New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

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New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby sje46 » Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:35 am UTC

Spoiler:
What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will remove all instances of the “n” word—I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch—present in the text and replace it with slave. The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun. The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it. “Race matters in these books,” Gribben told PW. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
Unsurprisingly, there are already those who are yelling “Censorship!” as well as others with thesauruses yelling “Bowdlerization!” and “Comstockery!” Their position is understandable: Twain’s book has been one of the most often misunderstood novels of all time, continuously being accused of perpetuating the prejudiced attitudes it is criticizing, and it’s a little disheartening to see a cave-in to those who would ban a book simply because it requires context. On the other hand, if this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It’s unfortunate, but is it really any more catastrophic than a TBS-friendly re-edit of The Godfather, you down-and-dirty melon farmer? The original product is changed for the benefit of those who, for one reason or another, are not mature enough to handle it, but as long as it doesn’t affect the original, is there a problem?
What do you think, Shelf-Lifers? Unnecessary censorship or necessary evil?


http://shelf-life.ew.com/2011/01/03/huc ... it/?hpt=T2

My opinion: unwarranted and uncalled for Basic Human Decency.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Jahoclave » Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:43 am UTC

I do not approve. DO NOT APPROVE!

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Lazar » Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:53 am UTC

I'm never a fan of whitewashing or bowdlerization.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby ++$_ » Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:58 am UTC

God, even Mr. Staskiewicz, who (reading between the lines) seems none too happy with the editing, is apparently so worried that the word "nigger" might tunnel its way out from between the quotation marks that he refuses to use it, even though "Injun" is okay with him. Good thing he doesn't write articles for a chemical journal, because if he ever writes about "hydrofluoric acid^@@%*@#$(%*!)#$(%*!#_%_+_$-sodium hydroxide. (Phew! That was close. I'll keep any excess hydroxide away from the rest of the post by putting this "safe distance" in between.)

Anyway, what I was saying was that he might have a catastrophic quotation-mark failure if he ever wrote about hydrofluor -- er, "that chemical."

He might also have to be a bit careful when writing about ""Harry Houdini, or, most dangerous of all, "Candlej

Fortunately, the rest of us are protected, even from that guy whose name ends in "jack," because we take the basic writer's safety precaution of employing the use-mention distinction.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Jahoclave » Thu Jan 06, 2011 10:18 am UTC

Fortunately Mark Twain's Autobiography is large enough to be used as a very effective bludgeon.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby ++$_ » Thu Jan 06, 2011 10:26 am UTC

Mind you be careful, now, waving that "bludgeon" around like that without quotation marks.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Thu Jan 06, 2011 10:41 am UTC

++$_ wrote:Good thing he doesn't write articles for a chemical journal, because if he ever writes about "hydrofluoric acid^@@%*@#$(%*!)#$(%*!#_%_+_$-sodium hydroxide. (Phew! That was close. I'll keep any excess hydroxide away from the rest of the post by putting this "safe distance" in between.)

That's not the point and you know it: this would be more akin to removing the work "saltpeter" from old alchemy texts for "potassium nitrate".

"Nigger" has a powerful meaning which would be jarring for the modern reader when it wouldn't have been for the original audience, which is reason enough to make the edits.

And even then, it's one fucking house. Millions of copies of the book exist with none of the benign censorship.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Thu Jan 06, 2011 10:59 am UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:"Nigger" has a powerful meaning which would be jarring for the modern reader when it wouldn't have been for the original audience, which is reason enough to make the edits.

Since when is the goal of publishing old literature to ensure that "the modern reader" is sufficiently protected as to never find anything jarring in what they read?

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby blu » Thu Jan 06, 2011 11:38 am UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:"Nigger" has a powerful meaning which would be jarring for the modern reader when it wouldn't have been for the original audience, which is reason enough to make the edits.
I thought that one of the good things older novels provide is the ability to glimpse at a distant culture. Why remove part of that culture, even if you think it's ugly?

