Printer's Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution

Printer's Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution

Printer's Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution

Printer's Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution

Synopsis

Trained as a printer when still a boy, and thrilled throughout his life by the automation of printing and the headlong expansion of American publishing, Mark Twain wrote about the consequences of this revolution for culture and for personal identity. Printer's Devil is the first book to explore these themes in some of Mark Twain's best-known literary works, and in his most daring speculations--on American society, the modern condition, and the nature of the self. Playfully and anxiously, Mark Twain often thought about typeset words and published images as powerful forces--for political and moral change, personal riches and ruin, and epistemological turmoil. In his later years, Mark Twain wrote about the printing press as a center of metaphysical power, a force that could alter the fabric of reality. Studying these themes in Mark Twain's writings, Bruce Michelson also provides a fascinating overview of technological changes that transformed the American printing and publishing industries during Twain's lifetime, changes that opened new possibilities for content, for speed of production, for the size and diversity of a potential audience, and for international fame. The story of Mark Twain's life and art, amid this media revolution, is a story with powerful implications for our own time, as we ride another wave of radical change: for printed texts, authors, truth, and consciousness.

Excerpt

This book grew out of many conversations about the information revolution that engulfs us and the relevance of Mark Twain to our thinking about it. the literary text is encountered now as an electronic wraith as well as a physical object, and authors living and dead are sailing through cyberspace like Captain Stormfield on his comet. the printed word is challenged and reified by elegant technologies of sight and sound; cultural experience, globalizing and incorporated, grows gaudier and noisier every week. For so many reasons, then, the time is ripe for another book about a writer who told his last stories with primitive implements—ink and pencil and typewriter—at the opening of the last century!

Mark Twain is often remembered as an American pioneer. We know him as a voice for a new populace, as an early, bold explorer of impossible modern questions—about social and political identity and the innermost actualities of the self. Grounded in facts from his life, each reconstruction connects him to our world. Each provides a measure of continuity and depth to an endless dialogue about who and where we are, historically and morally, and how we came to be here.

But we also need a heightened sense of how Mark Twain responded to technological upheavals that resemble and foreshadow our own predicaments. What palpable consequences, and darker implications, did Sam Clemens foresee or experience firsthand as he joined in a revolution that changed every major process for representing and disseminating human experience? He was a printer, investor, inventor, publisher, amateur illustrator, and media celebrity as well as a literary artist. His identities were many, and his life was rich and complex; and every venture into it benefits . . .

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