Monday, August 7, 2017

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.10)




So Protag-man is facing challenges from his fellow knights. They want him to go out questing, but he just wants to stay in and create a replica of the nineteenth century. He convinces them that he will go out questing in a few years, after he manages to get the simulacra up and running.

In these [nuclei of industry] were gathered the brightest young minds that I could find, and I kept agents out raking the country for more, all the time” (66).

                It is pretty surreal, when you think about it. Like, here is a ‘magician’ who seizes great power and afterwards pushes into practice a whole ton of reforms while searching far and wide for those ambitious anachronisms which he feels will hasten the transition to modernity. It is like a realization of the historical Real, where those who would otherwise be out of place within their own time are placed into their proper role. It is a curious sort of violation.

I had started a teacher-factory and a lot of Sunday-schools the first thing; as a result, I now had an admirable system of graded schools in full blast in those places [obscure country realms controlled by the church], and also a complete variety of Protestant congregations all in a prosperous and growing condition.”

                Notice how he refers to the training of teachers as an industry, “teacher-factory”, while subsuming his anti-religious impulse under an anti-Catholicism. It is the inverse of what will historically happen with Protestantism, that is, a radical conservatism which will, ultimately, manifest itself as the settlement of New England. So it seems here that Protag-man is trying to redirect history into an all-together different course, to push a different moderate Protestantism which can be moderate only because it will be the one and only major denomination by the time North American colonization arrives.

                In short, Protag-man is an idealist and early liberal humanist. He doesn’t seek unification or absolute control because he views it as going contrary to human behavior (“nature”), but feels he can still effect change if he nudges certain events in certain directions. Truly, he is a con man.

Four years rolled by—and then!” (67).

                Darn. Four whole years. I guess nothing of importance happened in those years.

                What I always find disquieting about these sudden and large temporal shifts is that it always requires so much suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part. Earlier on in the book, we learnt that Protag-man was having difficulty in acclimating to his new surroundings, and yet, now several years have passed by and we are to simply no longer wonder at his integration into this society, that there was no longer any lifestyle changes which so befuddled him? Yeah, I doubt it.

                At any rate, Protag-man waxes eloquently about human nature and the perfect nature of government vis-à-vis despotism. It is trite. Very high-minded and whatnot. But he does betray those same convictions when he speaks about the secret military branches he was been building around the country. I guess sometimes even benevolent dictators need secret police forces.

Clarence was twenty-two now, and was my head executive, my right-hand. He was a darling; he was equal to anything; there wasn’t anything he couldn’t turn his hand to. Of late I had been training him for journalism…” (68).

                I suppose you could interpret this moment as Protag-man paying back Clarence for his support during his trying times when he first arrived in medieval England. But this seems more romantic; the gushing praise, high position, reference to how old he is and the use of the word “darling”, all point to some sexy-fun time.

                Journalism is interesting. Protag-man talks about how he has developed a telegraph and telephone and secretly laid lines and how Clarence was instrumental in all this. So I really wonder to what end this is to play. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like journalism would be terribly high on my own list of things to establish, but, I dunno, maybe I just lack that ambition.

Thus far, I had not even meddled with taxation, outside of the taxes which provided the royal revenues. I had systemized those, and put the service on an effective and righteous basis. As a result, these revenues were already quadrupled, and yet the burden was so much more equably distributed than before, that all the kingdom felt a sense of relief, and the praises of my administration were hearty and general” (69).

                Fascinating. Considering that even in the late nineteenth century, ideas of social welfare and social democracy would be a long ways off, it is a bit surprising that Twain is speaking of these ideas in any capacity, let alone of the nobly intended idea of wealth redistribution which becomes associated with certain social-democratic welfare states.