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby quantropy » Thu Jan 06, 2011 12:00 pm UTC

So the word "slave" is to be used instead, giving the message that a slave is always a slave "really", even if he escapes to a new life, or is given his freedom. And this is supposed to be Basically Decent?

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Mother Superior » Thu Jan 06, 2011 1:02 pm UTC

blu wrote:
Pez Dispens3r wrote:"Nigger" has a powerful meaning which would be jarring for the modern reader when it wouldn't have been for the original audience, which is reason enough to make the edits.
I thought that one of the good things older novels provide is the ability to glimpse at a distant culture. Why remove part of that culture, even if you think it's ugly?

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Heisenberg » Thu Jan 06, 2011 1:56 pm UTC

First, the book was meant to be jarring as it was intended to disturb its readers from their unchallenged biases.

Second, it's fundamentally altering the nature of the book. A slave is not necessarily a nigger, and a nigger is not necessarily a slave. The two terms are definitely not interchangeable. Which you would know, if you read the damn book.

Third, this is not like TBS Godfather. When I turn on TBS, I know it's edited. When I buy a book that says "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain," that's what I want. I don't want some gutless version whose nuts are sitting on some smug editor's desk.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Mother Superior » Thu Jan 06, 2011 2:00 pm UTC

In a way, the fact that readers will no longer be shocked by the liberal use of the word nigger will devalue a very important aspect of the book, and the controversy of the word itself.. As Heisenberg so rightly says, it's meant to shock you. Moreso if you're reading it now than if you'd read it back then, actually.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby mmmcannibalism » Thu Jan 06, 2011 2:14 pm UTC

Mother Superior wrote:In a way, the fact that readers will no longer be shocked by the liberal use of the word nigger will devalue a very important aspect of the book, and the controversy of the word itself.. As Heisenberg so rightly says, it's meant to shock you. Moreso if you're reading it now than if you'd read it back then, actually.


Agreed.

I seriously wonder who this is supposed to be helping. Why would downplaying how bad racism was historically be a good idea if your idea is to make the book better for the reading public.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby sje46 » Thu Jan 06, 2011 2:46 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:
++$_ wrote:Good thing he doesn't write articles for a chemical journal, because if he ever writes about "hydrofluoric acid^@@%*@#$(%*!)#$(%*!#_%_+_$-sodium hydroxide. (Phew! That was close. I'll keep any excess hydroxide away from the rest of the post by putting this "safe distance" in between.)

That's not the point and you know it: this would be more akin to removing the work "saltpeter" from old alchemy texts for "potassium nitrate".

If there was a word in this book that had a drastically different meaning than it does today, and will trip up readers (which may be what will happen to the already kinda archaic old usage of "gay" in a couple decades) I won't oppose them changing that to a modern word too much. But changing a word from a classic novel because it offends people, especially in this case, is just stupid and misinformed.
"Nigger" has a powerful meaning which would be jarring for the modern reader when it wouldn't have been for the original audience, which is reason enough to make the edits.
Too bad for those wimps. I'm of the opinion that the best way to fight racism/sexism/classism/prejudice in general is to be honest as hell. And life for black people in the 1800s sucked. They were called niggers then, and since this is a realistic novel, they should be called niggers in the book. Any modern reader who wants to read it should be aware before they even start that this is a novel about racism. To fully understand racism in 1800s America, you need to have that word in there. Why? Because people didn't spare the feelings of black people by deciding to not call them niggers. They weren't concerned about Basic Human Decency.
And even then, it's one fucking house. Millions of copies of the book exist with none of the benign censorship.

"Benign censorship"? No one asked for this censorship. And if anyone did, they are idiots and deserved to be beaten over the head with heavy objects for their idiocy. There is absolutely no reason to change any word in this book. I'm fine if people don't want to be exposed to that word, but these people shouldn't be approaching heavy racialist novels by 19th century American writers expecting not to see it.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Dauric » Thu Jan 06, 2011 3:08 pm UTC

sje46 wrote:If there was a word in this book that had a drastically different meaning than it does today, and will trip up readers (which may be what will happen to the already kinda archaic old usage of "gay" in a couple decades) I won't oppose them changing that to a modern word too much. But changing a word from a classic novel because it offends people, especially in this case, is just stupid and misinformed.


