The Deconstruction of the Enlightenment in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) by ProQuest


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									The Deconstruction of the Enlightenment in
Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in
King Arthur’s Court (1889)
By Christopher D. Morris

Criticism of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court has always rec-
ognized some insoluble contradiction in its theme. For example, Lee Clark
Mitchell sees “clashes of large binary oppositions” that arise from “incon-
sistencies in the narrative strategy” (232); Derek Parker Royal sees a di-
alectic between democracy and capitalism that “refuses a synthesis” (15).
These studies are hermeneutic in their attribution of a contradiction to the
novel’s author, Clemens or Twain; their readings discover different forms
of authorial incoherence as that is measured by the formalist criteria each
brings to bear—for example, that oppositions should have syntheses or
narrative strategies should be consistent. Such condescensions to the
writer have been characteristic of Twain studies from the beginning, gain-
ing impetus from the controversy surrounding the ending of Huckleberry
Finn. The aim of all hermeneutic criticism, whether derived from formal-
ism or cultural studies, is to find and place the author; the incessant efforts
of Twain’s critics are especially striking, pressing as they do on questions
of whether he “belongs” in the canon or in libraries, or whether his books
can be made to “work” in the classroom.1 Still, readers of Twain’s earliest
stories might be forgiven for wondering whether these continuing quests
to fix might have been anticipated and allegorized in Twain’s fiction all

JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 39.2 (Summer 2009): 159–185. Copyright © 2009 by
JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory.
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along—for example, in the frustration of the unnamed listener/narrator of
“Jumping Frog” at being suckered by the elusive tale-teller Simon
Wheeler. Recognizing his credulity—his “being sold,” Twain calls it on
other occasions—the narrator finally refuses to hear another tale about
being suckered, but it’s too late: he can do so only after having been suck-
ered. This exposure of delusion in listening or reading can be written off
as laughable until readers see that we, too, couldn’t have grasped our
blindness unless we had first been suckered. It does not take Paul de Man
to understand Twain’s work as allegorizing hermeneutic self-deception in
reading and writing: the invention of Mark Twain, as of Kierkegaard’s
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