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Harold Hellwig <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 5 Jan 2011 22:12:19 -0700
text/plain (282 lines)
I'll be teaching this novel this semester, so this has been an illuminating
discussion, and I thank the members of the Forum for their insights.  I'm
using the latest edition, and I'm not censoring any class discussion that
might follow.  I agree completely with Jocelyn, of course.  I think we need
to confront the history of the text along with the history of the times.

I had a student this fall semester object by way of email to L.A.
Confidential, a text I incorporated into something termed Literature of the
American West (using The Octopus, Roughing It, The Handyman, The Big Sleep,
and a bland text called The Vineyard, among other texts).  Too many bad
words, apparently.  The class uniformly disliked The Octopus, and seemed to
like The Vineyard, a text I found useful for some historical contexts of
Prohibition and an appreciation of vineyard culture, but not a great text.
They had some good reasons, though I'm not yet persuaded.

I suggested she drop the course, though I struggled with the idea of letting
her read something else, but without the bad words.  She stuck it out,
including reading The Handyman, which ought to have horrified her in some
ways.  I'm sure her parents and her cultural background had something to do
this; she seemed quite honest in her revulsion of Ellroy's text.  I doubt
that I'll see her again, but I wouldn't recommend that she read many
contemporary works.  I can't imagine that she watches True Blood or even Law
and Order on television, but I think I can accept her background and
apparent uneasiness about the language which surrounds us in so many ways, a
language that even Twain might find offensive at times.  I don't have to
change her, but I can continue to challenge my students with the reality of
American society, past and present.

If I had to censor some of the texts I use in class, I'd have little to
offer after awhile.  What would happen if I stop teaching O'Brien's The
Things They Carried?  Or any text that might offend?  Yes, we'll be reading
Howl, and I'll point out the one reference to Idaho in that great poem (no
student has every objected); I'm more annoyed at the politics of Pound and
sexism in Hemingway (both claimed to be Idaho writers), and yet I'll teach
them also.