Somewhere in the depths of my parent's basement is a book of classic literature (I forget which stories) that has a forward that -explains the archaic use-. If you're going for classic literature, which will have language throughout that can be 'difficultly not-modern' I'd much rather have a few extra pages explaining the use of 'Gay=Happy' and others than to go changing the original text. Explain the author's (known facets of their) intent, rather than attempt to 'modernize' the language and potentially lose that intent altogether.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby podbaydoor » Thu Jan 06, 2011 3:16 pm UTC

You know what, Mark Twain pretty much says it the best, as usual.

But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn't anger me.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby MEGAMANTROTSKY » Thu Jan 06, 2011 3:53 pm UTC

++$_ wrote:Mind you be careful, now, waving that "bludgeon" around like that without quotation marks.
This quote made my day. The unfortunate part is that despite the humor behind it, it's none too far fetched.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby sje46 » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:12 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:
sje46 wrote:If there was a word in this book that had a drastically different meaning than it does today, and will trip up readers (which may be what will happen to the already kinda archaic old usage of "gay" in a couple decades) I won't oppose them changing that to a modern word too much. But changing a word from a classic novel because it offends people, especially in this case, is just stupid and misinformed.


Somewhere in the depths of my parent's basement is a book of classic literature (I forget which stories) that has a forward that -explains the archaic use-. If you're going for classic literature, which will have language throughout that can be 'difficultly not-modern' I'd much rather have a few extra pages explaining the use of 'Gay=Happy' and others than to go changing the original text. Explain the author's (known facets of their) intent, rather than attempt to 'modernize' the language and potentially lose that intent altogether.
I agree with this, definitely. But at some point it may be useful to simply retranslate something into (more) modern English. I'd have no problem if someone translated Shakespeare's works to something more easily understandable for modern people, although I think school children should be encouraged to read the original while they can. Because they certainly can't read the Canterbury Tales easily anymore.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby podbaydoor » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:15 pm UTC

I'd rather read Shakespeare with annotations. Modern translations lose a lot of the shades of meaning and awesome slang/wordplay he had. The recommended treatment is to read Shakespeare with annotations, then watch a live production of it. The archaic language becomes much less frustrating when you're hearing it being spoken and emoted naturally.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby sje46 » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:25 pm UTC

I agree. I'm just addressing this point
That's not the point and you know it: this would be more akin to removing the work "saltpeter" from old alchemy texts for "potassium nitrate".


I would be annoyed if they changed an archaic word for a newer word, but it's a completely different beast to changing words out of Basic Human Decency. It's a poor analogy.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Prefanity » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:27 pm UTC

The editor has stated his reason behind the changes is an attempt to make the book more widely accepted in school curriculums, but as someone who grew up in a provincial cowtown in Northern Nevada, I've got to wonder how much of a problem this actually is. Is parental outrage over this novel really so widespread?

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Mother Superior » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:30 pm UTC

Prefanity wrote:make the book more widely accepted in school curriculums

And to teach them less about how blacks were viewed way back when.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Glass Fractal » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:33 pm UTC

podbaydoor wrote:I'd rather read Shakespeare with annotations. Modern translations lose a lot of the shades of meaning and awesome slang/wordplay he had.


I always find that there is fairly small number of annotations per page needed to completely destroy the readability of book. Bouncing up and down from the middle of the page to the bottom and suddenly getting text written in a different voice breaks the flow. Shakespeare isn't too bad, but the Greek plays and Dante can have three or four notes a page.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Prefanity » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:34 pm UTC

Mother Superior wrote:
Prefanity wrote:make the book more widely accepted in school curriculums

And to teach them less about how blacks were viewed way back when.


Did he say that? That was surprisingly absent from the NPR report I listened to yesterday.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Роберт » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:35 pm UTC

Prefanity wrote:The editor has stated his reason behind the changes is an attempt to make the book more widely accepted in school curriculums...

