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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 11 Apr 1997 09:37:42 -0500
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
TEXT/PLAIN (48 lines)
I agree that Budd's hypothesis is a sound one.  But it's hardly
air-tight.  For one thing, the photo is not a "bust":  that term has
a quite specific meaning in art (including photography), and a
waist-up shot isn't a bust shot.

Second, the idea that somehow Mark Twain "had to" pose for this
photo because the bust maker had to have a shot of his shoulders
is a bit peculiar.  There are lots and lots of busts of 19th century
people;  there are no other bare-chested photos that I know of.

As for whether or not Twain looks uncomfortable in the shot, well,
that's speculation--fine, I think, but the kind of thing that has
been castigated soundly on the Twain list over the past couple of
days.  Though not now, evidently because it fits the castigators'

And there's still an unexplained element to this very peculiar photo.

What we've seen on the Twain list over the past couple of days are
examples of precisely the kind of thing historicists have been pointing
out over the past decade or so.  "The truth" is to a great extent a
cultural construction.  The term "evidence" has been used here as if
it had some kind of absolute definition and validity.  But the
rules of evidence are conventional, and they change.  What
we've seen here lately is that almost all of us are quite ready
to push forward SOME interpretations as "evidence" and at
the same time deny, overtly or indirectly, any validity
to other interpretations that we don't like or that make us
uncomfortable.  The history of criticism is full of this sort of
thing, and it's a bit depressing (though not surprising) to find people
on the Twain list still trying to slam the door on any speculation
other than what they're committed to or comfortable with.

Face it folks:  Sam Clemens can't care less.  He's dead and smiling
down (or grimacing up) at us.  The Twain of the Twain list is a
construction, and we've been having fun constructing him, haven't we?

And, before that "M.F.A." person jumps on to rant about the term
"historicist," I should point out that "presentism," subject of her
previous rant, is a perfectly legitimate English word which (according
to the Shorter OED) goes back at least to the late 19th century.  So
it's a word contemporary with Mark Twain, and somebody ought to be
able to use it without being castigated herein!