Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mark Twain: American Cynic

Mark Twain: American Cynic: Twain, whose birth name was Samuel Clemens, once said that "No one but the dead have free speech." Through his notebook, which was published posthumously in 1935, one can peer into the mind of probably the most cynical American literary in the nineteenth century. Some people consider his work to be quite humorous while others find it somewhat troubling. Either way, Twain had a knack for systematically dissecting whatever was most common in American folkways and laying them out for all to see their true colors. Any conventional pattern of behavior or quirky mannerism that held some peculiar value in American society was up for criticism and scrutiny from Twain. Perhaps Twain's staunch cynicism was precisely what drove his literary genius forward. It was undoubtedly the prime catalyzing force behind his 1873 satirical play entitled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today whereby he sought to expose the vast extent to which avarice had infected postbellum America. In a way, Twain was a true activist. Even though his cynicism was what encouraged him to act in many instances, he certainly did possess the proper intentions when attacking a particular social stigma. And given that Twain lived in what was possibly the most dynamic period of change in American culture, one can better understand his avid skepticism. With so much change, there was bound to be those who doubted and scrutinized; Twain simply made a living out of it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Edgar Allan Poe and Poetry

Edgar Allan Poe and Poetry: The man for whom the word "poetry" is named; well not exactly, but it's an interesting coincidence nonetheless. Along with German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Poe qualifies as one of the most "insane" writers of the nineteenth century. And it was this insanity which helped him produce some of the most brilliant pieces of writing in the modern literary world. For starters, his poem entitled A Dream within a Dream is eerily similar in content and context to that of Die achte Elegie (The Eighth Duino Elegy) by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and yet, Poe's poem came about seventy years prior. Both poems are wonderful examples of how poets possess the keen ability to trace the gods, and thus, build a bridge between the world of mortality and that of the hereafter. In a sense, one must be able to read Poe and realize that his language is highly theosophical. That is, it contains a vibrant mix of both theological and philosophical sentiments. For instance, in his epic "prose poem" entitled Eureka, Poe seeks to formulate a comprehensive understanding of the universe through a wide variety of intuitive suggestions. Think of it as a massive plate of food for thought. Even so, Poe's food is apparently quite tasty, as there is a plethora of scholars dedicated to studying his works.