"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Rewriting Twain

This is something that's been bruited about for years, and someone has finally done it: bowdlerizing Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to remove the "n" word and replace it with something theoretically less offensive. Via Firedoglake, here's an excellent discussion from Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry of Princeton:

And here is an excellent rant from AngryBlackBitch:

Twain’s use of that word offers an opportunity to discuss it, why many find it offensive and to ponder why and how Twain used it. There is also an opportunity to explore the historical time in which Huckleberry Finn is set…what society was like in Missouri and what America was going through.

This planned censorship is disturbing for many reasons. My first thought was that the publisher was re-writing Twain based on the false assumption that only children read Huckleberry Finn. Further pondering made me reject the idea of re-writing Huckleberry Finn even if children are the only people reading it.

Literature allows for the exploration of the good, the bad and the ugly that is all around us and can be a useful tool for stimulating classroom discussions that help young people understand the good, the bad and the ugly.

It probably comes as no surprise that I'm in agreement with the attitudes expressed in both these commentaries. Art is not there to make us comfortable. It is not there to reinforce our assumptions. It is there to push us into questioning those assumptions.

And the idea that some professor can wade into what is arguably the greatest novel in American literature and alter it to fit contemporary sensibilities is beyond the pale. It's like putting a fig leaf on Michelangelo's David -- which has also been done. As Harris-Perry points out, the way to counter this madness is not to give into it, but to provide the tools to confront it.


Piet said...

What I haven't seen or heard discussed so far is what this says about the professor's qualifications to teach, especially his qualifications to teach college-age students, in a way that elucidates context rather than paring and shaving works to fit into the presumed biases of the 21st century. What sort of education is he actually providing?

Hunter said...

In a word, an "education" designed not to challenge anyone's preconceptions.

I don't doubt that he's well-meaning, but the road to hell, as they say. . . .