On Wednesday, July 7 Mika Turim-Nygren presented “Twain’s Modernism: The Death of Speech in Huckleberry Finn as the Birth of a New Aesthetic” at the Park Church. While critics may wrestle with Huckleberry Finn’s role in the American canon – including what Hemingway meant by singling it out for praise – they usually agree that Huck sounds as lifelike as “a real boy talking out loud.” Yet Twain himself believed that “the moment ‘talk’ is put into print” it turned into a “corpse.” His solution was a specifically written mode of ‘talk’: while Huck’s catchphrases derive from racialized speech, they have been severed from their origins so as to belong on the page rather than in anyone’s mouth. Huck’s voice transforms the kind of minority speech associated with the country’s deepest divisions into the kind of literary language that everyone could recognize as “purely American.”
Mika Turim-Nygren is an American Literature Faculty member at Bard High School Early College DC, part of the Bard College network. Her current book project concerns 19th-century American dialect literature, and more broadly, the relationship between racialized dialect and the formation of national literatures worldwide. Published work related to this project includes “Twain’s Modernism: The Death of Speech in Huckleberry Finn as the Birth of a New Aesthetic,” in the Spring 2020 issue of J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, and “Bret Harte’s Birtherism: Dialect Literature and the Fiction of Native-Born Citizenship,” forthcoming in the Spring 2021 legal issue of nonsite.org.
You can check out past 2021 CMTS lectures and see what coming up by clicking HERE.