The 2019 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, continues on Wednesday, August 14 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira. The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.
The lecture, “The Dread of Filth in Twain: Cultures of Mysophobia in Post-Pasteurian Medicine and 3,000 Years among the Microbes,” will be presented by Don James McLaughlin, University of Tulsa. This talk examines Mark Twain’s unfinished manuscript 3,000 Years among the Microbes, written in Dublin, New Hampshire in 1905. More precisely, McLaughlin will provide a historical backdrop for the manuscript by putting it in dialogue with two major shifts in medical thought at the end of the nineteenth century: (1) the rise of microbiology, introducing a new discourse for articulating the relationship of bacteria and viruses to infectious disease, established largely by Louis Pasteur’s successes in vaccination; and (2) the emergence of an international psychiatric discourse revolving around mysophobia, meaning a dread of filth and contamination. Written from the perspective of a cholera germ named Huck who has infected a tramp named Blitzowski, 3,000 Years meditates on both discourses, exploring microbiology’s ramifications for human understandings of life, agency, and subjectivity, while also pursuing a mysophobic aesthetic: a state of readerly repugnance generated by the landscape of infection and bodily functions Huck and his microbe friends inhabit. McLaughlin uses 3,000 Years to argue that we cannot understand the rise of mysophobia (as either a diagnosis or an aesthetic) without also understanding its historical relationship to the landscape of invisible infectious agents introduced to human consciousness through the birth of microbiology as a science.
McLaughlin is an assistant professor of nineteenth-century American literature at the University of Tulsa and the 2018-2019 Hench post-dissertation fellow at the American Antiquarian Society. His work has been published in American Literature and the New Republic and is forthcoming in Literature and Medicine and J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists.
About The Park Church
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. 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. Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.
About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.