Sorry about that, I just wanted to get your attention. Dangerous Minds pal Mark Dery just posted a terrific new essay about Mark Twain’s unexpurgated autobiography, to be published in November. I was salivating to read this when it was in the press earlier in the year and and am now doubly keen to read if after taking in this piece.
Excerpting Mysterious Stranger: Twain Autobiography Reveals Grandpa’s Dark Side, here with Dery discussing how we’ve come to regard Twain as this Will Geer-esque grandpa character and then quoting H.L. Menchken setting the record straight in 1917, seven years after Twain’s death:
“The truth is that Mark was almost exactly the reverse. Instead of being a mere entertainer of the mob, he was…a destructive satirist of the utmost pungency and relentlessness, and the most bitter critic of American platitude and delusion, whether social, political or religious, that ever lived.”
The Twain rising from the grave on the centennial of his death lives up to Mencken’s press—and just in time for our age of Tea Party know-nothings and bible-thumping flatheads, not to mention CEOs like Lloyd Blankenfeld of Goldman Sachs and Tony Hayward of BP, poster boys for unchecked corporate arrogance and greed.
Twain was vociferously opposed to American imperialism, fulminating in suppressed passages in the Autobiography against “the iniquitous Cuban-Spanish War” and pouring scorn on a U.S. attack on unarmed tribal peoples in the Philippines, a “long and happy picnic” for “our uniformed assassins” who have “nothing to do but sit in comfort and fire the Golden Rule into those people down there and imagine letters to write home to the admiring families, and pile glory upon glory.” As the Times points out, “[T]he uncensored autobiography…includes remarks that, if made today in the context of Iraq or Afghanistan, would probably lead the right wing to question the patriotism of this most American of American writers.”
The paper quotes a blast of buckshot aimed, from the distance of a century ago, at the pinstriped swine wallowing in the Wall Street money trough today:
“The multimillionaire disciples of Jay Gould—that man who in his brief life rotted the commercial morals of this nation and left them stinking when he died—have quite completely transformed our people from a nation with pretty high and respectable ideals to just the opposite of that; that our people have no ideals now that are worthy of consideration; that our Christianity which we have always been so proud of—not to say vain of—is now nothing but a shell, a sham, a hypocrisy; that we have lost our ancient sympathy with oppressed peoples struggling for life and liberty; that when we are not coldly indifferent to such things we sneer at them, and that the sneer is about the only expression the newspapers and the nation deal in with regard to such things.”
And you wondered where the William Burroughs of “Roosevelt After Inauguration” and the Hunter Thompson of “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”—not to mention the Matt Taibbi of that joyfully savage beatdown of Sarah Palin and her low-functioning fandom—learned their close-quarter knife-fighting skills.
Read Mysterious Stranger: Twain Autobiography Reveals Grandpa’s Dark Side (True/Slant)
Posted by Richard Metzger |
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