Junot Diaz: Captive of the System

THE HARASSMENT CONTROVERSY VIEWED FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE

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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

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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.

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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?

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“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.”

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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

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Who Defends Artistic Expression?

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THE LATEST NEWS is that literary editors are adding what they themselves refer to as Morality Clauses to their sites. Not an aesthetic guideline for submitted work– the clause regards the writers themselves. Editors are doing background checks on writers via google and other tools. Background checks! The mindset has come full circle. We’ve entered a neo-puritan world.

For these uptight-to-the-max editors, getting along with the herd– enforcing an ideology– is their primary focus. Art is a secondary consideration.

THE EDITING POLICE

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These literary editors have taken it upon themselves to monitor the writer’s behavior– including after the work has been published. “Yep, he did something regrettable and embarrassing. We published his poem five years ago. Doesn’t matter. Yank it out!”

The entire history of literature is filled with writers engaging in bad behavior. (It once was a badge of honor.) Beginning with Christopher Marlowe– who wouldn’t make the cut in this day and age. Neither would Shakespeare. There’s that rather disconcerting speech in Hamlet when he says, “Get thee to a nunnery!” Hurtful words. Yank his works.

WHEN I fronted an activist group from about 2000 to 2008, our numbers included many outcasts, outsiders, and those who regularly engaged in bad behavior. They were from every possible ideological stripe, left to right. We had no litmus tests or background checks.

Today, we see Editor-as-Cop. “Are your papers in order? Where are your papers! Can you prove you did not engage in harassment and abuse?” (One silly lit editor argued for Rachel Custer proving she hadn’t engaged in verbal abuse.)

AT ONE TIME, the novel, poem or play itself was considered verbal abuse! Its very existence.

Has the writer engaged in bad behavior outside the walls of  our little literary project known as New Pop Lit? What’s that to me? I’m a literary editor. If he or she has broken a law, report them to the authorities.

A QUESTION: Would you publish a story or poem by a convicted murderer sitting in prison if the work were good enough? 

LAST LINE OF DEFENSE

Every other segment of society has reasons to limit or crush artistic expression. The state, the advertiser, the dependent-on-donors foundation, the speech-squelching university, the project-a-proper-image corporation. It’s the task of the artist; the writer– and the editor, the publisher, the promoter, the arts impresario– to stand up for creative expression. For the ability to be creative. The ability to surprise, stir, anger, or shock. If not us: Who else?
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

 

 

Should Literary Editors Ever Apologize?

IS AMERICAN LITERATURE BECOMING A CENSORSHIP HORROR SHOW?

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

Author James Joyce and Publisher

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

How to Write a Hatchet Job

PRELUDE TO EXAMINING SLATE’S JUNOT DIAZ ARTICLE

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THE TRUTH is that a character assassination can be written on anyone– especially when you delve into the person’s long history of writings and cherry pick from them to bolster your argument.

Did Slate‘s Lili Loofbourow do this in her examination of the Junot Diaz sexual harassment controversy now dividing the literary world?

THE TRICK is that the same treatment could be performed on Ms. Loofbourow. For instance, two minutes of google searching found this article:

“In Praise of Fleabag and the Unapologetically Flawed Female Antihero.”

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The television show Loofbourow acclaims is, in her own words, “–a tremendous, oddly nourishing show about a liar and thief.” “It’s the story . . . of a woman who reads people too well and takes advantage of them,” “somehow desperate,” “a lean, amoral Matilda with no impulse control.”

(Anyone we know. . . ?)

Reading the article, one would think Lili Loofbourow doesn’t care, really, about apologies– nor about ethical behavior and truth. One could readily believe that Lili Loofbourow is simply a media gun-for-hire, fixing her opinions to fit the needs of her editors– or those of the greater conglomerate media herd.

That would be unfair.

