A debate with NewSouth Books author, Mark Ethridge
Transcript Provided By Craig Boehman
Craig Boehman February 14 at 7:27am
Dear Mr. Ethridge,
I am campaigning against the censoring of Mark Twain by NewSouth Books and Dr. Alan Gribben. Do you have a position on this that you would like to make known?
All the best, Craig Boehman
Mark Ethridge February 14 at 8:05am
My position on the New South controversy is that you are misguided. No publisher should be held accountable for the content of all that they publish. They should be able to freely publish things they agree with and disagree with. Would your condemn Random House for publish Mein Kampf? Secondly, no one is censoring anyone. You and everyone else can freely buy whatever version of Mark Tawin’s works that you like. Don’t be so closed minded as to shut out ideas that are different from your own.
Craig Boehman February 14 at 9:48am
It’s hardly an apt comparison. I’m talking about publishing a censored work. If NewSouth published a version of Mein Kampf as written, at least they’d be adhering to the intent (and historical significance) of the author’s work. I should think that there would be an outcry by a great many people if Hitler’s book were censored in the way Twain’s was here. What words shall we substitute for “Jew” that would bring comfort to the masses in the way that Dr. Gribben feels “slave” would bring to his audience? I’m not questioning the rights of a publisher to publish what they want. But I am questioning NewSouth Books’ motivation in publishing a censored work that was tailored-fit to someone’s personal agenda.
To your second point: yes, someone is censoring someone. By the very definition of the word, censorship, Dr. Alan Gribben and NewSouth did just that. Just because I have the choice to purchase one version or the other doesn’t mean their actions are somehow null and void — like nothing really happened. Is this what you’re telling me? That we should ignore censorship as long as there are uncensored versions laying around?
As far as your declaration that I’m misguided and close minded, I won’t yet step down to the ad hominem rebuttal just yet (although I’m quite fond of this, too). I do appreciate you responding to my inquiry very much. I only wish that for sake of American literature your defense of NewSouth and Gribben would have something more substantial to it.
Mark Ethridge February 14 at 10:03am
Craig Boehman February 14 at 10:19am
We don’t need English translations of Twain yet like we do for Chaucer and the Bible.
Mark Ethridge February 14 at 10:13am
And, yes, it’s okay to ignore censorship if uncensored versions are readily available. New South isn’t the government, for gosh sakes. Unexpurgated versions of Twain are available without restriction. I believe in choice and individual freedom. If you don’t want to buy a “censored” version of a book you don’t have to. If you do, there it is. Everyone gets what they want and no one is denied. Mr. Gribben and New South may or may not be misguided but I personally believe in giving voice to people with different, even offensive, ideas, not attempting to keep them from being heard which is, of course, censorship.
Craig Boehman February 14 at 10:40am
Your version of what censorship is is dependent on whether or not the uncensored version is still around, if I understand you correctly. But it seems that you are reluctant to call Gribben’s book, censored — since you put the word in quotations. Maybe you prefer, “cleaned up version”, which is a poor use of euphemistic language since the word “censorship” is hardly offensive.
One of the reasons censorship is wrong, or should be considered wrong, is for posterity’s sake. Currently, we do have an open society to large extent. But as history shows, this is only a trend. At one time alcohol was banned completely. More recently, and probably more to the point, many authors and artists were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. It’s not so difficult to imagine another time when certain books could fall from grace, even if a few words have been “cleansed” of their offensive meanings. Orwell did. Bradbury did. And even a close minded bugger like myself can imagine it, too. The one sure way to guarantee that we have a choice to be able to read an author’s work in the original (or by way of translations) is if we decide to protect the original work of the author, as intended, vulgarities and all.
Mark Ethridge February 14 at 11:14am
Of course censorship is wrong. But this isn’t censorship, it’s editing. Censorship involves suppression of information from the public. Nothing has been suppressed. Not a single version of Tawin has been removed or otherwise restricted. I know censorship. I’ve been a journalist for more than 40 years. I share a couple of Pulitzers for public service. I’ve visited a newsroom where the government beheaded a columnist. I believe in freedom of the press and in academic freedom. I believe in more information, not less. I believe ideas should rise and fall on their own merits and not because of boycotts of their publishers. What you have here is an interesting and important academic disagreement about editing decisions made in the compilation of an anthology. But it ain’t censorship. And your beef shouldn’t be with New South, anymore than it should be with the New York Times over some op-ed piece they publish.
Craig Boehman February 14 at 12:13pm
Yes, it is about editing. That’s the process. The suppression comes in when the original material isn’t available. That’s censorship. In the editing of those words, it is suppression of information, regardless of how it sits in relation to the availability of uncensored works. It is what it is. If a single act of murder could be compared with a single act of censorship, for the sake of argument, by your reasoning it would be okay to murder since most people do not subscribe to it. And since there is no censorship thermometer that acts as our guide or keeps score, the whole point is to not do it at all.
This is one of many reasons that my beef is with NewSouth, and with its editor and author. They’re taking part in a process that is always in motion. Whether or not any movement is visible that threatens the access to an author’s work, there are always those who suppose changing a word or two would never amount to anything on a grand scale. The perfect example is the newsroom you visited where the government beheaded the columnist. No doubt that act of terror was intended to strike fear into those who disseminate information…but we still enjoy access to information without fear of reprisals that this columnist did not have, right? A relative approach to censorship does not hold water.
Mark Ethridge February 14 at 12:39pm
Right. Suppression comes when the original material isn’t available. That is not the case here. And murder isn’t even a close anology. No one has been deprived of anything by New South. The people who want to censor something are the people who don’t want New South to publish this. More seriously, if you believe that a relative approach censorship does not hold water then you apparently believe it’s fine to give away military secrets and to shout fire in a crowded theater. P.S. All those years editors were changing my copy and it turns out it wasn’t editing, it was censorship! Who knew?
Craig Boehman February 14 at 1:06pm
Come on…there’s a big difference between editing copy for publication and censoring it after publication — after the author is long dead and cannot defend himself — why defend the works of the living if we cannot defend the works of those who are dead? To imagine that what an author may pen today may not hold up to snuff a hundred years after his death isn’t a good thing for literature. It may be legal, but it certainly isn’t moral or ethical. Why defend institutions that are disingenuous with source material? They should be called on it lest their ways become “popular” with the rest of the industry. And then it would be too late to debate the merits of access. As for the selling of military secrets and the old shouting in the theater scenarios, not worthy of too much examination since they are illegal acts and with good reason.
Mark Ethridge February 14 at 1:25pm
Okay, good discussion (and a very positive benefit of the book, don’t you think?) Anyway, I gotta earn a living. As my final words, no one has tried to ban Mark Twain or his language. No one has done the slightest thing to prevent you from reading anything you want. If they had, that would be censorship. I don’t simply believe in censoring anything – including the Gribbens book or any other material that some people might find objectionable. Let them have access to the expurgated, the unexpurgated and anything else that comes along.
Craig Boehman February 14 at 1:41pm
Thank you very much for taking the time, Mr. Ethridge. I wasn’t expecting a reply, let alone a debate. It was generous of you.
With your permission, I’d like to post our conversation in my blog. You raise some valid points that are worthy of discussion. Chief among them is where you and I part company on the definition of censorship, that having access to both sets of materials is okay in your view, where I see it as a stepping stone to greater degrees of censorship.
[No response from Mark Ethridge]
- Open Letter to NewSouth Books In Regards to Censoring a Mark Twain Classic (censorshipinamerica.com)
- The Argument from Comfort Justifications for “Blanket” Censorship (censorshipinamerica.com)
- Edited ‘Huck Finn’ Causes Uproar, Debate on Censorship (censorshipinamerica.com)
- Censorship: Is Book Burning Next? (censorshipinamerica.com)
- Huckleberry Finn: Is the New Edition Censorship or a Modern Update? (censorshipinamerica.com)
- Consumer Advice, Not Censorship (censorshipinamerica.com)
- Educate Don’t Censor: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the N-Word (censorshipinamerica.com)
- Feb 13, 1991: Long-lost Twain Manuscript Authenticated (censorshipinamerica.com)