2022 Spring Trouble Begins Lectures

Wednesday, May 25 at Quarry Farm (7:00pm)

“’Our One Really Effective Weapon’: Mark Twain and Humor as a Social Tool” 

Elizabeth Cantalamessa, University of Miami

“Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution–these can lift at a colossal humbug,–push it a little…but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast.”

Mark Twain, “The Mysterious Stranger”
Image is an illustration of Mark Twain and King Edward VII from Washington Times, June 28, 1907

Mark Twain understood that humor was not merely a psychological response, but a tool that allows us to do things that we could not do as effectively with other, more literal forms of speech. While it might seem like indirect methods of communication are generally less successful than straightforward deliberation, Twain’s work demonstrates that humor can be a useful tool for challenging social conventions in contexts where explicit justification would be too risky, controversial, or sabotage one’s goals. For example, Twain often employed parody to reveal latent absurdities in traditional Christian values and beliefs. Contrast Twain’s use of parody with someone stating that, “Traditional Christian values are full of contradictions.” This declaration obligates the speaker to explain why their criticism is true, which would undermine the successfulness of the critique altogether. I’ll argue that Twain’s authorship provides a model of humor as a tool for inquiry and helps us locate the communicative contexts in which humor might be the most effective weapon.

Elizabeth Cantalamessa is a PhD candidate and instructor in philosophy at the University of Miami whose research lies at the intersection of social philosophy, philosophy of language, and philosophical methodology. Her dissertation proposes an alternative model of humor as a tool with unique expressive powers that allows speakers to publicly demonstrate socially-significant values without explicit justification, which captures how humor serves as a tool for revealing, reinforcing, and challenging social norms. She is a 2022 Quarry Farm Fellow and has published in The British Journal of Aesthetics, Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, as well as the online public philosophy outlets Aeon, Psyche, and Aesthetics for Birds.


Wednesday, May 18 at Quarry Farm (7:00pm)

“A Copyright Ignored? Mark Twain, Mary Ann Cord, and the Meaning of Authorship” 

Timothy J. McFarlin, Samford University – Cumberland School of Law

Mary Ann Cord, Cook at Quarry Farm

Did Mark Twain and the Atlantic infringe a copyright belonging to Mary Ann Cord? And does that copyright still exist today? In 1874 Cord told Twain and his family the heartrending and astounding story of how her family had been torn from her when she was enslaved, and how she was then liberated, years later, by her youngest son, Henry, now a Union soldier. Twain proceeded to write Cord’s story down from memory, organizing it chronologically, editing it, and describing how she told it. Twain published this manuscript in The Atlantic Monthly as “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It,” for money, under his name alone. 

My talk will explore whether Cord had a common-law copyright in how she expressed her story and whether Twain and the Atlantic infringed on it. If so, Cord’s descendants may still hold that copyright today. In this way, these questions connect to our society’s current debates over reparations, as well as our longstanding examination of what it means to be an author.

Tim McFarlin is an Associate Professor at Samford University – Cumberland School of Law where he teaches courses relating to property and contract law; he specializes in intellectual property such as copyrights. His scholarship explores how the law intersects and interacts with the creative arts. He has previously written about the life, work, and disputes of artists like Chuck Berry and Orson Welles, mining them for insights into copyright law and the concept of authorship. He was raised in Missouri, like Twain, and practiced law in St. Louis. Trips to Hannibal as a boy and adult are cherished memories.

Watch Timothy J. McFarlin’s Lecture HERE

Wednesday, May 11 at Quarry Farm (7:00pm)

 “‘A Yankee in Kennedy’s Court: The Humorous American Story and the Mark Twain Prize 

Charline Jao, Cornell University

Harper’s Weekly illustration of Karl Gerhardt’s bust, the model used for the Mark Twain Prize

Nearly every year since 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has honored an individual for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. From the inaugural honoree Richard Pryor to this year’s Jon Stewart, there is a wide range of talent in this hall of fame, each with their own Twainian resonance. Yet, the claims of the award provide a telling portrait of the evolving relationship between comedy and American politics. The various ceremonies – which include the awarding of a bronze-colored bust of Twain, a fundraising ceremony filled with speeches, and an optional visit to the White House – simultaneously affirm the power of humor and draw the limits of comedic criticism. Taking Stewart, his avowed “anti-bullshit” ethos, and Daily Show tenure as its main focus (and examining this work through Twain’s dissections of the comedic persona in texts like “On the Decay of the Art of Lying,” “My First Lie and How I Got Out of It,” and “How to Tell a Story”), this talk interrogates the award’s claims to promoting unity and rewarding fearless observation. Rather than a simple elevation of comedy as an art form, the award stages constant friction between political criticism, humor, power, prestige, and cultural absorption.

