LITERARY EDITORS AND PUBLISHERS are divided over the question of whether or not a writer’s work should be purged over misbehavior imagined or real taking place outside the sphere of the art itself. We may well be in the minority for answering, “No.”
Another question inevitably arises during such censorious periods: Where does the purge end?
For instance, should Ezra Pound, founder of literary modernism, be deleted from memory banks and lit-history books? Should every award granted him be expunged?
(We addressed the question here in our yet-to-be-resumed All-Time American Writers Tournament.)
What do you do with a host of classic-but-problematic writers whose lives or art would today be considered beyond acceptable bounds?
ARE WRITERS BEING BLACKBALLED?
We have the case of poet Joseph Massey, accused earlier this year of harassing women. According to Massey, this was based on anonymous, distorted, and fictitious allegations. His chief accuser is a poet who had a two-year affair with him. I haven’t looked into the substance of the claims. Massey did admit, in a Facebook apology which was later taken down, to having issues.
WE’VE SEEN in the Junot Diaz controversy that an apology isn’t enough.
Joseph Massey, well-regarded though he’s been, lacks as big a name and reputation as Diaz. After the allegations, accompanied by an article or two about the matter, Massey’s work was deleted from The Academy of American Poets website, including an essay written about his work. Joseph Massey was also deleted from The Poetry Society of America, where he’d been announced as “New American Poet” in 2009. Down the memory hole.
NO DOUBT there are many flawed individuals within the walls of the literary scene, as there have always been. Some seriously flawed. As there have always been in the arts, period. History shows that many of the best artists, writers, composers, musicians, have been in some ways disturbed, wrestling with demons in the world, and within themselves. An argument can be made that it’s part of experiencing the world with more intensity than the rest of us. To feeling, raging, and suffering more than “normal” people.
(Some will regard this as mere excuse making.)
Do we delete them and their work, all of it?
HOW MANY of the rest of us writers and poets have misbehaviors in our backgrounds which could someday be exposed? A few of us? All of us?
Do we all submit to background checks before submitting our work, just in case?
In this hyper-regulated day and age is the following statement obsolete– or does it still have relevance?
Let the one among you without sin cast the first stone.
-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS