Malaka Of the Week: Alan Gribben

A few weeks ago, this week’s “honoree” was an obscure academic at an obscure University. Who outside of Alabama knew that football factory Auburn had a branch campus in Montgomery? Not me certainly and I suspect very few of you were aware of that fact either. Alan Gribben teaches English at said school and has gained notoriety for being the editor of the expurgated version of Huck Finn hence his entry into the pantheon of malakatude.

Professor Gribben’s motives seem superficially benign: removing the N-word will allow one of the greatest American novels to again be taught in schools that shy away from controversy. I didn’t like it when I heard about it and like it even less the more I think about it. Who the hell is Gribben to edit Mark Twain who I usually call by his given name Samuel Clemens? Clemens not only invented vernacular American fiction but is one of the funniest writers ever in *any* language. Malakas like Gribben shouldn’t mess with a master like Twain.

I’m glad that the vast majority of commentary from both blacks and pinks (how many white people outside the Upper Midwest are actually white?) has condemned Gribben for fucking around with a classic. Don’t fuck with Huck, Professor Malaka.

This incident does, however, show the power of language: one nasty and vile but frequently used word can cause an incredible uproar.

Jim is also a much loved character: Twain was one of the first American writers to create a three dimensional character who happened to be black. Don’t mess around with Jim, Professor Malaka. Or should that be Doctor Malaka?

There’s been some really good stuff written on Gribben’s malakatude but I’d like to direct you to three New Orleanians: bloggersCliff Harris andPatrick Armstrong as well as Picayune pundit Jarvis DeBerry I’ll let pink skinned Cousin Pat have the last word:

Let’s be clear on one thing. This revision is not taking place for some “politically correct” reason, or because some African-American or Native-American was offended. This revision is happening so white people can continue to believe the illusion that nothing wrong ever happened in America’s past, ever, especially not at the hands of white people.

Do not be fooled.

14 thoughts on “Malaka Of the Week: Alan Gribben

  1. Well, to be fair, if children in school read a book where the use of “nigger” is presented in such a way that you get the impression that there might be something wrong with the word, it would totally undermine Mommy and Daddy’s efforts to raise their children to consider “nigger” a perfectly good word to describe the work animals the family owns (though can’t actually register because of evil, liberal do-gooders). Can’t we think of the children? And time-honored property rights?

  2. Thanks for the link!
    I’ve read some of Gribben’s defense of doing this, I’ve also heard some favorable comments on the revision coming from schoolteachers (who teach in the South but hail from the North). Every defense of the revision I’ve heard or read comes from someone claiming the “students” are uncomfortable with the material, and that the revision will let schools teach this book “again.” Though I think the teachers’ and schools’ comfort level is much more in play than they want to admit. None of their excuses change my opinion.
    Twain wasn’t just writing in the vernacular of the time, though that was a major part of his genius. We can’t ignore these terms as “just how people talked” back then” and try to “update” them. Twain chose his language carefully, and wrote the things he did deliberately. He used the words he did on purpose, and I think that needs to be respected.
    The real shame is that people don’t want to teach real literature or real history because it is considered too “controversial” by some measure. Our culture continues to put off real learning longer and longer, and then wonders why our school-age students aren’t interested in school.

  3. I finished Volume 1 of Mark Twain’s Autobiography over a long weekend – introduction, endnotes, and everything. It is well worth the trouble. Much of what the Republicans are trying to restore was established in the late 18th Century and Samuel Clemens was right there and watching everything that happened. He provides a completely new view of Theodore Roosevelt than I have ever heard. Spoiler: TR was an enthusiastic man with a very short attention span and no long-term memory.
    The Bancroft Library at UC is the repository for all things Twain and their web site is wonderful. I will gladly defer to the Bancroft over Auburn, who could not beat Arkansas without their cheating Referees.

  4. Same reaction here as when I saw the piece Olbermann and Countdown did on this – if you can’t do this story without saying “the n-word” instead of just saying “nigger”, then you help ‘prove’ Gribben’s point.

  5. @Robert: I’m not editing someone else’s work. I dislike the word and prefer not to use it. It’s essential to Huck Finn not to this post. Clemens was the one who used the word and it’s not up to a pipsqueak like Gribben to remove it.
    Okay, back to LSU-Animal Husbandry U.

