Fiction Illuminating Life

TWO classic American stories are wry commentaries on non-fictional news events.
*******

gaitskill2

“The Girl on the Plane” by Mary Gaitskill, written in 1993, concerns a man on a plane flight who gets into a conversation with a younger woman sitting next to him. This takes the man back to events in his youth. I don’t want to give away the plot, but IF you’re at all interested in the allegations about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, especially those coming from Julie Swetnick, I suggest you read the story. As the man on the flight says, “It’s complicated.” OR– things are never as simplistic as camps on both sides of the aisle pretend to make them.

READ IT– Not least because it’s well constructed and packs an emotional punch. One of the better– and more relevant– American short stories ever written.
*******

baldwin

“Come Out the Wilderness” by James Baldwin, written in 1965, illuminates an event much talked-about of late: the similar Senate hearings which took place when current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was nominated. In the Baldwin story, a young black secretary has lunch with a black executive from the same company. He drops the company facade for a moment to speak in an earthier tone. It’s a reflection of sorts on the more awkward conversations Clarence Thomas sought to have with Anita Hill, which were taken in a less kindly light than does the secretary in Baldwin’s story.

James Baldwin wrote several dynamite short stories which rank with any writer’s. This is one of them.

*******

-K.W. 

Advertisements

Our “Best of the Net” 2018 Nominations

Here are our Best of the Net nominations for 2018.

botn2017

They encompass work published online between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018.

(Best of the Net 2017 is here. The Sundress Publications website is here.)
*******

AS ALWAYS we had more good work than we were able to nominate. For fiction, we nominated two of our longer stories– both require some investment in reading. Both stories required an ample investment in imagination and work in writing. Both stories are excellent in very different ways. They exhibit the range available within a “Pop Lit” designation.

WE hope you read or re-read all of the nominated works.

We thank these writers and all the writers who’ve generously allowed us to publish their work.

Fiction:

“Churchgoing in New England” by Richard Greenhorn,
published 9/28/17.
“The Rottweiler” by Alex Bernstein,
published 1/12/18.

Non-Fiction:

“Hemingway” by Samuel Stevens,
published 7/28/17
“Cry Wolfe” by Robin Wyatt Dunn,
published 11/16/17.

Poetry:

“Black Water” by Robert Beveridge,
published 10/16/17.
“Processed World” by Rus Khomutoff,
published 02/02/18.
“Starbucks Bars to Be Sung I” by Timmy Chong,
published 4/12/18.
“Jonesing” by Timmy Chong,
published 4/12/18.
“Tourist Trap” by Holly Day,
published 4/18/18.
“Losing Another One” by James Croal Jackson,
published 5/7/18.
*******

Media Morality Play

MORE THOUGHTS ON JIAN GHOMESHI AND IAN BURUMA

theater

LOOK into media controversies like the one involving Junot Diaz– or last week’s scandal featuring Jian Ghomeshi and Ian Buruma– and you begin to see patterns. You notice the theater smoke and stage scenery, and realize what you’re watching is a form of elaborately produced play. Cast ready; scripts on hand; producer or director lurking somewhere backstage pulling the strings.

The truth? The core truth of these matters is buried beneath layers of hysteria and noise.

As in many theatrical plays, today’s media productions involve stock characters.

A.)  Villain.

B.)  Innocent victim(s).

C.)  Hapless buffoon.

Who plays the hero?

In media morality plays, the hero is ourselves. We the Audience, observing the venality of others while congratulating ourselves for our sense of pristine justice, our virtue.

Justice is the key component of the plot. By the end of the play the villain is walked off stage in handcuffs, reputation shredded, name blackened, career over.

As We the Audience applaud.

OSCAR WILDE

Oscar_Wilde_sitting_portrait

ONE of the more famous early show trials involved Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. In 1895 Wilde, a homosexual, was put on trial for Gross Indecency. The case provoked a storm of press publicity– public outrage over private behavior.

I’ll discuss the Oscar Wilde trials and their parallels to the Jian Ghomeshi matter in a separate post.

