The Expressive Body, Gesture, and Writing
For Mark Twain as a writer profoundly concerned about authenticity in representation, but constantly troubled by uncertainties and unreliabilities in expression, the expressive body became a locus of concern and a theater for experiment. Nineteenth-century theories of acting enhanced this interest as they elaborated conceptions of the body as the actor's medium, and especially as they drew on advances in physiology and biology to characterize the body and its processes as privileged vehicles of expression. William Archer's Masks or Faces? A Study in the Psychology of Acting exemplifies this tendency; as I observed in the previous chapter, its assertion that credible acting is grounded in involuntary (and therefore unfeigned) expressions of emotion, in processes of stimulus and response shaped more by neural networks and evolutionary habit than by the mind, drew directly on an emergent psychophysiology. Archer's mingling of acting theory and biological science was only an instance in much larger confluences of thought that sought continuities between emotion and corporeal expression, mind and physiology, identity and legible signs of it in the body. At stake were radical reconceptions of expression and representation.
The gesturing, blushing, weeping body became for Twain a means for raising questions about the immediacy of representation, especially about the directness of connection between emotion and expression. Especially consequential, I will argue, the bodily processes of expression provided Twain with a model for conceiving of representation generally in terms of physical registration. The somatic circuit between, say, an emotion and its expression offered a model of reference based on something more than resemblance or mimesis. When Hank Morgan, in A Connecticut Yankee , sees the look of gratitude on the face of a condemned mother when a priest pledges to care for her baby, he says: "You should have seen her face then! Gratitude?
Lord, what do you want with words to express that? Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself" (403). This alternative to mimesis or "painted fire," this sense of the presence of the actual thing, became his model for expression and representation. The extension and testing of this model as analogy, measure, and ideal for any kind of representation—including writing—occupied Twain throughout most of his career. While this is a pursuit of reference and reality quite unlike that of the more widely recognized theorists of realism, such as Howells or James, it should nonetheless resituate Twain as a kind of "realist," sophisticatedly in quest of "sincerity," "the genuine," and "the real," focused on connections between the body surface and its interior, gesture and emotion, sign and referent.
The problem, as Twain most immediately grappled with it, was put squarely by Darwin in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)—a book Twain read and annotated. The "movements of expression," Darwin asserted, "reveal the thoughts and intentions of others more truly than do words, which may be falsified."Was this the case? The question was a crucial one for a writer in pursuit of genuineness and sincerity. For Darwin, bodily expressions of emotion were more reliable because they tended to be involuntary, unconscious, reflexive. For Twain, such features fixed a reference point. To the degree that bodily registrations of emotion, thought, and character were unconscious, they promised truthful revelation—and raised the threat of self-exposure. To the degree that bodily signs were automatic, results of a chain of physical processes, they overcame the seemingly unbridgeable gap between such arbitrary signs as words and their referents. Twain's fiction became an arena for testing the reliability of bodily signs, as well as for investigating whether verbal expressions could aspire to the status of the unconscious, automatic, or reflexive.
Twain addressed the automatism of the bodily expression of emotion as early as 1869, when in chapter 28 of The Innocents Abroad he wrote about sorrow scientifically analyzed:
There are nerves and muscles in our frames whose functions and whose methods of working it seems a sort of sacrilege to describe by cold physiological names and surgical technicalities.... Fancy a surgeon, with his nippers lifting tendons, muscles, and such things into view, out of the complex machinery of a corpse, and observing, "Now this little nerve quivers—the vibration is imparted to this muscle—from here it is passed to this fibrous substance; here its ingredients are
separated by the chemical action of the blood—one part goes to the heart and thrills it with what is popularly termed emotion, another part follows this nerve to the brain and communicates intelligence of a startling character, the third part glides along this passage and touches the spring connected with the fluid receptacles that lie in the rear of the eye. Thus, by this simple and beautiful process, the party is informed that his mother is dead, and he weeps." Horrible!
The clinically scientific nature of this account of bereavement would supposedly also be repellent, at least to aesthetic sensibilities, in a physiological account of creative activity, or in a biological rationalization of an actor's emotional expression. Nonetheless, in it lay both repulsion and attraction for Mark Twain, the attraction derived partly from a view of expression as a circuit coursing through a physical "machinery," unimpeded by a dissimulating consciousness. The stimulus travels, by quivers, vibrations, and chemical action, to the tear ducts; a direct response of bodily mechanism, weeping is therefore uncensored, uncensorable, an involuntary effect of a nervous disturbance.
This "analysis" of sorrow must bring to mind Twain's better-known account of beauty destroyed by "scientific" knowledge—his story in chapter 9 of Life on the Mississippi (1883) about learning to read the "face" of the river, so that it "told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets." Being able to see in this surface the hideous underlying secrets of treacherous rocks and wrecks killed "the grace, the beauty, the poetry" of the Mississippi, just as the surgeon's understanding defiled the sanctity of sorrow. But there is another similarity. The signs that make up "the language of this water" and turn it into a "wonderful book" are not arbitrary and symbolic, like words. The "faint dimple" on the surface physically registers the presence of a wreck or a rock. When Twain asserts that "those tumbling 'boils' show a dissolving bar" and "that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef," "referring" and "showing" identify direct and concrete transmissions. The signs are made by contact, by a material circuit, much as the vibrations and quivers in the body physically connected weeping to its nervous stimulus.
