The latest submission to political correctness in speech (that secular version of Islamic “sensitivity”) is that a publisher will come out next month with the text of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn cleansed of all 219 occurrences of the word nigger, at the behest of Twain scholar Alan Gribben at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. His motive for bowdlerizing the novel is demonstrably specious: the term is “hurtful.” Standing in for the term will be “slave” or “slaves.”
Also, the feelings and tribal “self-esteem” of American Indians have been protected by Gribben in the same novel, as well. Excised from it is the term injun. It has not been reported what will replace it.
Twain scholar Alan Gribben said he decided to reissue the 19th century classic “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” replacing the slur with the word “slaves” in all 219 places it occurs in the text because the original offended many readers.
Many school systems have banned or simply stopped teaching the books because of the epithet and because of a characterization of Native Americans that is also deleted from the new edition, said Gribben in a telephone interview.
Gribben will jointly reissue [with New South Books] another Twain classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with epithets also deleted.
Now, where have we heard this complaint before, and from whom? Ragheads? Camel jockeys? Goat herders? Oh. Excuse me. Muslims. There are countless ethnic, racial and religious slurs and epithets in circulation intended to denigrate all races and creeds. Put under an epistemological microscope and examined for their alleged power to hurt, however, all such terms are metaphysically neutral and impotent. Spoken, they cannot literally “hurt” anyone. It is only the second-hand emotional strength they seem to contain and convey by their users. Conversely, the object of such a term must necessarily also respond to the term in a purely emotional context, having been communicated the user’s estimation of him. Logically, all such a “victim” can do is resent it, and learn something appalling about the user.
The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud.
An individual with a genuine sense of self-esteem qua individual, who does not see himself as a cipher of a race or religion, is not bothered by the slurs. Amused, perhaps, and even indifferent. He will not think that he has been judged by a rational person, but by an irrational one. He may for a moment resent the appellation, but not dwell on it.
I cannot recall the number of times I have been called a “honky” and other epithets employed by blacks. Or a “male chauvinist pig” by women with feminist pretensions. These name-callings left me amused and shaking my head in brief pity for the persons who attempted to “offend” me.
It can be assumed that scholar Gribben has more than a passing affection for the works of Mark Twain. (For the record, I have never much cared for Twain.) Yet he is willing to compromise and adulterate Twain’s works in order to see them more widely read and used in literature classes (or in what passes for them today). His decision to redact Twain’s works merely panders to the politically correct pining of teachers who want to use the two novels but are afraid to. It was during a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) program to encourage reading that Gribben made his decision.
“After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach this novel, and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.” Gribben became determined to offer an alternative for grade school classrooms and “general readers” that would allow them to appreciate and enjoy all the book has to offer. “For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs,” he said.
The “single word” was a barrier only in terms of the emotions it would engender in others, in this instance, fear. Fear of what? The unknown, in the form of possible lawsuits, disciplinary action, dismissal, physical assault, or charges of hate speech or a variety of “phobias.” Unacceptable to whom? The politically correct speech enforcers, in and out of government.
What is arguably worse than Gribben’s cleansed Twain works has been the nature of the objections to his crusade to adulterate Twain. Reuters, for example, had this to report:
“We are not fans of changing Mark Twain’s words,” said Cindy Lovell, executive director of The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. “They have stood the test of time. The book is an anti-racist book and to change the language changes the power of the book. He wrote to make us squirm and to poke us with a sharp stick. That was the purpose,” Lovell said.
Poking “us” with a stick may have been one of Twain’s purposes, but that side-steps the crucial issue of literary integrity. Publishers Weekly carried an amen to the notion that literature should serve a purely “social” purpose, regardless of its alleged offensiveness.
Twain scholar Thomas Wortham, at UCLA, compared Gribben to Thomas Bowdler (who published expurgated versions of Shakespeare for family reading), telling PW that “a book like Professor Gribben has imagined doesn’t challenge children [and their teachers] to ask, ‘Why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language?’ “
Answer – if the” challenged” pupil and teacher have been properly indoctrinated by the federal education czars and the National Education Association: Because Huck had not been properly sensitized to the feelings and needs of others. That is, he had not been subjected to social engineering and pedagogical brow-beating.
Reprehensible language? Perhaps that is an accurate description of the language. But one will not know it is unless one can encounter such language in the original, untampered-with text as the author intended it to be read. And is studying reprehensible language the sole purpose of tackling Twain’s or H.L. Mencken’s or anyone else’s literary work? Try redacting the works of James Joyce or D.H. Lawrence; there would be little left of them that would appeal to anyone’s prurient interest.
Reading original, unadulterated works that contain questionable language allows one to gauge the character of an author and the worth of his work. And if an author includes such language in his work as a critically satirical device, then one can encounter the power of such language and be able to reach numerous conclusions other than the “hurtful” or “offensive” nature of such language.
Gribben is not a pioneer regarding the term nigger. Joseph Conrad’s short novel, The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’, published in 1897, was subjected to the same thorough redacting in 2009 by Ruben Alvarado, who even re-titled the work The N-Word of the Narcissus (sic), published by WoodBridge Publishing. The purpose was to “remove this offence to modern sensibilities.” Call it anti-shock therapy.
The “sensibilities” are old-hat. Dodd, Mead and Company demanded that the title be changed, as well, so that Conrad’s novel first appeared here under the ludicrously evasive title of The Children of the Sea: A Tale of the Forecastle. Dodd, Mead feared that no one would want to read a book with the “n-word” in its title.
The prissy objections of Gribben stand in stark contrast to the obscene lyrics of contemporary pop “music,” performed by alleged artists in a deliberately malevolent and provocative style by blacks and whites. If one applied the 18th and 19th century editing policy to the sheet music of such rubbish, one would see little more than strings of asterisks interposed now and then by an innocuous but ungrammatical article, noun, or verb. Most students today are no strangers to the terms nigger, wetback, wop, kike, or slant-eye. They can hear them in contemporary “music” and in films and on TV and are inured to them. These terms have lost their power to shock and offend.
To illustrate the ubiquity of verbal victimhood claimed by Muslims, contrast the case of the Spanish Muslim student who was “traumatized” when his geography teacher mentioned ham in class (the suit his parents brought against the teacher was thrown out) with how British law enforcement and newspapers employ the euphemism Asians to stand in for Muslims (from fear of legal and physical retaliation). Readers know that Muslims are the referents, and not Indonesians, Japanese, or even Australians of undeniable Scotch-Irish-English origin.
More often than not, a euphemism can carry a double-charge of “hurt.” It is a mentally-induced fig leaf that fools no one. Everyone knows what it is intended to hide, disguise, or evade, and sires an even stronger, unreasoning contempt (deserved or not) for the beneficiary of the euphemism. The danger lies in men adopting euphemisms as substitutes for the real as a matter of course and habit.
In the past, when works of art remained sacrosanct and off-limits to arbitrary tampering as a matter of policy, redacted, abridged, or adulterated works from the literary canon remained anomalies that were soon forgotten. In today’s culture, however, when intellectual property rights are not consistently upheld by the courts, and when no dominant esthetics exists but the cult of “artistic” destruction, Gribben’s widely publicized adulteration of Twain’s novels could inaugurate a wholesale campaign to render politically correct and “safe for consumption” other less “offensive” works. There are many marauding censors and literary vandals in the culture eager to wash out the mouths and minds of literary characters with the soap of sensitivity to protect the spiritually anemic and the collectivized vessels of second-hand identities.