ERROL FLYNN

ANOTHER early example of the personal scandal style of media show was the 1943 Errol Flynn rape trial. The famed Hollywood actor and well-known sexual wolf was charged with statutory rape for having relations with two under-aged women. One of them, 17 year-old Peggy Satterlee, worked as a nightclub dancer. For the trial, the producers of the morality play dressed up Miss Satterlee to look as young and as innocent as possible.

satterlee2

The staging didn’t quite come off. Flynn, a man of good looks and outstanding charisma, was miscast in the role of Bad Guy– a part usually played in his movies by Basil Rathbone.

VILLAINS

robin-hood(Rathbone and Flynn.)

TO PROPERLY stage a media morality play, you must discover the proper villain.

Since we’re fallen creatures, there’s no shortage of corruption and evil to be found. Venality and worse are everywhere. In all of us. When we assure ourselves of our own virtuousness we’re lying. The Villain stands not in contrast to our actual selves, but to the image we hold of ourselves.

RICHARD NIXON

richard-nixon_1973-09-20

From the beginning of his political career, Richard Nixon seemed cast for a villainous part. Scheming, dark-browed and jowly, oozing the air of dishonesty. A Richard III essence.

richard III
(Laurence Olivier as Richard III.)

Nixon was eventually brought low by Woodward and Bernstein, with much drama and mysteriously-scripted characters like Deep Throat.

A DIRECTOR?

jesse brown

Jesse Brown, director of the Jian Ghomeshi drama, is hyper-ambitious. His career, beginning with a series of media hoaxes, has been marked by absence of restraint. Combine this with self-righteousness and you create a dynamic force.

In this period of MeToo, potential and actual villains are everywhere, and it’s easy to become self-righteous.

IF Jesse Brown had been searching for a possible villain, CBC co-worker and rising media star Jian Ghomeshi, in looks and lifestyle, well fit the part.

Ghomeshi

Jian Ghomeshi had a taste for rough sex, and frequented bondage clubs. Not a nice guy. Ghomeshi also turned out to be notably inept, unwittingly himself providing the evidence which allowed Brown’s budding expose to find print.

CLUES as to how Jian Ghomeshi was taken down are provided by a nerdy-but-earnest filmmaker named Diana Davison. Here’s one of the videos she made about Jesse Brown and holes in the plot.

Yes, victims and witnesses were enlisted– one of them, Kathryn Borel, a good friend of Jesse Brown’s. The accusers rehearsed their lines– too well, it turned out. When matters went to trial in 2016, the testimonies of three of the witnesses fell apart. (Here‘s a different look at the trial from an unlikely source.)

Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on the charges. Another charge, the one involving Kathryn Borel, was dropped. Ghomeshi made a token apology. Jesse Brown celebrated this as victory.

Despite the missteps, it was. Jian Ghomeshi’s reputation was in permanent tatters, and more importantly, Jesse Brown’s reputation was greatly enhanced.

WHO WOULD’VE GUESSED that two years later a bigger target would be brought down by the same production– Ian Buruma, Editor at New York Review of Books.

an buruma
Villainous? Not really. But Buruma did fit the role of bumbling supporting character. Ian Buruma and his publication still carried the mores and mindset of a long-past genteel literary scene. Slow and refined. Patriarchal. Believing in old-fashioned liberal values of alternate viewpoints. Completely unprepared for a fast-moving new world of podcasts and twitter attacks. Of morality play productions with ongoing flurries of outrage and outrageousness, melodrama and dramatics.
*******

MORE Can’t-Miss stuff to come. Stay tuned!

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Cultural Revolutions

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO IAN BURUMA?

chinesemaoists

What happened to Ian Buruma is that he was perceived by younger members of the literary herd to be out-of-step and slow, and so he had to go.

Step back, gain perspective, and you’ll see what’s happening is that English-speaking culture is in the midst of an ongoing cultural revolution, which is really a hundred mini-revolutions occurring simultaneously. Miscreants shamed, editors toppled, with accompanying cheers from twitter mobs and in halls of the academy.

