The Unbearable Banishment: Today's Guest Blogger: Mark Twain

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Today's Guest Blogger: Mark Twain

I paid a visit to the Morgan Library for the Mark Twain: A Skeptic's Progress exhibit. There are manuscript pages from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi, as well as letters, notebooks, drawings and other stuff. When I go to manuscript exhibits I'm inevitably disappointed. I try to read them but the handwriting is always illegible and I get nowhere. The Morgan displays their handwritten manuscript for A Christmas Carol every holiday season and it's a mess.

Take a look at one of the display descriptions. Hang in there. It's shocking.

"Following the Equator (1897) is Twain’s recounting and fictional reworking of his “round-the-world” lecture tour, most of which was spent in and en route to Australasia, the South Seas, South Africa and India. He was already a severe critic of British and European imperialist and colonialist policies, but seeing their consequences firsthand only intensified his anger and conviction that Western ideals of human progress were a sham. He was especially enraged by whites’ hypocritical use of religious and “civilizing” rhetoric in the brutal exploitation of native peoples.

Still, as fiercely as Twain condemned Christianity and the West (the deleted passages regarding white rule are harsher than those published), he was equally unsparing in his evaluation of other cultures and religions. He regarded all religions and societies as systems of superstition and control ingeniously disguised as theology, ritual, and political ideology, the better to ease and exploit humanity’s fear of death and the unknown."

Wow! That's pretty accusatory stuff! I happen to agree with Twain. (Hope that doesn't cost me any readers.) The book is full of illustrations. Take a look at this beauty:


This is how Twain saw the introduction of European society to Aboriginal Australia. On the platter, the "savage" is offered Law, Opium, Disease, Whiskey, Tobacco and Religion. There's also a whip and a pair of shackles. Twain equates religion to, among other things, opium. Now, where have I heard that before? Who knew that Twain was such a Lefty?

The exhibit is open through January 2nd.

14 Comments:

Blogger Here In Franklin said...

UB--I hope our paths cross someday so we can chat. I'll roast chicken and make risotto. :)

September 26, 2010 at 7:03 PM  
Anonymous dinahmow said...

You wont lose this reader! I've said much more damning things about westernisation and about ridiculous religious beliefs.

September 26, 2010 at 7:30 PM  
Blogger savannah said...

one day you'll have to sit down with the MITM, he's a Twain fanatic! xoxoxox

September 26, 2010 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

HIF: I hope that "making risotto" means that you'll make some risotto and is not a southern metaphor for you'll stab me in the neck!

Dinah: You understand my reluctance to comment on this stuff. Some people take criticism of religion very seriously.

Savannah: Huck Finn is simply one of the greatest books ever written. Hemingway said it spawned Western literature and he might be right about that.

September 26, 2010 at 8:48 PM  
Anonymous daisyfae said...

we'll let 'franklin' do the cooking. i'll bring the single malt scotch, cigars and jello shots.

organized religion (as well as the related imperialism) has done more to drag down societal progress than any other force of nature... twain is right there with vonnegut as one of the best brains of the 20th century...

September 26, 2010 at 9:00 PM  
OpenID livingladolcevita said...

Perhaps that's why he waited 100 years to publish his autobiography. Perhaps he hoped people would be more...how do they put it?...skeptical. If anything, we're worse. How sad.

September 26, 2010 at 9:56 PM  
Anonymous nursemyra said...

Another Twain lover raises her hand over here

September 27, 2010 at 4:34 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Daisy: Organized religion isn't pure evil. Towards the end, the Catlick church provided a great comfort to my mother.

Dolce: Actually, you are absolutely correct. Twain put a 100 year moratorium on publishing his bio because he knew his views would upset his contemporary audience.

Nurse: It makes perfect sense to me. So, why do I tiptoe around the subject and sheepishly agree?

September 27, 2010 at 6:37 AM  
Blogger Kono said...

Sam Clemens was spot on then and he's spot on now. The biggest detriment to mankind is organized religion, yeah it has it's uses but so do speedballs, the world needs more people like him.

September 27, 2010 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

I visited the Morgan in the seventies. Pity that wasn't on then.
The Frick was my favourite. I loved the Polish Rider and the fact I could sit and rest my feet.
Mr Twain is one of the reasons I'm a Yankophile

September 27, 2010 at 11:50 AM  
Blogger Lori said...

I agree with you and Twain. And this makes me like you even more.

September 27, 2010 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Kono: The only time I was ever "saved" was when I came to my senses about religion.

Pat: I have a friend who's a artist [an actual artist who makes a living by selling paintings] and her favorite museum in the city is the Frick. She knows PLENTY about museums.

Lori: Thanks for the nod. And here I thought some people were going to bail out on me!

September 27, 2010 at 9:06 PM  
Blogger Pat said...

I'm dedicating a song to you.

September 28, 2010 at 3:05 AM  
Blogger Here In Franklin said...

Ha--I think you've been in Jersey too long. I promise that risotto is just risotto! But if it would make you feel better, I'll make grits.

September 28, 2010 at 10:23 AM  

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