Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Sippican's Greatest Hits: The Autocoprophagy Of Mark Twain
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Why, oh why was Twain's unpublished work turned over to these jackanapes to paw through like illiterate raccoons looking for rancid bits to eat?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.