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John Bird <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 7 Jul 1998 10:03:06 -0400
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Vern raises some good points, and I would have to agree that the way Mark
Twain says things often overshadows what he says.  But I'm not convinced
about the mutual exclusivity of being a deep thinker and being funny.

I'd like especially to take exception to the statement that "Twain wasn't
really a thinker."  That's certainly a perception held by many, but I think
there are several reasons for that. Foremost, Twain had a stake in
preserving his image as a comic writer, perhaps even to some extent as a
clown.  For much of his career, he preserved that pose.  Later, he let
himself go.  But it seems to me that there's a lot of "depth" to his
thinking, throughout his career.  ("Grandfather's Old Ram", to me, has a
lot of depth underneath the humor, for example.)  _Huckleberry Finn_ is, to
me, positively profound.

Thanks especially to Alan Gribben for _Mark Twain's Library:  A
Reconstruction,_ we have a much clearer sense of Twain's intellectual life.
 I would suggest Twain's  annotations in various "deep" books, as preserved
by Alan, as a good place to understand his thought better.  Also letters,
especially the Howells letters.  More recently, Carl Dolmetsch's work on
Twain in Vienna, Gregg Camfield's _Sentimental Twain,_ and Jason Gary
Horn's _Mark Twain and William James_, to name only a few, have clearly
shown Twain's engagement with some of the deep thinkers and thoughts of his
time.  He seems to have held his own in the company of some intellectual

I also find the philosophy of the later works, especially the dream works,
to be quite profound, troubling, and liberating.  I'm working right now on
an application of Freud and Lacan to the dream works--and I keep finding
Mark Twain's ideas popping up in the ideas of the two (assuredly) deep
thinkers.  The thought is certainly there!

I'm glad to see this little flurry of discussion in the midst of a hot, dry
summer.  Let's keep it lively, folks!
> From: Vern Crisler <[log in to unmask]>
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Twain criticism
> Date: Friday, July 03, 1998 2:57 PM
> I find it hard to think of anything to write about Mark Twain's thought.
> wonder if it's because I've lost interest (being cloyed with too much
> reading of him over the years), or because Twain wasn't really a thinker.
> Maybe it's because he was more of an intuitive rather than a discursive
> writer.  Comedy does seem to be more about the intuitive grasp of
> incongruous things or events, etc, and it cannot be easily analyzed
> removing the surprise occasioned by the incongruities.
> I've never really been impressed by Twain's views on anything in
> (such as his non-standard view of Shakespearean authorship), but was
> more impressed by the way he stated his views.
> Can a deep thinker really ever be a funny man?  Or can a funny man ever
> really be a deep thinker?  Or do the two modes of looking at the world
> exclude one another?
> Cordially,
> Vern Crisler