Twain once wrote, “I am not an American. I am the American.” It’s classic Twain: a statement palpably untrue–Twain’s life was clearly not representative of that lived by all Americans (what one life could be?)–but also it’s dead on the mark, for so much of what animated Twain in his life and writing was the stuff of America in all its dizzying heights and profound self-contradiction. The seminar will take Mr. Clemens at his word. Through reading his work, studying his life, and writing on his themes, we will approach American identity via particularly Twainian preoccupations: rags to riches to rags, technological triumph and failure, slippery identities, racial ambivalence, romance and realism, optimism and skepticism.
…so runs the draft of my description for a proposed first year seminar to be offered next fall.