Nada y Pues Nada

The final sketch from Ernest Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir A Moveable Feast,1 “Nada y Pues Nada” is a conversation and an apology, but also a sort of epilogue to the book. As he states in the first sentence of the sketch, “[t]his will give you some account of the people and the places when Hadley and I believed we were invulnerable.” Which, in typical Hemingway fashion, is an understatement of what “this” truly accomplishes. 

In this, as in Hemingway’s fiction, the author practices his “principle of the iceberg” with “seven-eighths of it [the text] underwater for every part that shows.”2 He structures the narrative around a gap, a lack: “[a]nything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story.” But in A Moveable Feast, a memoir, unlike in Hemingway’s fiction, it is not entirely certain where the gap, the lack, is located. In many instances, Hemingway omits some specific detail, some “knowledge”3 (about a relationship, a person, a conversation, an event, an idea), so as to construct a gap for his reader to fill in (as in his fiction). But in others, he omits some detail, or rather, circles around it, because he, himself, is uncertain of what it is, exactly, that he is writing of or how to write it. 

And so, in “The Pilot Fish and the Rich,” the second to last sketch of A Moveable Feast, immediately preceding “Nada y Pues Nada,” Hemingway tells much of the story in the second person, displacing the perspective onto the reader, because to tell the story of the collapse of his first marriage in the first person4 situates the gap, the lack, the unspeakable experience, within himself. Like the psychoanalyst I have written of, Hemingway gets the patient to speak, to undergo the talking cure through his writing, but in A Moveable Feast the patient is himself. He is analyst and analysand, putting his own early life on display, and so the reader encounters the shifting of you and I that indicates Hemingway’s own ambiguity of consciousness, the hunger5 that characterizes his work, and of which he writes extensively in the memoir. 

It is precisely this hunger which Hemingway encounters and contends with in his writing, that he can only contend with in writing, because to speak it, to speak his secrets,6 those things even partially hidden from himself, is to give voice to the unsignifiable unconscious, to the hunger and lack and desire that plagues him, that drives him into writing, into hunting and fighting and gambling, into affairs and four marriages. And it is precisely this lack, this hunger, situated within his own unconscious, that fuels his desire, a desire which is never satisfied, because he does not know what it is that he lacks in the first place, because lack is always unknown, unsignified.7

Thus, in the final, heartrending sketch of A Moveable Feast, as Hemingway and his poet friend Evan Shipman (who is dying of cancer), talk, Evan begs “Hem” to continue writing “for all of us … us of the early days and the best parts and the bad parts and Spain. Then this other one and everything since and the times now. You have to put in the fun and the other that only we know who have been at some strange places in some strange times. Please do it even when you want to never think about it. And you have to put in now. I am so busy with the horses that I don’t know about now. Only my now.” So he does. Unable to write his own now, to fully put it into words, Hemingway writes the now of another, because the hurt that must be spoken is a hurt they all share. It is the Nada of which Hemingway writes so “awfully well,” to which Hemingway bitterly retorts, “Nada y pues Nada,” nothing and for nothing. 

But perhaps the nothing of which Hemingway writes is exactly that: no thing. It is the emptiness, the longing, the hunger, that he, and all of them, cannot make sense of, that he can only hope to make known, even if, in so doing, the knowing is only a knowing of, not understanding, but simple awareness of its existence. He does not write things, but, nevertheless, he writes. But what? What is it that he writes? It is Jake musing, at the end of The Sun Also Rises,8 “Yes … Isn’t it pretty to think so?” It is that question, that implication, that secret, that even, after Hemingway’s death, remains simply that: a question, an implication, a secret. A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s attempt to finally make visible his I, his secrets, his hunger, to make sense of himself and his mission, his life and those who lived it with him, to turn the lens of fiction—greater, of the written word—upon himself, and, in so doing, draw the emptiness into the light.


  1. Hemingway, Earnest. A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition. Palo Alto: GoodBook Classics, 2014. Kindle. 

  2. Hemingway, Ernest. “The Art of Fiction No. 21.” The Paris Review 18 (1958). Web. 

  3. Chapter 3, “Miss Stein Instructs.” A Moveable Feast. Kindle. “I was not at all sad when I got home to the rue Cardinal Lemoine and told my newly acquired knowledge to my wife and we were happy in the night with our own knowledge we already had and other new knowledge we acquired in the mountains.” 

  4. Additional Paris Sketches, “On Writing in the First Person.” A Moveable Feast. Kindle. “When you first start writing stories in the first person, if the stories are made so real that people believe them, the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. That is natural because while you are making them up you had to make them happen to the person who was telling them. If you do this successfully enough, you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for, which is to make something that will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory. There must be things that he did not notice when he read the story or the novel which, without his knowing it, enter into his memory and experience so that they are a part of his life. This is not easy to do.” 

  5. Chapter 5, “A False Spring.” A Moveable Feast. Kindle. “It was a wonderful meal at Michaud’s after we got in; but when we had finished and there was no of hunger any more the feeling that had been like hunger when we were on the bridge was still there when we caught the bus home. It was there when we came in the room and after we had gone to bed and made love in the dark, it was there. When I woke with the windows open and the moonlight on the roofs of the tall houses, it was there. I put my face away from the moonlight into the shadow but I could not sleep and lay awake thinking about it. We had both wakened twice in the night and my wife slept sweetly now with the moonlight on her face. I had to try to think it out and I was too stupid. Life had seemed so simple that morning when I had wakened and found the false spring and heard the pipes of the man with his herd of goats and gone out and bought the racing paper. But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.” Also Chapter 8, “Hunger Was Good Discipline.” A Moveable Feast. Kindle. “I found that many of the people I wrote about had very strong appetites and a great taste and desire for food, and most of them were looking forward to having a drink.” 

  6. Additional Paris Sketches, “Secret Pleasures.” A Moveable Feast. Kindle. “Our pleasures, which were those of being in love, were as simple and still as mysterious and complicated as a simple mathematical formula that can mean all happiness or can mean the end of the world […] We looked at each other and laughed and then she said one of the secret things […] We sat there and she said something secret and I said something secret back […] I held my hand against the silky weight and bluntness against her neck and said something secret and she said, “Afterwards.” “You,” I said. “You” […] “Now we have another secret. We won’t say anything to anybody” […] 

  7. Chapter 17, “Scott Fitzgerald.” A Moveable Feast. Kindle. “We both touched wood on the café table and the waiter came to see what it was we wanted. But what we wanted not he, nor anyone else, nor knocking on wood nor on marble, as this café table-top was, could ever bring us. But we did not know it that night and we were very happy.” 

  8. Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Harper Perennial Classics, 2012. Kindle. 

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