Saturday, August 19, 2017

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.12-13)




So, we are off in the country and it is a swell day. That’s nice. I bet the travel won’t be terrible, or anything. Nothing to make the protagonist complain nonstop.

Now it is curious how progressively little frets grow and multiply after they once get a start. Things which I didn’t mind at all, at first, I began to mind now—and more and more, too, all the time” (79).

                Very true. But this is also the catalyst of the protag pissing and moaning nonstop. Buckle in, kids.

“…and so at last I lost my temper and said hang a man that would make a suit of armor without pockets in it.”

                I think this is actually a sort of chiding of the inconsistencies of the Arthurian mythos, rather than historical commentary. For instance, I am pretty sure that armor in the actual middle ages would have only been worn in battle, not during the daily errands of knights. But since in the Arthurian tales you have knights going on long quests, they, presumably, had to wear something. So I think this is what makes this section so satisfying is that it is Twain pointing out, non-invasively, how absurd the whole thing is, that a knight is traveling great distancing while clad in armor; like traveling across the continental U.S on a bike!

                So, Protag-man complains a lot about having to get his helmet off a bit and always asking for his handkerchief so as to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. He resolves to invent something to make keeping clean easier, scandal be damned! A fun word that the protagonist uses is “iron dudes of the roundtable” (80) and I find that classic. If I were to ever describe the Arthurian knights as anything, it would be ‘iron dudes’. Incidentally, it is odd that Twain would use a word as colloquial as ‘dude’. I associate that with modernity and teen slang, not something a highly cultured man like Twain. Fun.

We couldn’t seem to meet anybody in this lonesome Britain, not even an ogre; and, for the mood I was in then, it was well for the ogre; that is, an ogre with a handkerchief.”

                Haha… I love how focused Protag-man is on his bodily functions. Even when raging at the world, and thinking about the well-being of an ogre, he would like that ogre to have his creature comforts. I love it! It is writing like this, that brings together threads into wholes, little references and modes of consistency, that I love. It helps form the unitary whole.

                Nothing more of consequence really happens in this chapter. Protag-man complains about his situation some more, has his Quest Maiden pour water down into his armor to relive the sweating and itching, and that’s about it. Though the descriptions of how he feels is realistic and sympathetic, it also is not very interesting. He rants about the talkative blabber of the quest maiden but that feels more misogynistic than anything else. Not interesting.

 Chapter 13

Another chapter, another complaint. This time about sandwiches. It seems that Protag-man is the Da Vinchi of complaining. Also, bugs swarm into his armor, thus keeping him warm. That, my friend, is super creepy.

When the morning came at last, I was in a bad enough plight… And how had it fared with the nobly born aristocrat…? Why, she was as fresh as a squirrel” (85).

                It is like a cartoon, then. It is moments like this that make me think that this is, in fact, simply a dream; because in a dream, you can envision harm happening to yourself, but rarely does that same harm become replicated onto another. Dream logic says that people behave as they always do no matter what situation they are in and this sounds exactly like one of those moments. Also, I love how Protag-man compares her to a squirrel. Just perfect.

Measured by modern standards, they [people from the Middle Ages] were merely modified savages, these people.”

                This is actually a bit of a curious comparison to make. Remember: these people are English, so the colonial footprint is that of a White man talking shit about other White people. Yes, the ‘savage’ is being used as a moral modifier, but the thesis behind the statement—that these people are not really civilized—is almost radical, almost subversive. One could read this statement as Protag-man seeing that everyone at some point or another is ‘savage’ and that it has little to do with religion and the like. Of course, there is an indicator—‘by modern standards’ means by late Victorian standards. So this would be in the hot time of such anthropological critiques. I suppose more is needed before we start proclaiming things to be this or that. Still, it is an intriguing word to use on a people who, historically, have used the word in a very different manner.

                At any rate, after this they set off and encounter a group of freemen. It is here that there is a sizeable chunk of ink devoted to talking ill of the nobility and kings and whatnot, how it is sarcastic to call these men free when they are beholden to ignorance and their lord. There is a bit of liberal meandering about what constitutes the actual Nation, then some celebration of the French Revolution. 

It is a moment which almost veers off into subversive territory but things are kept vague and that prevents me from saying anything other than it being another moment of Twain throwing shade at monarchy and the Catholic Church. I’m sure to certain segment of the population, and dark internet corners, this still counts as radical Leftism, but to someone who’s kept up with the times, there isn’t anything subversive about it. Amusing, in a way, but not subversive.

You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institution or its office holders” (89).

                In terms of bourgeois nationalism, this is the ultimate cop out. Whenever an election goes bad, you can just say something like this and wash your hands clean of the wider political context, saying that it somehow wasn’t your fault for all that went bad despite directly participating in all the nonsense. If you legitimate bullshit, then you are part of that bullshit. Make all the epistemological fissures you want, it is not going to change the reality of what you are supporting.

                After, we are treated to something which almost skids into Troskyist territory with the focus on educating people and turning an insurrection into a revolution. This, after the protagonist heaps more disdain on the bosses and people who raise themselves up to exploit others. Another instance that seems to want to be more radical than it actually is. Though, maybe I am being overly critical. I mean, this is a person who likely hasn’t seen a whole lot in terms of revolutionary theory, so…

                Regardless, he meets a keen man. Can’t quite remember what Protag-man sees in him, but he orders him to go to Camelot and see Clarence, who will fix him up and teach him to read and write.