When, in the last paragraph of this chapter on the Mississippi, Twain more explicitly compares the face of the river to the face of a woman—whose "dimple," "boils," and "marks" are symptoms of a hidden interior—the metaphor of the river's surface as a "skin" is secured. "What does the lovely flush in a beauty's cheek mean to a doc-
tor," he asks, "but a 'break' that ripples above some deadly disease? Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay?" These symptoms, too, are physical, the effect of natural processes. The mysterious, and apparently horrible, interiors of the woman and the river are there to see, registered on the surface. I would like to leave aside, but only for the moment, the sharply gendered dimensions of these images—the familiar, voyeuristic relation of male analysts and experts diagnosing female bodies and unveiling female interiors as legible and controllable, this conjunction of prurience and the pursuit of truth—in order to focus temporarily on another point. Implicit in Twain's comparison, I would suggest, is a distinction that Charles S. Peirce, at the turn of the century, would describe as that between arbitrary and conventional "symbolic" signs, such as words, and nonarbitrary "indexical" signs, which signify through a physical relationship, are caused by their referents, and exist as traces of the material presence they point to. Mark Twain became fascinated, I will argue, by the possibility that physical transmission was the most faithful means of representation; he tried to locate a reliability for signification in physical contact, in tracks and traces, a pursuit that ultimately focused on the issue, or expression, of the body's material circuits—skin, flesh, muscles, nerves, electric charges, physical force.
But from the start, problems beset and bedeviled Twain's investment in the reliability of these physically registered signs. As the foregoing examples suggest, embracing the natural, fleshly, automatically functioning body as a medium for emotion or thought meant embracing a passivity—and, ultimately, a "femininity"—in the processes of representation. Ways of confronting the femininity culturally superimposed on the creative body, but also evading it, repeatedly occupied Mark Twain's attention in his stories and prose as he embraced for himself the certainties that bodily expression, free of conscious dissimulation, appeared to offer, but then retreated to the companionate position—that of the "masculine" mind, the conscious observer and detached interpreter, the surgeon, the riverboat pilot, the physician, the knowing recipient of unwitting bodily selfbetrayal. From the latter position, separated from the physical chain of signification, another difficulty emerged: even natural, indexical signs lost their certainty, became a language that had to be learned, accessible to the expert, but subject to his misreadings, and liable to
be misread by everyone else. Yet, if in his thinking such signs were liable to lose their certainty and justify the metaphor that they too were a "language" and an "alphabet," Mark Twain also held out the possibility that words and language themselves could in some ways aspire to the automatism and naturalness of the index. Writing and speech, that is, could be partly the results of habits, reflexes, unconscious processes; they could be uttered automatically, without censorship; they could have a residue in them of the body. My concerns in this chapter, then, are Twain's versions of the language of the physical, especially of the body, and the ways in which the body might infuse language. The alphabet of gesture and the physiology of writing meet to shape this territory.
Mark Twain's pursuit of certainty in representation—an earnest enough undertaking—was nonetheless persistently accompanied by destabilizations of the grounds of such certainty. His early study of phrenology, which helped set the stage for his interest in the reliability of bodily registrations of one's interior, was perhaps the least vexed instance of his long-standing inquiry. For the eighteen-year-old Samuel Clemens, the allure of phrenology lay in the certainty associated with the indexical. If the material surface of the body registered—as a mold would, through physical impression—the qualities of the interior, the science of phrenology could secure not only the knowledge it promised about dissimulating or dangerous strangers but also the surety of Clemens's own identity. The strain in phrenology of materialist science that reduced the incomprehensible human mind to the potentially mappable brain promised to sweep away the uncertainties of representation by certifying the reliability of physical transmission from cerebrum to cranium and from inner character to body type.
But Twain's subsequent considerations of indexical signs, and his pointed juxtapositions of bodily signs and other indexical signs, served in a thoroughgoing way to map the limits of their reliability and to undo the opposition between the natural and the conventional on which this reliability rested. In the process of doing this, he also invoked, and at the same time undermined, the social security that rested on the promise of indexical signs—as he used such signs to
identify, but not always positively, kings and criminals, innocents and murderers. Let us take the striking example from one of Twain's later stories, "Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy" (1897–99), in which traces of the body function at the melodramatic moment of revelation as the assurance of the truthful plumbing of mystery. Detective Flacker, who has convinced the townsfolk that he "could read every little sign he come across same as if it was a book, and you couldn't hide nothing from him" (230–31), nonetheless wrongly makes Jim out to be a murderer. His "circumstantial" evidence pales next to Tom's indexical evidence—the king's bootprint, the false teeth of the duke—which verifies the familiar impostors as the culprits partly because its physical fit does not seem to require "reading" or interpretation, because these signs do not have the drawbacks of those in a "book" (242). As Peirce later characterized the relation between the indexical sign and its referent, "the interpreting mind has nothing to do with this connection, except remarking it, after it is established" (114). Flacker's "expert" reading of his "book" of signs is discredited by the signs verified through their fit rather than their interpretation.
But if the bootprint and the teeth register their referents in a way analogous to the imprint of the phrenological brain on the cranium, we nonetheless see instability among the oppositions on which indexical certainty lies—oppositions between imprint and symbol, physical process and interpretation, the body and the mind, the natural and the artificial. Tom points, after all, to the imprint of a boot, not a foot, and to the fit of false teeth, not real ones. Such toying with these "natural" signs could only have been intentional. Breaches have been made in the chain of material signification, unleashing confusions between the "naturally automatic" and the artfully manufactured, and raising doubts about the reliability of such signs for deciding identity, character, and event.
Far from an incidental or occasional concern, this moment in "Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy" has a long prehistory. The most familiar echoing instance is the sign that assures Huck Finn that his father, Pap, has returned to St. Petersburg—a bootprint with a devil-repelling cross made with nails in the left heel. Pap's presence is verified not only through the print of a boot rather than a foot, but also through the imprint of an iconic, cultural symbol (what calls attention to its status as icon and symbol more than a cross does?). Peter Wilks's tattoo works to similar effect. More permanent, like a fingerprint, than
other bodily features, an indelible mark on the skin with a kinship therefore to the indices of phrenology and palmistry, it is nonetheless a cultural sign, iconic or symbolic—a thin blue arrow, according to the king, or the initials "P-B-W," according to the real Harvey Wilks (255). Twain further twists this sign by using it to identify the live Wilkses, rather than the dead, tattooed one, as if the entire project of identifying marks has lost its anchoring and has been set adrift in a sea of indirection. At the same time that symbols with some features of indexical signs are used as "surer" identifiers, indexical signs imprint conventional symbols and thereby lose their precultural immediacy. Mark Twain repeatedly rehearses versions of this problem, invoking, yet foiling, the oppositions that might clarify signification.
The text in which Twain most directly engages the question of the reliability and informativeness of signs on the body's surface and of indexical imprints is, of course, Pudd'nhead Wilson . And there he again experiments, testing links in the chain of physical transmission. As Susan Gillman, Michael Rogin, and David R. Sewell have pointed out, the best-known moment in Twain's writing of revelation and betrayal by the body—Wilson's use of fingerprints to expose the slave identity of the supposed "Tom Driscoll"—says nothing about inherent racial identity. Indeed, the whorls and ridges express nothing about character, temperament, or psychological interior. The integrity of indexical transfer between glass pane and fingerprints remains intact, but the fantasy of the equally reliable transfer between one's psychological or biological interior and the skin surface (the unrealized hope of both Mark Twain and his source, Francis Galton's Finger Prints ) pointedly fails? Yet palmistry in this novel works differently. The traces of character, experience, and even future deeds demonstrably exist in the lines of Luigi's palm. It is Wilson's reading that falls short—a problem the fingerprints seemingly are not subject to, with their indisputable, point-by-point correspondence between imprint and pattern.
Contrary to Rogin's argument that the representational reliability of the palms compositionally predates the later crisis of representation exemplified by the failure of fingerprints to express categories of identity, I would argue that these two moments are instances of an ongoing inquiry. They are distinguished primarily by the slightly different impediments to representational immediacy. The fingerprints provide a certain sign (easily legible) but an uncertain referent
(the uncertainty of identity); the palm produces a certain referent (Luigi's character) but an uncertain sign (it is hard to read). The difference lies in the location of the break in the material chain of transmission. Near the end of the novel the kind of difficulty posed by the juxtaposition of palmistry and fingerprinting is repeated. There the prosecutor Pembroke Howard, like Detective Flacker, has a "chain of circumstantial evidence" convicting the Capello twins. While the chain is "without a break or fault in it anywhere" (100), it is nonetheless unattached to the physical realities of the case. This circumstantial evidence, by definition indirect and enabling only inference, falls before Wilson's fingerprints in a moment that seems to repudiate truth based on chains of logic and interpretation and to uphold truth based on material circuits. But, of course, if Howard's chain of logic is unchained from physical realities, Wilson's material signs are connected only tenuously to the elusive "identity" of "Tom Driscoll." It is precisely this metaphor of the chain of representation that crystallizes the problems Twain engages, a metaphor that privileges physical connection, and provides the model of the broken link to conceive of failures in the "sign."
To reiterate and underscore the problem Twain has defined, the entry in Pudd'nhead's "Calendar" at the head of the first chapter about the trial casts doubt over Wilson's surer evidence at the same time that it (though somewhat facetiously) reconsiders the registration in one's "marks" of inherent identity: "Even the clearest and most perfect circumstantial evidence is likely to be at fault, after all, and therefore ought to be received with great caution. Take the case of any pencil, sharpened by any woman: if you have witnesses, you will find she did it with a knife; but if you take simply the aspect of the pencil, you will say she did it with her teeth" (99). Preceding as it does Wilson's triumph with the fingerprints, which are opposed , seemingly, to Pembroke Howard's "circumstantial evidence," these marks, like fingerprints, ought to provide a perfect match—with either knife or teeth. Instead they are confoundingly equated with circumstantial, indirect evidence rather than with direct and essential proof. The physically transmitted sign yields its certainty to testimony, seemingly because the power of gynephobic interpretation (perhaps preferring the dental threat to that of the knife) shrouds the truth of the indexical marks. The problem of palmistry, of reading, resurfaces. On the other hand, however, these marks do reliably identify the gender of the
sharpener. "Any pencil" sharpened by "any woman" will look like this, as if the peculiar movements of the female body will always reliably register themselves in this predictable pattern. The matter of the expressiveness of the body, in other words, is far from resolved, as Twain invokes and destabilizes the clarifying oppositions between direct and indirect proof, essential and circumstantial evidence, and material and hermeneutic circuits.
Gesture, Revelation, and "Natural Language"
If the detective story of Pudd'nhead Wilson moved purposefully from a universe of potentially meaningful signs to a sign rooted (though perhaps not so securely) in the body, it also submitted the body itself to this process, winnowing its reliable surfaces from the possibly dissimulative. Wilson discounts face, hair, height, and "form" as bodily signs that can be counterfeited, duplicated, disguised, hidden, worn away, or otherwise rendered illegible; fingerprints, quite differently, are "physical marks which do not change their character, and by which [one] can always be identified—and that without shade of doubt or question" (108). Wilson's purpose here parallels a nineteenth-century tradition that pursued both certainty of meaning and stability of character. The still influential physiognomy of Johann Caspar Lavater declared that stature, gait, bearing, gesture, and handwriting revealed the inner self, but were less reliable than more permanent facial features—forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, profile—which he thought indicated unchanging mental powers and character. Phrenology, too, put its greatest store in the skin surface that contoured the sturdy skull, and in enduring signs of character rather than in the fleeting and potentially manipulable symptoms of interiority manifested in movement and facial expression.