That's all fine and dandy, but "slave" is not a good replacement for "nigger". What are they replacing "Injun" with? "Cheif"? :roll:
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Mother Superior » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:37 pm UTC

Prefanity wrote:
Mother Superior wrote:
Prefanity wrote:make the book more widely accepted in school curriculums

And to teach them less about how blacks were viewed way back when.


Did he say that? That was surprisingly absent from the NPR report I listened to yesterday.

Might not be the intention, but it is the result.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby firechicago » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:37 pm UTC

podbaydoor wrote:I'd rather read Shakespeare with annotations. Modern translations lose a lot of the shades of meaning and awesome slang/wordplay he had. The recommended treatment is to read Shakespeare with annotations, then watch a live production of it. The archaic language becomes much less frustrating when you're hearing it being spoken and emoted naturally.


Even spelling modernization can lose some of the subtlety of meaning. For example, in the opening lines of Richard III "this sonne of York" is intentionally ambiguous. (It means both "Son of [the House of] York" and "Sun of York" [which makes the winter of our discontent into glorious summer] with an added play on the fact that Edward's coat of arms was "Three Suns in Splendor")

And translating Shakespeare into modern English is a little bit like saying "John Coltrane's really hard to follow on Giant Steps, so we'll re-release it with someone else playing the same notes at half the speed." The language is very much the point. And the same is true for Mark Twain. He was writing about a time and place where racism was endemic and casual, and even "good" people partook in it. To try and whitewash that by softening his language is certainly not "benign censorship."

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Rackum » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:40 pm UTC

firechicago wrote: ... And translating Shakespeare into modern English is a little bit like saying "John Coltrane's really hard to follow on Giant Steps, so we'll re-release it with someone else playing the same notes at half the speed." The language is very much the point. And the same is true for Mark Twain. He was writing about a time and place where racism was endemic and casual, and even "good" people partook in it. To try and whitewash that by softening his language is certainly not "benign censorship."

And it will be played on the recorder.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Prefanity » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:40 pm UTC

Роберт wrote:
Prefanity wrote:The editor has stated his reason behind the changes is an attempt to make the book more widely accepted in school curriculums...

That's all fine and dandy, but "slave" is not a good replacement for "nigger". What are they replacing "Injun" with? "Cheif"? :roll:


I'm not defending the editing, I'm saying his reasoning seems spurious (or, at best, based on cherry-picked anecdotes) as I don't believe there's a widespread ban on teaching Huckleberry Finn in American schools.

Mother Superior wrote:
Prefanity wrote:
Mother Superior wrote:
Prefanity wrote:make the book more widely accepted in school curriculums

And to teach them less about how blacks were viewed way back when.


Did he say that? That was surprisingly absent from the NPR report I listened to yesterday.

Might not be the intention, but it is the result.


Sure, I understand that.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Zarq » Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:17 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:Third, this is not like TBS Godfather. When I turn on TBS, I know it's edited. When I buy a book that says "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain," that's what I want. I don't want some gutless version whose nuts are sitting on some smug editor's desk.


I kind off expect them to advertise this in huge letters as "non-offensive version", so there little risk of this.

As long as I can find original versions, and the censored version is labeled as such, I don't care that much.

But it is ridiculous. It is like editing all misogyny out of Flatland (which is an observation of Victorian culture, in case you didn't know).

But there's also a lot more ridiculous cases of censorship out there. The US-versions of one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, for instance.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby podbaydoor » Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:18 pm UTC

Glass Fractal wrote:
podbaydoor wrote:I'd rather read Shakespeare with annotations. Modern translations lose a lot of the shades of meaning and awesome slang/wordplay he had.


I always find that there is fairly small number of annotations per page needed to completely destroy the readability of book. Bouncing up and down from the middle of the page to the bottom and suddenly getting text written in a different voice breaks the flow. Shakespeare isn't too bad, but the Greek plays and Dante can have three or four notes a page.

Well, my favorite books with annotations is when the notes are off to the side instead of at the bottom. Less disruptive.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Chen » Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:26 pm UTC

podbaydoor wrote:Well, my favorite books with annotations is when the notes are off to the side instead of at the bottom. Less disruptive.


