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Post Posted:: October 3rd, 2005, 10:09 pm 

Joined: September 27th, 2005, 3:44 pm
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Location: Longmont, Colorado
There is one small topic that concerns me about recording Kipling's Just So Stories. Specifically, in the original text of "How the Leopard Got His Spots", and thus in the Gutenberg edition of it, there is an offensive racial epithet.

On the one hand, that's what Kipling actually wrote. On the other hand, the world has changed since then, and the word serves no useful purpose in the story; it is omitted from modern editions, and I was shocked when I learned it was in the original.

Ordinarily, I am opposed to bowdlerization, and wouldn't even raise the topic if we were talking about Twain's Huckleberry Finn, but in this specific instance, I am inclined to either omit the phrase or change the epithet to "man."

Thoughts?


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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 1:06 am 

Joined: October 1st, 2005, 10:40 pm
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I think a lot depends on what you think the Gutenberg and LibriVox missions are. If they are meant to be archival, that is to say merely descriptive and not prescriptive, I say read the text as it is. Most of us are smart enough not to be offended or to blame the reader, the Gutenberg people, or Hugh for what one writer writes. I do not think it is our place to say whether or not someone will be offended; merely, I think we should present the literature as it is.

If a particular phrase offends you personally, perhaps you could assign the containing chapter to someone else for reading.

I know that's just one opinion; I welcome the differing opinions of others.

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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 1:14 am 

Joined: October 2nd, 2005, 4:35 am
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Hmmm. Awkward.

The Henry James had some ways of referring a black man that made me feel a little uncomfortable but that wasn't actually a slur. I just read it... It might be different in a situation where there are definite different versions extant.

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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 6:15 am 

Joined: September 26th, 2005, 3:53 pm
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Location: Sydney, Australia
My $0.02 (Australian, so they aren't worth as much as real cents)

I think we read it. It's what Kipling wrote, and he was a product of his time. If we deny that an apparently decent man of his age could use such a phrase, we are denying our history, and I definitely believe that if we are to continue to move forwards in race relations we need to be honest about the past. If we forget the past, we cannot understand the present.

The only thing that gives me pause is that the Just So Stories are likely to be considered suitable for children, and there is, perhaps, an age at which such subtleties should remain in the future.

Perhaps (if the readers are willing) we could even produce two versions, and make both available? It should only require a few mintues extra work... In that case, the modified version might be the better choice for podcast, but both could be placed in the archive. A note in the blog entry when it is podcast could indicate to the listener that there is an alternative they might choose to download instead.


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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 6:32 am 
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tis, that sounds like the right response. let's do a faithful version, marked with a beware note, and just a little edit to make a clean version, marked as an edited recording.

as tis says, that should be just a little tweak in the audio editing software.

now which to podcast, that i'm not sure.

hugh.

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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 8:14 am 
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I suggest podcasting the bowdlerized version, since it is likely to end up in a child's ears. I'd rather my son hear the "clean" version for now -- not because the word is a bad influence or something, but because it's startling and uncomfortable for kids to hear what they know as a "bad word" in a friendly enjoyable context. I believe that my childhood edition simply said "Plain black's best." or possibly "Plain black's best for me." I can check later.

Just my humble opinion :)

Kara

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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 8:23 am 

Joined: September 27th, 2005, 3:44 pm
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Location: Longmont, Colorado
It's precisely the "child's ears" problem that concerns me.

Kara, I've seen both "plain black's best" and "plain black's best for a man".

I'll happily do two versions, since the change is so minor; but I think that in addition to a note in the post, I'll put "pg13" and "g" in the filenames, and insert a brief statement in the readings to the effect of, "This reading adheres to the original text, which contains a racial epithet in common use at the time of authorship" and "This reading alters a word in the original text which is now held to be offensive."

How does that sound, Hugh?


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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 9:23 am 
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yup.

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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 12:16 pm 

Joined: October 1st, 2005, 10:40 pm
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Location: Honolulu, HI, USA
hugh wrote:
let's do a faithful version, marked with a beware note, and just a little edit to make a clean version, marked as an edited recording.

I must respectfully disagree. A blanket warning for all podcasts would make sense, or a disclaimer in the intro ("This is a LibriVox podcast; some material may not be suitable for children"), perhaps, but is it really our place to tell people what's offensive and what's not?

I guess I see LibriVox (and Gutenberg) as a library, and I don't know what the public libraries look like where you are, but here the shelves are wide open and you can pretty much borrow anything you want with no comment or judgment from librarians, the government, or other patrons. Yes, I know the children's section is separate from the grownup section, but I am extremely thankful that as a twelve-year-old, I was allowed to borrow books from the grown-up section. I resent anyone telling me that certain words are offensive; let me decide that for myself and for my own children.

If someone wants to change the text for the safety of children, of course it isn't my place to advise differently, but is it something we want to put the LibriVox name on? Something like this makes me think of Animal Farm for some reason.

Mark Twain was mentioned by Squid in the first post, and this is an excellent point. If we need to edit Kipling, why not Twain? And then where does it stop? I agree that racism is something we need to get a grip on, but the obviously misguided language of writers who are long gone is not nearly as threatening as the seemingly innocuous language we all use in our daily lives; I mean, we all read these guys and we aren't racists, right? Why should we presume that kids who listen to this great literature are any less bright than we were?

