Les Remises

I would like to return to Hemingway once more, and I hope, in doing so, to demonstrate the importance of such, which is to say, the importance of returning. First, a quotation:

But there are remises or storage places where you may leave or store certain things such as a locker trunk or duffel bag containing personal effects or the unpublished poems of Evan Shipman or marked maps or even weapons there was no time to over to the proper authorities and this book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.

As this final paragraph of the final sketch of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast,1 ”Nada y Pues Nada,” shows, Hemingway, too, is concerned with returning, with what he calls the remises of his memory and heart. These remises are, by his definition, “storage places,” but here some etymological digging is warranted.

Remise is the past participle of the French verb remettre, to “put back” or “replace.” As a noun, une remise is a “delivery” or “handing over,” a “remission,” a “reduction,” a “shedding,” a “deferment.” In English, the word has been put to multiple uses, but most interestingly, a remise in music is a “repetition or return of the opening material later in a composition,” and in fencing a “renewal of a failed action, without withdrawing the arm.” In law, to remise is to “surrender all interest in a property by executing a deed, to quitclaim [“relinquish, release, or transfer a title, claim, or interest to another”].” And so, already, with a simple Wiktionary search, the connotative chain of Hemingway’s word expands.

The Oxford English Dictionary is similarly productive. Again, in law, a remise is the ”action of transferring or surrendering property, a right” or the “act of remitting money; a remittance.” A remise can also be a “building providing shelter for a carriage,” or, as before, in fencing, a ”renewed attack made while still on the lunge, without returning to guard.” As a verb, remise can mean a number of things: to “give up, surrender, transfer, or release;” to “put back in,” to ”return to, replace,” to “convert again into;” even, rarely, to “bring together again; to lead back again.”

Taking the word in its connotative entirety, I find it interesting that the meaning Hemingway settles on for his English gloss of the French term is shelter, a “storage place.” Ever literal, ever resisting the symbols that he, himself, creates, Hemingway’s remises are places within himself in which he has stored all manners of things, as one stores “personal effects,” and Evan Shipman’s “unpublished poems,” and “marked maps,” and “weapons,” and other “materials” in a “locker trunk or duffel bag.”

But this is certainly not the only definition of the term Hemingway is aware of. As an aficionado of bullfighting, the remise as a fencing technique comes into play. As the writer of a memoir, Hemingway returns to his youth. In his apology to Hadley in “The Pilot Fish and the Rich” he makes remittance, while deferring his guilt into the second person and onto the reader. In the chapters on Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, and others, he attacks and lunges, verbally sparring. And in “Nada y Pues Nada” he relinquishes control and sheds (or at least tries to) the weight that he and all the other children of the “lost generation” bear. Hemingway leaves this out, these varied remises, as per his principle, concentrating instead on the material definition of the word as he experiences it. But, in writing A Moveable Feast, Hemingway opens up the “storage places” of his "memory” and “heart” in a final attempt to make known the meanings he has locked away, to make known his self. In the process, he transfers the rights of his text, his life, to his readers. To read is to interpret, to engage with the resonant field that all texts produce, that even single words like remise can produce. And so, to read A Moveable Feast is to read Hemingway, the man, not as an author or a figure or a type, but as another being, another collection of potentialities, through whom our projects and our freedoms are made more fully known. This is what it is to read. It is our responsibility and our privilege.


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

Previous Post Next Post

« Reading and Resonance A Matter of Scale, pt. 1 »