Who Thinks White-Washing Mark Twain Is a Good Idea?


What a bunch of shit! Hey let's rewrite "Uncle Tom's Cabin" while we're at it.
More PC horseshit. Let's pretend racism never existed!
If any of you would like to purchase my newly-pressed copy of a Nazi-free version of Elie Wiesel's "Night," I'll be doing a signing nowhere ever.
Self-censoring is bad enough, but censoring what others can read is a thousand times worse, because it takes away the choice.
No,no,no. you do not get to edit an author after they're dead. No.
This idea is awful and horrible and stupid.
Arguably, if you draw the line at this being done at all (as opposed to "taught in schools" which is a slightly different matter) you are siding with those intellectual heavyweights who want to defund the Smithsonian.

It's in the public domain yall. It's going to be altered, interpreted, and republished in ways you don't like. Sometimes it's going to suck. But sometimes? Sometimes it's going to be awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nkn8n18yS7A
Okay, who let the professor in on the Find/Replace tool? Next they'll Find/Replace all mentions of "Lolita" with "Pikachu".

Wait. That could be publishing gold. I call dibs on Nabokov's "Pikachu"!
I do the same thing when reading aloud, for example I always replace the words "english professor" with "guy who liked school but couldn't handle even basic math let alone the real world".
What atomic said.

And, what if we frame it like this, as the original PW article does:

"Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of "all modern American literature." Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation's most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: "nigger.""

Edited mandatory Huck Finn vs unedited banned Huck Finn. I guess I might vote edited mandatory.
@Alison Hallett: Racist.
You should replace all instances of "Gribben" in this post with "Douchebag".
When we read Huck Finn in my (mostly white) class in Georgia, there was definitely some perverse joy taken by a number of the redneck kids in reading the book aloud. I don't advocate what this professor wants to do, but I can kinda see where he's coming from.
You mean the Warrant song? No need to re-write that song, it's perfect just the way it is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bx6f68Wd9dc
I think it's about time for Huck Finn to get with the modern-age and replace all usage of the word "nigger" with the word "negro-american". A hundred years from now we can change it to "coloured-folk"
This version is meant for children in elementary school, not 30-somethings. So then, why are people with the mental capacity of children beating up on this poor straw man of an issue?

@Oregometry -1,000 for mentioning Nazis (even if it was funny)

@blogtown +5 for no one mentioning Ray Bradbury...yet
That best place to hide that word from kids is in a book.

I think framing it as a choice between censorship by editing or censorship by omission is too limiting. Editing the word "nigger" out of "Huck Finn" sends the message that either teachers can't be trusted to properly and sensitively contextualize the book for students or that children can't be trusted to understand it.

I think a good classroom discussion on this very issue is the type of thing that will prevent future generations from wringing their hands over books like this.
I would certainly say that the books would still be awesome even if they were sanitized because Mark Twain, but I still think it's a bad idea that isn't going to make the books "more accessible". Just put a new cover and some slick celebrity endorsements on it. "Suzanne Collins Liked 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' on Facebook!" it could say.
"No,no,no. you do not get to edit an author after they're dead. No."

Well, yes, you do, when their works in the public domain. I could release a version containing nothing but every other paragraph if I wanted to.

But, to the matter at hand, I fail to see how the solution to school censorship is preemptive publisher censorship. The solution to problematic speech is always, always, more speech.
@Dave Bow - Well... yeah, children probably can't. Books are abridged for kids all the time. This is not an attempt to whitewash history; it's an attempt to make the book more accessible. (And "accessible" in this context doesn't mean "shiny cover," it means literally having access to.) Misguided, maybe, but it's hardly the worst thing to ever happen to reading ever.
@Alison Hallett if I understand you correctly, you're endorsing the formula wherein "X art + Y tweaks = wider audience".

This is the same formula that powered P. Diddy's career in the late nineties.
We must keep all texts in their original form, without altering any words. That's why I refuse to read Chekhov, because it's not in the original language.
Dave: The alternate framing is that "Social policy in redneck-land has created a market for goods." In this case, the market is for sanitized versions of great literature.

