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Sender: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
From: McAvoy Layne <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2012 11:59:07 -0700
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Reply-To: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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Prescient words, perceptive observation...

Mark Twain is still the best medicine on the shelf.


On Sun, Apr 22, 2012 at 8:09 AM, Robert E Stewart <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Fascinating discussion.
> I am reminded of Twain's comment at the beginning of Roughing It:
> "...Its object is rather to help theresting reader while away an idle hour
> than afflict him with metaphysics, or goad him with science. . . ."
> In a message dated 4/22/2012 7:23:57 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
> [log in to unmask] writes:
> J E  Boles wrote:  A journalist, as Mark Twain had been, has in his
> experience the observation of enormous reader fear and reaction to the
> printed word.  He has likely noted the occasional piece of writing  which
> does turn around some social reality and make real change.  Any  former
> journalist writing fiction might reasonably hope for such change as  a
> result of his works. Indeed, Twain's works are still making change  today
> But for academics to declare a century and more later that  Twain's works
> were in any sense failures or flawed is ridiculous.   Academic
> declarations are not significant, compared to the overwhelming  voice of
> a whole people's continuous attention to a work of fiction.  Twain's
> characters and fictional events are permanently embedded in the  entire
> culture of the Western World, and always will be so.  There  can be no
> greater achievement than that for a writer.  The academic  voice is
> rarely heard, and seldom remembered, in contrast.
> On  4/21/2012 3:45 PM, Lawrence Howe wrote:
> > Dear forum--
> >
> >  I've really enjoyed the exchange that has been unfolding from Scott
> Holmes  =
> > observation.  Since my name and work was invoked at the  beginning of
> this t=
> > hread, I feel obligated to qualify the basis of  my characterization of
> Twai=
> > n's texts as failures.  My position  was influenced by Jim Cox's work,
> but I=
> >   can't speak for  him, so I'll offer only a clarification of my
> position. =20
> >
> > I  have never suggested that his works are failures of literary art.  I
> woul=
> > dn't return to them as often as I do if that were the case. I  have
> little i=
> > nterest in the finding fault with the structural flaws  that many early
> crit=
> > ics cited.  I very deliberately avoid the  questions of formal unity and
> str=
> > uctural consistency that New  Criticism often hung its hat on because it
> thi=
> > nk those expectations  are inappropriate criteria for a writer who
> processed=
> >   his  work as Twain did.  To do so is akin to dismissing Picasso because
> no  =
> > actual person has two eyes on one side of one's face.    =20
> >
> > Rather, my argument is rooted in narrative theories that  posit the
> novel's =
> > existence as a social genre, one committed to  subverting the status quo
> (an=
> > d note that, from this theoretical  perspective, not all narrative
> fiction i=
> > n book length qualifies  generically as a novel). But in this regard, not
> on=
> > ly Twain's novels  but all novels are failures.  Now it might seem rather
> ab=
> > surd  to think that a story about a fictional character could motivate
> anyon=
> > e to attempt to change the world.  But novelists have  often expressed
> their=
> >   sense of having failed to achieve  pretty big changes.  =20
> >
> > This does not mean that novels  have absolutely no social impact.  One
> examp=
> > le of a novel that  did achieve real change is  _the Jungle_, but even
> when =
> > that  example is raised, we must acknowledge that Sinclair himself judged
>  it=
> >   a failure:  he was trying to bring down  capitalism but the result of
> his e=
> > fforts was the FDA.  Doris  Lessing is another novelist who aimed for
> large =
> > social impact, and  she dismissed her acclaimed  _The Golden Notebooks_
> as  a=
> >   failure because it did not achieve the kind of feminist  structural
> changes=
> >   that she expected.  The one  example that often comes up as a challenge
> to =
> > my point is _Uncle  Tom's Cabin_, which even Lincoln is said to have
> cited a=
> > s the cause  of the Civil War.  If Lincoln ever said that, I assume that
> he =
> >  was being ironic.  But Lincoln aside, I find it incredibly unsettling to
>  th=
> > ink that it took a story about someone who never existed, who was
> nothing m=
> > ore than marks on a page, to inspire the sympathy of people  who couldn't
> ge=
> > t worked up by narratives written by actual fugitive  slaves.  While the
> tra=
> > dition of sentimental philosophy cited  the emotional affinity that a
> reader=
> >   might feel for a  character as a mark of that reader's sentimental
> pedigree=
> > , I find it  more troubling that a character--an artifice--would generate
> sy=
> >  mpathy where flesh and blood humans could not do so. Richard Wright
> apparen=
> > tly felt similarly because it was the fact that banker's  daughters cried
> up=
> > on reading Richard Wright's collection of  novellas, _Uncle Tom's
> Children, =
> > that goaded him to compose _Native  Son_, a text that he was determined
> woul=
> > d shock those readers rather  than move them to tears.
> >
> > What is most intriguing about Twain  is that even when his books were
> popula=
> > r or critically praised, he  signaled his sense of disappointment about
