The Executor’s Song

Explaining why Kurt Vonnegut’s books are still read in greater numbers than some of his contemporaries with higher reputations, like Norman Mailer and William Styron, Mailer’s literary executor, a guy named J. Michael Lennon, said that “Vonnegut was the American Mark Twain. He even looked liked him.”

I’m hoping that Lennon misspoke and what he meant to say was that Vonnegut was the modern Mark Twain. (There are some striking resemblances: imagination, humor, pessimism, populism. It has to be admitted that Twain towers over Vonnegut in every category.)

If not, I guess there are two possibilities. Norman Mailer’s literary executor doesn’t know much about American literature (does that make his job easier?) or he knows some dreadful secret about America’s greatest novelist. Is there a Scots-Canadian skeleton rattling in Huck Finn’s closet?

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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15 Responses to The Executor’s Song

  1. james_nicoll says:

    Well, he did fight for the Confederacy…

  2. sboydtaylor says:

    Actually, it’s little known, but Mark Twain is actually an Assyrian Prince. 😉

    • JE says:

      Or the Dauphin, maybe? It’s high time we apply the “Da Vinci Code” method to American literature. If nothing else, we could make some real coin out of this.

      • sboydtaylor says:

        Sure, why not.

        Let’s start with Mark Twain. His name has to be symbolically important somehow since it’s actually the depth-measure for a steamboat.

        That means steam boats have to be symbolic, somehow. This should probably tie into the Louisiana steam-boat casinos, so we can bring in the Mafia. I mean, what’s a conspiracy without a secret orgainization.

        Oh, and the Mafia is Italian (could be Russian too). Maybe this ties to the failed (Catholic) Teutonic Orders invaded Latvia (the so-called Latvian Crusade, where the Teutonic Orders charged across a frozen lake and all sunk to their freezing deaths.) — because this is where Templars were turned back by the Russians.

        They could still be fighting today, with the Mafia being the remnants of the Templars. 🙂

        Hey, I’m pretty good at this game. C’mon, your turn!

        • JE says:

          It must have been the contact of Twain (the “double” identity of the Dauphin-in-exile) with the French Royalists in Louisiana which made the Templars aware that the heir of Philip the Fair was in America. They set off the Civil War, hoping to capture him but he went westward with his “brother” Orion (clearly an astro-allegorical figure) hoping to convince his enemies that he had “gone west” (i.e. died) and later came back to reassure his friends that “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Shortly thereafter, he did die, possibly at the hands of Jack the Ripper, proving the Templars’ complicity.

          Other mysteries remain. Why did Theodore Roosevelt, himself an Illuminatus, destroy the Templar-Mafia’s secret Anti-Vatican in Tunguska with the still-experimental atomic bomb? How did Einstein acquire and manage to publish the secret Atlantean writings that would enable a later American president also named Roosevelt (can we call that a coincidence?) to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki (clearly Templar anagrams for something I haven’t figured out yet) but only after he was “dead.” (What were they hiding?)

          • sboydtaylor says:

            This is little known, but the Roosevelts are actually a much older RUSSIAN family — the Ruuskivites, descended from the Swedish Viking Ruus who originally conquered Russia. They are the hidden royalty guiding the Russian Mafia.

            Theodore had infiltrated the Illuminatus in order to gain sway over his rivals, who had instigated the Red Revolution in Russia. His power play was successful, eventually bringing down the Communist Illuminati and replacing them with the Russian Mafia. The struggle still continues, between Putin (Illuminatus) and the many Mafia Robber-Barons.

            In order to weaken the Russian Mafia, the Italian Mafia-Templars have been supplying Daemoniac Baphomet Cultists to the Russian Army, in order to suppress the Russian-Mafia Stronghold of Chechnya. (The Russian Mafia have controlled since the time of Genghis Khan — who was actually descended from the Royal line of Ruus.)

          • sboydtaylor says:

            Can you imagine trying to timeline all of this out?

          • JE says:

            “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” (I’m not sure why that seems relevant here.)

  3. al_zorra says:

    Mailer’s Literary Executor is Michael Lennon; he knows a great deal about literature and about many other things too. He’s an emeritus professor of English at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who wrote his dissertation on Mailer years ago.

    Love, C.

