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Printer's Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution

Bruce Michelson
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    Printer's Devil
    Book Description:

    Trained as a printer when still a boy, and thrilled throughout his life by the automation of printing and the headlong expansion of American publishing, Mark Twain wrote about the consequences of this revolution for culture and for personal identity.Printer's Devilis the first book to explore these themes in some of Mark Twain's best-known literary works, and in his most daring speculations-on American society, the modern condition, and the nature of the self. Playfully and anxiously, Mark Twain often thought about typeset words and published images as powerful forces-for political and moral change, personal riches and ruin, and epistemological turmoil. In his later years, Mark Twain wrote about the printing press as a center of metaphysical power, a force that could alter the fabric of reality. Studying these themes in Mark Twain's writings, Bruce Michelson also provides a fascinating overview of technological changes that transformed the American printing and publishing industries during Twain's lifetime, changes that opened new possibilities for content, for speed of production, for the size and diversity of a potential audience, and for international fame. The story of Mark Twain's life and art, amid this media revolution, is a story with powerful implications for our own time, as we ride another wave of radical change: for printed texts, authors, truth, and consciousness.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93284-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. ONE Samuel Clemens and the Printed Word
    (pp. 1-51)

    The first surviving image of him is tiny, compared to most of the copies—retouched and reprinted, digitized and uploaded. Only about two inches wide and three high, arched at the top, this daguerreotype comes down to us still in its original pocket-sized wooden case, enameled and hinged, with a padded lining and a tiny clasp. A handwritten inscription in ink on the lining gives a date: December 1850. But behind the picture is a paper backing with the name “G.H. Jones” written in pencil (a byline, probably) and a different date, “Nov. 29th.” Sam Clemens was born on November...

  6. TWO The Mischief of the Press
    (pp. 52-76)

    The technology of the modern printed text: the boy’s fascination with all this—as an evolving, anomalous force, as well as a promise of imaginative freedom and money—can be traced back to within a year or two of theSAMdaguerreotype. In 1851 and 1852, Sam had experimented now and then with writing reports and humorous sketches about life in his hometown; but beginning in the autumn of 1852, and especially in the following spring, he began to focus on cultural and cognitive absurdities of the trade he was learning and the national industry in which he participated. In...

  7. THREE ‘But Now Everybody Goes Everywhere’
    (pp. 77-118)

    Detailed plans and prophetic ecstasies, complicated failures and mountainous archives—hard-core Mark Twain enthusiasts can wander endlessly in a sprawling paradise of esoteric fact and heady speculation. But to bring him home to us now, to imagine his relevance to contemporary concerns about the fate of the printed word, the imperative is to reopen the major texts. From early in his career, shorter pieces suggest that Twain was already thinking about social and psychological consequences of an influx of print from a publishing industry equipped to overwhelm an American public on both coasts and deep in the hinterland. In longer...

  8. FOUR ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and the American Print Revolution
    (pp. 119-163)

    The opening page ofAdventures of Huckleberry Finn—at least as far as they end of the first paragraph, where Huck stops alluding to Mark Twain and his telling “the truth, mainly,” inThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer—can be difficult if we want it that way. Huck’s comments about that previous book and about the reliability of the man who wrote it complicate the problem of who is speaking now, and where and when, and what passes for “truth” inTom Sawyer, or this new novel, or memoir, or whatever it is that begins here.¹ These are conundrums about...

  9. FIVE Mark Twain and the Information Age
    (pp. 164-223)

    In constructing a drama of Mark Twain’s life, the last act has been skillfully rewritten, many times, with different moods and themes in ascendance. So much was going on—with his family, his circle of friends and assistants, his finances, his interactions with admirers around the world, and his psychological and physical health. And though after 1895 the new work he published grew sparse, in his final years an avalanche of writing heaped up: journals, notebooks, autobiographical dictations, reams of business correspondence from him and to him; personal letters and private diaries by others, with Mark Twain as the center...

  10. Afterword: Mark Twain for the Next Fifteen Minutes
    (pp. 224-242)

    This book has been about Sam Clemens’s professional and imaginative engagement with America as a rising information superpower. As a high-stakes player in the reinvented production and dissemination of printed discourse, as a casualty of those changes, and as a body of writing about them, what “Mark Twain” can signify now depends on where we suppose we are, in this accelerated process, when we seek that perspective. This kind of orienteering has never been more difficult. Every fresh wave of information technology seems to have its impact upon daily experience and the motions of the mind, including engagements with cultural...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 243-274)
    (pp. 275-286)
    (pp. 287-290)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 291-299)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-300)