Documentaries, salves, and slaves : different receptions of physicality in Erich Maria Remarque’s 'Im Westen nichts Neues' and Ernest Hemingway’s 'A Farewell to Arms'
Mothersole, Brian Scott
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Published in 1929, Erich Maria Remarque’s novel Im Westen nichts Neues details a semi-autobiographical experience of the First World War. Translated into English later that year, it achieved remarkable success in the United States. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, attained a similar transatlantic popularity when it was translated into German in 1930. Both novels emphasize outward description and avoidance of inner, abstract thought in order to emphasize a physicality that draws on reportorial and objective traditions which attempt to attack a romantic sense of war. In privileging physical experience, both novels and their translations have the similar goal of criticizing propagandistic rhetoric. Despite these similar goals, each novel’s reception in the other’s country was different. Americans viewed Remarque as simply a writer of documentaries, while Germans saw Hemingway in a problematically primitive way, both viewing him as a salve to overblown European intellectualism and subjugating him to a larger European aesthetic scheme. This paper attempts to answer why these receptions differ, and offers the solution that European critics remained in modes of thought reminiscent of the nineteenth century and had a different horizon of expectations.