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Sender: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
From: Larry Howe <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Mon, 18 Sep 2000 16:52:42 -0700
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I'm not sure that I agree that we can't "protect" Twain's image.   I'm
not imagining the Mark Twain Forum or the Circle as keepers of the
flame.   No doubt, there is a wide range of views about what that
image is even among Twain fans and scholars.  As you point out, his
own practices and the trajectory of his career had as much to do with
that as anything else.   But however differently we may interpret that
image, I think it's safe to say that we treat it with an appropriate
degree of sincerity.  Leckey's book, and a more egregious example that
I reviewed a couple of years back, strike me as problematically
lacking in sincerity.    It would be one thing if Twain had sold his
image to sell stove-polish, but when others simply appropriate it
without any substantive connection, I think we have a obligation to
comment.    Those who attempt to cash in on that image irresponsibly
do so because they can.   If such gestures of appropriation were
questioned or challenged, perhaps marketers would think twice.

If a marketer attempts to imitate or project an image of a living
celebrity without paying for it, a civil trial ensues, and damages
paid.    Why shouldn't we have a similar sense of propriety even when
legal recourse isn't at stake?   In some cases even more is at stake
than the commercial success of a product.   In contemporary politics,
for example, candidates embrace the images of past leaders to a degree
that is shameless and laughable; but if those candidates aren't made
to account for these gestures--remember Lloyd Bentsen's, "I knew John
Kennedy.  You, senator, are no John Kennedy"--the critical discourse
of the political process degenerates.

I've wandered somewhat from the question of Twain's image, but that
example is important because it represents a larger cultural trend
with deep consequences both for how we know Mark Twain and how we use
rhetoric responsibly.

I hesitate to put Louis Budd on the spot because I have a lot of
respect for his work.  But I wonder what he thinks of Leckey's book in
light of the questions it generates.   Christmas's review makes it
sound like his preface was the only aspect of the book that was
relevant to Twain at all.