As with so many things, it's naive to think if we take away the supply, the demand will see itself out as well. Probably better to look at the regional practice of banning books than it is to go after one opportunistic English professor.
You're totally right that's it's perfectly legal and occasionally awesome. I'm still pretty pissed about the "Children's Classics" versions of books I read as a kid without realizing that they were all changed to protect me. For years I thought Faust got out of his deal with the Devil by changing his mind. Boy did I feel stupid.
@Night Moves - No, not at all. Just mean in terms of having physical access to the material. Is it in the school library or is it not. Ideally we wouldn't have to have this conversation at all, and perhaps allowing sanitized versions of literature is giving too much ground to the bad guys... I'm still coming down on the side of "better than nothing," though. I don't think my reading of Huck Finn—at age, whatever, 10 or so—would have been radically altered by the proposed change in the language. I guess it's hard to say, though.
I think this guy should keep the original words but add chapters with zombies. He can even add indian and slave zombies if he wants. But only in his chapters.
@Alison: If "accessible" here literally means "having access to", why is it a $25 hardcover with a 7,500 copy printing of a public domain work that we're talking about here? The original is a lot more accessible (and-- hey, free Kindle download).

Also, why the fuck is he combining Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn into one book? Put them in the same volume, sure, but they really don't need to be a single tale.
white guilt
I'll agree with "it's better than nothing", but that is a depressing mantra.
True Ezra - nothing can change how "awesome" that song is.
I find it weird that nobody's mentioned that at this point, the controversy about how the word "nigger" relates to Huck Finn is arguably just as important as the book's actual text. Taking "nigger" out of Huck Finn doesn't only alter the book and Twain's language, it also alters the important conversations that can, and should, be had about the book.

Especially replacing the word "nigger" with "slave", which means something different entirely.
Sure, but the average person who reads Huck Fin in high school isn't going to get between 30-80% of the subtext anyway, let alone the racial stuff.

Again, one publisher producing one edition ablating the two most controversial words might be inane, but it's hardly the twilight of Western literature.
That said Dave, I will say that my childhood impressions of Melville proved... substantially different than the generally accepted version.

I stand by my initial argument that this is both the worst thing to ever happen to reading ever and the twilight of Western literature.
Let the kids wait until they're old enough to read it, don't change the book. Next they'll want "1984" with a (spoiler alert) happy ending.
In which I eventually point out that the English professor responsible for this mess either hates or doesn't actually understand language. Either option is sort of appalling.

Whitewashing is actually really fun! I'd let you guys try it, but I'm having so much fun. Anyway, you're not big enough and would probably hurt yourself. I'd probably get in big trouble if I let you try it! Sorry, my nigger.
This is stupid. Are people really this idiotic? If you've ever read any of Twain's works you'd know how obvious it is that they ought not to be censored in any way. Attempting to do so, whether in the name of making his (or any other author's) works accessible to children is simply a mask for historical revisionism, which, frankly, I find revolting.

Beyond that, the whole affair seems to stink of the same failed distinction between discomfort and threat that our society makes time and time again. To say that reading the word "nigger" so many times in a book makes one uncomfortable is fine - it SHOULD make you feel uncomfortable, and is part of the enduring VALUE of Huck Finn.

But, to say that reading that word is somehow so threatening, so insidious, and so irredeemable (either artistically, historically, or socio-politically) as to require redaction, replacement, and substitution, is histrionic, ignorant, short-sighted, and over-protective of our children to the point of smothering and suffocating them right when they're about to embark on an existentially and educationally significant adventure by reading Twain.
@bix I didn't say you couldn't. I only said no one should be able to.

@alison I see what you're saying but to me, the language used in Huck Finn is so much a part of the story that if it were changed it would be like reading a translated version of an Irvine Welsh novel (Trainspotting For Dummies). Not worth it.
@Dave Bow I read a kids' version of MacBeth and it was just..oh...not the same thing at all. Lady MacBeth looked just like Cruella DeVille in all the drawings and inexplicably carried a candle down the stairs that looked like a squid. CONFUSING.

I just chimed in to say that everyone who loves Twain/Huck Finn should read George Saunders' intro to the Random House paperback edition, which is located in obviously scanned .pdf format here:


It's a lot less daunting than the terrifying, towering first edition of Twain's autobiography, which is currently holding my coffee table fast to the earth, and possibly slightly affecting the moon's orbit (and with it, the Earth's tides).
I'm glad that we have the technology to change this kind of thing now, it adds to what Mark Twain would have wanted his book to mean.

I think Twain, had he been alive today, would have also wanted a description of St. Petersburg to include a Jawa being bucked off of a big beast he's riding. Also, the Shepherdsons are going to fire first.

In reality, this is fucking stupid.
Update that shit! Neezys and first people.
not only that, but McDonalds is making my son eat happy meals. these bastards must be stopped!!!