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Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195121223
ISBN-10: 0195121228
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mark Twain once jotted in his notebook, "No, I am not an American, I am the American." He may have been joking or perhaps just thinking on the page, but he was close to the truth: he is everywhere in American society.

Shelley Fisher Fishkin, editor of the 29-volume Oxford Mark Twain, has written an engaging travel book based on her rambles, both literal and intellectual, through the vast realm of Twain. From children in Hannibal, Missouri, performing a Tom Sawyer pageant to horribly mistaken intellectuals railing against Huckleberry Finn, Fishkin has ranged far and wide, searching for what Twain means today.

Lighting Out for the Territory tackles such serious intellectual issues as the perpetual accusation that Twain was a racist. It also provides entertaining digressions into Twain's appearances in pop culture, ranging from beer ads to an appearance on Star Trek. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Certain literary scholars reach a point in their careers when they earn enough distinction in their field to write something other than literary criticism. Fishkin, lifelong Twain scholar, is just such a scholar. In her previous volume, Was Huck Black?, Fishkin boldly argued for the influence of African American voices on Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Here, she has produced a collection of essays that is one part American history, one part literary criticism and two parts travelogue. Drawing on America's geography and popular culture for background, Fishkin revisits her earlier work from the perspective of a stranger in a strange land-the "world of Twain" as it exists in America today. In her first essay, Fishkin describes with biting irony her visit to Hannibal, Mo., Twain's birthplace, which is now a tourist trap, and the obliviousness of Hannibal's citizens to Twain's darker views on Southern racism. In her second, she visits the abolitionist town of Elmira, N.Y. in an attempt to understand why Twain's residence there changed his views on race. In the third, she takes up Twain's popular presence in film, modern novels and on stage. Fishkin is fascinating and cogent throughout: tough on censorship, soft on Twain, Fishkin's book is a call to arms that we not forget America's history of racism by banning from our classrooms one of the few authors who wrote about it with honesty and clarity.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 11, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195121228
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195121223
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,735,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Shelley Fisher Fishkin's broad, interdisciplinary research interests have led her to focus on topics including the ways in which American writers' apprenticeships in journalism shaped their poetry and fiction; the influence of African American voices on canonical American literature; the need to desegregate American literary studies; American theatre history; the development of feminist criticism; the relationship between public history and literary history; literature and animal welfare; and the challenge of doing transnational American Studies. Although much of her work has centered on Mark Twain, she has also published on writers including Gloria Anzaldua, John Dos Passos, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Dreiser, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Erica Jong, Maxine Hong Kingston, Tillie Olsen, and Walt Whitman.

Dr. Fishkin is a Professor of English and Director of the Program in American Studies at Stanford University. After receiving her B.A.from Yale College (summa cum laude, phi beta kappa), she stayed on at Yale for a masters degree in English and a Ph.D. in American Studies, and was Director of the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism there. She taught American Studies and English at the University of Texas from 1985 to 2003, and was Chair of the Department of American Studies. She is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, England, where she was a Visiting Fellow, and has twice been a Visiting Scholar at Stanford's Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She has been awarded an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, was a Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer in Japan, and was the winner of a Harry H. Ransom Teaching Excellence Award at the University of Texas.

Dr. Fishkin is the author, editor or co-editor of over forty books and has published over eighty articles, essays and reviews. Her work has been translated into Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Georgian, and Italian, and has been published in English-language journals in Turkey, Japan, and Korea. She is the author of: From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America (winner of a Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Award for outstanding research in journalism history) (Johns Hopkins, 1985); Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices (selected as an "Outstanding Academic Book" by Choice) (Oxford, 1993); Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (Oxford, 1997), and Feminist Engagements: Forays Into American Literature and Culture (selected as an "Outstanding Academic Title" by Choice) (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2009). She is the editor of the 29-volume Oxford Mark Twain (Oxford, 1996; Paperback reprint edition, 2009), the Oxford Historical Guide to Mark Twain (Oxford, 2002), "Is He Dead?" A New Comedy by Mark Twain (University of California, 2003), Mark Twain's Book of Animals (Univerisity of California Press, 2009), and The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on his LIfe and Work (Library of America, 2010). She is also a producer of the adaptation of Twain's "Is He Dead?" which had its world debut on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre in 2007, and was nominated for a Tony Award. She is the co-editor of Listening to Silences: New Essays in Feminist Criticism (Oxford, 1994); People of the Book: Thirty Scholars Reflect on Their Jewish Identity (Wisconsin, 1996); The Encyclopedia of Civil Rights in America (M.E. Sharpe, 1997); Mark Twain at the Turn of the Century, 1890-1910 (Arizona Quarterly, 2005); 'Sport of the Gods' and Other Essential Writing by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Random House, 2005), Anthology of American Literature, ninth edition (Prentice-Hall, 2006), Concise Anthology of American Literature, seventh edition (Prentice-Hall, 2010), and a special issue of African American Review devoted to the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar (autumn 2007). From 1993 to 2003 she co-edited Oxford University Press's "Race and American Culture" book series with Arnold Rampersad. She was co-founder of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman society, and has been president of the Mark Twain Circle of America and chair of the MLA Nonfiction Prose Division. She recently finished a term as President of the American Studies Association, and gave keynote talks during the last five years at national American Studies conferences in China, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Russia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. Her research has been featured twice on the front page of the New York Times, and in 2009 she was awarded the Mark Twain Circle's Certificate of Merit "for long and distinguished service in the elucidation of the work, thought, life and art of Mark Twain." She is t a member of the Board of Governors of the Humanities Research Institute of the University of California, and is a founding Editor of the new online Journal of Transnational American Studies [see http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/march11/fishkin-publishes-american-studies-journal-030409.html and http://humanexperience.stanford.edu/twainanimals].

