Thursday, January 07, 2010

Panicking about words

Worried about racist words from the past? No need! Bowdlerize away, oh modern publisher, and your worries are gone.

A classic turn-of-the-century English novelist whose works have been read by countless millions of people is having his work sanitized for a new generation of readers.

Joseph Conrad, whose "Heart of Darkness" and "Lord Jim" have been scrutinized by English students on multiple continents for decades, wrote a lesser known novel in 1897 called "The Nigger of the Narcissus."

Now, in what critics are calling a blatant act of politically correct censorship, a Netherlands-based publisher has reprinted the novel under a new name: "The N-word of the Narcissus."

The new version is the first installment of WordBridge Publishing's classic texts series, featuring "texts with a message for moderns, made accessible to moderns."

But some critics say updating a Conrad novel by replacing all mentions of the offensive term "nigger" with "n-word" is just as offensive as the word itself.

I wonder what WordBridge Publishing would do if they reprinted the autobiographical novel written by Harriet E. Wilson, America's first black female novelist. It is called Our Nig, and I remember reading it in college. I remember enjoying the book, and I don't recall anyone at the time (professor or students, most solidly liberal) raising any issue with the title.

It's just my opinion, but I don't think Our N-word will have the same punch as the original title.

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