IS AMERICAN LITERATURE BECOMING A CENSORSHIP HORROR SHOW?
Some days it seems writers spend as much time taking down other writers as they do creating their own work.
WE HAVE the instance of The Nation magazine apologizing for publishing a poem. (Covered by us in “Political Correctness Backfires.”)
NOW, the Anders Carlson-Wee poem is one we wouldn’t run ourselves. It’s mediocre, poorly thought out, even goofy. The poet is blatantly pandering to his audience (literary editors, not readers) and his performance in (as Mother Jones described it) “blackface” has backfired. Anders is a writer who’s fair game to be criticized. Who begs to be criticized.
AT THE SAME TIME, The Nation‘s haste to apologize for running the mangled thing was a tad unseemly. An embarrassment– running, rushing, gushing to apologize. Their action sets a regrettable precedent for literary editors everyplace.
Writers, editors, and publishers fought for many years– decades, centuries– for the right to publish anything. ANYTHING. Have the battles over Ulysses, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, “Howl” and other cases become lost from historical memory? Today, after a wave of sensitivity trainings, we see editors and writers afraid to upset anyone in any way.
A CASE IN POINT is that of poet Rachel Custer, whose poem “To the Woman in a Plague Mask Outside the Living Room Window” was accepted by Ohio State University’s The Journal literary magazine for their Spring 2018 issue, then taken down by editor Kelsey Hagarman after she received complaints not about the poem– but about the poet. (Blackballing?)
The two complainants used terms like “good literary citizen,” “negative individuals,” “negative online behavior”– which invites the question: What does this have to do with art? They also told Hagarman “–the community will be here to support you”– a statement which reeks of the mindset of a herd. Half-a-step toward the totalitarian.
(The role of the artist over the centuries has been, as often as not, to stand against the herd.)
FYI: The Rachel Custer’s poem was restored by an Ohio State administrator after Rachel threatened legal action. Afterward Hagarman emphasized to one of the complainants that it was “an administrative decision, not an editorial one.” So much for the editor backing her writers and their art!
What makes the affair more inexcusable is that both complainants, Hannah Cohen and E. Kristin Anderson, are editors at other literary journals. A quote to Kelsey Hagarman from Anderson:
“I’ve probably worked with problematic folks in the past and I’ve taken to just googling everyone.”
Problematic? Just know, writers, that when dealing with a host of literary journals you’ll be judged more for who you are, or for past statements and actions, than for your art.
(Meanwhile other literary editors have continued to attack Rachel Custer on twitter.)
WHAT’S HAPPENING is a mob mentality, where the hungry crowd, having achieved victories, needs to be satiated again. And again, and again, growing ever larger and more narrow in viewpoint. In the name of tolerance, more intolerant. In the name of the marginalized, further marginalizing already marginalized writers. The literary art becoming more and more homogenized.
We first noted in “Death of the Alt Right” the phenomenon in regard to projects like Casper Mag (later Fluland Mag), whose anonymous editor changed his project’s name and his ideas to accommodate critics, but after too many battles closed down anyway.
TODAY’S LITERARY SCENE from top to bottom is becoming more about politics than about creativity and art. We say, fight your battles in the sphere of politics. (We’re an anti-political literary site.) One area which must be exempt is the arena of art. I could find every day examples of movies, paintings, stories, novels, poems, songs, and plays which offend me. Even anger me. Being offended is part of living in a free and intellectually diverse society. Controlling one’s anger is a key part of becoming an adult. We expect it of a five year-old.
History shows that artistic breakthroughs come from outcasts and outsiders. Sometimes from unpleasant individuals whose work violently upsets somebody. Genius is one step from madness. Creativity is taking your brains and emotions beyond the bounds of normal or acceptable behavior.
Tomorrow’s masterpiece is UNacceptable today. Throw open the doors. Air out the stodgy museums. Allow new voices of every kind and style to have their say.
-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS