regards bloodrnsports as beneath the dignity of literaryrnpersons, interiody by the temptation ofrntechnique in a world that regards challengernand technique as all.rnI encounter occasionally people—alwaysrnhunters and sportsmen, never fellowrnwriters—convinced that mine is thernPerfect Life. From their viewpoint, Irnspend the larger part of my time in doingrnthe things I like most to do—hunting,rnriding, camping, exploring wilderness,rnand traveling—and earn my living writingrnabout these things, almost in myrnspare time. I have no desire to complainrnof my life, to which I am attached andrnwhich I do, truthfully, live pretty muchrnas I would wish to live it. It needs to bernpointed out, however, that enviers see itrnonly partially and back-to-front, since itrnwould be far more accurate to say that Irnspend a relatively small part of that lifernacquiring the experience that providesrnme with the subject for my work, whilerndevoting the much greater part to the attemptrnto give that experience a rcalitvrnbeyond what it had in the first place.rnFor the confirmed writer, nothing thatrnhe has ever seen or known is finally realrnuntil he has written it up—heightening,rnembellishing, and even fictionalizingrnwhere necessary, energizing and constrainingrnby style; translating experiencerninto art—and set it down on the printedrnpage. Nations, regions, peoples, cities;rnfriends, enemies, and lovers; fears, andrnhopes: none of these truly exists for thernwriter until he has had his wa’ with itrnimaginatively and recreativelv—only,rnmore likely than not, to put it behindrnhim forever. This is intended neither asrna confession nor a boast, but simply as arnstatement of fact: the central fact, indeed,rnof the poor, arguably perverse,rnwritedy life.rnIts implication for the sporting writerrnis that he must, if he is to be the best herncan at his art, make the conscious decisionrnto ordinate art and sport, which is tornsay, to subordinate one of them to thernother. And if he is a true and sincerernartist, there will be no doubt in his mindrnas to which the subordinate activity, orrncommitment, will be. In this respect,rnnothing could be more untrue or unfairrnthan to reproach Ernest Hemingway as arnhunter-writer, by which his critics meanrnto suggest that he was something lessrnthan a literary artist, rather a kind ofrnmental mongrel. While neariy all of hisrnlife away from his writing table was concernedrnwith the chase in one form or another,rnas a writer Hemingway never forgotrnthat he was trying to write for thernages, not for men in barbershops thumbingrnthe latest Field & Stream. This is onlyrnanother way of saying that for Hemingwayrnthe true subject of Green Hills ofrnAfrica was not the hunt, and The OldrnMan and the Sea is not a fish story. Heming^rnvay, though as much concerned withrntechnique in sport, whether the “sport”rnin question was wing-shooting or thernbullfight, as in writing, was not concernedrnwith it at the same level, neverrnpermitting the technique of sport eitherrnto obtrude on or to become the subjectrnof his work, as lesser sportsmen-writersrnhave always been inclined to do. (It isrntrue that his characters’ concern for technique,rnlike Hemingway’s own, frequentlyrnpoints toward a deeper-lying concernrnwith something else.)rnWhile subordination is always requiredrnthe degree of it is never fixed, notrnitself a question of technique but ofrnartistry, which makes it essentially a personalizedrnand individualistic adjustment.rnFaulkner, who spent his huntingrntrips to the Mississippi river bottomsrnlistening to his companions talk whilernhe (and they) drank, often without everrnfiring his rifle, wrote a very different sortrnof hunting story than Hemingway’s.rn(Compare, for instance, “The Bear” withrn”The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”rnor “Big Two-Hearted River.”)rnWith Faulkner, the hunt itself is madernstill more subordinate to the natural andrnsocial settings, as well as to the centralrntheme of the work. For him, the realityrnof the hunt was the totality of the experience,rnlying well beyond the stalk, thernrange, the kill, the weighing up and measuringrnout.rnThere is a sense in which the greatestrnsporting feat makes the least completernand satisfying literature, for the reasonrnthat the relatively narrow accomplishmentrntends to overwhelm the completenessrnof the larger experience. Modernrnwriters in particular have been aware ofrnthe artistic dangers that result from anrninterest in what is exceptional at the expensernof the usual (though James Joyce,rnNOVEMBER 1996/49rnrnrn