I can't access the entire article, but I can say that most of the material in
this first volume has been published before, in Michael Kiskis's edition of the
the _North American Review_ articles, _Chapters from My Autobiography_, and in
the various editions over the years, from Paine to Neider to _Mark Twain in
Eruption_. I know I've read much of it multiple times.
I don't know about 95%, but certainly the editors don't try to hide this fact,
they're completely open about the fact that much of this first volume has
in print, sometimes multiple times. They've openly stated that most of the
previously unpublished material will be in the next two volumes. What's new is
that in this volume, the material is unexpurgated, reorganized in its intended
rather than according to anyone else's notion of narrative. And, actually, I
that intended shape closest to the _Chapters_, but a bit less constrained than
_North American Review_ format. It seems that by the time he began publishing
those chapters, Twain had hit on his rhythm.
But unlike Gopnik, I don't find the repetitions or restorations exasperating or
new _Autobiography_ to be the " 'Royal Nonesuch' of American literature," though
in some ways, considering the splash it is making, I can see why he might view
in this jaundiced way if he didn't pay enough heed to the editors' admission
that much of it has been previously published in different form. He finds it a
" disjointed and largely baffling bore" because he's expecting it to be
something it's not. But the expectations are his--not those created by the
_Autobiography_ or its editors.
Really, what the _Autobiography_ in its restored form reminds me of is porch
conversation--conversation on the porch with a relative or older friend. Some
stories trail off, and new ones come forward; some end abruptly, and you can
almost see the clamped jaw, the distant look, or the misty eye; the connections
are not always immediately obvious, but they make sense in the ebb and flow.
And just like porch stories, some of the joy, the laughter, and the disconcerted
"Say what?" moments come in the small changes--changes you only notice if you've
heard the story a million times in its other form. The sudden moments of
unexpectedly honest interjections or the sudden embellishments hit you before
you realize it.
These are the joys--and many of these were not, to my knowledge, in the
previously published forms, because they were expurgated, victims of taste
or the editor's compulsion for coherence or an investment in a view of Mark
Twain that differed from his own (I except Kiskis's _Chapters_ from this--
his editing is not intrusive at all).
Gopnik sounds as though he had many of the expectations that Neider and Paine
had--wanting a coherent story line that fills in all the blanks.
Porch conversation, though, shifts with the breeze. I am enjoying reading
_Autobiography_ as visits with a friend, dropping by to listen to the
inspired by the moment.
PS--I bet Gopnik hates Faulkner, too. I would imagine that to him, the porch
conversationof _Absalom, Absalom!_ is a "disjointed and largely baffling bore."
From: Harold Bush <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Sat, November 27, 2010 11:51:29 AM
Subject: Twain in New Yorker
apologies if this is already posted somewhere; but there is a scathing
article about the AUTOBIOGRAPHY in the latest NEW YORKER. I'm not sure it
will rate with the notorious Jane Smiley piece of several years ago, but it
may be close, at least in the spirit of its deeply antagonistic attitude
about my adoptive state's favorite son. OUCH!
a much shoter e-version of this screed is vailable at:
All kidding aside, I'd be interested in hearing others' views of this bitter
piece. Also: I think this author --one Adam Gopnik-- claims that about 95%
the new AUTOB. has already been published in the 3 earlier versions --is
this true, did I miss that somewhere??
On Sat, Nov 27, 2010 at 10:07 AM, Ron Owens <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> This morning's (Sat. 11-27) NY Times has an interesting, brief
> editorial on Twain's autobiography. "Mark Twain's Big Book" or this
> -- Ron O. in Elmira
Harold K. Bush, Ph.D
Professor of English
Saint Louis University
St. Louis, MO 63108
314-977-3616 (w); 314-771-6795 (h)