The Monica Byrne Four

EXAMINING ONE THREAD OF THE JUNOT DIAZ AFFAIR

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WHY FOUR?

THERE HAVE BEEN four men in the arts and publishing worlds accused of sexual harassment by Monica Byrne. One of them is award-winning author Junot Diaz. The charges by Byrne and several others against him have gained international attention.

(For purposes of this post, not included are the unsupported allegations Monica made about Melania Trump one year ago– addressed in other New Pop Lit News blog posts.)

In an attempt to find the truth of the matter, I decided to look into the incidents of the three other men– besides Junot Diaz– who were accused.
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FIRST, let me state that one has to be skeptical of any powerful institution– such as MIT– dealing with such matters, as the first instinct of any such institution is CYA: “Cover Your Ass.” For a tragic example of this we need look no farther than Michigan State University. In matters of public opinion– not in the courts– the burden of proof may well be on the involved institution.

SECOND, I believe that in all these affairs Monica Byrne sees herself on the side of truth and justice; that she’s made these accusations in pursuit of a good cause. I don’t question that. I’m describing what happened in these instances to see if misperceptions and miscommunications were involved. (As appears to have been the case with Carmen Maria Machado and her encounter with Mr. Diaz.)
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A.)  Bora Zivkovic

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In September of 2012 Monica invited Bora Zivkovic, editor and blogger at Scientific American, for coffee to talk about her work. They met at a cafe in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. According to her narrative, she discussed her visit to a strip club, among other things she’d done in pursuit of stories. Zivkovic opened up about his sex life with his wife. Monica was bothered enough by the encounter that afterward she sent him a note about it, then another. He apologized. In October Monica wrote about the incident for her blog, without naming him. A year later, October 2013, she updated the post, naming Bora Zivkovic as the man involved, and also contacting Scientific American about the incident. When two other women came forward with similar complaints, Zivkovic quickly resigned from his position at S.A. One of the other women complainants later said this:

-it may not look like sexual harassment. There was no actual sex or inappropriate touching. Bora wasn’t vulgar toward me, nor did he even directly announce his interest. It was all reading between the lines–

B.)  Raphael Martin

Raphael Martin

In 2013 Raphael Martin, then Director of New Work at Soho Repertory Theatre in New York, was visiting Durham, North Carolina. Monica Byrne had written a play she wanted Martin to read and somehow arranged to be part of a group he had dinner with in town. After dinner he invited Monica for a “late night rendezvous drink.” When they met up he may or may not have already had a drink, according to her Facebook write-up on the encounter, posted three years later on 10/25/2016.

Monica told Raphael Martin about her latest play, “Tarantino’s Yellow Speedo”– “about a polyamory cult at the Olympics.” According to Monica, “he seemed weirdly affectionate.” Despite this, she offered to drive him back to his hotel. On the way, he questioned her about whether she was polyamorous. She “tried to glide over it, saying yeah.” When they pulled up to the hotel he gave her a hug “that made my skin crawl, and sort of fondled my forearms.” Receiving no positive signal from her, he got out of the car and she drove home.

In 2016 Monica sent her blog write-up describing the encounter to a Facebook friend, who shared it and asked publicly if anyone else had also been sexually harassed by Raphael Martin. When other women described similar incidents he was quickly fired by Soho, left the job quietly and moved to London, England.

C.  Junot Diaz

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I still have a few questions regarding Monica Byrne’s encounter with Junot Diaz. Such as:

-Who was the date Monica mentions in her Facebook post on the incident, and why hasn’t that person come forward? *See added comment below.

-The dinner at a restaurant was after a sold-out talk Junot Diaz gave at the North Carolina Literary Festival in April, 2014. Likely everyone there would’ve liked to have been at the afterglow dinner. How did Monica and her date manage the invitation?

-Famed author Peter Straub was described as very present at the dinner, witness to all that occurred. Why has he had no comment? (Btw, I asked him for one via twitter. No response.) *See added comment below.

