I don't see that as an either/or proposition. We know that many editors didn't like Twain's approach to autobiography. It's brilliant, and yet incredibly accessible because Twain remains a good story-teller no matter what he's doing structurally or intellectually. Still, this appraoch does challenge the conventions of autobiography, and that challenge needs to be explained or else the book will puzzle some and irk other readers. But how do we advertise the innovations without running the risk of damaging the property? If we couch this approach as "stream-of-consiousness" that anticipates the moderns, or as collage that anticipates the post-moderns, then we have already played into anti-intellectual hands. These two styles, after all, are coterie styles, beloved by academics and atists, but selling in relativley small press-runs. Twain remains popular in part because of his image as popular. Mark Twain, as popular author, is supposed to be accessible and "unsophistic
ated," a cracker-barrel philosopher; thus any statement about how avant-guarde he was as an artist runs the risk of challenging a beloved shibboleth. It is not surprising, then, that DeVoto and Neider played games with the approach to protect the property (or because they really didn't like the approach personally, or both).
The fact that the scholarly introduction is a great detective story in itself has not been sold well, in part because nobody wants to hear about the second of the two-books-in-one volume when Twain wrote one of the two. Each time I've been interviewed about the book, I've tried to emphasize the great detective story in the introduction. Each time, these remarks did not make the final copy. But it's the scholarly book that greets the reader. So an unprepared public doesn't get to feed on its intended course right away. Do not expect kind treatment from the hungry.
I'm not sure there's a way around the problem, that is, if we consider differences of opinion and taste in fact to be a problem.
----- Original Message -----
From: Harold Bush <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 7:52 am
Subject: Re: Garrison Keillor on the autobiography
To: [log in to unmask]
> I'm intrigued by Barbara's observation here, and Michael Kiskis's
> remarks a
> while back -- and now I'm wondering what these two rather comparable
> reviews, both in top notch NYC publications, tell us about this as a
> publishing and/or cultural phenomenon.
> In other words, what is the "kernel of truth" that both these writers
> picking up on here? is it completely about their sense of being
> hornswaggled? or is this symptomatic of something even bigger-- and
> if so,
> anyone care to take a stab at identifying the real issues at stake, the
> prognosis as it were?
> for example: one might read this as symptomatic of a widespread resentment
> -- if not paranoia -- against institutionalized, "academic" type treatments
> of the great authors. Or: as the incommensurability of these two disparate
> worlds: i.e. that the hornswaggle is not by MT per se, but rather is
> a hoax
> perpetrated by the likes of eggheads like the ones populating this LIST.
> (me included, I suppose).
> Any other thoughts?
> just wondering, --hb
> On Mon, Dec 20, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
> > The two reviewers
> > call the book a "Royal Nonesuch" because they are not able to
> > comprehend the larger picture and they think they have been
> > hornswaggled by publicity.
> Harold K. Bush, Ph.D
> Professor of English
> Saint Louis University
> St. Louis, MO 63108
> 314-977-3616 (w); 314-771-6795 (h)