Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Never Forget (Unless)

...unless remembering makes you too offended.

Never mind that the "never forget" promise has been shelved by many as it relates to World War II. Before it became cosmopolitan to pick on the Jews and gypsies again, hundreds of millions of people around the world vowed to never let another holocaust occur. (While Mahmoud Ahaminejad denies the existence of any historical evidence that such an occurrence ever took place, he does suggest that perhaps it should occur again.)

The holocaust is one of the more important, brutal and recent chapters in humankind's evil life story, and this post is aimed at the necessity of remembering such events throughout history while it has nothing at all to do with any backhanded wink-wink stupidities a certain Persian dwarf might utter for international consumption.

The century recently passed actually contained dozens of chapters in which the purposeful murdering of human beings en masse was carried out with systematic efficiency. The desire for remembrance may be slanted based on whether you are Communist or peasant, Armenian or Turk, Hutu or Tutsi, Russian or Ukrainian, Chinese or Tibetan, etc., or, as previously mentioned, Ahmadinejad or lucid.

The US has its own ugly past with perhaps its most visual being that of its acceptance of slavery and a decades long denigration of an entire people even following emancipation. This history and its effects upon this nation must be remembered for all of its ugliness--the actual ugliness itself being more important to understanding the formative context of this nation than interjecting a guarded reference to bad words perhaps once being uttered.

If we are truly to uphold any oath of "never again" we must have available references to what it is that we must avoid in the future, Ahmadinejad aside.

It is with this in mind that I scoff at the simpleminded foolishness undertaken in a new release of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of "all modern American literature." Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation's most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: "nigger."

Twain himself defined a "classic" as "a book which people praise and don't read." Rather than see Twain's most important work succumb to that fate, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the "n" word (as well as the "in" word, "Injun") by replacing it with the word "slave."
I know that many people see Twain's work as classic American, and I know too that these people are distressed over Twain's fading from classroom shelves--yet the omission of important words, however offensive, represent part of the greatness of the work itself and contain within their abject offensiveness a historical context that cannot be captured through roundabout references.

If you want to learn the subtleties of racist creep, read these classics. If you want to understand the casual acceptance of learned denigration, read these books in the context of the period's stratum of human value.

If you actively want to never forget you should start by refusing to alter or erase the past; a lesson being sacrificed here so that future generations can cuddle with a good book that now misrepresents an ugly history that Twain helped expose.

UPDATED to add that Protein Wisdom has more, and that more is better anyway.

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