Friday, January 7, 2011

Touch My Words and I Will Haunt You...or Worse!

I don't profess to be some kind of literary genius. I like reading and writing and I now do both for enjoyment rather than to learn something new, although I believe that you always learn something new. My days of highlighting text books and poring over a professional library are over. I find some non fiction works intriguing although I don't often read them anymore unless I am intensely fascinated by a topic or require a new low fat recipe.

Words and images are wonderful and there are many authors whom I greatly admire. There are also several who have killed countless trees for no apparent reason except that their one time status as a "New York Times bestselling author" allows them the right to continue writing drivel. I shall not name names at this point, and I am almost ashamed to admit that I have actually read countless such "steeley" efforts. One such author, and I use the term loosely, is so prolific that I'm fairly certain that she doesn't even pen all her own works anymore. In fact, some of the paperbacks are reminiscent of the writings of a ten year old schoolgirl experimenting with words and being liberal with language. Then there are those writers who try to launch the careers of their untalented children by "co-authoring" mysteries or encouraging their offspring to use their parent's well known moniker in bold font. This saddens me since there are plenty of good writers out there and the odds of having anything published run statistically in the area of one in a million.

Fortunately, literary masterpieces, works that will no doubt endure are still being written. There are authors who research the politics and history of their topics so incredibly well, paint such vivid images or write such convoluted yet fascinating scenarios, that their work will likely stand the test of time and show up as "classic" at some point in the future. And so they should. They should be read and appreciated exactly as they were written in this current century. An author's work, whether good or bad is an author's work.

No doubt, there will be controversy in the future as to whether many of this century's books are suitable, language appropriate, politically correct for use in various school systems, just as classics like "Catcher in the Rye", "The Scarlet Letter", "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "Brave New World" and "Lord of the Flies", to name a few, have created issues over recent decades. Once considered sexually explicit, "Madam Bovary" and "Moll Flanders" are tame compared to any movies or television programmes available nowadays. Socialist views, once considered heinous and corrupt are espoused successfully by many countries.

For the last few days, Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn", a social commentary on life and slavery published in 1885 has been front and centre in the news. The reason? It uses the "n" word to refer to a slave and black person over two hundred times. A publishing company, NewSouth Books, working with a Twain scholar, Alan Gribben, has seen fit to change the original wording to render it "less offensive". Less offensive! Less offensive? I am offended at the prospect of someone having the nerve, the right, the gall to change the words of a man as brilliant, insightful and benevelent as Mark Twain. Mark Twain, an ardent supporter of abolition and emancipation. Mark Twain, a man who personally paid for the education of several black people. Mark Twain a genius ahead of his time.

The Calgary Herald says " Huckleberry Finn has long been the target of zealous sorts who want to scrub it clean of the era of slavery in the United States' troubled history. Their battle has mainly centred around banning it from school libraries...." The same article also asks why stop here? Many other pieces of literature contain the word in question eg. "Gone With The Wind" and "To Kill A Mockingbird" . That's the point isn't it? Do we need people to go through every book ever written to "cleanse" these works of anything potentially offensive? Once this is done, do we re-edit based on the political correctness of the day? Will all this sanitizing eventually render an author's work mediocre and unrecognizable? And then I ask, why stop with literature? Why not rewrite history books to make the past more pleasant and acceptable? Let's leave out all the facts that offend, shock or potentially make us nervous, uncomfortable or unhappy. Omit data that makes a particular country look bad...oh wait, there are some countries who already do that aren't there? Aren't we glad we don't live in any of those places? Aren't we fortunate to have freedom of speech? Or do we?

Perhaps the point of the recent controversy is to re-ignite interest in and sell more copies of "Huckleberry Finn". If that's the case, clever.

It's only my opinion, but I don't believe that anyone should have the right to change someone else's words. Whether those words have come from a brilliant scholar or some old woman writing a blog, leave them alone!

Just a warning, should anyone attempt to change my words, I shall haunt them to the end of time!

1 comment:

  1. Amen! In an Eng Lit class years (decades?) ago, we were led through a few listings on the New York Times best seller list. I'm sorry I don't remember the specifics, but the final decision was to avoid the listed entirely.

    Now you've made want to reread Fahrenheit 451.

    The most memerable rewrite in my head was by a medieval English king who commissioned a retranslation of the bible to change one word so he could remarry without the fear of excommunication.

    I have to confess I've downloaded a review copy of "Freedom" only because of its writer's controversy with Oprah Winfrey.