Why, then, do Twain's fictional moments of revelation hinge as often on gesture as on the more permanent bodily indices? In The Prince and the Pauper , while the bodies of Tom Canty and Prince Edward are apparently indistinguishable, finally throwing the official proof of royalty onto the shaky grounds of memory, Tom's mother, having sensed that there is something strange about her "son," devises a convincing test. Knowing that ever since some gunpowder burst in Tom's face he casts his hand before his eyes when
he is startled out of his dreams or musings, she tries awakening and startling the boy a number of times, only to find that the "habitual gesture" is not there (115–17). Later, during the aptly named royal "recognition procession," the real Tom suddenly spies his mother in the throngs along the route, "and up flew his hand, palm outward, before his eyes; that old involuntary gesture born of a forgotten episode and perpetuated by habit!" Mrs. Canty, assured of his identity, runs to him, embraces his leg, and kisses it (304). A similar gestural revelation occurs in Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896), in which a convoluted network of lies, mistaken identities, misperceptions, and legal argument that pins the murder of Jubiter Dunlap on Uncle Silas Phelps is exploded when Jubiter, attending the trial disguised as a "deef and dummy," reveals himself to Tom by nervously and unconsciously engaging in his idiosyncratic habit of drawing an imaginary cross on his cheek with his finger.
These two characters' disguises are undone by involuntary, unconscious gestures, and certainly Mark Twain's interest lies in the contrast between their calculated disguises and their uncontrolled, gestural self-betrayal. Habitual gesture functions here as a hallmark of truth because it escapes the control of conscious feigning. Ultimately, however, such gestures resembled indexical signs not only because they bypassed consciousness, but also because, according to the scientific theory Twain avidly read, gestural circuits too were physical and physiological, a kind of bodily chain.
Darwin's Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals , whose sections on gestural expression as habit and reflex action Twain had heavily underscored and annotated, had the general aim of identifying what Darwin called "true expression," by which he meant expression neither conscious nor conventional, expressions that are automatic responses of human organisms and no longer prompted or fully controlled by the will.Most expressive movements, Darwin ultimately claimed, were innate, inherited residues of movements useful for survival—as a sneer is the residual effect of baring the canine tooth (352). Gestural expression was "natural" in this sense, universal and automatic rather than acquired and willfully used as a language is, difficult to suppress or falsify, and therefore apt to expose people's real thoughts and emotions.
One of Darwin's concerns was to make distinctions between emotionally expressive actions that were "reflexive" in the sense of being actions purely and simply of the nervous system—relays from sen-
sory to motor nerves—and more complex actions that happened similarly outside of volition but were the products of habit. His study, however, effectively weakened this distinction as it argued that in the evolutionary process habits useful for survival were implanted into reflexes (39–40), that habitual actions had a physiological basis in the tendency of nerve force to travel in well-worn channels (69–71), and that habitual gestures were difficult to distinguish from reflexive ones (35–36). For Mark Twain this muddling—the confusion between signs relayed by physical circuits and habitual signs whose origins presumably lay in consciousness—obviously demarcated a territory of concern. The genesis of Tom Canty's gesture of both protection and fear clearly enough lay in reflex. But Twain roots it equally in habit, pointedly foregrounding the uncertainty.
When in 1896 Twain read William James's version of emotional expression in The Principles of Psychology (1890), he would have had even more reason to class gestural emotional expression with indices in the category of physically transmitted signs. In James's theory the body does not actually "express" the emotions; rather, emotion is simply how our adaptive, survivalist, bodily, reflexive responses feel: anger is what it feels like to hit someone, fear is what it feels like to tremble. Emotions have physical causes, are directly linked to the body—indeed, consist solely of bodily symptoms, and come "from parts below," without the mediation or interference of ideas, cognition, or any "cerebral processes" (II, 472). Here lay a justification for a materialist rooting of signification and for elevating gestural "expression" above any conscious dissimulation. Yet this version of the body's revelations still failed, it seems, to gain Twain's full consent. Jubiter Dunlap's gestural index of fear is the tracing of a cross on his cheek. In the same way that Twain complicates the index by placing the cultural icon of the cross in Pap's bootprint, he questions the innate circuit of gesture by making it issue in this most familiar example of a cultural symbol.
Gesture becomes a site for questioning the possibilities of representation, for separating and melding the categories at stake in Twain's concern over reference and realism: the physical and the conventional, materialism and language. In his play Cap'n Simon Wheeler, the Amateur Detective: A Light Tragedy , written in 1877, Twain presses the Darwinian suggestion that most expressive gestures are innate by ranging this universalism up against conceptions of codifi-
cation and language. Amateur detective Wheeler, eager to mimic the professionals, imitates the pacing, frowns, and gestures of a detective thinking out a problem. When his admiring wife, Jenny, tells him that he goes "through the motions as elegant as any detective I ever saw," Wheeler responds:
It's a big part of the business, too, to do it right.—I mean when there's people looking at you. Ah, when a detective's under the public eye, it's beautiful to see him go through the motions—beautiful! Why Jenny dear, you watch a detective, and you can follow his line of thought right straight through, just the same as a deef and dumb scholar can foiler his teacher's meaning when he stands on the school platform making signs . Now here—I'll do the head-shakes and nods, and so on, and I'll give you the language of each one as I make it. (271)
And Wheeler does perform a series of head-shakes and nods, all the while providing Jenny an interpretation of the thoughts and thought processes these gestures signify. However, the meanings he attributes to his gestures are preposterous, involving the impossible divining of his incoherent theories about the crime and detecting from the way in which he puts his nose in the air or slaps his forehead. The legibility and reliability of gestural signs are cancelled not only because they apparently rely on expertise and artifice—business, elegance, and theatrical beauty, as Wheeler suggests—but also because no concrete connection exists between Wheeler's babble of words and his babble of gestures.
A humorous send-up of stage detectives, of the detective-story tradition that a careful observer (like Poe's August Dupin) can discern another's private thoughts from facial and bodily expression, and of the notion that the signs of the body (both detective's and criminal's) could be reduced to a key, the Wheeler play nonetheless seriously engages the proposition that language and codification can infect and derail gestural expression. In a scene near the end of the play, the presumably murdered Hugh Burnside returns to town disguised as a deaf-mute tramp. He encounters a group that includes a character, Charles Dexter, who has studied "deaf and dumb signs," and Burnside "proceeds to make absurd signs and say 'Goo-goo' etc ." Dexter, unable to make any sense of Burnside's "extravagant signs and noises," laments that his "noble dream is dead!"—for he had imagined that sign language might serve as a "universal language," a natural language that would allow communication with "Christian and savage,
learned and ignorant." Millicent Griswold, however, the heroine of the play, rejoins that "there is one sign that is universal—the symbol of compassion," and she puts a coin in the "tramp's" hand, and he makes "signs and 'Goo-goo' of gratitude " (270).
As gesture moves toward language, Twain seems to suggest here, and toward codifications that lose gesture's corporeal grounding, it falters. Darwin had distinguished between expressive gestures rooted in practical survival and other gestures which, while perhaps seeming "natural," have actually "been learnt like the words of a language"—including "the finger-language used by the deaf and dumb" (352–55). The problem with Wheeler's "head-shakes and nods" is that he must teach "the language of each one," and the problem with sign language is that it is a language, and requires "a deef and dumb scholar" to make sense of it. Yet, the legibility of the isolated gestural sign, Millicent's sign of emotion, of compassion, apparently persists. We must infer, it seems, that such an act as her almsgiving, in which a deed and its meaning become indistinguishable, successfully roots the sign of the interior in its practical expression, much as Darwin rooted "true expression" in acts of survival. It is as if representation in languages is surpassed by both enactments and literal embodiments. Security of meaning then lies in materialism and pragmatism, in circuits of physical impression and concrete issue instead of in the resemblance of metaphor or the arbitrariness and relational meaning of language.
It is no accident that Mark Twain joined the question of the meaningfulness of gesture and language to the "deef and dumb" acts of Hugh Burnside and Jubiter Dunlap. Peter Brooks, in The Melodramatic Imagination , argues that nineteenth-century melodrama, in its attempt to negotiate what people were experiencing as a crisis in meaning precipitated by a perceived deficiency in language, turned both to gesture and to a generic deaf-mute figure. Melodrama took the body as a natural, universal medium whose expressions existed prior to the corruption and alienation worked upon meaning by words, Brooks argues, and it designated gesture as a means to recover immediacy, purity, and clarity of meaning (66–67). It concomitantly took the mute role as the repository, or embodiment, of unspoken, nonverbal sense, as "the virtuoso emblem of the possibilities of meaning engendered in the absence of the word" (62).
The prominence and import of the mute figure on the nineteenthcentury stage heightens the significance of the duke's claim, in Huck -
leberry Finn , that he has special skill in impersonation because he has played "a deef and dumb person on the histrionic boards" (208). But, of course, like Hugh Burnside's "deef and dumb" impersonation, and Jubiter Dunlap's, and Injun Joe's in Tom Sawyer , the duke's performance as the deaf-mute William Wilks takes this melodramatic emblem of truth as a mask . True, Jubiter Dunlap, in accord with the natural eloquence of muteness, exposes himself through unconscious gesture; but the other characters successfully hide behind their veil of silence. And in the case of the duke, the supposed capacity of the deaf-mute figure to render meanings that words otherwise obscure is pointedly used itself to swindle the Wilkses.
Through the king's explanations in Huckleberry Finn , Twain introduces the idea that the feelings of the heart are more important than those of the head, and that words somehow obscure those feelings—with the implicit suggestion that other means of expression do not. The king's thanks for the sympathy and "holy tears" of Peter Wilks's townsfolk, he claims, come "out of his heart and out of his brother's heart, because out of their mouths they can't, words being too weak and cold" (213). And although the king makes no claims for the universal expressiveness of "deef and dumb signs," which he acknowledges must be learned (250), after he "signs" to the duke the suggestion that they turn all of Peter Wilks's money over to the nieces, the king declares that the duke's joyous hugs will "convince anybody the way he feels about it" (216). This apparent emotional outpouring is supposed to surpass words, but Huck knows not only that the duke's deaf-and-dumb language is just "a lot of idiotic signs" (209), but also that the gestural expressions of emotion are "rot and slush" (213). In this case, the arbitrariness of deaf-mute language is underscored by the duke's signs, and the emotional gesture is rendered specious by its theatricality. However, as evidence of Twain's continuing preoccupation with both the promise and the uncertainty of gestural expression, the same novel supplies Huck's well-known moments of self-betrayal by the body.
Gender, Gesture, and Public Exposures
Dressed as a girl, Huckleberry Finn simply cannot help but expose his masculinity. For the spy mission ashore, Huck disguises himself in a dress and bonnet and rehearses girl behavior, but he betrays his
gender, as Jim points out, because he walks like a boy and because he keeps pulling up his gown to get at his britches pocket. Though he resolves that he must not "forget I was a girl" (67), he exposes himself on shore by unconscious movements which Loftus says are typical of boys. Like the gestural exposures of disguise and truthful identity in the cases of Tom Canty and Jubiter Dunlap, Huck's movements are unconscious, and his gestures are similarly poised ambiguously between natural and learned behaviors. But Huck's movements do not identify him as Huck. They identify him as male.
