Mark Twain + Huckleberry Finn – nigger/injun= ?

Mark Twain

I wonder if Mark Twain imagined on the 100th anniversary of his death, not only would the release of his autobiography be an instant best-seller, but that a decision for a publisher to censor two words would cause such an uproar and controversy inciting so much debate about censorship and literature.

NewSouth The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

NewSouth Books explained their decision to censor the words “nigger” and “injun” out of a new edition of Huckleberry Finn.

In a bold move compassionately advocated by Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben and embraced by NewSouth, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn also replaces two hurtful epithets that appear hundreds of times in the texts with less offensive words, this intended to counter the “preemptive censorship” that Dr. Gribben observes has caused these important works of literature to fall off curriculum lists nationwide.

They seem to feel justified in the move because they found a Twain scholar to sign off on this. And they argue that what they are essentially doing is pre-“premptive censorship.” What a thing for a publishing house to pat itself on it’s back for. Yikes. And the rationalization used is to get the book in more schools and more libraries.

I would rather of seen the challenging of the institutions criteria for censoring books that are considered to be classics than to simply try and beat them to the punch. The idea of “ok, they win” is a slippery slope that we are apparently on and with all the attempts at censorship in our country today, it is sad that they are getting the help from a publisher to do so. (I posted a similar comment on the NewPages South’s blogpost where they defend their position. Comments need to be approved. I am interested to see if they approve mine, or censor that as well.)

In presenting his rationale for publication, eloquently developed in the book’s introduction, Dr. Gribben discusses the context of the racial slurs Twain used in these books. He also remarks on the irony of the fact that use of such language has caused Twain’s books to join the ranks of outdated literary classics Twain once humorously defined as works “which people praise and don’t read.”

Aka: In the introduction Dr. Gribben defends the censorship. He then remarks on the irony that a publishing house is putting profits over principles, er, I mean, attempts to distract with a loosely related Twain quip.

At NewSouth, we saw the value in an edition that would help the works find new readers. If the publication sparks good debate about how language impacts learning or about the nature of censorship or the way in which racial slurs exercise their baneful influence, then our mission in publishing this new edition of Twain’s works will be more emphatically fulfilled.

Back to the profits before principles sentiment I mentioned above. Are we to think this is an altruistic move on behalf of NewSouth Books to incite conversation or debate on censorship? And the best way they thought they could do that was by practicing censorship? Can you imagine a fire chief committing arson to get people to talk about fire safety and the danger of fires?

Not only did they censor the book, but they didn’t even have the balls to say the two words they decided to remove from the text.

But I would be remiss if I would ignore or deny the fact that has in fact encouraged dialog about censorship. Here’s spme of the better posts and editorials I have come across regarding this.

Truth Dig: 10 Reasons Why the Slurs Should Stay in ‘Huck Finn’
Just a good, simple to the point list of reasons.

The Missouri Review: Countering Pre-Emptive Censorship
Makes the expected but valid and poignant points you would expect.

WSJ, Speakeasy: Should Mark Twain Be Allowed To Use the N-Word?
Ishmael Reed makes some good points. (Although the line about if we censor the N-word, rap music would disappear. Ugh. I wonder if hip-hop will ever be able to rise above certain stigmas…)

HTMLGiant: “N word” removed from Huck Finn
I never read the comments on any page or blog. Except occasionally HTMLGiant. I can’t stand Roxane Gay at all, but people not only take her to ask, but also make some great points I hadn’t thought of or read elsewhere. If you can stomach it/her…

Susan Orlean in The New Yorker: Captain Underpants and Huckleberry Finn
Orlean does a good job pointing out the absurdity of the whole thing.

So the word “nigger” will be replaced with “slave.” I couldn’t locate what “injun” will be replaced by. Not sure if the political correctness police decided to go with “Native American” or “genocide victims of imperialist European white men’s lies.”

Edit/Update:
Here is the brilliant Daily Show piece on this:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mark Twain Controversy
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook