aka Where did my chapter go?
Confession time: since Bobcat listed 3 copies of the book available, I decided to seek Kromer at Bobst rather than at the bookstore.
When I got to the library, however, I found that the 2 copies of Waiting for Nothing
in the non-circulating section of the stacks were, in
fact, circulating somewhere else in the library. So I went up to the Fales archive, submitted a research request, and sat down with the
English version of the text. I knew it was likely older than the normal Bobst copies--it certainly looked and smelt older--but I wasn't anticipating
any other differences.
English is English, yes?
Maybe. But sensitivities in the 1930s apparently differed quite a bit here and abroad. In lieu of chapter 4, I turned a page and discovered a note
from the publisher explaining that the chapter had been removed. What was so interesting about this note was the tone. The publisher goes
into detail about how sometimes it 'pays off' to risk publishing material that could offend the public, but at other times it doesn't. He writes that
the choice about whether or not to include the chapter was ultimately left to him, without professional advisers or specific laws to help him
decide. Apparently he personally feels that the point of writing about the horrors of destitution is lost if the most horrific horrors are censored.
Yet in the end, he cut the chapter...though he claims he did so "with guilt and shame."
I'll hunt down an American copy of the book tomorrow before class and read chapter 4, because I'm curious to know what was so objectionable.
More elusive but equally interesting is the answer to the question of why the publisher would cut out a chapter to publish a note about not wanting to cut out the chapter.
The chapter about the one man blowing his brains out wasn’t deemed too offensive to publish. Nor was the account of the boy killed by the train, or that of the woman leaving her baby on a park bench. The accounts of police violence were published, as were the stories about the ‘gassers.’ What made this one chapter different? And why would something that didn’t offend the American public need to be censored in England? I’m just so puzzled.
As a final note in response to the actual text, I was taken aback by how dark it was. When we were told that it was a depressing text, I expected dirt and violence and hunger and desperation. I didn’t expect the lack of a sense of self worth to be so painful to read about. When the one man reacted to the suicide by saying the dead man was the only one with the guts or else they would all have killed themselves, and then Tom remarks that the dead man’s funeral sheet was the only clean one he’d seen in a while…that moment struck me more than even the accounts of theft and prostitution. It struck me more than the suicide itself, I think. Then there was Tom’s inability to properly threaten or hurt anyone, even when he was starving. His cowardice outweighed his self-preservation instincts, and it was moving but incredibly heavy.