    • al_zorra says:

      Clemmons never fought for the Confederacy. He was deeply anti-slavery. One of his Great Battles was to prevent the U.S. from supporting Belgium and its slavery and other atrocities in the Congo.

      What Lennon means about Mailer being like Twain is, presumably, their incredible, heroic energy, and how they expended it to the bottom in the causes they supported, how they wrote wrote wrote to pay bills and support family. They both had an interest in ‘outsiders’ and perhaps downright criminals, and they saw through bs thoroughly — though both of them again, were very Great BSers themselves.

      Love, C.

      • JE says:

        My first guess was that Lennon misspoke; the others were just feeble jokes on the idea of a lit specialist not knowing that Mark Twain was the American Mark Twain. (NB: unless JML was misquoted, he was comparing Vonnegut, not Mailer, to Twain.)

        Young Samuel Clemens certainly did join a pro-Confederate state militia in Missouri (see his “Private History of a Campaign That Failed”, linked above). People change; they grow out of old ideas and outworn loyalties. I think it’s to his credit that he grew so much and became so vocal and so timeless a critic of imperialism and racism. But he did start out as the son of a slave-owner in a slave state. I don’t think he ever tried to conceal that.

        • al_zorra says:

          Clemens was ‘neutral’ during the Civil War.

          [ Missouri was a slave state and considered by many to be part of the South, but it did not join the Confederacy. When the war began, Twain and his friends formed a Confederate militia (depicted in an 1885 short story, “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed”), which drilled for only two weeks before disbanding.[15] Twain joined his brother, Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the territorial governor of Nevada, and headed west.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain ]

          In all the works of his I’ve read, including Life on the Mississippi he never has a good thing to say about slavery — and it seemingly was in the river boat days that he confronted the true realities of slavery for the first time. In all of his works he either speaks out directly that slavery is evil, or else he slyly satirizes the masters and the condition of the institution.

          He chose early on to never live in the South.

          Love, C.

          • JE says:

            Missouri didn’t join the Confederacy because it wasn’t allowed to, but there were plenty of pro-Confederate Missourians and the article you cite actually shows that Sam Clemens was one of them (in a rather lukewarm and thoughtless fashion; he seems to be both amused and disgusted with himself in “Private History etc”).

            From Ch. 2 of the Neider edition of Twain’s Autobiography:

            In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind–and then the texts were read aloud do us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.

            It’s not that Mark Twain was an apologist for slavery. He had a long journey to make and his brief career as a soldier was nearer the beginning of that journey than its end. He was always pretty open about that; there’s no reason we should be less so.

          • al_zorra says:

            O.K.

            And of course there is no disagreement that Clemens was far better than the majority, that when he actually looked at slavery, as in Life on the Mississippi, it disgusted him, and sent him into a lifelong investigation and active antagonism against slavery and many other injustices, hypocrisies, crimes and sins for the rest of his life.

            Most people, face to face with the evil and crime and sin that slavery is and always has been and will be, shrug. “Got mine, no problem.”

            But I do disagree that Clemens was more than neutral re the Civil War, for otherwise he would have joined the Confederate army, which so many of his cohort did. But he did not. He left the fray. I don’t think that particularly honorable. But then, as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer show so well, he had a lot of psychology to work through, here. But in a sense, all his life, he felt that he had run away. But he was never quite sure from which side he ran.

            Which perhaps explains why, for a tall grass prairie farmer’s daughter, those books were so very, very difficult, and in so many ways, repulsive. By the time I was given those books to read, about age 9 or 11, I think — they were among my Christmas gifts that year — Mark Twain’s works had been relegated to the ‘children’s shelves.’ Leslie Fiedler had probably already published his seminal and Lit dept-shaking “Come Back to the Raft Agin, Huck Honey,” but it hadn’t made ingress to the education systems of North Dakota. I think the reevaluation of American Literature was just beginning.

            Anyway, for one raised with no real reason for examining the existing presumpiton that slavery was bad and so we had a Civil War and fixed it, a farmer on the prairie, the South and all its unexamined assumptions was something so foreign as to be another planet. It took a lifetime of study of literature, history and slavery to learn that the South, actually, didn’t go by unexamined assumption, but rather, had made skin color descent slavery its religion and dogma, was utterly invested in it from sexual entitlement to torture and murder and finances, and spent most of its time writing and talking justification of it.

            Love, C.
            Love, C.

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