Publisher Tinkers With Twain

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HoustonDavid
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Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by HoustonDavid » Wed Jan 05, 2011 12:32 pm

Publisher Tinkers With Twain

by Julie Bosman
Published: January 4, 2011
The New York Times

A new edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is missing something.

Throughout the book — 219 times in all — the word “nigger” is replaced by “slave,” a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February.

Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University at Montgomery, approached the publisher with the idea in July. Mr. Gribben said Tuesday that he had been teaching Mark Twain for decades and always hesitated before reading aloud the common racial epithet, which is used liberally in the book, a reflection of social attitudes in the mid-19th century.

“I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ” he said. “And I don’t think I’m alone.”

Mr. Gribben, who combined “Huckleberry Finn” with “Tom Sawyer” in a single volume and also supplied an introduction, said he worried that “Huckleberry Finn” had fallen off reading lists, and wanted to offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers.

“I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,” Mr. Gribben said. “The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.” (The book also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”)

Since the publisher discussed plans for the book this week with Publishers Weekly, it has been “assaulted” with negative e-mails and phone calls, said Suzanne La Rosa, the co-founder and publisher of NewSouth Books.

“We didn’t undertake this lightly,” Ms. La Rosa said. “If our publication fosters good discussion about how language affects learning and certainly the nature of censorship, then difficult as it is likely to be, it’s a good thing.”

The news set off a storm of angry online commentary, scolding the publisher for “censorship” and “political correctness,” or simply for the perceived sin of altering the words of a literary icon. Twain admirers have turned his hefty “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” published last year, into a best seller.

An initial print run of 7,500 copies has been planned for the revised “Huckleberry Finn.” The print edition is scheduled for publication in February, and a digital edition could go on sale as early as next week.

Mr. Gribben said no schools had expressed interest yet in teaching the book — nor did he say what ages he thought the edition appropriate for. In his introduction, however, he writes that “even at the level of college and graduate school, students are capable of resenting textual encounters with this racial appellative.”

Ms. La Rosa said that the publisher had had advance orders from Barnes & Noble, Borders and other bookstores, and that she expected more orders from schools and libraries.

Some English teachers were less than thrilled about the idea of cleaning up a classic.

“I’m not offended by anything in ‘Huck Finn,’ ” said Elizabeth Absher, an English teacher at South Mountain High School in Arizona. “I am a big fan of Mark Twain, and I hear a lot worse in the hallway in front of my class.”

Ms. Absher teaches Twain short stories and makes “Huck Finn” available but does not teach it because it is too long — not because of the language.

“I think authors’ language should be left alone,” she said. “If it’s too offensive, it doesn’t belong in school, but if it expresses the way people felt about race or slavery in the context of their time, that’s something I’d talk about in teaching it.”
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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by Guitarist » Wed Jan 05, 2011 8:09 pm

This is so outrageous that I don't even know how to respond! Doesn't this idiot, err, excuse me, "professor" realize that Twain is satirizing slavery and racism by deliberately overusing the word "nigger"? I'm set to teach Huck Finn in about three weeks--this situation should make for some interesting discussions!

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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Jan 05, 2011 8:38 pm

Bad idea. Explain the usage, then read it straight.

This reminds me vaguely of renderings of Biblical time (3rd hour, etc.) to clock time in modern translations. Anyone of normal intelligence only has to be taught once the ancient system to know thereafter how to receive a text that uses it (and to realize how ridiculous it is to hear "o'clock" in a text written centuries before there were clocks); the same is true of the reasons for the "n" word in Huck Finn. Modernizing these texts is in effect a dereliction of the responsibility to educate.

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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by John F » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:39 am

These are not children's books, and children who read them deserve to be treated as adult in mind if not yet in years.

January 5, 2011
That’s Not Twain

Next month, you will be able to buy the single- volume NewSouth Edition of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” edited by Professor Alan Gribben of Auburn University at Montgomery. It differs from other editions of those books because Mr. Gribben has turned the word “nigger” — as used by Tom and Huck — into “slave.” Mr. Gribben has also changed “Injun” to Indian.

Mr. Gribben says he wants to make these American classics readable again — for young readers and for anyone who is hurt by the use of an epithet that would have been ubiquitous in Missouri in the 1830s and 1840s, which is when both books are set. He says he discovered how much Twain’s language offended readers when he began giving talks about “Tom Sawyer” all across Alabama in 2009. He has also acknowledged that what he calls “textual purists” will be horrified by his sanitized versions of the two classics.

We are horrified, and we think most readers, textual purists or not, will be horrified too. The trouble isn’t merely adulterating Twain’s text. It’s also adulterating social, economic and linguistic history. Substituting the word “slave” makes it sound as though all the offense lies in the “n-word” and has nothing to do with the institution of slavery. Worse, it suggests that understanding the truth of the past corrupts modern readers, when, in fact, this new edition is busy corrupting the past.

When “Huckleberry Finn” was published, Mark Twain appended a note on his effort to reproduce “painstakingly” the dialects in the book, including several backwoods dialects and “the Missouri negro dialect.” What makes “Huckleberry Finn” so important in American literature isn’t just the story, it’s the richness, the detail, the unprecedented accuracy of its spoken language. There is no way to “clean up” Twain without doing irreparable harm to the truth of his work.
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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by josé echenique » Thu Jan 06, 2011 10:56 am

It´s difficult to believe that "slave" is any better than "n..."
When John McGlinn recorded the EMI Show Boat, he was very right to restitute the word "nigger" to the songs as they were originally performed in the 20´s.
Ol´Man River becomes something more hard and painful when sung as originally composed.
It´s a great pity that the all black chorus that was singing Porgy and Bess at Glyndebourne refused to participate in the Show Boat recording precisely because of the word. The great, late Bruce Hubbard was brave and smart to sing Joe, understanding the historical significance of the word.

HoustonDavid
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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by HoustonDavid » Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:17 pm

It would have been a much greater service to new readers of "Huckleberry Finn" for
Professor Gribben to provide an introduction that explained Twain's usage of the
"N" word and why it was important in the historical context of the book. Such an
intro should also include and highlight Twain's own explanation in his appended note
speaking to his effort to reproduce “painstakingly” the dialects in the book, including
several backwoods dialects and “the Missouri negro dialect.”

Unfortunately, such introductions and explanations aren't appropriate in stagings
of "Showboat" and "Porgy and Bess". The film and recorded versions I have of both
these masterpieces do not use that most hateful and painful word in the English
language (IMHO).

I applaud the effort of John McGlinn to return these performances and recordings to
their original form. I think this country has reached the maturity level to accept the
word in an artistic context. It certainly is quite prevalent in modern film scripting,
largely because it reflects common usage by some in our society. I can also sympathize
with the Glyndebourne chorus for refusing to sing that word in the "Showboat" recording.
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by david johnson » Fri Jan 07, 2011 3:32 am

Revisionist crap, off with his diploma!

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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by dulcinea » Fri Jan 07, 2011 11:10 pm

I have the Complete Works of Samuel Langhorne Clemens in a very fine Spanish translation published by Editorial Espasa-Calpe; as far as I know, there is no exact equivalent to nigger in the Spanish language, which is a bit of a surprise since Spanish has its own good share of racial slurs and epithets, such as gabacho=frog and the world famous gringo.
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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jan 08, 2011 7:46 am

dulcinea wrote:I have the Complete Works of Samuel Langhorne Clemens in a very fine Spanish translation published by Editorial Espasa-Calpe; as far as I know, there is no exact equivalent to nigger in the Spanish language, which is a bit of a surprise since Spanish has its own good share of racial slurs and epithets, such as gabacho=frog and the world famous gringo.
Ought to be an automatic censor on that "gringo." :wink:

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HoustonDavid
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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by HoustonDavid » Sat Jan 08, 2011 10:24 am

The First Drafts of American History

By Adam Kirsch
Published: January 7, 2011
The New York Times

WHEN the new House of Representatives convened on Thursday, the Republican leadership kept its promise to start the session by reading the text of the Constitution aloud. This break from Congressional tradition had a polemical purpose: Representative Robert Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who came up with the idea, remarked that “lots of my constituents have said that Congress has gone beyond its powers granted in the Constitution.”

If the reading was meant to be a win for originalism, however, it stumbled out of the gate, over the text of Article I, Section 2. This deals with the apportionment of House seats among the states, which is said to be based on “the whole number of free persons” and “three-fifths of all other persons.” Rather than draw attention to this infamous euphemism for slaves, the Congressional readers decided to omit those portions, on the grounds that they had been superseded by the 14th Amendment.

It just so happened this conspicuous omission came days after a small publisher, NewSouth Books, announced a new edition of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” that will replace its uses of the word “nigger” with “slave.” Here, again, was a historic text clashing with contemporary sensibilities, and forced to submit.

Taken together, the two cases show the comedy of euphemism: trying to distract us from something ugly only makes the ugliness harder to miss. To the book’s new editor, the Twain scholar Alan Gribben, “slave” is less offensive than “nigger”; to the Constitution’s drafters, “all other persons” was less offensive than “slave.” By refusing to utter even that legalism, the House showed that euphemism can end only in embarrassed silence.

The censored edition of “Huckleberry Finn” has been loudly condemned. Certainly, as a writer, I see the strength of all the arguments against tinkering with the original, not least because it would be a terrible precedent — start eliminating everything offensive in literary history, and you’ll have little left. But once I returned to the actual novel, I began to feel torn, because I could imagine the effect that its deluge of epithets would have on a young reader, especially a young black reader. (Open the book to the passage in the second chapter that begins, “Strange niggers would stand with their mouths open,” and see if you would be able to read it to a room full of ninth graders.)

“Huckleberry Finn” was intended, of course, as an attack on racism. In its most famous scene, Huck hides the runaway slave Jim from a party of slave-hunters, and then feels guilty for having done so. “I knowed very well I had done wrong,” he says, though the reader, and Twain, know he has done right. It’s a searching demonstration of the way conscience is not just innate but also learned, and how confusing it can be to do right in a society dedicated to wrong — the same kinds of questions that bedeviled Hannah Arendt at the Eichmann trial.

Yet all those racial epithets are a reminder that, when Twain wrote it, the audience he had in mind — the America for which he wrote — was segregated. He did not worry about constantly writing “nigger,” because he was writing about blacks, not for them. And for many readers, encountering classic literature means sometimes finding yourself excluded, or insulted, in this way. For blacks reading Twain, certainly, but also for Jews reading Shakespeare or Dickens, and for women reading, say, Plato (among countless others).

But the books we cherish, which deserve the name of classics, feel essentially humane to us, despite their limitations, even their bigotry. “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not,” W. E. B. DuBois said. We feel that the exclusion of whole classes of humanity from the author’s imagined audience — which means, from his idea of the fully human — is due to ignorance or carelessness; that if he were to think and feel more freely, more deeply, he would acknowledge that all people are equally human.

This is also the promise of American history, and above all of the Constitution. Unlike Twain’s novel, that classic American text was written in the expectation that it would be corrected. And it needed correction, or amendment, for the same essential reason: the framers’ imagination of the people they led was not full enough. It took a devastating civil war, whose sesquicentennial we are now observing, to revise the Constitution in the direction of justice. When the House readers decided to skip the parts of the Constitution that reveal its original limitations, they were minimizing that history, pretending that our founding document was flawless from the beginning.

No, Congress may not go “beyond its powers granted in the Constitution,” as Representative Goodlatte insisted. But to believe that American institutions were ever perfect makes it too easy to believe that they are perfect now. Both assumptions, one might say, are sins against the true spirit of the Constitution, which demands that we keep reimagining our way to a more perfect union.

Adam Kirsch is a senior editor at The New Republic and a columnist for Tablet Magazine
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by Lance » Mon Jan 10, 2011 3:23 am

For reasons Mr. Pitts cites below, I am not in favour of altering any words by any writer. "Politically correct" is ruining so many things in our society. We can no longer say Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukah but, instead, Happy Holidays. The whole thing is ridiculous.

By the way, Volume 1 of Mark Twain's autobiography is here. I am eager for the second and third volumes! These are mammoth tomes!

There was an editorial in our local Press & Sun-Bulletin today by Black columnist Leonard Pitts about the Huck Finn book. Here's what appeared in a column in another newspaper. In our local paper, however, the headline read:

Censoring 'Huck Finn': Wrong, wrong, wrong

Albernate headline
LEONARD PITTS: CENSORING 'HUCK FINN' IS BAD IDEA

It is, perhaps, the seminal moment in American literature. Young Huck Finn, trying to get right with God and save his soul from a forever of fire, sits there with the freshly written note in hand. "Miss Watson," it says, "your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send."

Huck knows it is a sin to steal, and he is whipped by guilt for the role he has played in helping the slave Jim steal himself from a poor old woman who never did Huck any harm. But, see, Jim has become Huck's friend, has sacrificed for him, worried about him, laughed and sung with him, depended upon him. So what, really, is the right thing to do?

"I was a-trembling," says Huck, "because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll GO to hell' — and tore it up."

When NewSouth Books releases its new version of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" next month, that revelatory moment will contain one troubling change. Publishers Weekly reported that in this edition, edited by Twain scholar Alan Gribben of Auburn University, all 219 occurrences of the so-called N-word will be cut. Huck's note will now call Jim a "runaway slave." Twain's use of the word "Injun" also will be struck.

Gribben brings good intentions to this act of literary graffiti, this attempt to impose political correctness upon the most politically incorrect of American authors. He told Publishers Weekly that many teachers feel they can't use the book in their classrooms because children simply cannot get past that incendiary word. "My daughter," he said, "went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it."

But while Gribben's intentions are good, his fix is profoundly wrong. There are several reasons why.

In the first place, any work of art represents a series of conscious choices on the part of the artist — what color to paint, what note to play, what word to use — in that artist's attempt to share what is in his or her soul. The audience is free to accept or reject those choices; it is emphatically not free to substitute its own.

In the second place, it is never a good idea to sugarcoat the past. The past is what it is, immutable and nonnegotiable. Even a cursory glance at the historical record will show that Twain's use of the reprehensible word was an accurate reflection of that era.

So it would be more useful to have any new edition offer students context and challenge them to ask hard questions: Why did Twain choose that word? What kind of country must this have been that it was so ubiquitous? How hardy is the weed of self-loathing that many black people rationalize and justify its use, even now?

I mean, has the black girl Gribben mentions never heard of Chris Rock or Snoop Dogg?

Finally, and in the third place, it is troubling to think the state of reading comprehension in this country has become this wretched, that we have tweeted, PlayStationed and Fox News'd so much of our intellectual capacity away that not only can our children not divine the nuances of a masterpiece, but that we will now protect them from having to even try.

Huck Finn is a funny, subversive story about a runaway white boy who comes to locate the humanity in a runaway black man and, in the process, vindicates his own. It has always, until now, been regarded as a timeless tale.

But that was before America became an intellectual backwater that would deem it necessary to censor its most celebrated author.

The one consolation is that somewhere, Mark Twain is laughing his head off. •

Read more: http://www.kansas.com/2011/01/10/166703 ... z1AcOoO2JO
Lance G. Hill
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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by Guitarist » Thu Jan 13, 2011 6:57 pm

Did anyone watch The Daily Show's take on this? It was hilarious!

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Re: Publisher Tinkers With Twain

Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Jan 14, 2011 7:41 am

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