“Upcoming NewSouth ‘Huck Finn’ Eliminates the ‘N’ Word”
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.”
Twain himself defined a “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.” Rather than see Twain’s most important work succumb to that fate, 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.”
“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
Well, except Twain wasn’t expressing it in the 21st century. He was expressing it in the 19th century.
Just because we read a book now — in its current context — doesn’t mean we get to change the context in which the book was written, or ignore that the book’s author used particular words at a particular historical moment to mean a particular thing. Let’s save that particular bit of incoherence for the Living Constitution.
The fact is, the very aspect of literature that teaches us a bit about the evolution of language and expression — it’s prior permanence as an intended text — is one of the things we should be highlighting in our study. And yet, because we now have followed the leftist tack of politicizing speech (and then making it politically “correct” as a way to stave off its offensiveness), we can airbrush individual meaning out of the historical record, usurp that meaning as belonging to us, and make the corrections to it we deem necessary.
Or, to put it another way, the individual will is folded into the collective and corrected for us.
But hey. Reasonable people, and all.
(h/t Jer; via Volokh)
related? (h/t JHo)