Charline Jao is a graduate student in the Literatures in English Department at Cornell University. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century American literature, with special interest in speculative work by women writers and print culture. She is currently working on a digital humanities project that catalogues poetry published in abolitionist periodicals.

Watch Charline Jao’s Lecture HERE.

Wednesday, May 4 at Quarry Farm (7:00pm)

“Found in Translation: Mark Twain’s Italian Humor”

Fred L. Gardaphe, Queens College/CUNY and the John D. Calandra Italian/American Institute

Image comes from Mark Twain’s “Italian Without A Master,” first appearing in Harper’s Weekly for January 2, 1904

 U.S. Americans were laughing at Italians long before they were laughing with them. Like all new immigrants, Italians served as targets of American humor, first through fear of their differences, then out of familiarity with their peculiarities.Scholars suggest that this is simply part of the process by which that minority is incorporated into the identity mosaic of the United States. 

In a society governed by representation, a way of controlling people, beyond the law system, is through humiliation through humor, where laughter and ridicule serve as effective weapons of mass reduction, distorting identities through the creation of stereotypes that serve a variety of purposes. Humor, especially when ironic, can also reveal the prejudices and biases of those making fun of the new arrivals to the country. 

Gardaphe examines the Italian references in Twain’s works, including The Innocents Abroad, “Italian with Grammar,” “Italian Without a Master,” A Tramp Abroad, Pudd’nhead Wilson, and his autobiography, to show how his ironic approach to Italy and the Italian people differs from most U.S. American writers of his time.

 Fred L. Gardaphe is a Distinguished Professor of English and Italian/American Studies at Queens College/CUNY and the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute. He is a Fulbright Fellow (University of Salerno, Italy (2011) and past president of the Italian American Studies Association (formerly AIHA), MELUS, and the Working Class Studies Association. His books include Italian Signs, American Streets: The Evolution of Italian American Narrative, Dagoes Read: Tradition and the Italian/American Writer, Moustache Pete is Dead!, Leaving Little Italy, and From Wiseguys to Wise Men: Masculinities and the Italian American Gangster. He is currently working on a study of humor and irony in Italian American culture, which is the basis for this talk. 

Watch Fred L. Gardaphe’s Lecture HERE

The Barn at Quarry Farm

The Barn at Quarry Farm has been repurposed as a lecture venue. This was made possible from a generous preservation grant from the Jon Ben Snow Memorial Trust.

Attendees can park on Crane Road or on the grassy area behind the Barn. Quarry Farm is a fragile, natural environment. Please exercise care. If using a GPS, enter 131 Crane Road, Elmira, New York

Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall
Elmira College Campus

Lectures may also be held in Peterson Chapel in Elmira College’s Cowles Hall. The chapel features a series of stained glass windows depicted the history and traditions of the college, including one of Twain in front of his study and one of his wife, Elmira College alumnus Olivia Clemens, on front of the porch at Quarry Farm. There is also a Mark Twain Exhibit in Cowles Hall.

The address of Elmira College is 1 Park Place, Elmira, NY 14901. Cowles Hall is on the east side of Park Place, behind the Fasset Commons Art building on Washington Avenue. In front of Cowles Hall is a small man-made pond known as “The Puddle” and the Mark Twain Study. Public parking may be found off of North Main Street, at the north east corner of campus.

The Park Church

Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, including Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s father-in-law, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history. Some of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain, including Susan Crane, who donated flowers from Quarry Farm every Sunday. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community. Thomas K. Beecher, brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe and friend of Mark Twain, was the first minister at the Park Church and presided over its construction. Before its demolition in 1939, the Langdon Mansion was located directly across from the Park Church.

The Park Church is located at 208 West Grey Street, Elmira, New York.