Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hate Letters to Mark Twain

The utter almost-religious fanaticism of people never really ceases to astound me. Cliché line, I know, but it's true. In one of my first posts I wrote about a class that I TAed for, which had the theme of literature and humor as the focus. I can't recall a few of the texts the students had to read and discuss. But I do remember that one of the first was Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and one of the reasons I remember this is, because the professor used the word "Bromance" to describe the relationship between a couple of young troublemakers engaging in drunk shenanigans and debauchery in one of the tales. The students could definitely relate because the professor tried to explain the relationship between the two young men as a "bromance," and he explained the tale had to do with consuming alcohol and having sex, which are subjects many college students can relate to. As a matter of fact, I think the troublemakers in the story  seduce and bed a man's wife and his daughter, you gotta love the classics.

The other text I remember the students having to read, was The Bible According to Mark Twain: Irreverent Writings on Eden, Heaven, and the Flood by America's Master Satirist, a collection of his satirical writings on Christianity and Americans. A book that I recommend for anyone that enjoys Mark Twain, or anyone who likes satire that takes shots at religion (Fine Print: If you're in Arizona, you're probably fucked, because chances are they already banned this book . . . Oh wait!! He's white and "American" so you can still read this book if you're in Arizona). I recall hearing quite a few students saying they were looking forward to reading that book specifically. I figured they were all basically in the same camp. I was el gran wrong.

After a class discussion, a student walked up to me and said, "I have to tell you something." I looked up from my laptop and said "Sure," expecting her to tell me that she was on her period and therefore wouldn't be able to make it to our next class session, an excuse that by the way was actually used by a student on one of my friends who is teaching at a nearby school. I prepared myself, as she said, "Some guy stole my paper . . ." She then went into detail about how she had misplaced her binder where she had left that essay assignment on the Twain, that I had just graded and returned to them. Apparently, just her luck, it was picked up by a fellow student of the Christian faith. He was able to get her e-mail address from the campus website, which isn't very hard to do (for all you stalkers out there), since all you need is a first and last name, both of which were on her paper. Upon contacting her, he reassured her that the binder was safe and he would like to return it to her, but that he would only do so if she would have a conversation with him about some of the content in her paper, regarding things he apparently found blasphemous, because you're not supposed to question God or poke fun at the Christian faith.

The fucken guy was seriously holding her paper ransom in exchange for a bit of her time so that he could chastise her for her error in having written that fucking paper!

My student herself is of the Christian faith, and at one point before writing the paper she came to visit me during office hours where she asked some questions about the prompt for that essay, which led to her letting me know that as a Christian she wasn't absolutely fond of what Twain had written, but that she at times did question certain things about her religion. So, she obviously wasn't a person who hated religion, nor was she a self-hating Christian, but she was open enough to think about her faith more critically based on what Twain had written, and what we discussed. Then she had this guy wanting to dip her in the holy water of his verbal assault, because he possibly felt she wasn't as Christian as he was for having written the paper. Unbelievable. Regardless, my student told me about the incident, because according to her she thought me and the professor I was TAing for would find it funny. Which we did.

About a week later after class I asked her if she had gotten her paper back without any complications? She said yeah, the guy returned it, and that she simply told him he was rude. I had an urge to offer her alternatives besides telling him he was rude, such as maybe a swift kick to his huevos, or a knee to the face, or a loogie hocked between his eyes, but instead I smiled and said, "That's good."

Hearing her incident, it wasn't absolutely surprising. I remember that as I went through the papers, there were actually quite a few students who wrote their disdain for Twain and his attack on their religion. Some of them almost sounded as if they wished he were alive so they could give him a verbal flogging. There was one student, he wrote a great paper defending religion against Twain's attack, which is actually what one of the prompts asked students to do, but the student then wrote a second conclusion where he basically inserted his personal feelings, and castigated Twain for about a page. Again, great paper, but it was difficult for him to let Twain off the hook without doing his duty as a faithful servant of the Christian church and Lord. At least he had managed to restrain himself until the conclusion of his paper, whereas others just went straight for the attack from the intro onward, coming up with a variety of ways to air out their scorn for Twain and people like him. Many-a-times as I wrote feedback, I found myself wanting to write, "I have run out of toilet paper, therefore the following portions of your essay, will be clipped out so that I might have something to wipe my culo with."

But I'm mature now, and what not, so I summoned the levelheadedness to write "Your frustration, anger, hate, dislike, distaste, etc. for Twain's attack on Christianity is understandable, but in future essays please try to think critically about the subject, and try to be more analytical in your writing." But for every handful of students that rage against Twain, there's always that one like my student that had her paper kidnapped, she put aside enough of her bias to think openly and analytically about satire and religion in general.

I wonder if Twain would have known that even in death he would be be a driving force behind the fury of many people, my own included to a certain degree, because after they read his work I have to read their papers, since I'm still alive.

Thank you, Twain.


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