New South Books is coming out with a new edition of Samuel Clemons classic, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". What makes this item newsworthy is that in this edition all of the racial slurs have been replaced. For example the offending "N word" has been replaced with "slave". A lot of people will be talking about this for the next few days. Most of them will rush to judgment and few will give the matter the nuanced exploration it deserves. I am going to try.
Of course a lot of people will once again complain about "Political Correctness". The people who complain the loudest about "Political Correctness" always remind me of older versions of the kids who used to make fun of the girl with the brace on her leg. I suspect they miss those days. I firmly believe in a persons right to be called what they want to be called. That's really what so called "political correctness" is about. Good manners...or, to put it more simply, not being an asshole. The majority of my friends are Witches. Many of them prefer to be called "Wiccans". They chose this because twenty years of Hammer Films have given people a rather unrealistic idea of what Witchcraft is and a totally erroneous idea of who they worship. Makes sense to me.
A few years ago my old friend Jason went to Thailand for sexual reassignment surgery. S(he) now prefers that I call her "Janessa". If she is willing to fly half-way around the world and undergo expensive and painful surgery to make her body fit her self image, the least I can do is call her what she wishes to be called.
In spite of all of these things, I am opposed to mucking about with the work of a great writer, or any other kind of writer for that matter. Let me explain why.
First of all, as a semi-professional writer I am opposed to censorship on principle. I put a lot of thought into the words I choose. Most of the greatest works of literature have been banned somewhere at some time. It is my fondest desire to publish a book and be banned somewhere, preferably Texas. When Gore Vidal's "Myra Breckenridge" was ruled obscene he replaced all of the offending words with the names of Supreme Court Justices. I think it is a great pity this practice didn't catch on.
In particular I am opposed to historical revisionism. Sanitizing the brutality of our past is a very bad idea. Santayana was correct when he said that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. How can we ever find a clear path to what we wish to become if we persist in lying to ourselves about who we were?
Finally, there is the feeble excuse of protecting the children. Bull. When I was bedridden for a few weeks as a child my grandmother read to me. The book she chose was, "To Kill a Mockingbird". It was new at the time. She read it as it was written. She left in "the N word", although if that work ever passed my lips my doom was sealed! She even left in the part about the charge of rape and attempted to give an explanation that a nine year-old would accept for what that crime was without having to explain sexuality. It didn't scar me as a child. I grew up wanting very much to be Atticus Finch when I became a man. I still do.
In the course of my fifty-odd years we have come from segregated drinking fountains in some states through the marches and the murders of too many good men to this place at last. We want to get it right, or at least most of us do. We get that a lot of good people were the victims of America and that we owe them some simple courtesy at the very least. Now even web sites that will cheerfully say "F**k" won't use "the N word". I suspect that may be due in part to the fear of being flagged by filtering software, but it leads to an amusing thought. Rule #34 of the internet says that if you can imagine it, porn exists of it. Somewhere a bunch of old peckerwoods in white sheets who can't get it up any other way are probably paying a hooker to say all the old racial slurs.
Be seeing you