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Dan Davis <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 11 Jan 2011 18:31:52 -0500
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I didn't state any of that quoted text very well. Especially painful to
reread is the footnote. What was written playfully (my understanding from
many of your posts was that Alan Gribben really IS an all-around good guy)
reads as a hefty chunk of petty sarcasm. For that I apologize and will try
to choose my words and phrasings more carefully in the future.

So let me try this again:

Dr. Gribben makes several key assertions in his introduction for which no
supporting data is offered. While I realize that an introduction is not a
dissertation, controversial assertions trigger higher expectations of
accountability.  Some examples:

"As a notoriously commercial writer who watched for every opportunity to
enlarge the mass market for his works, [Twain] presumably would have been
quick to adapt his language if he could have foreseen how today's audiences
recoil at racial slurs in a culturally altered country." This presumption is
a long leap. References to actions or statements supporting the likelihood
of such a response would lend it more credibility.

"I invariably substituted the word "slave" for Twain's ubiquitous n-word
whenever I read any passages aloud. Students and audience members seemed to
prefer this expedient, and I could detect a visible sense of relief each
time, as though a nagging problem with the text had been addressed." The
psychological and sociological factors driving these sorts of behaviors is
complex and influenced by many factors. Were these factors considered? A
much larger question, though, is the basis upon which it was concluded that
an audience's apparent favorable reaction to the expurgation of an
uncomfortable term is a valid basis upon which to make the decision to
expurgate it.

"Unquestionably both novels can be enjoyed just as deeply and authentically
if readers are not obliged to confront the n-word on so many pages." I'm not
aware of any evidence to support such a sweeping conclusion. I'm not sure it
is even possible to design an experiment that could consistently and
objectively measure the relative depth and authenticity of a reader's
enjoyment across two versions of a text. Even if such could be devised, it
is doubtful that "enjoyment" can legitimately be considered the intent of
Twain's use of the n-word in the text.

"Consequently in this edition I have translated each usage of the n-word to
read 'slave' instead, since the term 'slave' is closest in meaning and
implication." This is patently and demonstrably false, yet it is presented
as an obvious, universally accepted fact. The n-word is a very specific and
powerful epithet, while "slave" is a generic descriptor that, to my
knowledge, has never been commonly used as an epithet (or even an

Finally, my footnote was intended to stress the importance of addressing the
problematic aspects of this decision independent of any consideration of
Alan Gribben's phenomenal credentials or his significant accomplishments.
(After all, it's certainly not the first time the n-word substitution
question has been raised.) In my experience, though, this Is an easy thing
to say but very difficult to do, since we are all vulnerable to "appeal to
authority" logical fallacies, and many here know Dr. Gribben personally. I
felt it was important to point out that an appeal to Dr. Gribben's
credentials, contributions, or character is not what I mean when I wish for
a defense of his position.

* Any more detailed discussion of the significant dissimilarities between
these two words would be quite lengthy, but the bottom line is that the only
acceptable substitute for an epithet ("acceptable" meaning that there is
minimal loss or distortion of meaning) is another epithet with similar
semantic content (should one happen to exist). Obviously, such a
substitution isn't likely to resolve the objections that prompted the search
for a substitute. A fairly succinct introduction to the relevant linguistic
issues can be found in the first few sections of 'The Semantics of Racial
Epithets' ( by Christopher

Dan Davis
Atlanta, GA

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Twain Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Kevin Mac
Sent: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 1:47 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Editorial by Ron Powers on the NewSouth HF; a request for a

>> If anyone here honestly considers Gribben's position defensible*, I'd 
>> certainly like to see the argument laid out, point by point.
>> Dan Davis
>> Atlanta, GA
>> * When I say "defensible" I mean supportable by means other than 
>> emotional references to Dr. Gribben's credentials, experience, 
>> reputation, or all-around good-guy personality.


Al Gribben makes his case in the introduction to the book which is available
at the publisher's website. Point by point? Well, I don't know if you'll
find any p'ints in his argument that make it any better'n any other
argument. That's up to you, and you may agree or disagree.

I pointed out that Al is one of us and deserves the same respect that anyone
else does. He's done more to advance Twain scholarship than most, and some
of the chatter about this new edition has been disrespectful. This is not an
"emotional reference" to his "all-round good-guy personality" -- it's a plea
for civility.

Mac Donnell Rare Books
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Austin TX 78730
Member: ABAA, ILAB
You may browse our books at

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