“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things….” So Lewis Carroll noted, and so it is today. Yesterday, I wrote a blog which featured the word “kill” in the title quote; it was from Mark Twain, the well-known, no, the famous American humorist (1835-1910). One of his comic remarks about duelling was this, and I quoted, sure that no one would miss the point: “I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.” My point (and one of his, about duelling) was this: when people conventionally fought duels, they followed a strict formula of challenge, acceptance, making nice formally through seconds until it was time (usually the next morning or at another set time and place, by a river, in a park, in a “quiet place” where they were unlikely to be disturbed), and then shooting at each other, often with the intention to kill. (I’m the one who feels really ignorant, explaining Twain’s joke!) Twain’s remark was a sort of funny tautology, meant to be appreciated for its apparent contradiction which led to precisely the same result: that is, a corpse. At least, a verbal one.
Now to the result of my post on WordPress: it was accepted by WordPress, but when it went through to Twitter, the joke and my (not totally dry) philosophical examination of the issue were not properly listed. Of course, the title was too long for an average tweet, but the whole thing could’ve been properly featured if only it had said, “Show summary,” where the rest of it could’ve been given. Conversations with various people, however, have given me to understand that part of the problem may’ve been that Twitter has an automatic filtering procedure for the length of the tweet, and that possibly the word “kill” set off alarms. But why? Is it because these days so many people are busy actually killing each other than they have no time to read the real sense of the essay I wrote, and missed Twain’s humor (and the little modest bit of my own that was included)? And that the rest of us have to police ours and others’ remarks so thoroughly that a witty remark can no longer function as what it is? Or am I just an over-educated blob who has no sense of what real life issues are? (I obviously hope you won’t conclude this last to be the real answer.)
Just ask yourself, though, was I on a plane, threatening myself or someone else, or trying to interfere with a train’s safe departure, or in a public place waving a gun? No, I was not. If the pen truly is mightier than the sword, then I would just like to stand up for people’s rights to read and make their own decisions, and furthermore, the necessity of educating people adequately so that no one becomes so austere and humorless that they can’t distinguish between a well-meant and (I thought) properly provocative essay or article and a violent manifesto. Mark Twain did, and wanted us to share in his perceptions. Remember Mark Twain–The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, Pudd’nhead Wilson, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Letters from the Earth, and other works? That’s the Mark Twain we’re talking about. If you haven’t read him yet, don’t let me scare you away with the thought that he’s troublesome–of course he is, as any true humorist can be. But he’s also well worth the trouble of acquaintance. Shadowoperator