Hal Hellwig

On Wed, Jan 5, 2011 at 8:37 PM, Jocelyn Chadwick <
[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Many years ago, the Mark Twain House hosted a panel--Dick Gregory, Shelley
> Fi=
> sher Fishkin, Russell Simmons, Gloria Naylor, and myself. The purpose of
> the=
>  panel was to discuss where the term "nigger" fitted, if it did at all, in
> t=
> he 20th century. While Simmons argued that African Americans, particularly
> y=
> oung artists and musicians, had reclaimed and thereby redacted the term,
> mak=
> ing "nigger," along with other iterations, terms of endearment, others of
> us=
>  on the panel argued that no one entity possesses the ability to take a
> term=
>  laden with such history and bloodshed and struggle and transform it into a
> t=
> erm devoid of its historicity.=20
> As with so many texts which contain sensitive terms, events, moments,
> Advent=
> ures of Huckleberry Finn seeks to compel readers to confront the ugliness
> of=
>  dehumanization, the hypocrisy of feigned civility, the travesty of the
> bond=
>  of friendship--all framed within the realm of race and racism.=20
> When we begin to feel the need to filter the truth from our students, when
> w=
> e relinquish our understanding of when and why we teach such works, and
> when=
>  we determine we must decide "which" of our students may read any text,
> base=
> d on race, gender, religion, or cultural difference, we are, my friends, in
> d=
> anger of losing why we are yet in both the high school and college
> classroom=
> . I earnestly hope those who would censor Mark Twain and other pieces of
> "se=
> nsitive" literatures as, would ask those they are "trying to protect."
> Knowing how to teach the work is up to us as teachers now and up to us to
> he=
> lp those new teachers coming after us.=20
> Jocelyn
> Sent from my iPad
> On Jan 5, 2011, at 5:18 PM, Gregg Camfield <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> > I agree with Larry.  I appreciate Alan's many contributions; I don't
> expec=
> t always to agree with him.  "It is not best that we should all think
> alike;=
>  it is a difference of opinion that makes horse races" and, sometimes,
> wisdo=
> m for those who listen to the other side. =20
> >=20
> > I agree that _Huck_ is a hard book to take (as Jim Cox put it) and that
> te=
> aching it can be difficult.  The younger the audience, the harder.  How one
> c=
> onfronts that difficulty depends on more circumstances than I feel
> comfortab=
> le evaluating from my armchair. I haven't yet found a circumstance where
> I'd=
>  want to change the language, though I haven't ever taught the book to high
> s=
> chool or junior high school students, especially those in underfunded,
> over-=
> crowded public schools.  I believe that Jocelyn is right; teaching _Huck_
> to=
>  such audiences can be done well.  I also know that not every public school
> t=
> eacher is able to reach the high standard she sets.  Maybe Alan's edition
> wi=
> ll give those teachers--and their students--a chance.  Again, not my
> choice,=
>  but I'm pro-choice in many ways.  =20
> >=20
> > Gregg
> >=20
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: Lawrence Howe <[log in to unmask]>
> > Date: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 10:47 am
> > Subject: Re: Language and Art editing
> > To: [log in to unmask]
> >=20
> >=20
> >> Kevin--=3D0A=3D0AI agree about being supportive of Alan Gribben, even
> if=20=
> >> some o=3D
> >> f us disagree with his decision on this point.  I think his=20
> >> explanation tha=3D
> >> t his edition serves teachers who would not use the book otherwise=20
> >> has some=3D
> >>  merit, though I prefer persuasion to capitulation.  His=20
> >> contributions to T=3D
> >> wain scholarship over the years are not re-shaped by his involvement=20
> >> in thi=3D
> >> s effort. =3D0A=3D0AYour call for support reminded me of the attacks
> on=20=
> >> Tom Wor=3D
> >> tham after an article about his collection of Twain memorabilia was
> circu=
> la=3D
> >> ted. I think it was Gregg Camfield who came to Tom's side on that=20
> >> one.  Sad=3D
> >> ly, Tom was quoted in the Keith Olberman piece last night.  I don't=20
> >> know if=3D
> >>  Olberman amped up the tone of Tom's criticism, but I thought it was=20
> >> unfort=3D
> >> unate that he was accusing Alan of being a 21st century Bowdler.
> =3D0A=3D=
> 0A--LH=3D
> >> =3D0A=3D0A--- On Wed, 1/5/11, Kevin Mac Donnell=20
> >> <[log in to unmask]> =3D
> >> wrote:=3D0A=3D0A> From: Kevin Mac Donnell=20
> >> <[log in to unmask]>=3D0A> Su=3D
> >> bject: Re: Language and Art editing=3D0A> To: [log in to unmask]>=20
> >> Date: Wedn=3D
> >> esday, January 5, 2011, 11:32 AM=3D0A> > at what point=3D0A> > does the
> e=
> diting=3D
> >>  stop?=3D0A> >=3D0A> > Kit Barry=3D0A> > The Ephemera Archive for
> America=
> n=20
> >> Studie=3D
> >> s=3D3D=3D0A> =3D0A> In this edition I think the editing stops with
> substi=
> tuting=3D
> >> =3D0A> "slave" for =3D0A> "nigger" and "Indian" for "Injun."=3DA0=20
> >> Somebody=3D0A> me=3D
> >> ntiioned the John Wallace =3D0A> edition of HF, but I'd like to point=20
> >> out tha=3D
> >> t he did much=3D0A> more than a few =3D0A> word substitutions. I'll
> give=20=
> >> just o=3D
> >> ne example. In the=3D0A> famous passage where =3D0A> Huck replies
> "No'm.=20=
> >> Killed=3D
> >>  a nigger" that entire sentence=3D0A> is deleted in =3D0A> Wallace's=20
> >> edition, w=3D
> >> ith the result that Huck simply replies=3D0A> "No'm" which in =3D0A>
> turn=
> =20
> >> erase=3D
> >> s all the racism out of Aunt Sally's response. I=3D0A> don't think
> any=20=
> >> =3D0A> o=3D
> >> f us can endorse that sort of defanging of Twain's text.=3D0A> But if=20
> >> all you=3D
> >>  do =3D0A> is substitute the word "slave" in Huck's reply, the=20
> >> racist=3D0A> imp=3D
> >> act of Aunt =3D0A> Sally's remark remains intact. There is co=20
> >> comparison=3D0A> =3D
> >> between this new =3D0A> edition and the Wallace edition.=3D0A> =3D0A>
> I'v=
> e=20
> >> also s=3D
> >> een a cyber-comment that Twain would never have=3D0A> allowed his
> texts=20=
> >> =3D0A> =3D
> >> to be defanged. Nonsense! He did it all the time, usually=3D0A> in=20
> >> response t=3D
> >> o =3D0A> Livy, or Howells, or after road-testing his texts before=20
> >> an=3D0A> audi=3D
> >> ence. In =3D0A> `Journalism in Tennessee' there's a newspaper editor=20
> >> who is=3D
> >> =3D0A> described as a =3D0A> "crawling insect" who is "braying."=3DA0=20
> >> Really? An =3D
> >> insect=3D0A> that brays? =3D0A> Jack-asses bray, not insects, and in=20
> >> Twain's ow=3D
> >> n copy of=3D0A> that printed text =3D0A> he corrected the printed
> text=20=
> >> back to =3D
> >> "jack-ass." Without=3D0A> original =3D0A> manuscripts and revised
> copies=20=
> >> of his=3D
> >>  printed texts we may=3D0A> never know the =3D0A> full extent of
> Twain's=20=
> >> self-e=3D
> >> diting, or how much he allowed=3D0A> others to fiddle =3D0A> with his=20
> >> texts. Tw=3D
> >> ain's editing was not limited to word=3D0A> choices. Didn't he =3D0A>=20
> >> leave out=3D
> >>  a chapter about lynching from one book so as not=3D0A> to harm sales=20
> >> in =3D0A>=3D
> >>  the south?=3D0A> =3D0A> As Twain once remarked when the Concord
> Library=20=
> >> banned=3D
> >>  HF,=3D0A> all of the noise =3D0A> and chatter would probably just
> sell=20=
> >> more co=3D
> >> pies. I hope=3D0A> that's the result =3D0A> this time around. More=20
> >> readers for =3D
> >> HF!!=3D0A> =3D0A> One last thought-- quibble as we may among
> ourselves,=20=
> >> I=3D0A> h=3D
> >> ope we all circle =3D0A> our wagons if the attacks on Al Gribben=20
> >> escalate. He=3D
> >>  is one=3D0A> of us, a friend, =3D0A> a boon to Twain scholarship, and
> a=20=
> >> good g=3D
> >> uy. I know a good=3D0A> safe-house in =3D0A> Austin, Texas.=3D0A>
> =3D0A>=20=
> >> Kevin=3D0A> =3D
> >> @=3D0A> Mac Donnell Rare Books=3D0A> 9307 Glenlake Drive=3D0A> Austin TX
> 7=
> 8730=3D0A=3D
> >>> 512-345-4139=3D0A> Member: ABAA, ILAB=3D0A>=20
> >> *************************=3D0A> You=3D
> >>  may browse our books at=3D0A>>
> =3D0A>=20=
> >> =3D0A> =3D0A>=3D
> >>  =3D0A> -----=3D0A> No virus found in this message.=3D0A> Checked by AVG
> -=
> =20
> >> www.av=3D
> >>> Version: 10.0.1191 / Virus Database: 1435/3359 -=20
> >> Release=3D0A> Date=3D
> >> : 01/04/11=3D0A>=20
> >>=20