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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 2:47 pm 

Joined: September 27th, 2005, 3:44 pm
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the Literate Loser wrote:
Mark Twain was mentioned by Squid in the first post, and this is an excellent point. If we need to edit Kipling, why not Twain? And then where does it stop? ... Why should we presume that kids who listen to this great literature are any less bright than we were?


The distinction I see between Kipling and Twain is that the language and concepts of slavery and racism are an integral part of the Twain story, while in the Kipling it's an offhand comment that adds nothing. And I would not expect my son, intelligent though he is, to comprehend the distinction until he's 11 or 12 or so. Which is why I read him the Just So Stories (without the word in question) but not Huckleberry Finn. (I'm debating whether he's ready for Tom Sawyer or not.)

I firmly believe that each parent must decide the issue for his or her own children, but that decision must be an informed one, and I strongly suspect that most parents today, if they are familiar with the stories, would not expect to hear the n-word in one. Librivox may be a library, but are the copies of Just So Stories in your local library unedited?

There's my case for doing the dual version. I will respect Hugh's decision, though, and if he opts to omit the "G-rated" version, that's fine, though I would recommend retaining my brief disclaimer to minimize parental shock...


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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 5:52 pm 

Joined: September 26th, 2005, 3:53 pm
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Location: Sydney, Australia
Literate, I agree with all your arguments but not your conclusion :). It seems to me that by producing two versions for the archive and labelling them we are essentially doing what a library might choose to do - put a modified version of the book in the children's section and an original version in the main body of the library. I would be very uncomfortable with librivox only producing a modified version, though; that would be an editorial decision I don't think we have the right to take.

As to whether we have a general or specific warning: here in Australia specific TV and radio shows have warnings at the start if they contain content that may be offensive or disturbing. That leaves informed freedom of choice to the listener. A general warning, IMHO, reduces freedom of choice (because an informed choice is freer that an uninformed one).

Choosing which to podcast is the hardest part of the question. I guess I'd see a podcast as analogous to a radio broadcast. And if the content could be reasonably be expected to be suitable for children, it should be. In which case the modified version is appropriate, but if we've made a change, we should tell the listener that.[/i]


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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 8:12 pm 

Joined: October 1st, 2005, 10:40 pm
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Location: Honolulu, HI, USA
I guess that's something we, the members of this community, need to decide: What is the purpose of LibriVox, and to what extent are we merely archivists and to what extend are we reasonable, caring human beings?

I admire the Wikipedia folks for keeping everything as apololitical and as NPOV (neutral point-of-view) as possible; however, I acknowledge that there are other valid ways of looking at a project such as this. I'm on board with you all whichever way we go, but perhaps this is something we need to come to some kind of policy about right from the start.

And...it sounds like we've got ourselves a near-consensus. That's fine by me, and I'm grateful I've been giving a chance to air my dissenting view.

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Post Posted:: October 4th, 2005, 8:30 pm 

Joined: September 27th, 2005, 3:44 pm
Posts: 161
Location: Longmont, Colorado
I absolutely agree that we have to decide to what degree we are an "archive for posterity" versus a "conduit for the classics."

We have to recognize up front that we cannot possibly reproduce the Gutenberg versions in slavish detail, both because the Gutenberg editions are not themselves flawless (my Tolstoy chapter included the text "This seemed to me not bad, yet it offended my car somehow" -- I read "ear" instead of "car", correcting the obvious error) and because there are some elements of text that cannot readily be reproduced in a reading (such as the old convention of writing "17--" or "B-----" to avoid specifying a real date or name).

Since we therefore must allow ourselves a little latitude in our readings, it's up to us to employ that latitude judiciously and only in the service of Good rather than Evil. :)


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Post Posted:: October 7th, 2005, 3:49 pm 
First off, I sympathize with the protective attitude toward the original story, and the aversion to protective messages. All my friends would tell you that I'm the first to rant against making changes in poetry for the sake of inclusiveness that actually just ruin the verse. I delighted in John Wesley's remark that if you didn't like the words in his hymns and wanted to change one, you shouldn't print his hymns at all.

But I think we must recognize that Kipling's authorial intent was not to write a racist story, or a story which would shock and terrify the kiddies. He was writing a story which he felt to be perfectly age-appropriate and moral, and he used language which he felt to be perfectly appropriate and unobjectionable. He wanted kids to hear the stories. He would probably be the first to tell us to make the change.

Besides, as <i>The Princess Bride</i> reminds us, people reading bedtime stories to kids silently change and elide problematic bits <i>all the time</i>.

So as long as we do provide both versions, and do say why, I hardly think we are doing Kipling a disservice.

As for what happens with other stories? I would think that LibriVox folks could decide that on a case-by-case basis.

(I don't think, for example, that the world really needs us to provide readings of <I>The Protocols of the Elders of Zion</i> or the shocking revelations of Maria Monk, or any other such tissues of lies and hate. Even if they <i>are</i> public domain. (Though I suppose a comedy reading might work.))


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Post Posted:: October 27th, 2005, 10:53 pm 

Joined: October 22nd, 2005, 12:16 am
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