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Shelley Fisher Fishkin clearly loves her work. She loves Mark Twain and she loves being able to write about him and teach about him. This book, written in an invitingly direct and personal style free of jargon, is best read as a voyage into the life and thought of a fine and creative scholar fully engaged with her chosen subject.
The book is arranged into three chapters. The first, "The Matter of Hannibal," ably juxtaposes Fishkin's experience of a visit to Hannibal, MO, and her reflections on that visit with her investigation of the role of Hannibal, MO, and Twain's youthful experiences on his classic novels THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER and THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. The second, EXCAVATIONS, is a quasi-autobiographical account of her research and writing of her most famous book (WAS HUCK BLACK? MARK TWAIN AND AFRICAN-AMERICAN VOICES), blended with her reflections on the controversy surrounding HUCKLEBERRY FINN as an allegedly racist book. The last chapter, RIPPLES AND REVERBERATIONS, is a blend of historical literary criticism and meditations on the uses to which Americans and others have put Mark Twain the writer, "Mark Twain" the self-created character, and Mark Twain the human being.
LIGHTING OUT FOR THE TERRITORY is a lovely book; it's a dream to read, and it's thought-provoking in the best sense. It's a model of how literary critics should write both for one another and for a wider audience, and it's an eye-opening examination of one of the greatest writers this country -- or the human race -- ever produced.
-- R.B. Bernstein, Adjunct Professor of Law, New York Law School
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Format: Paperback
This book is all over the map. At its best the book covers the intellectual and moral distance from Twain's boyhood in Hannibal (where slavery was accepted as "natural") to his Elmira, Connecticut evolution, where, as a kind of Southern expatriate (and son-in-law of a fervent abolitionist living in an important Underground railway stop), he challenged himself and the nation to fight racial inequality. At its worst, the book is a somewhat self-important narrative of the author's journey from researcher to advocate. In toto, it is well worth reading.
Dr. Fishkin, editor of Oxford's complete works of Mark Twain, wrote the earlier "Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American voices" in which she argues that the "voice" of Huck Finn is drawn directly from the "rich creative oral tradition" of slaves and ex-slaves whom Twain met. Here she revisits Hannibal, the town that practiced "mild domestic slavery," though Twain's own father sold a slave "down the river" (and away from his family) for $40 worth of tar. Perhaps not coincidentally this is how much the eventually tar-feathered king and duke received for selling Jim. Racism is still evident in Hannibal, where the "erasure" of any black history mirrors the nationwide removal of "Huckleberry Finn" from school libraries. Fishkin argues convincingly that Twain's use of humor and irony serves, from Elmira onward, to expose, ridicule, and directly confront the enduring injustices of the Reconstruction years.
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I find the book very refreshing on a number of counts. First, it demonstrates the ways in which the actual history of Blacks and Whites in American has often been misrepresented not only by fake historical re-creations such as the ones the author encountered in Hanibal, but by school texts, historical markers, and museum exhibits as well. Balanced and fair-minded, she also points out the struggles of people like the mayor of Hanibal to correct those distortions. Second, she helps to put to rest the often repeated charge that Huckleberry Finn is a racist novel by putting it in the context of Twain's other writings. Because the book is not only informative, but interesting and easy to read,I will recommend this book to my students. I am very glad our library has it. Every college library should.
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Bear with me for a moment: Sometime around 7th grade, a teacher had my class keep scrapbooks with modern representations of Greek mythology. How quickly the books filled up with examples ranging from cartoons to place names, museum exhibits, sports writing and more! After cataloguing, we were asked, why do the myths live on? Lighting Out For the Territory reminds me of that exercise. It traces how America and Twain reached the point of the conception of Huckleberry Finn and asks how we have since lived with or, in some cases, without its lessons. What have we saved from Twain and his ideas, what have we lost of him and why? Was/is Twain and his work racist? Good questions, explored in the context of the scholar's personal adventures. Our author may not be able to do lunch in Hannibal, MO again soon, but she's welcome at my house any time.
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Disclosure: This book was a required text in one of my PhD courses, not something that I purchased for fun. (However, it is extremely readable and has so far been my favorite book in the course.)

Shelley Fisher Fishkin is renowned as one of THE greatest living scholars on Mark Twain, so if you want to understand Twain better, you really need to read Fishkin. Particularly considering how misunderstood Twain is today (spoiler alert: he was NOT racist), books like this one are helpful for getting at who and what he really was. It's a bit hard to classify exactly what this book is: it's not really literary criticism or biography or even autobiography (it has a lot of Fishkin's experiences and life detailed in it) -- it's kind of all of the above and then some.

The main point of this book is not so much about Twain himself (although Fishkin does go into that, too), but, rather, how he is received and interpreted. If you want a biography of Twain, this isn't the book that you want. While this book does go into racial attitudes regarding Twain, that, too, is not the only point or even the main point. If you are looking more for a cultural study, this is a great book for that pursuit.

Being an American Studies academic myself, I enjoyed the novelty of reading a text in which the scholar has inserted so much of herself -- it was a neat twist. I know firsthand how tied to your topic you can get when you spend years with it, so I spent much of the book smiling and nodding along with Fishkin's reminiscences. It's quite an easy read, compared to most academic books, and so you tend to breeze through this book relatively quickly, enjoying the journey. Definitely a nice break after reading a couple of particularly tiresome tomes!
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