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THE SLATE article is interesting to me, because it reminds me of a long essay that was written fifteen years ago for a major literary publication, about an activist writers group. A writers group coincidentally devoted to exposing blatant corruption in the established literary world. That long-ago essay was a well-written hatchet job, filled with half-truths, distortions, and omissions. It defined us, creating a narrative which became “the truth” about us in everyone’s heads, so much so that any journalist afterward covering the organization read that essay as part of their research on it, viewing it through the same prism of misconceptions.
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I’m not complaining. I’m stating how the game is played. Those who rise to a position where they crank out articles for a variety of publications play the game very, very well.

The solution? To create an alternative literary world, and alternative lit-media, not based in the shark tank of New York– one devoted to facts, talent, and truth.

COMING SOON: A more direct look at the Slate article.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News.

Junot Diaz and Abuses of Power

 

Junot Diaz

YOU MAY today have heard about the literary journal Boston Review and its decision to keep award-winning author Junot Diaz in place as their fiction editor. You may also know that Boston Review’s three poetry editors (count ’em: three) have resigned in protest to their decision.

MOST INTERESTING to me is this part of the Boston Review statement, penned by editors Deborah Chasman and Joshua Cohen:

–we considered whether, as some have suggested, the complaints point to a larger pattern of abusing power—the kind of star power that has attached to Junot as a successful writer, editor, and public intellectual. On the basis of a careful review of the public complaints, we think not.

Interesting, because if you read the statements of Zinzi Clemmons, Carmen Maria Machado, Monica Byrne, and others, you see that the star mindset in arrogance and attitude is a major part of the writers’ complaints.

POWER and its abuses is what occurs in a system where the writer plays the role of continual supplicant; facing the arrogance of power through every step of the process, be it writing workshops, MFA programs, the many seminars and conferences– all with steep price tags– onto dealings with the layers of agents and “Big Five” conglomerate editors themselves, who regard themselves, and not the writers– the artists whose work should stand at the center of the literary machine– as chief value.

The current writer industry is a kind of Ponzi scheme, in which writers with little-to-no chance of real success pay and pay, conforming to the standards of the literary industry (flawed standards, we believe)– while the rewards go to a chosen connected few at the top of the heap. Which wouldn’t be all bad, if the work rewarded fully justified this. It doesn’t.

Junot Diaz

It’s a system largely built on networking and connections– on being from the right background or school or writing program, having the right pedigree, correct credentials and proper sponsors.

A system– a machine– built from top to bottom to create arrogance and abuse.

New Pop Lit was created to be an alternative, artistically and in every other way.

We remind ourselves every day it’s about the reader and the writer.

-K.W.

 

Who’s Appropriating Whom?

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AS DISCUSSED in our previous News blog post, Current Affairs magazine and other “hard left” periodicals are staffed by well-educated cultural aristocrats appropriating the voice and stance of leftist radicals.

Yet we find to our surprise that Current Affairs published an article by Briahna Joy Gray about the very subject of cultural appropriation! It’s here.

NOT surprising is that the essay presents the Harvard tops-down viewpoint, and is filled with distortions.

New Pop Lit‘s editor (me) is writing a series of posts at his personal blog addressing the Current Affairs essay’s viewpoint. The pieces are being written in reverse order. The second one is “All About Chuck Berry.” The third and concluding part of the series is “All About ‘Hound Dog.'” The opening salvo is upcoming.
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ABOUT APPROPRIATION

The charge of so-called cultural appropriation, applied to rock n roll history– coming from of all places Harvard University; home of the Elite of the Elite– seems to this commentator designed to shut down (and wipe history books clean) of small-scale business run by street hustlers. IF the culture of the 1950’s had worried about matters of appropriation, that would’ve been the result– and rock and roll would never have happened. Including England’s Beatles, who did their share of appropriation, of artists black and white, and of every possible style, including Broadway show tunes and 1920’s English music hall ditties.

(My series is showing that during the rise of rock music, everybody was freely appropriating everybody– with one of Ms. Gray’s chief victims, Chuck Berry, as one of the appropriators.)

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THE PROBLEM with the tops-down Harvard Viewpoint is that it eliminates artistic diversity, integration, mutation, choice, and change under the guise of doing the opposite. Without such appropriations by low-rent wannabe-capitalist scramblers trying to make a buck, the music industry would’ve remained as static and uninteresting as the literary scene is today; dominated by unknowing conglomerate machines and Ivy League-dominated foundations understanding only one way of viewing the art; one safe way of thinking, writing, promoting and publishing.

