Thursday, January 6, 2011

annals of unnecessary censorship, literary canon edition

Upcoming NewSouth 'Huck Finn' Eliminates the 'N' Word.

Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the "n" word (as well as the "in" word, "Injun") by replacing it with the word "slave."

"What he suggested," said La Rosa, "was that there was a market for a book in which the n-word was switched out for something less hurtful, less controversial. We recognized that some people would say that this was censorship of a kind, but our feeling is that there are plenty of other books out there—all of them, in fact—that faithfully replicate the text, and that this was simply an option for those who were increasingly uncomfortable, as he put it, insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful."

I'm curious about this notion of replacement as an "option" for two reasons. First, it reminds me of Ted Turner's infamous and ill-fated 1980s colorization project whereby he went back and artificially colorized black and white movies. As I recall, Turner also spoke of it as an "option", but it failed miserably as a cultural movement. Second, now that eReaders are becoming commonplace I wonder if publishers will begin to offer sanitized versions of books as an option. I don't have an eReader, so maybe this is already available, but I could imagine a filter that you click on and magically Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer becomes a weirdly different novel.

HT kottke

1 comment:

rhb said...

I'm really not happy with this sort of 'historical leveling', makes me think of those stories of USSR worthies being removed from photos etc once they were considered unworthy. Seems like the perpetrators don't want to admit that the past was a different country.

A famous example of this is in the Mikado where a line in the verse
"The lady who dyes a chemical yellow
Or stains her grey hair puce,
Or pinches her figure,
Is blacked like a nigger
With permanent walnut juice"
is now always changed to "Is painted with vigour" which has nothing but its rhyme going for it.

And then again I remember a heated debate on the early music list many years ago about changing a text because it blamed the Jews for the Crucifixion--and that was in LATIN!

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