  6. I think adding a preface about the language and changing the text to n_____ instead of nigger would be accomplish some of what Gribben says he’s trying to accomplish and stay consistent with Twain’s original work.
    I remember when Hartford, CT was building a new community college and the leading contender for a name was Mark Twain Community College. It would have been a fine name for a school but protests from the black community about the # of times nigger appeared in Huck Finn led the city to name it the singularly boring Capital Community College.
    Gribben’s edits suck as they revise the original instead of addressing the actual controversy of the language. But there is real controversy over the language. Dave Chapelle was horrified when some of his racially frank material was parroted by whites with none of the original thought. Using ‘nigger, nigger, nigger’ in class might be the way to teach Twain and teach real US history but there are issues that come up that might be bigger than literature when little Johnny Red Neck chooses to do his reading aloud and spins the word ‘nigger’ with particular relish.
    This isn’t just about school. It’s hard every way and Gribben may have done a disservice to literature and showed a bit of cowardice to boot but I can’t call him a malaka. I don’t know that his intentions aren’t good and focused on the community in front of him.

  7. Adrastos –
    But what (I think) you’re saying is that in certain contexts and in certain circumstances, using “nigger” is OK; such as when studying literature like Twain’s.
    Yet when the word IS the subject of discussion – such as here and on Olbermann – you guys balk, or chicken out, or whatever. You are unwilling to do what you are asking some poor high-school teacher to be brave enough to do. That looks to me like a problem, one that Gribben is attempting to resolve.

  8. @Robert: Read Jarvis DeBerry’s piece. He says it better than I do.
    Again, my primary objection to Gribben is that he presumes to edit Mark Twain who is the father of American literature and one of the greatest satirists of all time. In short, he’s a household God to me. You don’t rewrite Twain.

  9. “Read Jarvis DeBerry’s piece. He says it better than I do.”
    Yes, he does. He actually uses the word. That’s my point. If we want teachers to be unafraid to use the word in their classrooms in an appropriate context, then we have to be unafraid to use it in other appropriate contexts. You and Olbermann were unwilling to do that.
    Maybe we all should have taken Lenny Bruce’s advice…

  10. If you can’t tell the difference between using the word as it is written in a historic and essential piece of American literature and using it on cable television or written on the internet, then of course you can understand Gribben’s position.
    If your students or teachers cannot make sense of the difference, perhaps Huck Finn should be reserved for a higher, more emotionally mature grade level than the one we are attempting to instruct. Again, I think that is a terrible idea, as we continue to push real education back for years.
    Because, in all seriousness, if little Johnny Redneck (howy’alldoin’?) is reading this book at all out loud, he is reading the book, and is hopefully exposed to the literature and messages that it expounds. Because this term is still used down South, and it ain’t in the context of literature by any stretch of the imagination.

  11. Look, it is really pretty simple. The book is, we are told, not being taught in high school due to the presence of the word “nigger”. From that point, there are three courses of action:
    1. Continue to have it not taught in high school.
    2. Resume teaching it even with the presence of the word “nigger”
    3. Remove/replace the word.
    I don’t have any particular preference.
    Gribbens would prefer #1 to not be the case, and teachers tell him #2 is effectively impossible, so he arrives at #3.
    Adrastos seems to want #2 to be the case, but he “dislike[s] the word and prefer[s] not to use it”. Yeah, so do the high school teachers. So they avoid it by *not teaching* the book! He wants (I assume) the book to be taught, so he wants them to do something he himself “prefers” to not do.
    Cousin Pat, in his 2nd paragraph, seems to endorse #1.
    Again, I have no particular presence. I object to the apparent contradiction inherent in what Adrastos seems to want.

  12. What the Huck Finn is this all about? Look at the top 100 ruff rap songs of each of the past 10 years and try to find the word nigga in there. Lenny Bruce had a mantra on the word, I believe.

  13. Actually, I don’t endorse #1. But it is better than censorship and revisionism. I don’t like students being told incorrect history, so I chafe at students being taught incorrect literature.
    If our teachers and school systems are too cowardly to deal with this issue, however, they should spend their time on other books. It is better, IMHO, to omit something and teach it later, than teach it wrong first and have to go back and correct it.

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