-Karl Wenclas

 

Fake Diversity

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NO DOUBT those involved with the National Book Awards are congratulating themselves on the diversity of their selections. Yes, the identity politics crowd is happy. Of the 20 finalists, 11 are persons of color. (Two others immigrated here.) 15 of the 20 are women. Four out of five finalists of the most prestigious category, Fiction, are women of color. For those at home counting, double bonus points. For Fiction alone, there’s a Chinese-American and Korean-American and Cuban-American and African-American.

AS LONG as we’re playing the hyphen game, where are the Polish-Americans and Serbian-Americans and Slovak-Americans? The Croatian/Greek/Hungarian/Ukrainian/Lithuanian/Italian-Americans? Those whose people were brought over here to work brutal jobs in steel mills and coal mines and auto plants– who were never given the privilege to which white skin color supposedly entitles one in the hallucinatory visions of the actual privileged at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford; in the imaginings of those who write the PC rules that organizations like the National Book Foundation now follow.

If one is meant to see representatives of identity at such affairs– where’s mine? They’re not in the white publishers pulling strings behind the scenes, with whom I have nothing in common beyond skin color.

If appearances matter, the Awards appear to have eliminated an entire large swath of America from consideration– especially if one adds in working-class whites in Appalachia, Kansas, the Rust Belt, and other parts of the nation overlooked by Manhattan mandarins eager to appear as correct as possible; those who dominate such “charitable” organizations. (The actual charity involved being minimal.)

Fiction Finalist Jesmyn Ward says of the notion of a color-blind America: “I don’t know that place. I’ve never been there.” (This despite achieving degrees at both University of Michigan and Stanford.) Except there’s no choice but to live in a post-racial America if there’s to be any kind of harmony in this chaotic nation.

More important for an arts organization than superficial diversity of the cosmetic or hyphenated kind is diversity of ideas. At the big Awards ceremony Wednesday night one can be assured there will be NONE.

Will there be a single individual holding an opinion on politics and culture different from the rest of the audience? (A Trump voter, for instance?) If there is, the person won’t announce it! (First reaction if did: “How did he get in here?” Second reaction: Naked hostility. Third reaction: Career over.)

Which brings us to the token straight white male among the Fiction Finalists: Elliot Ackerman. A white guy? How did he slip in there??

Working-class whites are readily thrown overboard when equality and diversity become an issue– though few were on board to start with. But there’s always room for the super-elite, or children of the super-elite, and Elliot Ackerman is proof.

Eliot_ackerman_8929(Elliot Ackerman.)
A genuine war hero in the war in Afghanistan, Ackerman, methinks, is on his way to becoming a U.S. Senator. JFK anyone?

(We’ll assume, for the sake of his own survival Wednesday, that he’s a proper liberal. Likely a neo-liberal. Afghanistan may be tough, but inflamed ideologues in a mob are another matter.)

A Marine for eight years, Elliot served as a CIA Special Operations Officer as well. More recently he was Chief Operating Officer of Americans Elect, a political organization founded and chaired by his father. Elliot was a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. He’s written for every establishment publication in existence, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Republic, and others. Conspiracy theorists out there can note he’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

THE FATHER
Elliot’s father Peter Ackerman has been a liberal icon, an international scholar, a consultant to student protesters in China, and on the boards of several liberal political organizations. He’s also worked for the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert where he made an estimated 300 million-plus dollars, was involved in the Michael Milken junk bond insider trading scandal, and paid a $73 million settlement with the FDIC. In 2005 the U.S. Tax Court ruled that Peter was involved in an illegal $1.7 billion tax shelter. He’s had either an exciting establishment career, or a typical one, depending on how you look at things.

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How did Elliot get his book in the Awards, indeed!

Why focus so much on the writers, anyway? Writers are merely the outward excuse for throwing a lavish party for Bigs of New York publishing, with accompanying tax write-offs. The party, not the writers or writing, is the point.

-MORE TO COME-

K.W.