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publisher removing "nigger" from Twain books
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futuristxen



Joined: 01 Jul 2002
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Charlie Foxtrot wrote:
Mark in Minnesota wrote:
Taking a piece of obsolete vernacular that has become a jarring and extreme pejorative and replacing it with a word that more clearly reflects the tone the author intended for the narrative is a good way to update the material for modern audiences.


Much of the purpose of the novel is to critique racism though. There's a reason words like nigger and injun were so common back then but no such common slang existed for whites. Using the word did not in and of itself reflect racism on the part of the user, but the fact that said words were so common did reflect a societal racism. In order to read the book you have to be able to understand this (otherwise you'll think all the white characters are racist). Replacing the word slave may make it easier to read but it eliminates context.

This brings us to Shakespeare. As far as Othello is concerned, if you can't withhold your snickering at a menstruation joke Shakespeare is probably above your reading level. By the same token if you can't understand the context of slurs in Huck Finn you might not be smart enough to read it.


Spot on all of this.
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 4:24 am
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futuristxen



Joined: 01 Jul 2002
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Mark in Minnesota wrote:
futuristxen wrote:
But we're talking about changing a classical work in ways that may alter it's meaning in key ways--it's not an attempt to make the work more accurate--just more sanitary.


That's the thing, the classical work remains intact, in the same way that it remained intact in spite of the abridged version I read one summer as an elementary school kid.



If I draw glasses and a mustache on the mona lisa and tell my twelfth grade class that that is the mona lisa as painted by Da Vinci, while the classical work remains in tact, I am in effect bastardizing the work, and lying to my classroom.

Hardly the best approach to teaching said classics.
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 4:28 am
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Mark in Minnesota



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Charlie Foxtrot wrote:
This brings us to Shakespeare. As far as Othello is concerned, if you can't withhold your snickering at a menstruation joke Shakespeare is probably above your reading level. By the same token if you can't understand the context of slurs in Huck Finn you might not be smart enough to read it.


The point is that Shakespeare didn't write a menstruation joke. Language shifted over time and plays that were written for relatively uneducated contemporary audiences have become a subject of scholarly analysis completely outside the original emotional and artistic context of the work. A modern performance of the play which attempts to retain some of that original context harms their cause by not taking the changes between then and now into account.

It's not a question of whether the work is above the reading level of a given audience member or not, it's a question of whether the production of the work intends to require the audience to use a reading level that the original author never intended to require of his original audiences.

There's room in the world for works like these to be examined intact for scholarly and historical perspective, and simultaneously updated for contemporary consumption. Updating the book to use more contemporary language isn't necessarily about dumbing it down for people who couldn't understand it otherwise, so much as reworking the text so that people today can get an insight into what that writing might have felt like to audiences who were consuming it at the time it was first published.

The intellectual exercise you're defending wasn't something that happened to either work until decades after it had originally been published. It's treating the original text with archaeological precision instead of as a collection of ideas and images set in living language results in a completely different intellectual experience.

It makes me think about blues and jazz musicians laughing about new people coming up, playing old standards and faithfully reproducing all of the adlibs and pre-song banter as if it were a part of the core work.

A great deal of art is an attempt to speak to a basic emotional question: What does it look like here and how do I feel? As a work ages, or moving out of the region where it was written, it becomes dated or provincial and stops doing what it was designed to do.

Trying to return the original emotional thrust of the work to it by stripping those obsolete parts out of it and getting back down to what we understand to be its core content isn't bastardization. It just isn't. The Ship of Theseus still sails.

If your argument is that the edits to Mark Twain that we're here to talk about should not need to be made because the word "nigger" had the same emotional content in 1884 that it does in 2011 and therefore the edits are actually tampering with the author's intent rather than trying to restore it... I guess at that point I'd be interested in some of the historical analysis. My sense of it is that the word then was not shocking and scandalizing the way it is today, particularly not in the regional dialect that Twain was using. At the time the impact was probably somewhat anachronistic and trashy, but not outrageous in the sense that it is today. I could certainly be wrong about that.
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 4:44 am
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Z-0



Joined: 28 Sep 2004
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does this approved editing of the "obsolete" parts apply only to literature? should we edit cinema art as our sensibilities change? should music be edited? where do you end the editing process in time? when the language no longer represents what was written by the author, but this new language retains the authors intention? dont you lose the authors intentions via multiple reinterpretations? even if it is one word at a time? slippery slope.

i'll also say i dont believe a classic novel or story is necessarily eternal. it has a generational life span. it doesnt need to be updated or revised so that present or future generations can enjoy it as our grandparents, parents, and possibly we did. as such it should be left to represent the time in which it was crafted. that's one of the great gifts of literature.


Last edited by Z-0 on Wed Jan 05, 2011 5:41 am; edited 2 times in total
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 5:24 am
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futuristxen



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Perhaps we can go back to Lolita and change her age to 18? Y'know...make it suitable for children to read....

What's an "updated" version of something like Naked Lunch read like?
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 5:35 am
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Z-0



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futuristxen wrote:
What's an "updated" version of something like Naked Lunch read like?


burroughs never took heroin, what are you talking about?...
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 6:19 am
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MP3D
Straaaange FAMOUS!


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how is the word "slave" any better?

they have begun to rewrite the constitution, makes sense that they would change the classics too.....

WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN AT WAR WITH EURASIA
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 8:28 am
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crash



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how have they re-written the constitution?
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 9:01 am
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remind



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Sounds like the driving force behind this is that the professor no longer wanted to deal with the discomfort of having to say the word when reading aloud (although he claims that it's being done for "younger people and general readers"). Not exactly an essential reason for altering a classic which surely changes the context of the work.
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 9:28 am
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futuristxen



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The crazy thing is said professor is passing himself off as a "twain expert". I can't imagine devoting myself so much to something so to be an "expert" in it, only to use that platform as expert to destroy that which I spent all of that time becoming an expert at.

It's like the dude is a sleeper cell literary terrorist.
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 9:40 am
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Sarcastro



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futuristxen wrote:
It's like the dude is a sleeper cell literary terrorist.


yes, that's exactly what he is.
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 9:50 am
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seandaley
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i will not have an opinion on this
until i get over the fact that the powers that be also changed radio raheems dialogue to,"D mickey flicker D."
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 10:58 am
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anomaly
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i'm going to fight this and reinsert the word in bookstores.

We have the technology; we can rebuild it.

Random curiousity:
Has Jesse Jackson gotten involved in this yet? How about Bono or Sean Penn?
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 11:46 am
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Confidential



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Fucking stupid. Have enough respect for the author. How about we just take out the word from Black Boy?
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 11:50 am
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Disharmony



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The word nigger is like the boogey man in old literature now. Haunting kids fragile minds. Fuck that. If I published something, I would do it under the intention that my work would be shown in its entirety regardless of social connotations and what not.

Just don't show the book.
Post Wed Jan 05, 2011 12:03 pm
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