I was touching on this last night. What’s the point of all this reading and writing? Think a lot of people feel a challenge to their authenticity when they have to write anything. I mean in school, acadmaia, or business when one is really working for someone else. We are being judged so we try our best for that sake. It seems most people would be, are in fact, uncomfortable assuming an authorial voice. I wonder why.
That’s Twain great achievement, assuming, developing, mistaking even, his way to a enveloping voice. Twain was a populist he peddled to the lowest grade yet most robust audience, whenever possible, often to the ruin of his reputation. In his late twenties at an all time personal low, he contemplated suicide. From The Bohemians by Ben Tarnoff, Twain speaking to family back homes writes:
But I have had a “call” to literature, of a low order–i.e. humorous. It is nothing to be proud of, but it is my strongest suit, and if I were to listen to that maxim of stern duty which says that to do right you must multiply the one or the two or the three talents which the Almighty entrusts to your keeping, I would have long ceased to meddle with things for which I was by nature unfitted & turned my attention to seriously scribbling to excite the laughter of God’s creatures. Poor, pitiful business! (112-113)
Fire. The man leaps from the letter. You can see him sitting there next to ya, jawing you this way and that. Seriously scribbling to excite the laughter of God’s creatures. And the punch line, pitiful business, perfect. What’s all the angst about though? Degeneracy in a word. Drunkenness, imagination drunkenness even worse, the opium haze of good art, take me someplace, leave me, but forget me not. Bills? What bills? Bastard children? Bull–nonesense. How dare a person live so selfishly and slavely. That is the the thing, people think, where do the thieves find the time? Debt? Ironic now, isn’t it? How would Twain have felt under the pile of students loans, that the scoundrel definitely would have banked on and abused.
Probably all right, tricksters survive on the weird rythms of Babylon. But what about when the bill really does get called? There comes a time, no gamblers delusion can continue forever, right? In Tarnoff’s great book, he demonstrates this reality nicely through the comparison of Twain’s path to relative success and his contemporaries slide into relative obscurity. We’ll never forget Ms. Coolbrith tho. As I turned to my new book The Plague by Albert Camus, the question was reframed….to be continued…