January 10, 2011

Minor Annoyances

So every quasi-literary person I know seems to be in an uproar over the attempt to bowdlerize Huck Finn by replacing every instance of the word "Nigger" with the word "Slave." I almost feel sorry for the guy for this public and collective flogging he's receiving, though admittedly it's a pretty dumb thing to do. But in fact I think the backlash says far more about the current literary culture than the initial event - SO many people are SO outraged and spend SO much time debating something SO stupid. If it hadn't been brought to such broad public attention, who would have even heard of this person, or seen this version of the book? But by now the public outcry has been so vocal it even reached the Israeli news.

I haven't heard a single voice defending this edit, even if they do express some understanding of the logic behind it. I'm not surprised everyone's flocking to criticize him, as Jean-Baptiste Clamence says in Albert Camus's The Fall, there's nothing sweeter than attacking someone whose guilt is verified and agreed upon:
The essential thing, after all, is being able to get angry with someone who has no right to talk back.

There was certainly no such uproar when Joseph Conrad's 1897 novella was published as The N-word of the Narcissus in 2009 (and yes, all occurrences of the word inside the book were also changed to N-word). Why? Because no one heard about the publication.

Personally, I'm more annoyed at Peter Sís, whose dreadful illustrations fill my edition of Borges's The Book of Imaginary Beings. Seriously, who exactly decided that the great writer's compendium of fantastic creatures deserved such amateurish and childish illustrations as these:
The Leveler
Just think how much better it would have looked illustrated in the style of Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities or Albrecht Dürer's woodcuts:
Dürer's Rhinoceros, woodcut, 1515.
Well, I'll be sure to hire a worthy illustrator when I finally have enough entries in Cycloped to fill a book (rather than rely on my own weak illustration / photo shopping / pilfering skills).