The Gross National Debt

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Of niggers, injuns, and double standards

Telling quote: “Race matters in these books.”

This is the comment from Alan Gribben, which the story identifies as a Mark Twain expert.

Gribben is cutting out the words Nigger and Injun from the book.

Race, as Gribben says, indeed mattered then. It matters now. If it matters, then why is Gribben trying to cover it up?

“It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.” he said.

Indeed it is.

I question what Gribben is trying to express.

Yassee, Twain didn’t write in the 21st Century. What he wrote was in one sense timeless, applicable today, tomorrow, 300 years ago and 300 years from now.

Twain was a wordsmith with few peers. He pioneered the use of several literary techniques and chose his words carefully. He used words, phrases and wrote material that was ahead of his time.

Frankly, a lot of what he wrote is still ahead. I seriously doubt most people have ever read the book and of those who did, fewer yet understood what he was trying to communicate.

Twain was not just writing a piece of fiction. He was writing about his world, as he saw it, in the terms of the day. In order to understand what he wrote, what he was trying to convey, you must also understand his world and how it operated.

Besides which, translations are never exact. Nuances are lost. Sometimes, whole meanings are lost.

The writer of the piece I quote from implies that the substance of the book is unchanged by the word modification. I charge that it is changed. Watered down, made less relevant, less information and the substance is not what Twain intended.

If the word didn’t matter, why change it?

The words nigger and injun, by the very act Gribben takes in removing them, further charge the words with immense power, near unbelievable power.

I ask you, if there is so much power in a word, how can the removal NOT change the book?

Lemme shift gears on you a second.

The word nigger does not carry and have the same meaning today as the word slave. Maybe the word has changed in the 100+ years since Huck Finn came out. In fact it has changed. Both.

In these days, depending on who uses the word, it is an epithet with a variable meaning.

Why? Why can one person say “nigger” and it be a term of affection and another use the same word and it be derogatory and insulting? Where is the equality in that?

As I am about to say to someone I personally know who has a huge double-standard habit: “You set the rules. I’ll apply them equally to everyone.” This will infuriate the person I tell say it to. I don’t care.

You set the rules, I’ll apply them equally. So be careful how you set the rules. That includes the use of the words nigger and injun and a whole lot of other stuff.

1 comment:

  1. How in these modern times can anyone oppose the noble and socially responsible endeavor to remove offensive materials from such works of linguistic pornography as Huckleberry Finn? My only regret is that the esteemed philanthropist Mr. Gribben refers to a beloved character as Slave Jim instead of the more sensitive African American Jim. I can only hope that Mr. Gribben continues to do such humanitarian work in the future, and even have a few suggestions for him.

    Starting with the Holy Bible, the Exodus event and Moses' encounters with the Pharaoh can now be revised to show how God used positive reinforcement techniques and rewarded good Pharaoic behavior in order to secure the freedom of the Hebrew. The whole ghastly business with the Philistines can be modeled into a tale of respect for cultural diversity and sharing. The Crucifixion needs some serious modernization. Perhaps a tale of how Jesus, unjustly sent to a Time Out stool in the corner, endured the discipline with stoic and respectable behavior. Who would claim that his triumphant rising from the seat would seriously alter the inspirational message that we too shall rise from our own Time Out stools when our time has come?

    The disturbingly violent The Red Badge of Courage can see redemption through redaction by having the Young Soldier come to grip with his illogical fear, and come to embrace the worldly enrichment of universal health care.

    The Illiad requires considerable revision as well. Not one iota of Grecian poetic imagery would be lost by reconfiguring the Trojan War into a self esteem building playful and non-competitive rivalry between the Achaeans and the Trojans to show how peaceful conflict resolution is socially responsible and inspiring.

    I for one eagerly await a less offensive version of Tolstoy's War and Peace, renamed Inappropriate Behavior and Peace in order to avoid the encouragement of disruptive behavior.


Hi. I welcome lively debate. Attack the argument. Go after a person in the thread, your comments will not be posted.