Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Political Correctness" Running Amok?

I have complained about caprices of some translators often, when they made edits to the books they worked on.  Now, this practice has encroached the books written in English and would be marketed to the American readers.  Julie Bosman reported for New York Times that Publisher Tinkers With Twain.

She reported that a new edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be release the edition in February by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama is to replace the word "nigger" by "slave," 219 times in all.  The book also substitutes "Indian" for "injun."  She reported that:

Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University at Montgomery, approached the publisher with the idea in July.  Mr. Gribben said Tuesday that he had been teaching Mark Twain for decades and always hesitated before reading aloud the common racial epithet, which is used liberally in the book, a reflection of social attitudes in the mid-19th century.

"I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either 'Huckleberry Finn' or 'Tom Sawyer,'" he said. "And I don't think I'm alone."

"I'm by no means sanitizing Mark Twain," Mr. Gribben said. "The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone."

The news set off a storm of angry online commentary, scolding the publisher for "censorship" and "political correctness," or simply for the perceived sin of altering the words of a literary icon. Twain admirers have turned his hefty “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” published last year, into a best seller. 

Some English teachers were less than thrilled about the idea of cleaning up a classic.
"I'm not offended by anything in 'Huck Finn,'" said Elizabeth Absher, an English teacher at South Mountain High School in Arizona. "I am a big fan of Mark Twain, and I hear a lot worse in the hallway in front of my class."

Ms. Absher teaches Twain short stories and makes "Huck Finn" available but does not teach it because it is too long — not because of the language.

"I think authors’ language should be left alone," she said. "If it's too offensive, it doesn’t belong in school, but if it expresses the way people felt about race or slavery in the context of their time, that's something I’d talk about in teaching it."

To criticize this attempt as "Political Correctness" running amok is actually quite mild.  Looking deeper, one can detect something more sinister.  This new edition attempts to re-write history by hiding some ugly truths of our nation's most wrenching past, the truth made some of us uncomfortable, particularly to those who don't want to be reminded that using derogatory terms was once social norm and don't welcome any reminder of that and would be gladly to pretend that those ugly truths never existed, not here anyway.  By substituting words, the publisher is denying readers, particularly less informed young ones, a piece of crucial information.  By looking away from our heinous history, we would have missed a great opportunity to educate people of our history and our values.

If such trends continue, I wouldn't be surprised that one hundred years from now one, people would claim that slavery has never existed in the U.S., as some people, be it in Germany, Iran or America, who have been trying to deny the occurrence of the Holocaust.

No comments:

Post a Comment