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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
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Mon, 30 Mar 2009 11:53:38 -0500
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The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by
Harold K. Bush.



_Cosmopolitan Twain_. Edited by Ann M. Ryan and Joseph B. McCullough.
Introduction by Ann M. Ryan. University of Missouri Press, 2008. Pp.
xiii + 269. Cloth. $39.95. ISBN 978-0-8262-1827-8.

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
By Harold K. Bush, Jr.
Saint Louis University
<[log in to unmask]>

Copyright (c) 2009 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published
or redistributed in any medium without permission.

_Cosmopolitan Twain_ is an excellent collection of essays that
considers Mark Twain's status as a "cosmopolitan" writer, and more
generally as a resident for lengthy periods in some of the seminal
urban centers of the western world. These chapters, edited by Ann M.
Ryan and Joseph B. McCullough, and written by some of the leading
scholarly voices in Twain studies today, provide much new information
about Twain's residency in these far-flung locations. They also present
some interesting (though often somewhat covert) theoretical
considerations of cosmopolitanism as a phenomenon, along with shorter
excursions into lesser topics such as bohemianism, sentiment/sympathy,
psychoanalysis, and domesticity.

Ryan sets up the general parameters of the book with her engaging and
informative introduction. She provides some ideas about what
cosmopolitanism might actually be, and goes on to argue that "Twain is
a cosmopolitan:  he is competitive, skeptical, necessarily tolerant,
passionately secular, multilingual and multicultural, frankly
materialistic and acquisitive. . . . [his writing] evinces a
progressive, modernist critique of American politics and history, a
critique provoked by his life as an urban citizen" (p. 4). Admittedly,
this is not a precise rendering of what the term might mean for every
author represented in this book, but it seems to serve well as a brief
and plausible account. Elsewhere, Ryan considers cosmopolitanism as an
identity that is "at once displaced and interconnected, of being
unified and connected," a way "of living at home abroad and abroad at
home" (p. 8). Both of these statements ring true for Mark Twain.
Finally, Ryan quotes from Marshall McLuhan's 1964 description that the
cosmopolitan "transcends national boundaries and . . . articulates the
commonality of human suffering and human potential. . . . sympathetic,
engaged, yet also distanced from his subject" (p. 10). Again, a
bullseye for Twain.

Ryan is careful to provide some of the common criticisms of any theory
of cosmopolitanism, perhaps none so troubling as its association with
privilege and wealth. An interesting concept that emerges here is the
argument of Mark Twain's "strategic narrative distance" (p. 12), a
theme that comes up in a number of the later essays. It may be that a
global perspective does require such a distance to emerge, even a "lack
of engagement" (p. 16) as Ryan asserts; however, it is not
self-evident. Still, as Bruce Michelson echoes Ryan in his own chapter
titled "Sam Clemens and the Mississippi River Metropolis," there are
advantages to learning the ways of the "perpetual outsider," and this
is arguably the major authorial fruit of Twain's travels and cultured
connoisseurship. One might also question the repeated notion of
cosmopolitan as a secular phenomenon, about which I will say some more
later. For now, this opposition of religious or spiritual belief vs.
cosmopolitanism is questionable at best, and raises some questions that
the book fails to address. Indeed, the relative lack of discussion of
why religion might somehow weigh against an emerging modern
cosmopolitanism, or in fact the ways that spirituality might abet a
cosmopolitan worldview, provide grounds for further research for
interested scholars. An important recent entry into this long debate is
Charles Taylor's magisterial tome, _A Secular Age_ (2007). But overall,
a good working definition is provided by Ryan for going forward into
the rest of the volume's essays, most of which do not attempt to
further theorize about cosmopolitanism. One notable exception is
Michelson's coverage in his chapter of some of the intricacies and
eccentricities of cosmopolitanism in the academy today; as usual,
Michelson's writing is both highly learned and darned funny at times.

What the chapters do accomplish are some marvelous historical accounts
and descriptions of Mark Twain's engagements with the major
metropolitan areas of his adult life. These chapters illustrate an
emergent concept of a cosmopolitan awareness in concrete images and
events, rather than wasting a lot of time theorizing in abstract terms.
Covered in order are Twain's experience in seven major cities, all by
recognized Twain scholars:  Ryan on New York City; Michelson on the
Mississippi River metropolises such as St. Louis and New Orleans; James
E. Caron on San Francisco; McCullough on Buffalo; Kerry Driscoll on
Hartford; Peter Messent on London; and Janice McIntire-Strasburg on
Vienna. The volume ends with Michael Kiskis offering a refreshingly
different, and somewhat oppositional view to all this focus on cities;
Kiskis shows the importance of rural Elmira's Quarry Farm and its
genteel family home as agencies of sentiment and cosmopolitan identity.

I could go into further details about each of the chapters here, all of
which are intriguing in their own rights. But for brevity's sake I will
focus the spotlight on one chapter, the longest as it turns out: Kerry
Driscoll's impressive and at times brilliant analysis of the music box
that was given to Twain by Livy as a birthday gift, in 1879. This
dazzling essay, coming in at just under 50 pages, and which is one of
the most intriguing contributions to Twain studies that I've read in
recent years, exemplifies precisely the kind of argument that the book
is attempting. Driscoll's richly-contextualized piece of writing is
indebted to the cultural studies tradition of the "representative
anecdote" insofar as it "reads" the purchase of the music box, and the
artifact itself, as manifestations of a variety of social practices and
discursive fields.