What’s happening is as old as humanity. An energetic young generation wishing to displace those in their way, grabbing any excuse necessary.

Yes, the old system, populated by decaying icons like Ian Buruma, is corrupt, clueless, patriarchal, fossilized. Some of its members are toxic– but not as toxic as what’s coming.

It’s akin to what happened with the Bolshevik Revolution. The very flawed Czar and his aristocracy were removed. Those who took their place– Lenin, Stalin, and the like– pursued the cause of social justice but were in fact another level of corruption and ruthlessness from what they replaced. As history demonstrated.

In today’s cultural scene, the ambitious newcomers seeking to topple the gatekeepers are another level of volatility and drive from the likes of Buruma, David Remnick at The New Yorker, or The Boston Review‘s Joshua Cohen. Cohen, Remnick, and Buruma perceive themselves as leftist, maybe even as Sixties-style radicals, but they aren’t really. They’ve been playing. They’ve held to long-time liberal principles of open debate, free speech, the pursuit of objectivity. Now they’re seeing with the arrival of the Jesse Browns and Monica Byrnes onto the cultural scene genuine revolutionaries whose only principle is the pursuit of power and self, letting nothing stand in their way.

Don’t kid yourself. Instinctively, the Joshua Cohens, David Remnicks, and Ian Burumas are the actual targets of those who want to clean house of toxic debris. Not consciously, but instinctively– and the Jesse Browns, Monica Byrnes, and Zinzi Clemmons of the social justice mob run chiefly on instinct. Their ideology is simply the available weapon– the justification– allowing them to achieve their actual ends. Their unconscious needs.

Targets such as Jian Ghomeshi and Junot Diaz are collateral damage. Objectives to take out on the road toward the big guys.

What of that Old Guard? Remnick, Buruma, Cohen, and others yet to be discredited?

They’re akin to Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece novel The Possessed, (aka Demons or Devils). Feckless liberals seeing the world around them change, in unpredictable and dangerous ways.

possessed

COMING: Part II of these speculations.
*******

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Literary Lynch Mob Locates Another Villain

noose

WORD today is that Ian Buruma is out as editor of New York Review of Books after fallout from his allowing accused sexual batterer Jian Ghomeshi to write a mea culpa complaint for the publication. Some past accusers like Jesse Brown counter-complained  that Ghomeshi’s essay was filled with “inaccuracies, omissions, evasions, and mischaracterizations.” Other literary persons and activists were outraged simply that Ghomeshi’s name appeared in anything.

Ghomeshi, yes, gave his viewpoint. Distorted? Probably. Surely fair game for attack and debate.

BUT– that wasn’t enough for these hysterical times. For the mob, Ghomeshi and anyone who enables him– though he was already judged by the legal system– needs to be obliterated.

New York Review of Books was founded under questionable circumstances during a newspaper strike with Random House money. Yet, over the decades it’s had quite the glamorous history. Has been contentious, and to this commentator’s knowledge has never before caved under pressure– at least not so immediately.

SOME OBSERVATIONS:

-WRITERS themselves seem to be leading the literary lynch mob, which conjures up images of approved apparatchik scribblers during the halcyon days of the Soviet Union.

-WHETHER Ian Buruma resigned or was fired, someone at NYR of B caved into mob pressure all too quickly. Another blow to the integrity and independence of literary magazines.

-THIS is another in the ongoing castration of classically macho establishment literary publications. (See Paris Review.)

WHO’S NEXT?
***

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Why Did They Publish It?

THE COLLAPSE OF BIG FIVE PUBLISHING IS ONGOING

james frey

Call it a collapse of credibility more than anything.

James Frey may be the most egregious person on the literary scene today.

Frey’s 2003 best-selling memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was later revealed by The Smoking Gun to contain large fabrications.

In 2010 James Frey was shown by Suzanne Mozes of New York magazine to be running a “fiction factory” ruthlessly taking advantage of aspiring young writers.

