Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nothing Really Mattered to Ambrose 'Bitter' Bierce

Ambrose Bierce
(1842 - 1913)
Author, journalist, satirist, and critic Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was born on June 24, 1842. He had a great influence in the literature of the 20th century through his works, most of them dealing with the American Civil War.

At the age of 18, Bierce was recruited to the '9th Indiana Infantry Regiment' of the Union Army. Honored for his courage and later promoted to being a topographical engineer, Bierce built up a reputation in these difficult times. But with his growing influence in the Civil War, it started affecting his mind and therefore his works. One of the most incisive events in Bierce's military career turned out to be the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, which was later known for its immense cruelty. Ambrose Bierce was heavily wounded and dealt with this traumatic experience in later works, such as 'What I saw of Shiloh' and many short stories. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge belongs to Bierce's best known works and was published in 1890. The story is set up during the Civil War, the protagonist and Confederate supporter Peyton Farquhar blunders into a trap and gets caught in the act while trying to sabotage a bridge. Farquhar is sentenced to death, still the reader is left with the illusion he had survived his hanging until the end of the story (definitely a 'must read' if you haven't already...).

After the war, Bierce began his career as a columnist, and editor. His satirical writings and his motto 'nothing matters' caused his widely known nickname 'Bitter Bierce'. His book The Devil's Dictionary only contributed to this reputation. It contains many ironic definitions of common English words and was published in 1906, originally titled 'The Cynic's Word Book'.

"Logic, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. The basic of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion - thus:

Major Premise: Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as quickly as one man.
Minor Premise: One man can dig a post-hole in sixty seconds; Therefore-
Conclusion: Sixty men can dig a post-hole in one second.

This may be called syllogism arithmetical, in which, by combining logic and mathematics, we obtain a double certainty and are twice blessed.

(The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce)

At the age of 71, Bierce left for a tour of his battlefields during the Civil War, unfortunately this was his last journey. In Mexico he was going to witness the Mexican Revolution and was never to be seen again after the turn of the year 1913/1914. All investigations failed and many myths concerning his death have developed during the years. Carlos Fuentes's novel 'The Old Gringo' is a fictionalized account of Bierce's disappearance, which was later adapted into the film 'Old Gringo' (1989), starring Gregory Peck in the title role.

At yovisto you can learn about more about Ambrose Bierce from the lecture of Dr. Clark Closser from Missouri State University on English Literature: 'Ambrose Bierce and Sara Orne Jewett

Further Reading:

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