Some of the books we had in high school for Shakespeare dedicated the entire left page to annotations. It made the books rather thick but it was useful, especially for younger students (say grade 7/8).

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Kewangji » Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:35 pm UTC

Zarq wrote:But it is ridiculous. It is like editing all misogyny out of Flatland (which is an observation of Victorian culture, in case you didn't know).
When I read old science fiction, I'm often very jarred by the misogyny and kinda discouraged from reading old science fiction again afterward. I think of it as a bad thing (observing it once is enough, thank you) but I'm not sure if I would want someone to alter the books and leave that out [might be impossible, but still]. That said, I don't read them for the cultural observation, I read them for the ideas and the stories.

++$_ wrote:God, even Mr. Staskiewicz, who (reading between the lines) seems none too happy with the editing, is apparently so worried that the word "nigger" might tunnel its way out from between the quotation marks that he refuses to use it, even though "Injun" is okay with him. Good thing he doesn't write articles for a chemical journal, because if he ever writes about "hydrofluoric acid^@@%*@#$(%*!)#$(%*!#_%_+_$-sodium hydroxide. (Phew! That was close. I'll keep any excess hydroxide away from the rest of the post by putting this "safe distance" in between.)

Anyway, what I was saying was that he might have a catastrophic quotation-mark failure if he ever wrote about hydrofluor -- er, "that chemical."

He might also have to be a bit careful when writing about ""Harry Houdini, or, most dangerous of all, "Candlej

Fortunately, the rest of us are protected, even from that guy whose name ends in "jack," because we take the basic writer's safety precaution of employing the use-mention distinction.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Dauric » Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:35 pm UTC

podbaydoor wrote:
Glass Fractal wrote:
podbaydoor wrote:I'd rather read Shakespeare with annotations. Modern translations lose a lot of the shades of meaning and awesome slang/wordplay he had.


I always find that there is fairly small number of annotations per page needed to completely destroy the readability of book. Bouncing up and down from the middle of the page to the bottom and suddenly getting text written in a different voice breaks the flow. Shakespeare isn't too bad, but the Greek plays and Dante can have three or four notes a page.

Well, my favorite books with annotations is when the notes are off to the side instead of at the bottom. Less disruptive.


Actually I think e-books would be useful, if done right*. Use hyperlinks, possibly with a "show hyperlinks on/off setting" for those that find hyperlinked text disruptive. There's lots of great big studies and papers on Shakespeare, a text of Hamlet could have an extensive index of all the nuances and word-play, as well as the literary debates over the intended meaning(s) and what is going on 'behind the scenes' in the script.

*Big caveat, I know.

If we're talking about "modernizing" the text to teach it to modern youth, then a dual copy could be included in both the original and the 'modern' version, being as it would be a sort of e-textbook a teacher's lesson plan included to compare and contrast the two versions, again annotations to detail stuff about the intentionally ambiguous misspellings mentioned above and other such details.

If it was done right. Too many ways to take shortcuts and too many ways to "Cut Costs", and of course the "Think of the Children" crowd would rather coddle their innocence** than actually .. y'know.. Teach Literature.

** Though I don't recall children being all -that- innocent when I was in grade school...
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Jessica » Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:40 pm UTC

Editing a word (ok two words multiple times in the book) != removing all the racism. It is one of the instances of racism in the book, but it's not like huck finn has no other instances of racism without the n-word. It's not like not calling him nigger jim makes the rest of the book a integrated paradise.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about this. For one thing, it's just one version, not all versions. But, it is revising a classic to sound "better" to modern ears. But, it's removing a word which is actually quite offensive to large segments of the American population. But, that was an accurate representation of the racism at the time. But, is the teaching of racism in the past more important than the experiences of modern minorities, who may or may not have strong feelings about being taught this book in the current environment that they experience while being taught it.