Frey’s just-released novel, Katerina, is getting slammed by literary critics.

-Including by Ron Charles at the Washington Post, who says it may be “the worst novel of the year.”

-Including by Claire Fallon at Huffington Post, who states firmly that “James Frey Still Sucks.”

THE QUESTION everyone is asking is “Why does James Frey continue to be published?”

It has to be more than Ms. Fallon’s take that he’s published simply because he’s a white guy. There are scores of talented white male writers out there who aren’t landing big book contracts from Big Five publishers like Simon & Schuster. At New Pop Lit we’ve published many of them, including Clint Margrave, Jack Somers, Brian Eckert, Richard Greenhorn, Gregory YelnishAlan Swyer, D.C. Miller, Alex Bernstein, Alex Olson, Jon Berger, Michael Howard, Don Waitt, Wred FrightJoshua Caleb Wilson, and Elias Keller, to name some of the more recent names.

simon & schuster bldg(Simon & Schuster Building.)

COULD IT BE that giant book companies which are part of gigantic media conglomerates and insulated by layers of bureaucracy within Manhattan skyscrapers are simply unable to locate actual literary talent? Instead they take the easiest path: “Round up the usual suspects!”

It’s a top-heavy and feckless system worthy of collapse.
****

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Unreason and Literature

OBJECTIVE TRUTH IN THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

scalesofjustice

Interesting to me is how the Junot Diaz accusers and the accusers’ supporters aren’t interested in the truth of the matter. To them, objective truth is an outmoded concept. To them, objectivity is impossible. They don’t care about evidence or the lack of evidence, because to them, evidence is irrelevant.

Most important is the cause.

An anti-Junot Diaz advocate tweeted this quote from Nietzsche:

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.

Nietzsche

It’s a Nietzschean concept, and also a Hitlerian one.

We’re living in a post-truth age. We’ve seen this in fiction for awhile. More and more, best-selling novels are about fantasy, not reality. Fantasy of some kind, be it vampires, zombies, sci-fi– or the medieval dragons of George R. R. Martin and Company.  Quite a difference from, say, sixty years ago when readers still lived in reality and expected to encounter reality in their reading.

2010-01-C&E_Dragon(Artwork: David Revoy/Blender Foundation.)

A noteworthy example of this change is chief planner, organizer, and accuser in the Junot Diaz Controversy, Monica Byrne. Would that her novel was as well plotted as the Diaz takedown. Instead, it’s an assault of Too Much Information– experiences and imaginings jammed together with uncountable settings, characters, and ideas in a well-written but ultimately incoherent story.

Byrne classifies herself as a Christian– a style of Christianity untethered to any church or doctrine. A belief system where the individual herself determines her own beliefs, her own morality.

It’s old-fashioned Gnosticism, which gave established Christianity heavy competition around 150 A.D.

the-gnostic-gospels

-Whoever follows the direction of his own mind need not accept anyone else’s advice.

-Convinced that the only answers were to be found within, the gnostic engaged in an intensely private interior journey.

-Elaine Pagels
***

TODAY: Post-truth, post-reality, post-objectivity– spawned by postmodern philosophies which began with Nietzsche. Truth merely a construct. Who’s better at selling their version of truth? One version is as good as another– the conflict little more than a PR battle.

1979 Grammy Music Awards

Pretended truths and made-up belief systems on all sides. It’s not new. Nietzsche brought forth from his own insanities nothing new. The mindset has been with us for millennia.

Gnosticism matches the attitude toward objective truth found among the Junot Diaz accusers and their supporters. If it’s “your truth,” that’s all that matters. Your truth, your reality, accuser always believed. The accused is assumed to be guilty.
***
Responses to these remarks are invited.

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

The Truth About Bob Woodward

IS THERE A LITERARY HERD?

The proof that there is a literary herd was provided in a brief twitter exchange I had a couple days ago with Dennis Loy Johnson, editor and publisher at New York-based Melville House Press.

