Six Word Stories

If you buy into the legend, Ernest Hemingway once regarded his best work as the following:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

I’m not sure if I believe Hemingway actually penned this minimalist piece because a minimalist he was not. The man could go on and on about the taste of oysters, for one thing and for another, I’ve never seen anyone quite so taken by bullfighting that they’re compelled to write a novel about it. But I digress. The fact, or internet-credited fact anyway, remains that the concept of the six word story is credited to Mr. Hemingway. And who am I to shake the stick of truth and reason at the internet?

That’s what Wikiality is for.

Yes, but where’s this all going?

I’m getting there.

Two things happened somewhat recently that have made me think about the concept of ‘Six Word Stories.’ First, was the suicide of David Foster Wallace, author of “Infinite Jest.” Wallace was the kind of writer that you either really loved or that you claim you love over beers at the Pig to some girl in fuchsia flats and plastic earrings. He wrote with a purpose, a taking of the safety off the razor and leaving his audience to nod knowingly along with him while they bled into the sink or blinking dumbly down into the basin, not quite understanding what just happened.

Second, I was sitting in the office the other day, sorting through evidence bags that needed to be mailed back to their correct law enforcement agency. The bags are usually full of mundane objects, which when separate have a sort of sad, left-out-by-the-side-of-the-road quality to them. When together, however, they form a tight assemblage of objects who’ve witnessed little earthquakes of personal history.

When I read about the death of Wallace, I drew an immediate comparison to Hemingway. The epic nature of their writing. Their mutual choice to leave this world on their own ticket. And while Wallace never wrote a six-word story that I’m aware of, my preference for Hemingway’s best work is his own six-word story and that’s where my recall wanders every time, even if it wasn’t him who actually wrote it. Because its not the man who wrote it but the power those six words possess.

It’s a little funny how timing tends operate the way it does, left to itself a mundane, side-of-the road thing but in concert with something else, a broadside kick to the head. I happened to be bag sorting at the time, noting contents and making mailing labels. And then I found one bag in particular, the bag that wrote its own six-word story:

One Hangman’s Knot, Cut From Victim


Aufbrezeln Eschaton 12 years, 9 months ago

Welcome aboard!Your job sounds fascinating--what exactly do you do with this evidence? Are you in a lab that's doing forensic testing of some sort? I'm afraid that if I were doing that kind of work, my productivity would be lousy--I'd be off daydreaming up stories behind everything I handled, then sneaking off to Google news reports to see how far off the mark I was ;)And I loved the line, "or that you claim you love over beers at the Pig to some girl in fuchsia flats and plastic earrings." I got the clearest image of that first date . . .

stinkeyejones 12 years, 9 months ago

The evidence itself comes in and goes out, as evidence tends to do. I am involved in the forensic sciences but I am reluctant to specify to what extent. I'd like to think of it as preservation of a little mystery. But also and more truthfully, while I'm perfectly willing to make a jackass out of myself on the Internet... It's probably a kindness not to take other people with me.The thing I most enjoy about the Pig is the human circus aspect to it, just add beer.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 12 years, 9 months ago

Perfectly understandable.I'd agree that that's my favorite thing about the Pig, too, if they didn't make such damn good Bloody Marys . . .

DOTDOT 12 years, 9 months ago

Hemingway's six word story explains my entire understanding of the purpose of art, music, and literature. Gateways to the vastness of the human experience.___"But also and more truthfully, while I'm perfectly willing to make a jackass out of myself on the Internet... It's probably a kindness not to take other people with me."YES!!! Somebody understands!! I was going to change my name to "Anonymous Coward'" but some dude over at /. (the BP of internet geeks) beat me to it. DOTDOT is so myteriously obtuse that even I don't get it. Perfect.I don't mean that...

scary_manilow 12 years, 9 months ago

To claim Hemingway wasn't a minimalist shows that you have absolutely zero understanding of either Hemingway OR minimalism... unless you were just saying that to spark debate.

stinkeyejones 12 years, 9 months ago

As I understand it Hemingway is credited for being a minimalist as often as that credit is revoked. The Six Word Story concept as a stand-alone example, if he in fact really owns the credit for it, would get the minimalist ticket.Speaking solely from my point of view, if he is or isn't one is subjective and your mileage may vary but I remain- at least on a holistic level- unconvinced. I claim to be wrong nor right but merely unpersuaded at this point in time.

scary_manilow 12 years, 9 months ago

His reputation as a minimalist is pretty much cast in cement. There really aren't very many sound arguments against it-- entire literary movements have been spawned from his spare, fill-in-the-blanks style of writing. However, I realize that nebulous terms like "fact" are subject to opinion and interpretation. So by all means, carry on with your logic.

stinkeyejones 12 years, 9 months ago

Listen, I'm not discounting your opinion on the matter though you seem pretty intent on shredding mine. I'm not even arguing with you on it, at all. I'm just saying that everything I've read through the usual avenues (college lit classes, personal iniative to read more then what college asked me to do, etc.) on the subject leads me to a different conclusion. I'm cool with you having your pov. You're clearly not cool with mine but if you so strongly feel that I'm wrong and am suffering in my ignorance enough to comment in the first place, then why not take the time to persuade me to your opinion.... like, say over a beer at the Pig?

Shelby 12 years, 9 months ago

Jesus Christ, Gillaspie. She's a new blogger, be nice. Any particular reason you're being so antagonistic? I mean, she's clearly not trying to be rude to you, why are you being rude to her?

gavon 12 years, 9 months ago

I second that, Shelby...Rob apparently woke up on the wrong side of the dumpster this morning. Jessica, don't mind Scary Manilow. He occasionally enjoys playing the part of Douchebag's Advocate. When he's not huffing piss and vinegar, he's just dandy.

scary_manilow 12 years, 9 months ago

I'm not being nasty for nastiness sake. I'm trying to inspire some kind of debate. Isn't that what these forums are for? There was no name-calling on my part-- apparently Gavon thought it was okay to take it down to that level-- and I hardly think any of comments could be perceived as "rude" (especially by SHELBY, of all people-- he's the nastiest gadfly on this site, for crying out loud)... I didn't realize the comments section had descended into nothing but mutual back paddling sessions. Missed the memo. Sorry about that.

April Fleming 12 years, 9 months ago

Didn't see terribly nasty to me either, Rob. It might be as close to an argument as has been seen on here in ages, but that doesn't say much. Shrug?WRT Hemingway, I recall learning in my readin classes in high school and college that while Hemingway treated his subjects with depth, the language itself that he used was relatively simple and sparse. Common words, short sentences. No flowery Wallace or Faulknery nonsense.

stinkeyejones 12 years, 9 months ago

"I'm not being nasty for nastiness sake. I'm trying to inspire some kind of debate."Then dude, that's all you had to say. I'm all for talking about stuff. But I'm new here and new here-here (like actually physically to Lawrence as of three months ago) and so coming from little my worldview where I have no previous knowledge of people who already enjoy a little internet famousity and all the context or tone interpretation that comes with that, it appeared like you were bucking for some sort of fight. Debate: good. Cold prickle-y weirdness out of total strangers: Kinda confounding and creepafying.Just sayin'. :)

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 12 years, 9 months ago

Damn, I've missed this. Isn't that sad?Jessica--I'd say don't take it personally, but then you'd miss out on the compliment. Rob doesn't bother himself with antagonizing bloggers he doesn't think are "worth it", from my observations. It may seem intimidating at first, but you'll grow to love his grumpy cumudgeoun-ness. At least I did.Just be glad that Snoop is in an Obama-induced coma of fear and depression. Even more hostile, plus with bad spelling and grammar. shudder

Terry Bush 12 years, 9 months ago

Ah Rob. I remember when he called me a C***T on the blogs. I was horrified and amused, all at once (no one has ever called me that name). Now, I think he's an awesome talent with a quirky nature whose writing I miss. Just took me some time to get used to him. An aquired taste, to be sure. Same with Snoop. Must be something about me that I tend to bond with the misanthropes.... Welcome aboard newbie!

OtherJoel 12 years, 9 months ago

Nice job, Jessica. Sound like you're off to a good start. I probably can't add much to the Hemingway debate -- I'm a bit of a literary philistine, but I will say I can follow this books and usually stuff that's too epic and dense loses me (Thomas Pynchon and Salmon Rushdie come to mind). I don't if that alone makes him a minimalist -- best left for you and Scary to figure out. I fear David Foster Wallace may lose me as well, but I'm still going to check him out (yes, I'm one of THOSE people, who never really knew about him until after his death). But I promise not to pretend to have read him to impress the ladies at the Pig until I actually have. Even then, I'd probably still opt to bore them with some band no one's ever heard of. It's what I do, and I do it well.

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