It seems that this is being changed because white parents complained about the word, and white people are angry that it's being changed. I've read accounts in the past about black students have issues with other books being taught, the use of the n-word, and other things, but never about this book. I would love to get the experience of someone who had to be taught this in america, who wasn't white, and by an ignorant white teacher (not saying all white teachers are ignorant, but we all know there ARE ignorant teachers, and most would be white).

That's why I'm so conflicted about this. The purist in me hates it, but the political person in me tells me that I'm privileged to care about purity.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Belial » Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:43 pm UTC

firechicago wrote:Even spelling modernization can lose some of the subtlety of meaning. For example, in the opening lines of Richard III "this sonne of York" is intentionally ambiguous. (It means both "Son of [the House of] York" and "Sun of York" [which makes the winter of our discontent into glorious summer] with an added play on the fact that Edward's coat of arms was "Three Suns in Splendor")


Which is neat, but also kindof pointless: shakespeare's plays weren't really meant to be read by the audience. Spoken aloud, the pun would be intact no matter how you spelled it.
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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby firechicago » Thu Jan 06, 2011 6:01 pm UTC

Jessica wrote:Editing a word (ok two words multiple times in the book) != removing all the racism. It is one of the instances of racism in the book, but it's not like huck finn has no other instances of racism without the n-word. It's not like not calling him nigger jim makes the rest of the book a integrated paradise.


But without everyone calling Jim a nigger, it's much easier to read the book as about good people (who aren't racist and treat Jim humanely) vs. the bad people. More generally, changing the words of a great writer is like autotuning a great singer. Choosing words is what writers do. Choosing words and then putting them one after the other is about as basic a definition of the craft of writing as one can get. If you think a writer is great, you shouldn't want to change his words. And if you think you can choose words just as well or better, then go and write your own great work.

Jessica wrote:But, is the teaching of racism in the past more important than the experiences of modern minorities, who may or may not have strong feelings about being taught this book in the current environment that they experience while being taught it.


This seems to assume that modern minorities have no interest in seeing a mirror of their own experience in the words of great writers of the past. (And I thought experiencing strong feelings in response to reading a book was a sign that your English education was working.) If you're assuming that Twain's account of a racist society in the 1850's (written for an 1880's audience) doesn't have powerful and important things to say to those who experience racism in the 21st century, why are we making any kids read the book in the first place? In other words, if kids can't be trusted to see that Twain is writing about racism, rather than advocating for racism, then kids can't be trusted to get anything out of the book and shouldn't be reading it in the first place.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby firechicago » Thu Jan 06, 2011 6:10 pm UTC

Belial wrote:shakespeare's plays weren't really meant to be read by the audience. Spoken aloud, the pun would be intact no matter how you spelled it.


True, but other writers of the era, whose work definitely was intended to be read, did similar things very commonly. (For example, if you ever see an edition of Donne's poetry with modernized spelling, run the other way very very fast.) I just used that example because it's from a speech lots of people know.

Dauric wrote:If we're talking about "modernizing" the text to teach it to modern youth, then a dual copy could be included in both the original and the 'modern' version, being as it would be a sort of e-textbook a teacher's lesson plan included to compare and contrast the two versions, again annotations to detail stuff about the intentionally ambiguous misspellings mentioned above and other such details.


This is a minor quibble, but you can't really call it a misspelling when it occurred before the advent of standardized spelling. It's a little bit like saying that the American Revolution happened because the British violated The Bill of Rights. True, in a certain sense, but flagrantly anachronistic.

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Re: New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word

Postby Heisenberg » Thu Jan 06, 2011 6:16 pm UTC

Jessica wrote:But, is the teaching of racism in the past more important than the experiences of modern minorities,

I would argue that it is. This question doesn't just concern Literature, it concerns every subject, especially History. It's entirely possible that the viewing of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech may not be wholly pleasing and helpful to every individual. In fact, many people might protest his liberal usage of the term "Negro." However, it is a vital part of American History, and should not be dumbed down or diluted to appease each generation of fretting parents.

As much as these two examples are different, they are similar. They are both literary works written by civil rights leaders in the accepted language of their time. Editing them is not, in my mind, appropriate. The truth is a bitch sometimes, but it's always better than lying to your students.


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