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Harold Hellwig <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 3 Feb 2017 14:07:33 -0700
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I'll begin by agreeing with everything that Hal Bush has articulated so
well in this post (and generally with everything he's ever written).

I have managed to be at three performances by Hal Holbrook, once in Ames,
Iowa (mid 1980's), once in Idaho Falls, Idaho (sometime in the 1990's), and
the last time in Boise, Idaho (last year).  Aside from the astonishing
performances I witnessed, I noted that each had an edge of political
awareness that Holbrook orchestrated from the works of Twain specific to
each audience.  His challenge last year to the Idaho audience (and quite
well received) was to incorporate current events (the beginnings of the
political presidential election process), no doubt stepping on the toes of
some, while reminding that audience of the messiness of the democratic
system that we have.  Twain's words are political discourse, pointed and
clear (and most of the time right).  Holbrook works well with these words.

I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Hal Holbrook (if ever so briefly) at
the the last Elmira international conference, at the signing function of
his autobiography.  I remembered then, as I do now, how relevant Twain's
criticism of America is to our own time, a criticism meant to repair and to

I am also the son of immigrants.  I do not know the country that my
ancestors lived in, nor do I share the culture.  I really do not want to,
though I grew up with it.  That loss of ancestral culture (sometimes
deliberate, as in Mary Antin's writings), as I teach my students, is
challenging, because most American writers want to celebrate America
without forgetting their roots.  (Zitkala-Sa, known generally as Gertrude
Simmons Bonnin, represents the group of writers reluctant to let go of an
original culture.)  Many of my family members now reside in America, others
still live in Germany.  Apparently five of my uncles died in the Soviet
Union during World War II, and my father served (as a drafted 40-year old
farmer) in Norway.  My parents were ignorant of the politics of the time,
but I can't share the ignorance of the citizens of that Germany.  I
consider myself only as an American.  (A number of my family, all
immigrants, served the United States in various capacities during that war,
and after.  I had an uncle who apparently was a founding member of a
current agency that seems under attack these days.   One of the orphans of
that war almost became one of my older brothers, but was adopted by this
uncle, eventually joining that same agency. I owe this uncle much for
getting my family over here as immigrants, though in the 70's I thought he
was a difficult man for his narrow perspectives on the politics of the
time, given his remarkable allegiance to a Nixonian notion of reality.  I
sometimes wonder how conflicted he might have been in 1941, serving the US
with so many of his relatives being in the Wehrmacht.)  Being American born
does not entitle me to forget that immigrant experience, however much I'd
like to.

Given that odd family background, I've always been attuned to the
precariousness of political correctness.  It's a good thing to give voice
to protest.  I'd turn my students to Howells' "Editha" or to O'Brien's *The
Things They Carried.  *Twain, of course, as well.  One needs to question
the comments of our politicians.  One needs to understand what it means to
be an immigrant.  One needs to understand other cultures.  One needs to
know what the word "friend" looks like in Arabic.

Ok, enough.

I guess I'm just saying that we need to remember the lessons of the past,
and leave it at that.  Twain's satire brings us hope that we can also share
in an active sense of what these strange times might become, and engage
ourselves in an active discussion of what we need to do.  I still argue
with Twain aloud in my classes--though marveling at the prescience and
righteousness of what he had to say--because his words live and breathe,
and make us think.

Hal Hellwig

On Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 8:26 AM, Hal Bush <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Dear Colleagues;
> I'm as surprised at some of the blowback on my post as anyone.
> And as I wrote in the original post:  We all can see these are strange
> times in America.  Strange meaning, in this case, how quickly people turn
> every little thing into a chance to flare up and turn it into partisan
> politics.
> First, I truly meant the post to be informative (and not partisan).  Most
> of the readers  on here (the ones I know, at least), are academics, and
> these matters are in our wheelhouse in interest:  especially given the fact
> that in 7 months we are convening our "International" conference in
> Elmira.  So it is certainly relevant to us.
> Second: I will say, I'm charmed by the thought that this LIST is no place
> for "political discourse."  Indeed!  I suppose this may be a problem of
> definition, but from where I sit, MT was almost always engaged in some
> level of political discourse.
> Third: as an American, I am very proud of our illustrious traditions of
> protest.  MT is one small part of that tradition, of course. But this
> morning, as I prepare for a class, I've been rereading Letter from a
> Birmingham Jail.  This is a terrific piece of writing of course, one that
> perfectly lays out a logic of peaceful protest that citizens everywhere can
> be proud of.  16 months later, King was giving his Nobel Peace Prize
> acceptance speech.  But please recall, when that Letter first came out, how
> much vitriol and pushback he was getting.  In fact, the origin of the
> Letter has to do with complaints from white clergy, saying be quiet and
> wait, outsider dude.
> Personally I'm very proud of our great American tradition of protest.  Even
> though my circulating that article really had nothing to do, originally,
> with any sort of politicking or protest, I do want to speak out here for
> our right to notice that aspect of it.  Actually, I'm delighted by all the
> response: this LIST has gotten a little sleepy in recent years.  It is
> comical to be labeled "hard left," for example, thanks for brightening up
> my morning.  I'm pretty sure nobody has labeled me "hard left," at least
> since the 70s.  So I'm flattered and energized, thank you.
> Over and out... -hb
> --
> Prof. Harold K. Bush
> Professor of English
> 3800 Lindell
> Saint Louis University
> St. Louis, MO  63108
> 314-977-3616 (w); 314-771-6795 (h)
> <>