The N-word of the Narcissus

WordBridge Publishing has performed a public service in putting Joseph Conrad’s neglected classic into a form accessible to modern readers. This new version addresses the reason for its neglect: the profusion of the so-called n-word throughout its pages. Hence, the introduction of “n-word” throughout the text, to remove this offence to modern sensibilities. The N-word of the Narcissus tells the tale of a fateful voyage of a British sailing ship, and on that voyage the ability of a lone black man to take the crew hostage. The ability of this man to manipulate an entire ship’s crew can no longer be seen as a mere exercise in storytelling. Conrad in fact appears to have been the first to highlight the phenomenon of manipulation based in white guilt.

Project creator Ruben Alvarado has the following to say in response to critics of this edition: “There has been a great deal of criticism of the change of word in this edition of Conrad’s great book. Critics view this as an unacceptable corruption of the original text.

“For one thing, this is not censorship. We use funny symbols (e.g., “*&^%$#!”) in place of obscenities, and we don’t usually know what obscenities are meant. In the case of the n-word, the word being replaced is fully known. There is no mystery, no practical, irremedial removal of the word, hence no censorship.

“For the critics, I have two questions:

“1. Have they actually ever read the book?

“2. Have they actually ever discussed it with others, in particular in a classroom situation?

“If one is honest, one has to admit that the book is no longer read, except perhaps furtively, and it is never discussed. Which is a travesty.

“My motivation for making the change was my own aversion to its profuse use of the n-word, which hindered me from ever getting around to reading it. When I finally did read it, I was astounded by its message. Conrad penned a complex, modern exploration of race relations such as I have seldom encountered elsewhere. And it is precisely the use of the n-word which obfuscates that exporation, which seems to indicate a superficially racist story rather than the sensitive, indeed jarringly relevant exploration which it actually is. I have no regrets for creating this version of the book. Indeed, I am glad for the attention it has brought to the book. The Nigger of the Narcissus deserves reading now more than ever, deserves discussion, deserves pride of place on reading lists, and if The N-word of the Narcissus contributes to this end, it will have served its purpose.”



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