IN the article, Johnson freely dismantles Bob Woodward’s credibility as a reporter, using example after example, including “Deep Throat”; including Woodward’s infamous “interview” with the corpse of Bill Casey on his death bed.

BUT, that was five years ago when Bob Woodward was out of favor with the left-leaning intelligentsia. He’d been critical of President Barack Obama. Before that, Woodward was believed to approve of President George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. Now it’s 2018, and the wind is blowing in another direction.

Guildford_Cathedral_Weather_Vane_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1398116

(Are we at war with Eurasia or Eastasia this week?)

black hat 2Five years ago Dennis Loy Johnson could easily take shots at Bob Woodward; even expose him as something of a liar. TODAY Woodward, like all Insider D.C. commentators, is fundamentally opposed to Trump. Therefore, today he’s not a bad guy but a good guy again. Cue up memories of Watergate.

white hatIT MIGHT MAKE SENSE for Dennis Loy Johnson to advertise his 2013 take down of Bob Woodward. From a business standpoint it surely would– one would think– by drawing attention to Johnson and to Melville House. But it would make Johnson a pariah with the one-direction-only literary herd. Despite his instinct for telling the truth, Johnson is ultimately too shrewd to stand too-far apart from the herd.

To call out Bob Woodward and the salacious parts of Woodward’s new book would take rare intellectual courage, for one who stands in Johnson’s position.

TO DO SO would place himself in what he calls “LOSERVILLE”– which I believe Dennis Loy Johnson means to apply to writers existing outside the golden bubble realm of New York. (I don’t believe he was referring to Detroit– I hope he wasn’t– though he could’ve been.)

detroit mural

Johnson also wants us to give him points for NOT tossing his own article down the Orwellian Memory Hole. We can do that.

media-memory-hole

And Bob Woodward? What’s the truth about Bob Woodward?

The truth about Bob Woodward is that he is what he’s been from the beginning– an Establishment Centrist loyally serving Establishment power. Woodward stays the same. The perception of who Woodward is is always changing.

Bob_Woodward

*******

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Junot Diaz: Captive of the System

THE HARASSMENT CONTROVERSY VIEWED FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE

phantom monster

IF all men are monsters, then that psychic grievance needs continual proof in the form of visible examples. Junot Diaz fit that need.

THE NARRATIVE

Evidence shows the accusations against Junot Diaz to be flimsy– more a case of bruised egos or a dismissive personality than sexual harassment. Junot Diaz fans blame the accusers themselves for the controversy. (Two accusers, in fact, are ambitiously eager to exploit every opportunity to gain publicity.)

For me the matter is caused more by a politicized literary scene– and by the media which covers that scene needing a steady supply of victims and guilty. The accusers are the Id of that media– the realized expression of their beliefs and needs. Without encouragement behind the scenes, the matter would never have become a story in the first place.

THE MACHINE

chaplin_charlie_modern_times_01

One has to write outside today’s New York-centered literary system in order to see it AS a system. Those inside it have no perspective on it.

THE PRISONER

Junot Diaz’s reaction to the accusations against him has been constrained by his membership in the club. He became successful as a creature of the machine, but now the bill has come due and he’s paying it.

MUCH has been made about Diaz hiring a PR firm, and by appearing at his Boston Globe interview accompanied by a lawyer– but these are shackles on no one so much as him.

Handcuffs01_2003-06-02

Did you see the expression on his face in the photo by Suzanne Kreiter which the Boston Globe used? The expression of a prisoner. What you didn’t see are the invisible handcuffs chaining him to that lawyer. Said attorney and said PR firm exist to keep Junot Diaz from speaking his mind. From being himself.

That’s a hell of a position for any artist to be in.

BUSINESS

What was the quote from the Hyman Roth character in the movie Godfather II?

hyman roth

“This is the business we’ve chosen.”

Junot Diaz chose the world of establishment literature when he signed up for the MFA program at Cornell University he was later to write about in his 2014 essay “MFA vs. POC.”