> them=
> >   along the  lines that I'm describing.  But even more intriguing, and
> satisf=
> >  ying, is the fact that he didn't just abandon novels given what he'd
> experi=
> > enced.  He continued to push the edges of the genre to  see if he could
> achi=
> > eve a social impact (I can see no other way to  explain _CY_) or to
> expose t=
> > he unfulfillable promise of the genre of  the novel itself. =20
> >
> > So I hope I've made the terms of my  argument somewhat clearer.  When I
> use =
> > the term "failure," I  don't mean it in the sense that Hemingway did when
> he=
> >    discounted the ending of HF_ (rather stupidly in my view, for without
> that=
> >   ending the satirical and novelistic purpose of the  narrative
> evaporates). =
> >   Twain produced remarkably  engaging, deceptively complex, and
> profoundly pr=
> > ovocative narrative  literature.  By that measure his career is a genuine
> tr=
> >  iumph.  But he also worked in a form that imposes rather lofty
> ambitions;  a=
> > nd what his remarkably adept writing shows is that the genre of the
> novel t=
> > antalizes its practitioners into chasing its promise: that a  truly
> successf=
> > ul novel can re-make the world.  And that promise  is more like a
> confidence=
> >   game, as Melville suggests, or  a Catch 22, as Heller does. =20
> >
> > --Larry Howe  =20
> >  ________________________________________
> > From: Mark Twain Forum  [[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Mark Dawidziak
> [hlgr=
> >  [log in to unmask]]
> > Sent: Saturday, April 21, 2012 4:38 PM
> > To:  [log in to unmask]
> > Subject: Re: Failures in the works of Mark  Twain
> >
> >       Just a thought tossed into  what's already an extremely thoughtful
> > mix: there's a monumental  difference between "flawed" and "failure." It
> > certainly could be  argued that "Huckleberry Finn" and "Connecticut
> > Yankee" are  structurally flawed. I'm trying to wrap my brain around the
> > notion  that either of these books would be classified as failures. If
> > this be  failure, please, let me write something 1/100th as good.
> >     But flawed? Is there a work of art that isn't flawed in some  way?
> > And just because something is flawed doesn't mean it's not  a
> > masterpiece. In his introduction to an annotated edition of  Bram
> > Stoker's "Dracula," scholar Leonard Wolf writes, "Let me say at  once
> > that we have a complete masterpiece, flawed here and there, as  the
> > Chinese insist masterpieces should be, but, nevertheless, the real
> thing."
> >       Seems to me the same might be said  of "Huckleberry Finn,"
> > "Connecticut Yankee" and many other Twain  works. Which isn't to say
> > there are not failures within these works --  flaws, if you will. Even
> > the last third of "Huckleberry Finn" is now  viewed in a vastly different
> > light, thanks to the scholarship of Vic  Doyno and others. The appraisal
> > presented by William M. Gibson and  others, if hardly overturned, has
> > been treated to a substantive  alternate interpretation. Whatever the
> > view of this ending, or  "Connecticut Yankee," for that matter, I'm
> > guessing that most of us  would contend that we are in the presence of
> > the real  thing.
> >
> >
> >
> > -----Original Message----- From: Scott  Holmes
> > <[log in to unmask]>  To:  TWAIN-L<[log in to unmask]>  Sent: Fri,
> > Apr 20, 2012 6:44 pm  Subject: Failures in the works of Mark Twain I've
> > been aware for some  time now that there has been dissatisfaction with
> > the concluding  portion of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but not until
> > this last  year have I become aware of what seems to be a sense of
> > failure in  much of his work. =3D20 A few weeks back I mentioned I was
> > reading  Cox's Mark Twain The Fate of Humor and I was surprised at the
> > thought  that Connecticut Yankee and/or The Prince and the Pauper were
> >  failures. Upon finishing this book it seems to me that Cox felt most  of
> > Twains work were failures. And this surprised me greatly  especially
> > sense he seems to be so well informed on the topic. =3D20 I  started
> today
> > on Lawrence Howe's Mark Twain and the Novel. This  appears to argue that
> > the failures were not Twain's but are  structural. Nevertheless, the idea
> > that there are failures or faults  in these works surprises me. In fact
> > it disturbs me. I suppose this is  because I am not a literary critic or
> > even academically trained in  English (my degrees are in Geography). In
> > my mind, a book, in this  case a novel, is a failure only if it fails to
> > interest the reader  and/or proves to be unreadable. This is not the case
> > with any of  Twain's works in my experience.=3D20 On further searching
> for
> > why this  sense of failure exists I came upon a review of Cox's book by
> > Kristin  Brown. It would seem that Mark Twain IS a Humorist and must
> > write  humorous material, otherwise "Twain had attempted to suppress his
> >  genius". This is the crux of my problem with the idea that there are
> >  failures. This strikes me very much like the argument that Miles Davis
> >  was a failure after he progressed beyond Bebop. An artist is not
>  allowed
> > to venture away from their established genre. Humor might have  been his
> > "strongest suit" but by no means need it be his only suit.  Thoughts?
> >
> >

McAvoy Layne
Email: [log in to unmask]
810 Alder, #49
Incline Village, NV 89450

Diligently train your ideals upward toward a summit where you will find
your chiefest pleasure in conduct, which while contenting you, will be sure
to confer benefits upon your neighbor and the community. -Mark Twain