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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
L T Oggel <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 31 Jan 2014 17:03:58 -0500
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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Colleagues will recall that last week Peter Messent sent out a brief notice
about a new book by Lawrence Buell and he summarized the solid section on
Twain in it.  At the same time, Peter mentioned another new book, one by
Fredric Jameson, which supposedly also had a section on Twain.  I was
inspired by Peter's comment about Buell's book, so I followed up with

The long and the short of it is that in *The Antinomies of Realism *(Verso,
2013), Jameson scarcely says anything about Twain.  Only four references to
him over five pages.  There are but a few references to any American
writers, Henry James receiving the most, and there are none to Howells.
 But there are many to European writers--Tolstoy and Zola, Balzac, Flaubert
and George Eliot.

Jameson's central idea is that trying to understand the "phenomenon of
realism" soon enough leads to grave difficulties because the question
always is "as opposed to what?" or "in what sense?"--realism vs. romance,
vs. idealism, etc.  So "antinomies" seemed to promise illumination and I
looked forward to its fresh application in literary criticism.  Alas,
Jameson uses the term but twice in his argument.  So the title, with its
suggestion of heresy, misleads and disappoints.  Jameson simply means
"tension" or "binary opposition" within a realist narrative, or even more
loosely, "ambiguity" or "subjectivity."  This lack of concreteness in
literary realism leads Jameson to the matter of technique in a narrative,
in particular to point of view, and it's in this context that he refers to
Twain as "perhaps the most eminent of modern practitioners" of the
first-person point of view, and, then, without elaboration, Jameson moves

Terry Oggel

P.S. Peter and I have been in contact and in his usual graciousness he
wishes me to send along his apology for any misleading information:
absolutely unintentional.

On Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 5:35 AM, Peter Messent <
[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Colleagues may well be ahead of me here. If so, apologies. But well worth
> reading is Lawrence Buell's section on Twain in his The Dream of the Great
> American Novel. Sample statements: 'The novels' typical approach is not to
> allow mundane descriptivism to stand for long without contorting it into
> some sort of menace,' 'By having the white characters at large keep up
> their barrage of...generally demeaning remarks about blacks while the
> blacks themselves remain guardedly in the shadows, HF establishes itself as
> more scrupulously aware than U.Tom's Cabin [Buell shows the similarities
> between the 2 texts] of the challenges of thinking across the color line
> from one's own side of the divide.... HF operates from a more sceptical
> sense of how racism forces efforts of cross-racial thinking into
> speculation, caricature and fantasy. In this Twain anticipates his great
> modern successors, Faulkner and Morrison,' HF is 'Twain's subtlest
> rendering of how it feels to navigate bygone time-space where society as
> usual seems alternatively inviting and systematically deranged.' Buell's
> book is well worth reading in its own full right though. I haven't read
> Fredric Jameson's new book, The Antinomies of Realism, but know he has a
> section on Twain too. I suspect this, too, will be a fascinating read? Can
> anyone report on it??? Best to all. Pete
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