What Mark Twain Meant To Say Was …

From EW.com’s Shelf Life:

What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will remove all instances of the “n” word—I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch—present in the text and replace it with slave. The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun.

The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it. “Race matters in these books,” Gribben told PW. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

OK, knee-jerk reaction — No. No. No. No.

Slightly longer knee-jerk reaction — History is messy. Trying to hide that is doing a great disservice to both history and ourselves. People didn’t always believe the things we believe. They didn’t do the things we do. They didn’t think the way we think. They didn’t say the things we say. Any attempt to clean history up and make it look or sound like today is to deny the way things really were, and thereby to deny a part of human nature. We may not be proud of slavery and segregation and forced relocation and the like, but they did happen. Racism existed in the past, and exists today. To cover that up in order to avoid offending modern polite sensibilities is to, in a way, support it. Things we deem immoral should be confronted, not ignored.

The article’s argument that “if this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge” carries no weight with me. Because we’re not putting the book in their hands, we’re putting what we want the book to be in their hands. And that, in a very real way, is lying to them, about history, about culture, about society, about human nature.

But …

The same argument that I used earlier to oppose the change could just as easily support it. People didn’t always believe the things we believe. They didn’t do the things we do. They didn’t think the way we think. They didn’t say the things we say. And, therefore, we have to be very careful treating the fruits of the past as if they were created today. The Bible is continually updated because language usage changes, and modernization of the language makes it easier to understand what the text means. On the other hand, we still read Shakespeare, written in English contemporaneous with the King James Bible, in the original versions because we deem the integrity of the text to be of greater importance than easy accessibility. Which do we believe is more important with Twain?

Also, I see two different issues with the racist language in Huckleberry Finn. Arguably, the words were just as demeaning then as they are now; their intent then as today was to dehumanize, to disparage. So leaving them intact captures that spirit. On the other hand, the words were far more normative then than they are now. A white person using those terms today would be the exception; their use would indicate a relatively rare racism in modern times. They would be defiant of the prevailing culture.In Huckleberry Finn, their use is consistent with the prevailing culture. If a modern reader sees those words and judges the characters as being exceptional, they’re misunderstanding the intent. Given that, you could make the argument that, issues of offensiveness aside, a “modern translation” would make the text more easily appreciated by today’s readers.

I’ll be honest, all that aside, I’m not ready to embrace or endorse the changes. The issues of textual integrity versus accessibility are interesting, but I find myself ultimately taking off my writer hat and viewing the question from a sociological standpoint. I want readers to be challenged. I want the book to drive home the fact that society has changed, and thus that society does change. That norms can’t be taken for granted. That social attitudes — about everything — are ephemeral.

But then — I wonder what future readers will think about today’s society when they read the changes in the NewSouth edition of Huckleberry Finn?

What You’re Looking For

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

So one of the benefits of the traffic increase of having been Freshly Pressed twice is that Google takes me more seriously now, and I get a lot more search engine traffic on the blog now that I did three months ago.

My old blog used to get more search traffic than this one did until recently, and I used to do an occasional post about searches that had brought people to the blog. A lot of the searches on this one are pretty straightforward queries related to a handful of posts, but I’m starting to get enough traffic that I’m starting to see some amusing searches show up.

That said, interesting search strings on SIMP in the last month:

  • where can i get me a machine that i can carry in my pocket to spell words
  • mississippi billboard “we are all losers”
  • crude palm oil will hit to myr 4200 by the end of the month december 2010
  • forest in my pocket
  • my laptop cords powerpoint is like beside my bed sorta thing, and somehow it fell out, and a bit of it was hanging out, and sparks were going everywhere! i was like s—! quickly turns power point off .
  • sam flynn smile
  • www jazz hitt com
  • whats a good lego set
  • transformers imagine 20 years from now get in the car
  • bay town texas makes incence illiegal
  • stone and water in iphone
  • read this sentence from the passage: they both cost the same, and if the two salads decide to get married, they can have a bunch of little salads and send them all off to salad school to take reading comprehension tests.in this sentence, the author is explaining how
  • thas wat made me myne crazy high but i spot a traitor out my lazy eye lady spy i’m tha one they wana hav thea baby by maybe i’m beta off alone keeps me in my zone
  • which are things in that needed in the notice of petrol pump notice on no smokina for what?why?
  • bears in my pocket
  • ugly guy mullet moustache
  • teachers book writing reports on future robots tigers laser lemon limit major minor and valid
  • & i’ve changed? i dont have lighters in my bra, i’m not asking people for ciggs, i don’t have smoker hands, and i don’t believe in cutting myself to ease pain. i have nothing to hide. you can’t find a boy, maybe because you hang out with bad people? i know i get heart broken, but i bounce back. pills, they’re also not the answer, so if you wanna tell me ive changed, then your blind
  • how to make lego armor with play doh
  • clint eastwood my mull
  • give us small topics over usefulness of forest to mankind in hindi font
  • embarrassing incident at harry potter movie and projector
  • what would happen to the demand curve for metallica cds if they became unpopular?
  • piggly wiggly/mississippi
  • what is the meanning of this proverb”he who brings kola brings life but i think you ought to break it
  • show me a picture of a mullet haircut on a woman
  • photographs of squatters living in batcave in brooklyn in early 1980s before closed
  • diluting concentrated sulfuric acid with water can be dangerous. the temperature of the solution can increase rapidly. what are the signs of dh, ds, and dg for this process?
  • what i should do in my house if i am bored and i also dont have any pets or tele and i am bored sitting on the computer too i am a primary student
  • ole miss improv
  • the “chocolate or vanilla” rule
  • soviet futures stories
  • birds take so long to die + angry birds
  • lori skylab
  • i’m david hitt, am i on meth?
  • johnny depp what am i to do? then i recall, in my pocket i have a sketch of something rustic, with limbs; i put it out, and deliver…
  • preacher from huntsville wrote a book
  • well wookie
  • people dying because of facebook stories
  • a nation that loses the _______ of honesty loses its __________.
  • if you were a purple monkey and your dad was a yellow starfish could you drive a limo up a pole at sundown?
  • if your parents not give you 4 presents and everyone elas does what do they do after christmas
  • nasa village of santa
  • a movie then go back farm time of insulin to kill him
  • kid deleted angry birds from ipod touch can you reload
  • grisham’s the confession banned in boston
  • babies have their whole lives ahead of them
  • david hitt cigars
  • what is the luxury of knowing about keith urban