Cornell_University_arts_quad

Diaz was one of the few writers of color in that writing program. He also may have been the only non-bourgeois person in it.

MFA programs teach students how to write in the proper upper-middle class “literary” style of long slow paragraphs of finely-detailed descriptions expressed in well-wrought sentences and it’s all very impressive to the cognoscenti but it’s also removed from the fast-paced real world lives of 95% of the American populace– a big reason why the short story, once the most popular American art form in the vulgar days of O. Henry and Jack London, is today only the delicate captive of writing programs, MFA grads, and New Yorker magazines sitting unread on Manhattan-or-the-Hamptons coffee tables.

manhattan c of alexkotlickDOTcom(Photo c/o AlexKotlik.com.)

It’s to Junot Diaz’s credit that his talent rises above the limitations– the handcuffs– of that very same refined writing style.

NOW he’s being judged by the same people he loathed when he was in those classrooms. Yes, those perfect beings currently staffing Buzzfeed, The Cut, Slate, The New York Times, etc. etc.; almost all from privileged backgrounds and in their Resistance daydreams looking for purpose, looking for causes, looking for harsh macho misogynists looking for anyone they can accuse hang and shred on the altar of their virtue signaling. Someone to nail to the wall for offending their sensibilities with too much reality brushing indelicately and intolerably against the fragile bubbles of their sterling New York City lives.

pelt on wall

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

Junot Diaz and the Sensitivity Police

SENSITIVITY TRAINING FOR ALL NOVELISTS?

USAF_Mess_Dress

(NOT the Sensitivity Police.)

I DISCUSSED the matter months ago in the latter part of my second post about the Junot Diaz controversy. The rules and standards the writer must obey, and the lines he or she must never cross, expand by the day. Maybe the hour.

The writer’s personal behavior is subject to scrutiny in the new Orwellian literary world. But as important is a person’s writings. Fiction is no longer regarded as fiction. It will be used in judging you.

dress uni woman w knife

Case in point is this essay by Lyta Gold from the precocious characters at Current Affairs which appeared on May 8th. (I’ve covered Current Affairs before at this blog, including here.) Note how, referring to Junot Diaz, Lyta Gold has “strongly suspected, from his prose alone, that he’s a virulent misogynist.” Quite a leap. (Was the character Popeye in William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary based on Faulkner? Who knows!)

The atmosphere of Gold’s essay is not that of literature, but religion. Current Affairs‘ peculiar pseudo-Communist/Social Justice religion.

Military_of_Hungary-welcome

The giveaway line is when Lyta Gold says, about Junot Diaz’s writing, “his work was presumptively taken to be flawless and free of sin. . . .”

Free of sin? Is this how writing is being judged?

Nun_ruler - Edited

Lyta Gold further says that “no writer . . . gets to be validated by invisible particles of virtue.”

Well, yeah. But is this the standard? Is this why Junot Diaz was validated to begin with?

Virtue?

David_A_Christian_in_dress_uniform(Literary awards– for virtue?)

Or because of his writing? Why are writers published? If all that will be accepted, after thorough personal screenings and background checks, are virtuous writers, the art of literature will be in even more trouble than it is now.
***

current affairs staff

(Current Affairs staff, from their website.)

PART of what’s happening, ironically enough, is the imposition of bourgeois morality. The Current Affairs staff, like many such staffs, is completely bourgeois in background and sensibility. When expedient– in feeding their own selfish needs and conveniences– they’re as egoistic as Ayn Rand. In the case of Current Affairs, ambitious careerist ladder climbers. Harvard grads, most of them.

The happenings which Junot Diaz puts into his stories and novels are outside their experience. Not surprising, then, that they’re thrown by them. Which doesn’t justify an easily applied label like “misogynist” (a clinical term). If we start judging writers by their musings, their fantasies, and their fictional characters, we’re all in trouble.

This could be the future, if the Sensitivity Police have their way. A kinder, gentler literature– innocuous, harmless, and irrelevant.

The_Bow_(11106700545)

Comments are welcomed.
****

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS