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Sunday, 06 April 2008

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Luther Blissett

I'm no Twain expert, but news of his growing pessimism seems exaggerated. I just finished *Innocents Abroad*, and you really cannot find a more humanity-hating book than that. Kafka at least thought that art could defrost the ice in our hearts. Even early on, Twain thought every thing around him dirty, corrupt, base, and overrated. (It's worse when Twain tries to work up some affection for the world around him. Unconvincing enthusiasm makes me more uncomfortable than simple satire.)

John  Emerson

If you actually like Twain and want to read Twainesque works, try Jaroslav Hašek (best known for The Good Soldier Schweik, but a number of his hundreds of Twainesque stories and sketches have been translated.)

If you do not like Twain, do not read Hašek. It's a fairly simple algorithm.

Knut Hamsun also was influenced by Twain. In turn he influenced Joyce, who had learned Dano-Norwegian to read the unendurably tedious Ibsen.

Both Hamsun and Hašek spent time as tramps. Whether this was an indigenous European tramp tradition or something they learned from Twain, I don't know.

Hamsun was also a serious racist and eventual Nazi collaborator. Probably a Social Darwinist of some sort.

Hasek was not especially pessimistic, but was totally without hope except during his short Bolshevik phase, which took him as far as Mongolia. The Austro-Hungarians metabolism did not require hope.

John  Emerson

Twain's curve did have a phase Kafka's didn't have: "Hey, look, I'm rich, famous, and happily married!"

Sisyphus

Hey, pessimism isn't the same thing as depression! It's all about looking to the future and assuming that whatever shit hits you, what comes next will surely be worse. (love the graphic though.)

After all, you would be the paradigmatic case of an incurable optimist ---- no matter what shit life throws at you, you expect it to get better at any moment, and then it Just. Gets. Worse. I mean, look at what you've endured the past few years!

;)

wishing you all the best, though. (good luck with that!)

Ari

Twain got to work outside quite a bit when he was young. Surely the fresh air helped keep him relatively optimistic. Of course, the constant threat of death -- either by snags or exploding boilers -- migth have troubled his sleep.

Rich Puchalsky

Dude, you can't understand Twain's pessimism without understanding what he wrote about his riverboat captaincy:

"What does the lovely flush in a beauty's cheek mean to a doctor but a 'break' that ripples above some deadly disease. Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn't he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn't he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?"

That's Twain's self-image, right there. The writer-doctor who has trained himself to see people -- just like Kafka was the land surveyor for God -- and sees symptoms of disease everywhere.

No doubt I'm just inadvertently repeating now something that must be a standard feature of analysis of one of Kafka's most analysed works, but the "Fuck me I'm a bug" thing goes beyond pessimism to unfortunate further depths with the repeated times in the Metamorphosis when his father is shoving or hurting him from behind.

John  Emerson

Actually, that's another expression of the technical mind (engineering mind) which is there in a lot of American Literature. Poe, for example. Thoreau sometimes. Pound, Eliot, and William Carlos Williams, who were big on the poem as object and criticism as science. And others to be named later, and a few draft picks.

SEK

Luther:

I'm no Twain expert, but news of his growing pessimism seems exaggerated. I just finished *Innocents Abroad*, and you really cannot find a more humanity-hating book than that.

There's a difference between his early, mannered misanthropy and the pervasive pessimism in his late work. Dan will no doubt smack me for saying as much, but if you check out his letters the difference becomes obvious. You're right to say that the public persona -- the perpetual disappointment in the affairs of men, &c. -- might not have changed so much, but behind the scenes, he seems to have become the character he once played.

John,

I read Hašek years ago, before I'd read more of Twain than Huck Finn in high school, so I've never made the connection before. That said, we ought to update its singularly horrible Wikipedia entry:

Jaroslav Hašek and in particular this novel have been subjects of innumerable articles, essays, studies, and books. Written by a great variety of individuals, ranging from friends and acquaintances, to admirers, detractors, and literary scholars (an insightful essay here), they started appearing almost immediately after the publication of the unfinished novel and the author's premature death in 1923.

The "insightful essay" in question is linked at the bottom of the page as, yes, an "insightful essay." Here's a bit about the translations:

The first two translations actually do very little for the book due probably to a variety of reasons.

The quoted sentences actually do very little for the quality of the translation due probably to a variety of reasons.

Sisyphus:

After all, you would be the paradigmatic case of an incurable optimist ...

Actually, I just made a promise to myself not to cry in public and have, for the most part, kept it.

Rich:

the "Fuck me I'm a bug" thing goes beyond pessimism to unfortunate further depths with the repeated times in the Metamorphosis when his father is shoving or hurting him from behind.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong -- Patrick, you were there, weren't you? -- but I think Vonnegut followed that up with a pregnant pause, then "from there it was all downhill." The bottomless abyss, and all, being the Jew's lot.

read

I just made a promise to myself not to cry in public and have, for the most part, kept it.
how does it feel to cry in public, i never ever cried in public, must be very liberating
pessimism still has some energy, even if negative
what is impossible, well, i mean difficult to fight within self is apathy and indifference

Adam Roberts

"Fuck me, I'm a bug" was my chat-up line with girls from 1981 to 1994 inclusive. Wasn't terribly successful, I must report.

Rich Puchalsky

What I referred to as "must be a standard feature of analysis of one of Kafka's most analyzed works" luckily has a definitive answer. Thanks be to wiki for providing definitive answers to everything!

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