The Limits of Transnational Exceptionalism: The Case of Ernest Hemingway in Cuba

This talk begins with a critique of the transnational turn, situating focus on how exceptionalist paradigms remain embedded in many aspects of American Studies—specifically, expatriate literary scholarship. As transnational and multicultural approaches evolve, it’s becoming clear the thresholds of “this” or “that” identity frame are among the thorniest and most exciting complications emerging in literary and cultural studies. Examining these structures in relation to Ernest Hemingway, my analyses consider the psychological and linguistic circumstances he faced in Cuba, bearing in mind he intended to die there and be interred at his home outside Havana. Hemingway spoke “Spanish only” at his house, dreamed in that language, and expressed sentiments in Spanish-language letters that contradict the unhyphenated-American thesis. While the transnational encourages (in fact requires) maintenance of “-American” qualifiers in all cases, in Spanish Hemingway said publicly: “I don’t want them to call me a Yankee”; “I’m not a gringo” but “a citizen of Cuba” and, after receiving notice of the Nobel Prize for literature, he said he was “the first Cuban” to receive the distinction. Rethinking how migration and writing in English (in a Spanish-speaking country) influenced his language, themes, character development, and identity, this lecture reinterprets Cuba in Hemingway’s reality.

Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera is Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and an Associate Professor at the University of Puerto Rico. He writes for ‘The Chronicle of Higher Education’, ‘Jacobin’ and ‘Voces del Caribe’, and his books include ‘After American Studies: Rethinking the Legacies of Transnational Exceptionalism’ (2018), ‘Paris in American Literatures’ (2013), and ‘Hemingway’s Expatriate Nationalism’ (2011). He has a PhD from the Universidad Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.