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Sender: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
From: Clay Shannon <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:17:33 +0000
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Reply-To: Clay Shannon <[log in to unmask]>
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When reading or quoting his works, I have struggled with whether to keep Twain's words "sacrosanct" by retaining the original wording in every case - specifically, the "elephant in the room" - the so-called "N word" (see, people don't even like to write it out, let alone verbalize it).
I have determined to (not uniquely or originally) replace the word with "slave" when I encounter it.
Here is my reasoning:
When I do my Twain performance, I do not speak as slowly as Twain did (although I do speak more slowly than my natural rate). Why? Because modern audiences would not have the patience to endure that "three-words-per-minute" stuff. They would tune me out quicker than a Barry Manilow song at a mosh pit.
I have also determined not to mimic the Twain gait on stage, again because the average member of the audience would be distracted, wondering whether I had hurt my leg or had imbibed two too many toddys prior to trodding the boards. Now among a crowd of Twainians, it would be different - I would probably effect the "sailor-on-shore" weave, because they (you) would "get it."
So, my point is: the current milieu must be served. And that's why "slave" should, in my opinion, replace the "N" word when reading/quoting Twain's works. If the original word was retained, the audience would understandably be uncomfortable, distracted, and possibly even antagonistic both towards me and Twain, viewing him perhaps as the immoralist of the insane rather than the moralist of the Main.
What the word meant to be people back in the 1840s (and 1880s, even) and how they responded/reacted to it in those times is different from people's response and reaction today. It may be that "slave" is, in actuality, a pretty good modern equivalent for the dreaded and now decidedly derogatory slur.
Why Twain used the word (especially in "Huck Finn") could continue to be discussed, but (alluding to Daniel Day-Lewis-as-Lincoln's advice to Tommy Lee Jones' character in "Lincoln"), the most effective way to get to the other side of the swamp is sometimes to go around it, rather than plunge headlong into the muck and mire.
The preservation of Twain's reputation, and to keep him on the world's readings lists, may best be served by bending a little in this case.
Your responses are welcomed and awaited. - B. Clay Shannon