Not Cease from Exploration...a blog by Steve Albert

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Neutering Literature

Every once in a while you see something in the news that really catches your eye.  THIS STORY did that for me.

Now if you are not inclined to click on the above link, I'll give you the Cliff Notes version:  a new edition of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" has been edited to replace the "N-Word" (also known as "nigger"...more on that in a moment) with the word "slave".  Maybe the idea here is to not offend readers, but I think it does the opposite.

Now is the word "nigger" offensive?  Yes, it is a very offensive word.  But the world is full of offensive words.  Is the intent here to pretend that this particular word doesn't exist?  Or that the word wasn't frequently used during the time when these works were created? 

To answer my own questions...

One need only listen to much of more urban music to hear the word in question used very frequently.  Clearly, kids these days know that this word exists.  Now whether they know that it is offensive...and why it is offensive...is probably another question.  Maybe it's not the works of Twain that we need to strike this word from...

and

This word was used very frequently during the time of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.  That's a simple, basic fact.  

So why edit the word out?  I honestly don't know.  I simply don't buy the "not to offend readers" argument.  Maybe, just maybe, it's not the readers who are being protected.  Maybe it's the misguided sensibilities of adult editors that is actually being protected in this case.  Regardless, any time art is "edited" everyone should be offended.  How is this any different that putting a pair of shorts on a classical Greek sculpture

Editing a classic work of literature is wrong, regardless of the intent. Period.  End of story.


A final thought:  George Carlin once observed that there "are no bad words...there are bad thoughts...bad intentions" and I am inclined to believe him.  That's why I generally speaking shun the replacement of a certain word with "the N-Word".  I do understand how offensive that underlying word is, so I'm not going to over-use it, but let's not forget that it is just a word.  The world needs to pay more attention to intentions behind how this word is used and maybe less attention to its use in literature.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is all about limiting Free Speech. After all, censorship is everywhere. The gov’t (and their big business cronies) censor free speech, shut down dissent and ban the book “America Deceived II”. Free speech for all, especially Mark Twain.
Last link (before Google Books bans it also]:
http://www.iuniverse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000190526

Stephen Albert said...

I don't think this has anything to do with the government or big business. Rather, I think this is about misguided intentions run amok.

Intentions noted, I find the 'altering' of art & literature like this to be disgusting.