Leftwing Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Samuel Langhorne Clemens aka Mark Twain / in 1909 / Library Of Congress

Boston Review — Roger Boylan: Suppose You’re an Idiot.

A couple of excerpts from the above linked-to article follow. The first lets you know what this article is about. The second is a tidbit from the autobiography which is what the article is about:

The ‘What?’:

The posthumous career of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, has been a busy one.

According to the staff of the University of California’s Mark Twain Project, more than 5,000 previously unknown letters of Twain’s have surfaced in the last 50 years. This represents an average of two new letters per week, but still only about one-tenth of the 50,000 or so he is believed to have written…

Twain was also deeply fond of his own celebrity, which, by delaying publication, he sought to extend into the future.

The tidbit:

“In the Autobiography, as elsewhere in his work, the humorist is present. But here the humor is frequently bitter and the moralist comes into his own. Twain’s fulminations against U.S. government policies in the Spanish-American wars, for instance, are among the most strident of his broadsides. He excoriates the American military for its imperial program in the former Spanish territory of the Philippines. Or perhaps that should be imperial pogrom: Twain describes a massacre of native Moro tribespeople that equals anything out of Vietnam or Algeria, and indeed calls to mind Lidice and Katyn. He also heaps contempt on the president who signed off on the mission…”

To which I say Thank you Mr. Boylan. What is a ‘pogrom’? Merriam-Webster online says, in part, that it’s an “organized massacre of helpless people.”

Readers of Noam Chomsky, of course, have known about this dark side of America for a long time.

After recounting a few more of Twain’s caustic jabs at those he considered to be purveyors of injustice, Boylan states that “Such animus would scarcely seem out of place today coming from the political far left, but in that instance its motivation would be polemical and tendentious, whereas Twain’s fury transcends party affiliation or political beliefs, neither of which he possessed to any great degree.” I guess I’ll buy that. But, Where today in the world would we find one such as Samuel Clemens, if not somewhere on the far Left? Noam Chomsky isn’t interested – swayed to go against his own beliefs – in the views of any, whether Left or Right. Yet, I do believe he would cop to being leftwing. It ‘is’, I would argue, useful terminology.

Here’s a Third World Traveler article by Noam Chomsky in which he mentions Mark Twain. It’s titled “Telling The Truth About Imperialism.” This article carries an interview of Chomsky by David Barsamian. Here’s an excerpt from this long article:

Mark Twain is known for writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but he was a staunch opponent of US. wars of aggression. A century ago, he was involved in something called the Anti-lmperialist League. He wrote in The Mysterious Stranger: “Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, puffing [sic] the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.” Why is that aspect of Mark Twain almost totally occluded?

That’s an interesting story. For the last years of his life one of his main activities was vigorous involvement in opposition to the Philippine War. Twain has wonderful anti-imperialist essays. But you don’t find reference to them. I think the first general publication of them was in a book, Mark Twain’s Weapons of Satire, edited by Jim Zwick about 10 years ago. Syracuse University Press published a collection of his anti-imperialist essays. If my memory is correct, the introduction by Zwick says that the standard biographies don’t include this material, although it wasn’t secret. Why? The question answers itself. You don’t want people to explode the aura of benevolence in which we clothe ourselves.

Finally, My online response to the above linked-to article follows:

I enjoyed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer immensely as a kid. I enjoyed other Clemens/ Twain works in later years, as well. I didn’t know Samuel Clemens’s autobiography was on hold until now and thank Roger Boylan for this review. As for the controversy hinted at in the comments above, I suppose I will discover whether there ‘is’ controversy or nothing more than smelly commentary by a reader of this enjoyable review once I get to reading around in the alt media where I spend much of my time.

This entry was posted in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Feel free to comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.