Gender figures prominently in gestural revelations throughout Mark Twain's writing, partly because the exposure of gender is so wedded to the fixing of identity, but even more because gendered identity conditions exposure. Men and women in Twain's work differ in their capacities for disguise and in their susceptibilities to selfbetrayal, and the dynamic of exposure has different effects on masculine and feminine terrains. Mark Twain reproduces and tests that version of the Victorian ideological system in which the social, and therefore the dissimulative, is associated with masculinity and contrasted to the domestic sphere of intimacy, sincerity, and transparency. Corporeal signs, for example, tend to expose imposture in men, who are typically masking themselves in the public sphere, and to expose, for voyeuristic pleasure, the interiors of women—who, maskless and incapable of masking, already display their identities for all to see. More generally, exposure and revelation hinge on the profoundly gendered distinctions between the public and the private, exteriors and interiors, experience and innocence, and the mind and the body.
Mark Twain's girls and young women are especially likely to betray themselves by uncontrolled facial expression. In Tom Sawyer , for example, after Becky Thatcher has torn the picture in Mr. Dobbins's anatomy book, Tom knows their teacher will ask each student to confess, "first one and then t'other, and when he comes to the right girl he'll know it, without any telling. Girls' faces always tell on them. They ain't got any backbone. She'll get licked" (149). Given Dobbins's pastime of peering into anatomical secrets, there is the implication of voyeuristic pleasure as he tells Becky to "look me in the face"—where, presumably, she will see nothing, but will yet, in looking, expose her own sexual guilt and desire. The pallidness and terror in her face are about to betray her, until Tom—in a successful and manly
lie—confesses to the crime (151). The character most fully on his way to a masculine adulthood of "backbone" and "character," Tom dissembles promisingly. Girls, on the other hand, despite their best efforts to "act," tend to broadcast their true feelings. So, when Tom ably hides his feelings and responds coolly to Becky's pointed failure to invite him to her picnic, "Becky's lip trembled and the tears came to her eyes; she hid these signs with a forced gayety and went on chattering, but the life had gone out of the pic-nic, now, and out of everything else" (139).
Female romantic affections, especially, are difficult to keep under control, and Twain takes pleasure in their exposure. Sophia Granger-ford in Huckleberry Finn , for instance, turns pale when she learns that her beau, Harney Shepherdson, has been shot at, but, as Huck notices, "the color came back when she found the man warn't hurt" (145). This of course is not an innocuous sign, since open knowledge of the nature of her love for this enemy of the Grangerford clan would have dire consequences. But she cannot help it. Later, after Huck retrieves the note Harney left for her in the church pew, "She was mighty red in the face, for a minute, and her eyes lighted up and it made her powerful pretty" (149). Mary Jane Wilks is similarly transparent. When, out of sympathy for Mary Jane and her sisters, Huck first decides to "blow on these frauds" and betray the swindle of the king and the duke, he wonders, "Shall I go, private, and tell Mary Jane? No—I dasn't do it. Her face would give them a hint, sure" (225–26). When he finally does tell Mary Jane about them, he asks her to go to the Lothrops' before breakfast, "because you ain't one of these leather-face people. I don't want no better book than what your face is. A body can set down and read it off like coarse print." She would give herself away when the duke and the king came to kiss her good morning, or when she greeted her sisters, or if she saw anyone , because "if a neighbor was to ask how is your uncles this morning, your face would tell something." And, given that Huck, during their conversation, fully registers the way she "reddened up very sweet," the way "her nostrils spread," and the way her face looked "afire like sunset," we might conclude that Mary Jane's unwitting emotional exposure is also "powerful pretty" and enticing (240–42)—in yet another confluence of male prurience and truthful exposure in the female body.
The revelation on the surface of the body of the feminine interior is both titillating to a masculine eye and a sign of weakness, vulner-
ability, and ineptitude in the ways of manly double-dealing. Meldings of emotion and body, females, and especially innocent girls, lack the "backbone"—the self-control and mental discipline over the body—to insure secrecy and emotional clampdown. When Tom and Huck make a blood pact to "keep mum" about Injun Joe's murder of Dr. Robinson, they are glad that they are not "gals, 'cuz they go back on you anyway, and blab if they get in a huff" (Tom Sawyer , 79). Even so, the boys are intensely worried about unknowing self-betrayal, and, for example, when the town is gathered at the murder site and the boys meet each other's eyes, "both looked elsewhere at once, and wondered if anybody had noticed anything in their mutual glance" (87). Partly a moment for readers to shudder over general anxieties about self-exposure in public, the boys' worry is also about "feminine" weakness in the male, about personal failings of self-control and mental dominion over body and impulse.
Twain's self-exposing males tend to be situated on the boundaries between maturity and childhood, experience and innocence, mind and body, and masculinity and femininity. Huck exposes himself as a boy while he is passing as a girl; the cross-dressing has much to do with this instance of masculine self-betrayal. Near the final battle with the English knights in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court , Hank Morgan, anxious about the loyalty of his corps of handpicked cadets, "watched [his] fifty-two boys narrowly; watched their faces, their walk, their unconscious attitudes: for all these are a language—a language given us purposely that it may betray us in times of emergency, when we have secrets which we want to keep" (473–74). While this attests to the general doctrine that the unconscious "language" of the body most reliably registers one's interior, this group is especially susceptible to such self-betrayal because they are boys , not men, and because, as Hank says, "Ah, they were a darling fifty-two! As pretty as girls, too" (476). Morgan, who declares himself masculinely unsentimental and seems indeed to be the epitome of the swindling, Barnumesque performer, feels secure against self-betrayal through bodily indiscipline (although, as I will argue in my next chapter, his masculine duplicity is finally inverted).
