Mr. Budd, Mr. Kiskis, and Mark Twain.
The sad impoverishment of the Mark Twain community by the recent passing of Louis J. Budd and Michael Kiskis is likely, among other things, to bring to mind (especially for old guys like me) our own mortality. But it also brings to mind the immortality of the sorts of intellectual endeavor that are so deeply woven into the lives of scholars like Lou and Michael-immortality, that is, in the way their work draws us out of ourselves and toward a pure consideration of the value of a life (Twain's) and its productions, both the enduring ones and the ephemeral.
Lou's and Michael's approaches to the study of Mark Twain represented, we might say, opposite ends of the spectrum. Lou focused on the public Mark Twain--emphasizing Twain's views on society in Mark Twain: Social Philosopher, contemporary responses to Twain's work in Mark Twain: The Contemporary Reviews, and the making of Twain's celebrated public persona in Our Mark Twain. Lou clearly was fascinated by the nature of celebrity itself and the ways in which Twain cultivated and exploited it. He brought to light the weight of responsibility that a writer as self-consciously aware as Mark Twain must carry, as a result of his fame and the prospect of leaving behind a lasting legacy.
Michael, on the other hand, attended to the private Mark Twain--both the publicly private Twain, as experienced in Mark Twain's Own Auto biography, which offered us (along with Michael's admirable introduction) the chapters of the Autobiography that Twain actually published himself, and also the more personal version of the private Twain that Michael liked to speculate about in a reader-response mode that effectively connected our twentieth and twenty-first century lives to Twain's.
When Lou died (at an advanced age, I'm glad to say), the thing that impressed me most was how many Mark Twain scholars came forward immediately with how-Lou-Budd-changed-my-professional-life declarations. So I was not the only one. But there certainly was no one more important in inducting me into Twain studies than Lou--both by his scholarly example and by the genuineness of his professional generosity.
As for Michael, I considered him a personal friend, as, I'm sure, many of his other professional associates did. Michael was that kind of person. And he considered Mark Twain to be his friend.
Lou was, of course, the Circle's first President, selected at the gathering of Twain enthusiasts at the storied 1986 MLA meeting at which the Circle was founded. I took on the task of editing the Circle's newsletter, the Mark Twain Circular, and Lou was my most frequent contributor as well as my indispensable advisor. Michael was there at that first meeting in 1986, too--a fact that I think he took some pride in. And in the many convenings of the Mark Twain faithful since then, he was among the most faithful and his presence among the most delightful.
Michael and Lou had a lot of fun in the company of Mark Twain and his friends, both past and present. We were fortunate to have them with us.
James S. Leonard
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|Title Annotation:||The President's Column; Mark Twain scholars Louis J. Budd and Michael Kiskis|
|Author:||Leonard, James S.|
|Publication:||Mark Twain Circular|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2011|
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