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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Autocoprophagy Of Mark Twain

My wife loves me and looks after me. Many and many a time I have noticed, when I wake up in the middle of the night for some reason or another, that the pillow is only gently pressed to my face.

She visits the library here in town quite a bit. It's a Carnegie library -- a wonderful thing wherever you find it. The town I live in values it highly, of course. It is rarely actively on fire when we drop by, and a solid voting quorum of the slate roofing tiles aren't on the sidewalk yet. They did hire a person, whose name is likely shrouded by the mists of near-antiquity, modesty, and an unpaid bill or two, to design an addition for the building, back when the town was still booming and the parades had more people on the sidewalk than commiserating on the floats. That addition could compete in elegance, in beauty, and in comfort with any dentist's office, but holds slightly-less-current magazines. The old, original part is built like a brick redoubt designed by a renaissance polymath: elegant but ready for battle. But new ideas like the design of the addition resemble mildew -- they get in and corrode a place from its innards, no matter how well-defended the perimeter.

As I was saying, my wife looks after me. She unwisely brought me back the Autobiography of Mark Twain from the library to read.I say unwisely, because it's nearly 750 pages, hardbound, and if I get to lifting it often enough, I may eventually become strong enough to defend myself against her nocturnal depredations, and the assaults of her housecat.

In addition to my newfound physical abilities, this titanic tome is cultivating in me a powerful  urge to seek out the editors and amassers and packrats that  produced the book. Not because I picked the thing up, no; I unwisely read the thing, too, and it makes me want to strike someone in the face, and not with an upholstered cushion, either. I realize assault and battery and eye-gouging and mayhem and attempted murder are, if not strictly illegal, at least frowned upon in literary circles, but I'm willing to sit in an electric chair by the hour as long as the mouthbreathing, windowlicking, buttsniffing, dimestore intellectuals that dug up Mark Twain's literary corpse and rifled through his pockets are forced to sit in my lap. I bet I can outlast the whole lot of them on pure spite alone.

Why, oh why was Twain's unpublished work turned over to these jackanapes to paw through like illiterate raccoons looking for rancid bits to eat? Yes, yes, I know they style themselves "The Mark Twain Project," and have devoted their mortgages, if not lives, to Twain, or at least to raiding his intellectual larder to stock their shabby ivy-stricken midden over at Berkeley.  So what. The mental contortions needed to adduce that their name and their sinecures makes them capable of understanding such a writer is like saying that a dog has ticks so the ticks should inherit the dog's estate. Haven't you drawn enough blood from the man already, you stooges? You've been carving out a living carving your initials, likely misspelled, into the outside of Twain's bier for a century. Who allowed you to climb in there with him and start carving away on the inside?

There's Twain inside this book, don't get me wrong. It's exactly, precisely what you always get from Twain. His laundry list is a Dead Sea Scroll. His lunch order is a Rosetta Stone. He has more intellectual horsepower under his fingernail after a trip to his ear than Berkeley has in a building, and that's if the building is full of janitors. At least janitors know how the world works. The buildings full of these scholars need fumigating. Lock the doors, first, from the outside.

It was easy enough, if annoying, to tread across the minefields of intellectual delirium tremens these invertebrates have made of Twain's writing, leaving their little piles of brain droppings here and there like badly behaved dogs, explaining Twain. I put on heavy shoes and plowed ahead. Then I got to page 468, the glimmer of a tear still in my eye over SLC's description of his older brother, Orion, filled with pathos and love and respect and affection and a wistful, unspoken wish that his brother wasn't doomed by his nature to miss the life Twain got by the thickness of one of Sam's famous whiskers -- and then I turned the page, and there on page 469 was text as terrible and incomprehensible as the writing on your own tombstone, delivered early: The rest of the book, almost 300 more pages, was entirely comprised of the stark, raving drivel of these toads, with only bits of Twain embedded in it like reverse carbuncles. Good God. I'll hold my nose and run through Twain's Elysian fields, keeping an eye peeled for your intellectual Beserkley cowpies the whole time, but I'm not treating myself to a one-man Easter-egg hunt in a sewage treatment plant.

Explaining Twain. Think of that. Why not send a cigar store indian out on a speaking tour to explain smoking. He stood outside the shop for a hunnerd years. He must know something about the topic by now.

16 comments:

Matt said...

