Today I saw an article in Publishers Weekly that describes how a publisher, NewSouth Books is re-publishing a version of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain in which all versions of the n-word and ‘injun’ will be removed and replaced. The n-word will be replaced by ‘slave.’ Here’s what the article says about NewSouth’s reasoning:
“There was a market for a book in which the n-word was switched out for something less hurtful, less controversial. We recognized that some people would say that this was censorship of a kind, but our feeling is that there are plenty of other books out there—all of them, in fact—that faithfully replicate the text, and that this was simply an option for those who were increasingly uncomfortable, as he put it, insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful.”
Rob Wells says some great stuff about this in the excellent blog: Six LDS Writers and A Frog.
Here’s what I have to say about this issue.
There’s something about this kind of thing that eats at my guts like a giant piranha parasite.
These people are essentially saying, “This work of art is mostly okay, but the parts I don’t like or approve of can be changed and then the people who come after won’t have to disapprove of it the way I did.”
1. Who are they to change a work of art done by someone else? As an artist, this bugs me to no end! I don’t want some goober coming along and changing the way I say something.
Extreme example: Winged Victory, the sculpture on the main floor stairwell in the Louvre is stupendous. It is also headless. It is headless because the head broke off and people respect the artist enough to not try to add some kind of facsimile and present it as the real original thing. Also, what if someone thought the Mona Lisa’s dress showed too much cleavage?
2. These people are Satan. This idea that we need to protect other thinking people from some aspect of a piece of art is essentially a distrust issue and has its roots in taking away agency.
3. It’s robbery. We rob people of the chance to experience the original art in its original form, and they also lose the chance to have an unfettered and unmanipulated reaction to the original art and thereby explore their own reactions and even learn something about themselves.
4. I don’t let my kids watch some of the TV I watch because they wouldn’t get the themes and relationships. This is not censorship; this is nurturing children– and here’s the point, wait for iiiiiiiit– for whom I am RESPONSIBLE and who empirically won’t get it. Publishers, libraries, school libraries etc. are not and should not be expected to be responsible for adult consumers of art. Sorry, they just shouldn’t be.
There’s lots to argue about here, so let’s hear (read) it!