Tom Driscoll in Pudd'nhead Wilson similarly suits the profile of the effeminate self-betrayer, and he is pointedly contrasted to David Wilson, the master of both the pokerface and the theatrical effect. A boy
without "character," in Wilson's estimation, and a male who cross-dresses to disguise himself (as a young girl, as an old woman), Tom is eminently susceptible to self-betrayal. For example, though he thinks that Roxy knows merely about his secret gambling debts, when she first threatens to expose him his "cheek blenched, and she saw it," despite his effort to cover up his worry with "a gay laugh and a hollow chipperness of manner" (38). Later, when she shows up infuriated that Tom sold her downriver, Tom is at pains to hide the arrangements he has made for her recapture, but Roxy knows what to do: "Turn up dat light! I want to see yo' face better. Dah now—lemme look at you. Chambers, you's as white as yo' shirt!" (88). As he reads aloud the runaway slave poster—deleting his name—she detects the omission in his face. And when he asks to step outside for some air, she realizes her master is in the hotel: "Yo' ornery eye tole on you" (91).
Even more dramatic, of course, is the revelation of Tom's guilt at the trial. He was rightfully worried about Pudd'nhead's palmistry: "Why, a man's own hand is his deadliest enemy! Just think of that—a man's own hand keeps a record of the deepest and fatalest secrets of his life, and is treacherously ready to expose him to any blackmagic stranger that comes along" (52). But it is not only handprints and fingerprints that betray. Wilson in the trial tests his guesses about "the origin and motive of the murder" against Tom's face, and verifies his "hits" by Tom's involuntary signs of worry. When he says he will produce the murderer in court, he sees Tom "flying signals of distress" (109). And when accused, Tom's face turns bloodless and ashen, his lips make some "impotent movement," and he "slid limp and lifeless to the floor." In response to this mute, involuntary, bodily response, Wilson declares: "He has confessed" (113). Indeed, this moment, rather than the fingerprint revelation, constitutes the crowning effect of the trial, serves as the ultimate revelation. Unlike the manly Injun Joe in Tom Sawyer , who "tore his way through all opposers" at the trial "and was gone" after Tom Sawyer revealed him as a killer (172), the limp Tom Driscoll faints, his girl-boy body usurping the office of words in verifying his guilt. It is necessary to acknowledge, as I argued in the previous chapter, that many of Tom's emotional expressions are misread or easily misreadable; Twain seems invariably to undercut moments of clear legibility with uncer-
tainty. But it is also important to notice that the moments of apparent reliability in Tom's emotional expression are also moments of his "effeminate" helplessness.
This preoccupation with the certainties of expression in the feminine/effeminate body had large implications for Mark Twain's own practice of realism. If "the movements of expression," in Darwin's phrasing, did indeed "reveal the thoughts and intentions of others more truly than do words" (364), and if the feminine was the further guarantee of such transparency, was Twain not doubly distanced from representational fidelity, a dissimulative male working in a falsifying medium? The question posed a serious problem. The possible solutions lay in crossings of the boundaries between masculinity and femininity and between the body and words. Mark Twain was demonstrably fascinated with confusing the clear division between natural indexical signs and cultural symbols. He similarly melded distinctions by affirming both the reliability of physically transmitted signs and the inevitability of interpretation. He provided instances of emotional gesture turned theatrical as well as instances of gesture as self-betrayal. These strategies of combination pointed the way.
Physiologies of Voice and Writing
Metaphors of trace and reflex that Mark Twain employed to describe writing attest to his impulse to ground inscription in material processes. When he draws analogies between photography and realist writing, for example, he emphasizes physical and mechanical transmission. "It is all such truth," he wrote to Howells in praise of The Lady of Aroostook , "truth to the life; everywhere your pen falls it leaves a photograph"; and of Howells's A Boy's Town Twain wrote, it "is perfect—perfect as the perfectest photograph the sun ever made." The vocabulary of leavings and of photographic process—another indexical process in Peirce's categorization, the physical tracing of light (106)—furnishes writing with a material mechanism, as if life registered itself through the writer onto the page in a manner akin to the exposure of a photographic plate, and almost as if the intervention of interpretive subjectivity were eliminated. But Twain was even ready to subsume certain mental operations under the rubric of photographlike registration; he compared the unconscious processes of fashioning a literary character by blending memories of
real people to the making of a "composite photograph," the practice which Francis Galton made famous, of exposing several portraits on a single plate in order to get an "average" image, a "type." Galton himself made the analogy between this technology of mechanical "averaging" and the creative artist's ability to generalize, undoubtedly further blurring for Twain the distinction between the physical and mental. Automatic, physical registration of reality emerges as a privileged process, and Twain seems to invest more and more in those writerly operations rooted in the physical. He takes a position quite contrary to that of his one-time collaborator, Charles Dudley Warner, who discounted the indexical as the proper pursuit of the artist by declaring that a "photograph of a natural object is not art," nor is "the plaster cast of a man's face." For Twain, such typical declarations that art surpassed automatic registration failed as prescriptions for realism.
Possible registrations of the body in writing or words (as I shall be arguing here and in the next chapter) served as a special area of concern, since the proximity to its words of the speaking or writing body promised a connection, or reduced the gap, between person and expression, referent and sign. In his courtroom speech on "sure identifiers," Pudd'nhead Wilson's likening one's fingerprints to "his signature, his physiological autograph" credits signature with features of the fingerprint, as if the habitual gestures of handwriting similarly left traces of the body (108). And for Twain, I will argue, an irreducible residue of the material and physiological seemingly could linger in the written word. Script becomes akin to Becky Thatcher's ribbon—found by trackers as a sure sign of the doomed children's presence in McDougal's cave, and cherished by Mrs. Thatcher "because this one parted latest from the living body before the awful death came" (Tom Sawyer , 207).
