How does he see?

“He wanted to write like Cezanne painted. / Cézanne started with all the tricks. Then he broke the whole thing down and built the real thing. It was hell to do. … He, Nick, wanted to write about country so it would be there like Cézanne had done it in painting. You had to do it from inside yourself. There wasn’t any trick. Nobody had written about country like that. … You could do it if you would fight it out, if you’d lived right with your eyes. / It was a thing you couldn’t talk about.”

Ernest Hemingway, The Nick Adams Stories

Gertrude Stein did this more than a decade earlier, learning from Cézanne how to see. I think of Hemingway often as I read Knausgaard, now reading his fourth book and wondering how his vision is formed. It is writing that gets close to another consciousness, perhaps more than any other writer, yet there is still that distance that comes from the unanswerable question: how does he see? A question that goes back to Altamira and Lascaux.

Gertrude Stein by Picasso

Gertrude Stein, 1905–6 Pablo Picasso

One must never forget that the reality of the twentieth century is not the reality of the nineteenth century, not at all and Picasso was the only one in painting who felt it, the only one. More and more the struggle to express it intensified. Matisse and all the others saw the twentieth century with their eyes but they saw the reality of the nineteenth century, Picasso was the only one in painting who saw the twentieth with his eyes and saw its reality and consequently his struggle was terrifying, terrifying for himself and for others, because he had nothing to help him, the past did not help him, for the present, he had to do it all alone and, as in spite of much strength he is often very weak, he consoled himself and allowed himself to be almost seduced by other things which led him more or less astray. [Gertrude Stein – Picasso (1938)]