NYT columnist: If censoring “Huckleberry Finn” gets more people to read it, why not do it?
posted at 3:23 pm on January 5, 2011 by Allahpundit
I skipped this story yesterday thinking that, after so many years of this idiocy, not only is there nothing left to say about it but practically no one left who’s willing to argue the other side. There’ll always be a few dim liberals ready to make the literary commissar vanish, but my hunch is that even most progressives oppose bowdlerizing the book. It’s historically false, it betrays Twain’s intent, it sets a horrible revisionist precedent for other great works, and maybe worst of all, it misses the point of why the slurs are there. Twain’s goal, of course, wasn’t to gratuitously dehumanize blacks, it was to use the sympathy you feel for Jim to make you feel the injustice of that casual day-to-day dehumanization. With all that arguing against editing the text, I figured no prominent liberal would support it.
But I was wrong, wasn’t I?
If censoring Huck Finn will help get a great book back on h.s. reading lists, isn’t that worth it?
Give him credit, I guess, for not using a euphemism in lieu of “censoring.” Jesse Walker and Patterico have thoughtful takes on the new bowdlerized edition, but all I want to know is: Where does this practice end? And what kind of high school teacher are you if you can’t explain the difference between a racist book and a book that uses racist language to argue against racism?
Update: Amerpundit e-mails to say that he received this in his comments section last night:
We understand there are strong feelings about this; we feel strongly too about the sanctity of literature, and opposing censorship.
What is perhaps unclear in the article above is that this edition is not meant to pretend as though the offensive language doesn’t exist; rather there is a detailed introduction included in this volume that addresses the language, its historical context, and the ongoing debate in schools as to whether or not to teach Twain’s work because of the language. No reader can read this book without facing the question of including or excluding the language; this book is about the language question, not hiding from it.
If the publication sparks good debate about how language impacts learning and/or about the nature of censorship or the way racial slurs exercise their baneful influence, then our mission in publishing this new edition of Twain’s works will be more emphatically fulfilled. We encourage everyone to read an excerpt from Dr. Gribben’s introduction at http://www.newsouthbooks.com/twain. Thanks!