Thanks for saving me the trouble, Sipp. Twain is my favorite source of humor and tired eyes; aside from the KJV there is no better grammar primer. I devoured my grandfather's secondhand "Complete Works" years ago, and it was with dread I waited for this final installment. Did he catch wind of the future Berkeley stench? How fitting a bunch of nothings produced even less.

Thud said...

Don't hold bsck now!

Jean said...

I slogged through the book about a year ago. Slowly. Because it was so painful. I thought it was just me being dumb.

Jewel said...

My God, man. You must be mad by now. But on topic: "Autocoprophagy is a Precursor of Proctodeal Trophallaxis in Cockroaches and Termites."
D. P. Zhuzhikov. Moscow State University, Biological ...

just to clarify.

Sixty Grit said...

So, you didn't like it?

BrettonPoint said...

There was a fellow who wrote for the Boston Herald years ago name of George Frazier. George had a delicious way with the word as you Sir have as well! George would tip his hat to you, nod and smile. Job well done!

Philip said...

Consider it the academic equivalent of having second-string comedians expound between clips of some reality-video show.

Tom Hyland said...

Uh oh... I bought this book back around October, got about 90 pages into it. At that point it was Twain reliving every step and turn in his quest that Grant write his own memoirs. This was killing me so I've plowed through several other books since then and the Twain remains close by. Thanks for the heads-up regarding the Berkeley analysis which comprises a third of the book. How did you like the first two thirds?

teresa said...

I could read your stuff all day.

Anonymous said...

This was one of my experiences with a Nook, and I liked both Nook and book equally. That is, not at all. Twain I love; the Berkeley twits I loathe, though not half as elegantly as you.
Leatherneck

vanderleun said...

Top of the stack for tomorrow's "Intellectual Garage Sale"

Gringo said...

In high school I developed a loathing of literacy criticism. The school wanted to mold us into junior literary critics,and I resisted going there every step of the way.

The best way to detest literature is to take an English class.


One factor in choosing a college major was : which major required a minimum of English classes.

Away from English professors and teachers, I read and read.

vanderleun said...

And now, Mark Twain, bra and book patenter

http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2011/06/mark-twains-bra-patents.html

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Matt- I'm told this is just the first, fourteen pound installment in a series of these doorstops.

They hang wallpaper and shoot movies, and yet they let these people live.

Hi Thud- That's as pleasant an excoriation as I have in me. I'm really sort of a barbarian. Love the pictures of your castle and kiddos on your page.

Hi Jean- If I'd have purchased the item when it first came out, with actual money, instead of getting it from the library, I'd be naked in a clock tower right now. It's the only form of displeasure appropriate to the literary offense.

Hi Jewel- In Soviet Russia, poop eats you.

Hi Sixty Grit- I dropped hints.

Hi Bretton Point- You're nice to say that. I actually remember the fellow's name. My father read every newspaper in Boston, and of course there used to be quite a few, and he'd bring them home from work every day and I'd read them all. I must have read the fellow. Maybe he seeped in through my pores. I think Howie Carr, or another Boston radio host, mentions him from time to time. I hope I have Duende!

Hi Philip- Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi Tom- The sad part of this whole affair is that I'm a poster child for interest in the most mundane details of Twain's life. I have an enormous appetite for tedium under the right circumstances, too. If these road apples at Berkeley have lost me, they couldn't get Twain's relatives to read the thing.

The writing by Twain is what he always delivered. He's like a polymath blue-collar Wodehouse. Interesting for its own sake, but he literally knew every person worth knowing in the world at the time. HH Rogers, a few Presidents, Helen Keller listening to him by pressing her fingers to his lips. An amazing life, led by someone that coud write it down. What a thing for them to squander.

Hi teresa- "I could read your stuff all day."

My, you read slow. There isn't that much of it.

BTW, I will have a book for you to buy in July. Hope you all do.

Hi Leatherneck- Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi Gerard- My little son sees your avatar picture in the comments and says: "That's Mr. Vandeleun. He's funny."

Hi Gringo- "Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run."

Gerard- He was friends with Tesla, too. Think of the undergarments those too could come up with. Elsa Lanchester-grade.

Casey Klahn said...

As I read your review, I started to hear it in the voices of Twain impersonators (since I haven't heard the real thing). One of those is my very good friend from the days when he used to whoop my ass at chess in the basement of the Carnegie Library in our home town.

I couldn't help seeing SLC's style of wry humor in your writing. Bully.

Walt said...

Yeah, I read it too. Pitiful, ain't it? About the only time the literary critics look worse than when they are criticising a work they couldn't match, is when they are actually approving of something. It leaves a stain.