Driscoll first discusses at great length the way that the Clemens
family's lengthy trip to Europe in 1877-78 was in many ways a shopping
spree designed to turn their Hartford home into the genteel Victorian
museum that characterized Nook Farm, with one goal of filling it with
antiques, artworks, and exotic bric-a-brac. The music box exemplifies
both the desire to augment such a cosmopolitan home environment, along
with the tensions and ambivalences that Twain evidently attached to
such an enterprise. Driscoll shows convincingly how Twain stressed out
over the selection of the ten songs for the box, worried that his
choices might reflect upon his lack of cultured taste in music.
Further, the box simply did not sound the same in Hartford as it had in
Switzerland--or at least, so Twain imagined. As they say, sandwiches
always taste better at a picnic. I think I was most impressed by how
Driscoll's contribution helped me to see how the Hartford home was very
much a consciously-conceived display of cultured cosmopolitanism--and
how such a display was itself both culturally enforced by the
neighbors, and the source of much anxiety within the household.

I might take issue with certain aspects of Driscoll's work: for
instance, and perhaps most egregiously, in a 50-page essay on Hartford,
there is again no mention of the liberal religion that permeated that
city's environment. This omission contributes to the volume's general
association of cosmopolitanism with secularism, an association that I
would opine is at the very least questionable, if not deeply flawed.
Again, perhaps we are simply wrangling with unwieldy words here, but I
must point out that such an insistence might simply be another
illustration of what C. S. Lewis once called "chronological snobbery":
meaning, in other words, the view that in order to be properly
cosmopolitan, one must necessarily also be secularist, if not atheist.
Such is along the lines of the now rather dated "secularization
hypothesis" of late twentieth century sociology and religious studies,
which often associates loss of belief with intellectual progress and a
more cosmopolitan view. The secularization hypothesis is a view under
sustained critique these days, given the ruthlessly spiritual character
of our nation, and as a result is possibly destined for the ash heap of
historical curiosities.

Along similar lines, Michael Kiskis ends the book with a cagy critique
of his own, suggesting as he does that Hartford and Elmira were both
centers of progressive Christianity in concert with a cosmopolitan
sensibility. His fine essay, which focuses on the idyllic scene of
Quarry Farm, perched on its hilltop overlook of the Chemung Valley in
rural New York, reminds us of the deep sentiment and sympathies at the
heart of Mark Twain's cosmopolitanism. Tellingly, Kiskis's essay begins
with a quote from Wordsworth, the king of romantic thought; and the
point is a simple reminder that "Clemens found his voice in the midst
of home" (p. 241). It is a stirring close to a book on cosmopolitan
travel, urban chaos, and intercultural dispersal, to be reminded that
always, at the heart of Twain's achievement, is the Victorian home,
symbolic of perhaps the century's most thoroughly spiritualized

I hope that my brief discussion of Driscoll's and then Kiskis's fine
essays does not imply that the others are not themselves worthy of
similar treatment. Each of the essays supplies some valuable insights
into the topic at hand: from Ryan's own depiction of a hectic and
chaotic New York, to McIntire-Strasburg's elegant explanation of how
Twain's residence in Vienna birthed a new and more socially prophetic
voice in his latter-day writings. Theoretically, most of the discussion
of cosmopolitanism is limited to Ryan's brief but pointed coverage in
the introduction, but I do not take this to be a great loss; much
recent critical analysis of major authors is often so bogged down with
eclectic theory and intractable jargon that I become fed up fairly
easily. It is worth noting that, in the very large field of Twain
scholarship, we have somehow managed to resist the strong temptations
toward opaque and even unreadable professional writing. That is not to
appear as a basher of "theory," but only to lobby for its deployment in
clear and accessible prose. All of these essays are highly readable,
the work of good story-tellers; and I, for one, value that aspect of
our collective field, and I applaud my colleagues here for attempting
real communication in the English language.

Finally, the University of Missouri Press does a great job of producing
handsome, well-edited, and well-illustrated volumes, and this one is no
exception. It includes just enough scholarly apparatus for one to take
whatever interest they acquire to the next stage of research. The
book's font and design are generous. Footnotes are at the bottom of the
page, which I have always preferred (and, as a side-note, I often
wonder why more publishers do not do this--I loathe trying to keep one
finger in the notes, to determine the sources of quotes and other
information).  All these details make for a book that is a pleasure to

In short, the volume is a valuable and timely contribution in our
"global" age to the growing interest in both urban studies and
transnational studies, two emerging approaches in the study of American
literary culture. As such, it shows (again) that Mark Twain must be
reckoned with as one of the most obvious and prominent figures in that
culture, especially the later chapters. Overall, it will be a
widely-read new work in the Twain scholarly industry, as well as a
potentially quite suggestive new entry into these other emerging fields
of inquiry.

Harold K. Bush, Jr.
Saint Louis University