07 January 2011

changing the language in Huck Finn


1. If you think the language in Huck Finn should be changed, you are missing the point of the story. It's not simply a tale of a two runaways drifting down the Mississippi. That's just what happens in the story. What the story is about is Huck's journey to discovery that Jim is an actual human being. Huck has to defy culture, old social codes, and hundreds of years of law and tradition. True, changing the language doesn't change that story or Huck's eventual illumination. But it definitely weakens the impact of certain scenes in the novel; to be more specific I'm thinking of the scene right after Huck and Jim reunite after the fog when Huck has to "humble himself" to Jim. And I'm thinking of the scene where Huck is talking to Aunt Sally about injuries aboard a steamboat after a boiler explodes.

2. Twain's not here to defend his decision to use that language or comment on the decision to correct him as you see fit to make you feel better (see 3).

3. I suspect this is a decision to make white people feel better. We don't like that word now and we don't want to be reminded that we used to freaking LOVE it.

4. I'm not sure how to articulate this and I wish I could just send you the images in my head and a translation key for their emotional and intellectual meaning. We shouldn't soften the edges of a history we don't like to think about: we should say that yes, a long time ago, damn we were shallow and stupid and afraid and this is how we talked. This book here, this represents how we used to look at each other in all its ugliness. Twain's book is a protest against that very ugliness. His hero finally says, fuck it, I may go to hell and I may never be able to go home ever again, but I'm not going to live by these dehumanizing rules.

5. Thank you Twitter, for making me laugh about all this.

6. And to my students who had an opinion about this and could explain why (and who will likely never find this): Thank you for reading and thank you for thinking.

2010 in review

What a Disappointment in Reading!

I blame work. I love my job, and when I think of the 200 minutes a day I'm talking with my students about books and narratives and poems and essays and ideas I can't believe I actually get paid to do it. But all the rest of my working time, 160 minutes at school and an uncountable number of hours at home, is spent reading (submitted papers and homework, prep for those 5 shows every day, and grad school). It's one of those jobs where you could literally, and I literally mean literally, work all the time and still not be doing enough. And it's not even one of those "you must not be doing it right" kind of things; if you want to phone it in, you could have lots of free time, but to do a good job requires a lot of effort and an unbelievable amount of time. Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be English teachers.

Over the past five days I have done two experiments. With the first, I grade things the second they come in, as soon as I can, whether that's the next period I don't have class, say my Duty period or lunch, or right after my after-school snack. In the second, we have been constantly picking up after ourselves - things go back to where they belong, the house gets company-ready before bed and before we leave for work: dishes put in the dishie, crumbs wiped up, couch blankets folded and put away, and so on: a constant tidying up. The results, after a mere five days, are pretty positive - I find myself in a clean house, with less schoolwork that MUST be done RIGHT NOW, and I've found a little bit of time to read.

I've also found that having a reading mandate to be helpful. Looking back over the 108 books I've read since I started this, many of them have been read for grad school or for classes I'm planning to teach. And lately I have been feeling the Gaming itch, and so have been reading in prep for a game of Beat to Quarters.

Whatever it takes, I'm aiming at 20 books in 2011. And better blog posts, too - I think that writing them right away even if I'm not happy with them is the best way to go (instead of waiting for the elusive Spare Moment to sit down and Do It Right).

10. The Sound and the Fury Wm Faulkner

Man, was this a great, great book. I'm not even sure how to describe it. First of all, it's damned difficult. My beloved Moby-Dick is also a difficult book: it's long, it's about a lot of things, and the things its about are heavy. But The Sound and the Fury is difficult in a different way. The story is told in such a bizarre fashion that you almost have to read it twice. And there's almost no way I could have read the story in isolation, outside of the class I took; without that I would have needed a guide of some kind. The first section is told by...well, maybe I shouldn't tell you...the joy in this book is puzzling out of the narrative. I'm sure you think this is a cop-out, but I could write a review ten times as long as the book and still not do it's majesty justice.

9. As I Lay Dying Wm Faulkner

The craziest, saddest story you ever heard about a family's journey to bury their mother in her home town; it's told in small vignettes, each from a different family member, including the dead mother.

8. Go Down, Moses by Wm Faulkner

Five stories, one of them the famous longer story "The Bear," arranged out of order. The five stories tell the long tale of the McCaslin family. It's Faulkner, so you know what you are going to get before you start: partial narrative, a very limited point of view, lots of history mixed up with family secrets, race, racism, the Old South and the New South, and sex.