Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture / Edition 1

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Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture reveals who Mark Twain really was, how he got to be that way, and what we do with his legacies today. How did this son of slave holders come to write one the greatest anti-racist works of fiction of all time? Why is that remarkable odyssey erased today in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri? Which aspects of Twain are celebrated or exploited today and which are ignored? Whether she is probing Twain's presence in cyberspace or in the classroom, in advertising or animated cartoons, author Shelley Fisher Fishkin is incisive and imaginative. Her boldly original blend of personal narrative, biography, history, and criticism will change the way we look at Mark Twain and, perhaps, ourselves. Lighting Out for the Territory offers an intriguing look at how Mark Twain's life and work have been cherished, memorialized, exploited, and misunderstood. It offers a wealth of insight into Twain, into his work, and into our nation, both past and present.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An energetic reoprt on how Twain's attitude toward race developed, how his works have been used and abused, and how the image of himself that he so carefully invented has been coerced into making guest appearances in other people's fiction, movies, plays, even 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.'"--Peter S. Prescott, The Washington Post Book World

"Fascinating and cogent...a call to arms that we not forget America's history of racism by banning from our classrooms one of the few authors who wrote about it with honesty and clarity."--Publisher's Weekly

"An illuminating companion to any consideration of Twain's work."--David Walton, The New York Times Book Review

"Exuberant and provocative....A fearless and captivating voyage through Twains many dimensions."--Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

"[Fishkin] is an absolutely devastating critic of racism."--Greil Marcus, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Ought to be required reading for Twain's critics and teachers of Huck Finn."--George Thomas, Salt Lake Tribune

"Easily the most courageous work on Mark Twain in recent memory,...the kind of book that Mark Twain himself would have loved: it boils over with facts, wisdom, opinions, and speculations and fits no known literary genre."--R. Kent Rasmussen, Magill's Literary Annual

"A terrific read."--Bobbie Ann Mason

"Invaluable."--Barry Crimmins, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"I have been deeply excited by this book....[Fishkin] writes with the passion of a tiger."--Hal Holbrook

Kirkus Reviews
A grab bag collection of musings and meanderings on Mark Twain and his continuing cultural influences.

But Fishkin (American Studies/Univ. of Texas, Austin) seems too often more preoccupied with herself than with her subject. By the end of the book, we know about her likes and dislikes, her career, travels (to Twain's native Hannibal, Mo., and elsewhere in search of Twain and his legacy), family, and, by the way, some of her interesting ideas on Twain. These non-Fishkin focused sections are largely taken up with an original and vigorous defense of Twain against charges of racism. That such a defense is even necessary is a sad commentary on our age's unironic obtuseness (Huckleberry Finn has been banned in many school districts): If a book contains the word "nigger," well then it must be a wicked book and the author a wicked man. Fishkin ably lays waste to these canards, turning up in the process irrefutable evidence of Twain's strong hatred of racism. Critics have often assailed Huckleberry Finn's long final section, in which Jim, not aware that he has been freed, is humiliated by Tom Sawyer, but Fishkin convincingly reads this as a satire of Reconstruction. Still, Fishkin's overwhelming emphasis on Twain as an "antiracist writer" is ultimately part of the same flawed zeitgeist that wrongly condemns him for racism. One of the 19th century's most original minds, Twain had a talent and breadth of his concerns that ranged far beyond such easy delineations. Fishkin gives some sense of this, but she is too concerned with boxing Twain into the narrow categories our age seems to demand.

Despite Fishkin's scholarship and intelligence, Twain's own words on his work are perhaps the best: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195121223
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 276
  • Lexile: 1300L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Shelley Fisher Fishkin is Professor of American Studies and of English at the University of Texas, at Austin. She is the author of the highly acclaimed study Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices and the award-winning book From Fact to Fiction: Journalism & Imaginative Writing in America, and is the Editor of The Oxford Mark Twain.

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Table of Contents

Prologue, 3
1 The Matter of Hannibal, 13
2 Excavations, 71
3 Ripples and Reverberations, 127
Epilogue, 183
Notes and Sources, 205
Acknowledgments, 250
Index, 255
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