Different Floors of the House

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Continuing American Vandalism of Mark Twain

You know the Vandals, they say, weren't any more destructive than the other invading tribes back in the Roman days. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. Maybe they just got blamed, popularized, if you will, for their particular bent of chaos and destruction:
particularly the defacing of artworks that were completed with great effort
Works of Art.


Is Huckleberry Finn a work of art? I know I think it is. I think right up to and including the point Huck says "I'll go to hell" the book serves as the exemplary masterpiece of American art in general, American literature, specifically.

True art breeds the sincerest form of flattery, does it not? When you see James Dean gazing off into the horizon, his windblown hair harnessed only by an intentionally off-set cowboy hat, a lit cigarette dangling off his pursed lips, isn't that "I'll go to Hell" at it's pop-culture zenith? I think it is.

When Elvis swivels his hips, when Salinger refuses accolades, when Bobby Fischer goes into to hiding, that's All-American rebellion.

Lenny Bruce, rebel. John Stewart, rebel. Clarence Thomas, rebel.

Rebels all. Americanism is Rebellion. Think about that for a minute, Mr. I-love-the-Founders.

So what's not Americanism? If we were to host a sociological HUAC in 2011, who would we hunt?


I don't know, maybe.

You know, when I see graffiti, I see art. Maybe you don't, I allow for subjectivity to some extent--and heck, I don't know what true art really is, but I know what sucks.

Sure, I'm opposed to going around spray-painting whatever you want wherever you want it, but there's something wretchedly American about it. Isn't there? In a way, yes. But there's also a very vandalistic side to tagging. It's not the pictures and murals taggers convey on pedestrian bridges and freeway overpasses that bothers me. It's the language.

That language vandals use, you can't read it. You have no idea what it says, without a translation. They're hiding something. American art is not about hiding things. We have no patience for hidden things and we are "a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, secret oaths and secret proceedings." [1. From JFK's "The President and the Press" speech at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on April 27, 1961.] Salinger didn't get famous for hiding things. Neither did Palahniuk, Roth or Twain. They are revealers. True American art reveals something in a language everyone can understand about something they've previously hidden or ignored within themselves their whole lives--for whole generations--or, in Twain's case for the entire duration of a nation's existence.

That's what separates American art from American vandalism. Revelation.

American art is that grafitti mural on the subway wall. American vandalisms are the incoherent, territorial spray-paint pissings that cover that mural up and conceal it with words you know just don't belong there.

In a way, the First Amendment is so ingrained in our subconscious that we have an almost preternatural resistance to expression that is incoherent, truncated or---and this is the crux of it--censored. That penchant for straight-forwardness and our hatred of secrets, these are the brushes our artists use. Always have. We want to know. If there is magic ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence, we want to know. If Jesus bedded down a prostitute and procreated with her, we want to know. Truthers. Birthers. Bilderbergers. NWOers. Alien-ers. You name it, we're on it.

Why then wouldn't we want to know if Mark Twain used the words "nigger" and "injun" in a book? Will we really sit by, we the people who wrangle against international conspiracies of every order, and allow ourselves to be deceived, lied to and vandalized?

Isn't removing a word, replacing it with an alternative, the very antithesis to what we stand for? Isn't that vandalism? Isn't that simply scribbling illegible graffiti over great art? Isn't that the very vandalism from which our definition of the word derives?
particularly the defacing of artworks that were completed with great effort
Here we are, witnessing not the advent of a Secret Society, but the instigated, elaborated plan to build a society with secrets--the VERY THING TWAIN WAS REELING AGAINST.

New South Books, the publisher of this up and coming edition of Huck Finn, justifies their censorship thus:
At NewSouth, we saw the value in an edition that would help the works find new readers. If the publication sparks good debate about how language impacts learning or about the nature of censorship or the way in which racial slurs exercise their baneful influence, then our mission in publishing this new edition of Twain’s works will be more emphatically fulfilled.
In other words, "yeah, we're lying, but we're doing it for your own good". In some warped, monomaniacal way they've convinced themselves that white-washing "nigger" and "injun" (They plan on replacing the former with "slave"---I'm sorry, that's not the same thing) will get more people to read Twain. But...it's not Twain, now is it?

No. It is vandalism.

Go to New South Books and tell them to stop this madness. Tell professor Gibbens (agribben@aum.edu) we won't be lied to. And tell your friends that censorship is vandalism--Vandalism from within.

©2011 CT Lostaglia

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