Quotulatiousness

April 11, 2017

QotD: The great American humourists

Filed under: History, Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The great American humorists have something in common: hatred.

H. L. Mencken and Mark Twain both could be uproariously funny and charming — and Twain could be tender from time to time, though Mencken could not or would not — but at the bottom of each man’s deep well of humor was a brackish and sour reserve of hatred, for this country, for its institutions, and for its people. Neither man could forgive Americans for being provincial, backward, bigoted, anti-intellectual, floridly religious, or for any of the other real or imagined defects located in the American character.

Historical context matters, of course. As Edmund Burke said, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” Twain was born in 1835, and there was much that was detestable in the America of Tom Sawyer. Mencken, at the age of nine, read Huckleberry Finn and experienced a literary and intellectual awakening — “the most stupendous event in my life,” he called it — and followed a similar path. Both men were cranks: Twain with his premonitions and parapsychology, Mencken with his “Prejudices” and his evangelical atheism. He might have been referring to himself when he wrote: “There are men so philosophical that they can see humor in their own toothaches. But there has never lived a man so philosophical that he could see the toothache in his own humor.”

The debunking mentality is prevalent in both men’s writing, a genuine fervor to knock the United States and its people down a peg or two. For Twain, America was slavery and the oppression of African Americans. For Mencken, the representative American experience was the Scopes trial, with its greasy Christian fundamentalists and arguments designed to appeal to the “prehensile moron,” his description of the typical American farmer. The debunking mind is typical of the American Left, which feels itself compelled to rewrite every episode in history in such a way as to put black hats on the heads of any and all American heroes: Jefferson? Slave-owning rapist. Lincoln? Not really all that enlightened on race. Saving the world from the Nazis? Sure, but what about the internment of the Japanese? Etc. “It was wonderful to find America,” Twain wrote. “But it would have been more wonderful to miss it.”

Kevin D. Williamson, “Bitter Laughter: Humor and the politics of hate”, National Review, 2016-08-11.

February 4, 2014

QotD: The Autobiography of Mark Twain

Filed under: Books, Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:06

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.

Sippican Cottage, “Sippican’s Greatest Hits: The Autocoprophagy Of Mark Twain”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-01-29

December 8, 2012

Jefferson, Lincoln, Churchill, and Yogi Berra

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:27

What do these four men have in common? They’re “flypaper figures“: people who frequently are quoted as saying things they never said:

“People will see a quote and it appeals to an opinion that they have and if it has Jefferson’s name attached to it that gives it more weight,” she says. “He’s constantly being invoked by people when they are making arguments about politics and actually all sorts of topics.”

A spokeswoman for the Guide‘s publisher said it was looking into the quote. Mr. Norris’s publicist didn’t respond to requests for comment.

To counter what she calls rampant misattribution, Ms. Berkes is fighting the Internet with the Internet. She has set up a “Spurious Quotations” page on the Monticello website listing bogus quotes attributed to the founding father, a prolific writer and rhetorician who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.

[. . .]

Jefferson is a “flypaper figure,” like Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill and baseball player and manager Yogi Berra — larger-than-life figures who have fake or misattributed quotes stick to them all the time, says Ralph Keyes, an author of books about quotes wrongly credited to famous or historical figures.

April 26, 2011

Americans really are jaded about their politicians

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:59

A survey from Rasmussen shows that many Americans think of their political representatives as little better than scum:

Mark Twain once said, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” A large number of Americans share that skepticism.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 43% of the nation’s voters believe that most members of Congress are corrupt. Only 27% disagree and doubt that most national legislators are that dishonorable. Thirty percent (30%) are not sure.

Interestingly, there’s little difference of opinion on this question between Republicans and Democrats. But voters not affiliated with either of the major parties are more doubtful: 51% think most members of Congress are corrupt.

That’s got to be an affront to the honest politicians . . . the other 91% are giving them a bad reputation:

Only nine percent (9%) of voters now say Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Fifty-six percent (56%) rate its performance as poor.

May 23, 2010

It’s been 100 years . . . time to publish

Filed under: Books, Media, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 21:29

According to The Independent, Mark Twain didn’t want his memoirs published until at least 100 years after his death:

Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends.

One thing’s for sure: by delaying publication, the author, who was fond of his celebrity status, has ensured that he’ll be gossiped about during the 21st century. A section of the memoir will detail his little-known but scandalous relationship with Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904. Twain was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy. But she was abruptly sacked in 1909, after the author claimed she had “hypnotised” him into giving her power of attorney over his estate.

Their ill-fated relationship will be recounted in full in a 400-page addendum, which Twain wrote during the last year of his life. It provides a remarkable account of how the dying novelist’s final months were overshadowed by personal upheavals.

“Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him. It’s completely at odds with the impression most people have of him,” says the historian Laura Trombley, who this year published a book about Lyon called Mark Twain’s Other Woman.

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