But it was easiest, it appears, for Twain to discern the living body in the spoken word. A language of bodies permeates his comments on lecturing—a commentary organized around the poles of the living word that issues from the mouth, the tongue, the lips, and the written word whose mediation so distances the moment of life as to render the utterance a cadaver. Speeches which "carried away all my wits & made me drunk with enthusiasm" were disemboweled when put in print; their "still sentences seem[ed] rather the prone dead forms of a host whom I had lately seen moving to the assault in the fire & smoke
& tumult of battle, with flags flying & drums beating & the clarion voice of command ringing out above the thunder of the guns." He was amazed at how "pale" speeches looked in print, "but how radiant, how full of color, how blinding they were in delivery!" Of the orator Robert Ingersoll, he wrote, "Lord, what an organ is human speech when it is played by a master! All these speeches may look dull in print, but how the lightning glared around him when they were uttered, and how the crowd roared in response!" After reading some of Ingersoll's writing, Clemens wrote to him, "I wish I could hear you speak these splendid chapters before a great audience—to read them by myself and hear the boom of the applause only in the ear of my imagination, leaves something wanting—and there is also a still greater lack, your manner, and voice, and presence."
The bodies of dead soldiers, pallid complexions, the absence of voice and presence; this vocabulary of living presence and bloodless, absent, or dead bodies is even more pronounced in Twain's remarks about his own speeches. An evening's "warbly" and charming "little talk" looks "miserably pale and vapid and lifeless in the cold print of a damp newspaper next morning.... You do not recognize the corpse. You wonder if this is really that gay and handsome creature of the evening before. You look him over and find he certainly is those very remains. Then you want to bury him. You wish you could bury him privately." Newspaper reports of his own lectures and readings generally left out their life and "charm," for such things "cannot be put upon paper—& whosoever reports a humorous lecture verbatim , necessarily leaves the soul out of it, & no more presents that lecture to the reader than a person presents a man to you when he ships you a corpse." He rather similarly thought that giving voice to words on paper restored their life and sense: "Lord," he wrote, "there's nothing like the human organ to make words live & throb, & lift the hearer to the full altitudes of their meaning." 
Mark Twain may not have intended the double entendre of the human "organ"; that is, he may have meant to invoke a wind instrument and not fleshy tissue. But the ability of this organ to make words "live and throb" suggests otherwise. The body here invests words with life. Words are made to register the life of the body. It is the material contact of words with muscle, tissue, moisture, or membrane that makes the difference between "presence" or "soul" and a pale, cold corpse. The circuit of "life," voice, and speech approximates the
other lines of transmission—such as that from character through brain to cranium, or that from the unconscious to outward expression in gesture—which implant the surest signification in the flesh.
If words could begin to approximate indexical and gestural signs because they physically issued from the body, and came all the closer to this ideal the nearer they were in space and time to the body itself, they also could approximate bodily expression if they were unconsciously, involuntarily uttered. Words, of course, could be unconscious slips, and therefore could have a relation to concealed truth similar to that which bodily symptoms were likely to have. In Tom Sawyer , for example, when Tom is preoccupied with keeping his troubling secret about the murder of Doc Robinson, his uncontrollable bodily signs—his hand shakes, he spills his coffee at breakfast—may actually be less revealing than the mumbling Sid hears when he hovers over the restlessly sleeping Tom (90). Huck, also, is inclined to unguarded verbal outbursts. And he, too, in Tom Sawyer , betrays secrets about Injun Joe, truths he and Tom had sworn to suppress. He unwittingly reveals that the deaf and dumb stranger can speak; though he was trying to keep Injun Joe's identity secret, "his tongue seemed determined to get him into trouble in spite of all he could do," and his auditor immediately grasps that "you've let that slip without intending it; you can't cover that up now" (214). The wagging of the tongue, in this case, resembles the self-exposing movements of arms and legs that betray Huck in Huckleberry Finn , as if speech truly might have a kinship with unconscious and habitual gesture. And indeed, in Huckleberry Finn , as the disguised Huck pumps Judith Loftus for information, he only barely stifles his protest that Jim is no murderer, despite what the St. Petersburg townsfolk think (69); his tongue and his boy-gestures are juxtaposed as unconscious betrayers. The gap between body and word is diminished.
These examples must suffice for the moment to support my point—that for Twain there existed a gestural, bodily dimension to words, and that this dimension helped credit utterances with a degree of immediacy inasmuch as they were automatic and unconscious. In Mark Twain's thinking, especially of the 1880s and 1890s, the gaps of representation might be bridged by linking thought and word, emotion and language, through physical mediums; a problem of realism and reference had a possible solution in this more direct
and concrete connection. Our contemporary concern with the body, Elaine Scarry has suggested, emerges largely from an anxiety and preoccupation about reference; efforts to reconnect language to the world have moved inevitably to "the most extreme locus of materialization, the live body," in order to imbue language with the corporeal, or tie it to the materialized voice. The similar doubts about reference that plagued the realists, and the realist desire to embody , to give palpable form, to provide the physically real and not just the imaginatively true, drove Mark Twain to the juncture of the somatic and the semiotic as the most easily bridgeable gap between the material world and meaning.
This conception led Mark Twain much more deeply into contemporary psychology and "mental physiology"—led him, indeed, to work out much more elaborate, physiological accounts of the creative process and of writing. And it was in these investigations that he most fully confronted the difficulty that, by taking the natural, fleshly, automatically functioning body as a medium for thought and emotion, he necessarily had to acknowledge something "feminine" in creation and composition. It is to these issues that the next chapter will be devoted.