Showing posts with label Mark Twain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark Twain. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Mark Twain is full of bull

One particular joy of getting back to my hometown -- Baton Rouge -- is the chance to spend some quality time with one of my favorite buildings in the world.

Mark Twain, on the other hand, could not abide the Old State Capitol. Twain got to know the building as a river pilot in the mid-1800s, when the Gothic Revival statehouse didn't have the adjective "Old" attached to it.

Granted, it did have some unfortunate turrets atop its towers back then, but that doesn't change my opinion that, as an architecture critic, Samuel Clemens was a brilliant novelist.

You know, let's just be blunt. As an architecture critic, the man just reeked. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn would have been scandalized by his snobbish arrogance.
Baton Rouge was clothed in flowers, like a bride - no, much more so; like a greenhouse. For we were in the absolute South now - no modifications, no compromises, no halfway measures. The Magnolia trees in the Capitol grounds were lovely and fragrant, with their dense rich foliage and huge snow-ball blossoms. The scent of the flower is very sweet, but you want distance on it, because it is so powerful. They are not good bedroom blossoms-- they might suffocate one in his sleep. We were certainly in the South at last; for here the sugar region begins, and the plantations--vast green levels, with sugar-mill and negro quarters clustered together in the middle distance--were in view. And there was a tropical sun overhead and a tropical swelter in the air.

And at this point, also, begins the pilot's paradise: a wide river hence to New Orleans, abundance of water from shore to shore, and no bars, snags, sawyers, or wrecks in his road.

Sir Walter Scott is probably responsible for the Capitol building; for it is not conceivable that this little sham castle would ever have been built if he had not ran the people mad, a couple of generations ago, with his mediæval romances. The South has not yet recovered from the debilitating influence of his books. Admiration of his fantastic heroes and their grotesque "chivalry" doings and romantic juvenilities still survives here, in an atmosphere in which is already perceptible the wholesome and practical nineteenth-century smell of cotton-factories and locomotives; and traces of inflated language and other windy humbuggeries survive along with it. It is pathetic enough, that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things--materials all ungenuine within and without, pretending to be what they are not-- should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place; but it is much more pathetic to see this architectural falsehood undergoing restoration and perpetuation in our day, when it would have been so to let dynamite finish what a charitable fire began, and then devote this restoration-money to the building of something genuine.
HOW VERY "sivilized" of Mr. Clemens . . . Twain . . . whatever.

Me, I think a picture is worth a thousand words. So here are four.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Editing out the cold, hard facts of history

I find it highly amusing that at a branch of Auburn University, we have an English professor so offended by the N-word that he has search-and-replaced it from the entirety of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

This when the parent institution, apparently, has plenty of room for an African-American quarterback whose own father sought to auction off to white athletic boosters.

Twain's 19th-century, culturally accurate (unfortunately) use of a racial slur is so bad that literature --
and history -- must be sanitized. All because, in the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, "You can't stand the truth!"

On the other hand, a black minister pimping out his own flesh and blood to the money men of some Southern college-football power . . .
that's a truth we can stand just fine. Don't forget, it's Auburn vs. Oregon for the BCS national championship, 7:30 p.m. Central on ESPN.

But that's not important now. What's important is to sanitize literature -- and history, too -- because it sometimes shows us ugly things.

Historical ugly things, of course, are the worst ugly things because we're less likely to be entangled in them at the moment, thus making self-righteousness much easier --
and less conspicuous.

THEREFORE, we find ourselves at the point described in today's New York Times:

A new edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is missing something.

Throughout the book — 219 times in all — the word “nigger” is replaced by “slave,” a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February.

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.”

Mr. Gribben, who combined “Huckleberry Finn” with “Tom Sawyer” in a single volume and also supplied an introduction, said he worried that “Huckleberry Finn” had fallen off reading lists, and wanted to offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers.

“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 book also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”)

Since the publisher discussed plans for the book this week with Publishers Weekly, it has been “assaulted” with negative e-mails and phone calls, said Suzanne La Rosa, the co-founder and publisher of NewSouth Books.

“We didn’t undertake this lightly,” Ms. La Rosa said. “If our publication fosters good discussion about how language affects learning and certainly the nature of censorship, then difficult as it is likely to be, it’s a good thing.”

I AM SO HAPPY that no one took it lightly when setting out to bring us one step closer to the information-management practices of an Orwellian dystopia. Maybe a long face is a moral disinfectant, after all.

Or maybe we're all just as squeamish as we are stupid and morally bankrupt. Or, perhaps, so open-minded that all our brains have fallen out.

I eagerly await Winston Smith's Wikipedia edits. "Nigger," you see, always has been "nigga," and it's just a term of endearment between African-Americans in the 'hood. White people aren't allowed to say it because it's, like, a fraternity rule or something.

And it's only a rumor (started by socialists or something, surely) that a society that can't look ugly in the face only grows all the more grotesque in due time.