LIKE Zivkovic and Martin, when the accusations against him appeared Junot Diaz said all the right things, quickly withdrew from a literary festival and cancelled other public appearances. The statement issued in his name from his literary agent:

I take responsibility for my past. That is the reason I made the decision to tell the truth of my rape and its damaging aftermath. This conversation is important and must continueI am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.

WHAT HAS to be noted about all four of these men is that they’re all politically progressive. Their public statements have long been in support of women’s issues, and against the kind of behavior they were accused of. Which does not at all mean they weren’t themselves engaging in such behavior. All four are gregarious, touchy-feely men, “huggers,” who felt no inhibitions (until now, obviously) in engaging regularly in such contact. All appear harmless– and in these affairs, hapless. For what it’s worth, not a one is your stereotypical ultra-macho ogre. Not one made much of a protest, personally, against the charges. They meekly left their fates in the hands of others.
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BUT WAIT! Haven’t I spoken about four men accused by Monica Byrne of sexual harassment? Yes, there’s a fourth, and on the surface things don’t look good for him.

Here’s a tweet Monica recently sent out to the world, dated June 6 of this year:

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D.)  Jay O’Berski

oberski - Edited

The accused, Number Four. A theater professor at Duke.

IS there more to the story? Much more???

STAY TUNED!

-Karl Wenclas
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Playboy and Today’s War Between the Sexes

OR: WHY ARE PROGRESSIVE MEN HARASSING WOMEN?

New Pop Lit

The question isn’t as off-the-wall as it seems. What’s taking place is an internal war between two parts of the sexual/social/cultural revolution which kicked-off in the 1960’s and is ongoing.

ON ONE SIDE you have the hedonists and free-love people. Their first advocate was Hugh Hefner of Playboy magazine fame.

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Recall his ethos? The playboy devotes himself to having as many women as he can, all the time. A generation of men– several generations, really– were raised to believe that their share of the sexual revolution could be summed up in one word, which begins with a “p.” (It’s not “playboy.”) Give women their rights; give them their freedom, and this in return was the payment. Another “p” word, “the Pill,” made this, at least for a time, reality. Woodstock, 1969:

Przystanek Woodstock 2012

Free love. Old-fashioned monogamy destroyed.

THOSE MEN who eagerly embraced this were sexist pigs, yes, but many were on the left– or, if they weren’t to start with, soon enough joined it. Businessmen throwing away their ties and grabbing paisley shirts and beads before eagerly jumping into the pigpen with the rest of the gang. Liberation.

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THE OTHER SIDE in this battle is the feminist movement, a huge portion of which has pulled back on this unlimited freedom, no limits, appetite-all-the-time part of the deal. Their avatar is Catherine MacKinnon.

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What does this have to do with men accused of sexual harassment in the literary realm?

HAVE progressive men, in sympathy with women and women’s issues, felt at liberty to go beyond normal bounds with them?

I’ll explore this, with examples, in my next post. Coming soon.

-K.W.

(Be sure to follow this blog to get all the updates. Much is upcoming.)

Hard Truths

NOT A WRAP-UP OF THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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Some truths for both sides of the issue to ponder:

A.)  For the Anti-Junot Crowd:

While Junot Diaz was cleared of charges of harassment by Boston Review and MIT (the same animal), in large part for institutional reasons, it’d be naive to think they didn’t do “due diligence” beyond that stated. The scope of their investigation no doubt did extend beyond the narrow and stuffy walls of MIT. One has to believe they did look thoroughly into those making the accusations. They’re not speaking about this for their own (decipherable) reasons.

B.)  For the Pro-Junot Crowd:

Don’t think for a moment that Junot Diaz is not entirely a creature of that same elitist institution. And others like it such as his literary agent, Aragi; his publisher, Penguin Random House; and the Pulitzer Board, safely placed at the center of east coast institutional power at Columbia University.

Junot Diaz is not a free agent– and can’t be. These forces made him, and so he’s had little say on how any of this game has been played. (Though he’s likely maneuvered behind the scenes.) I’d wager others have dictated what he’s said– always making the proper statements, because he’s always made the proper statements.

I take responsibility for my past . . . This conversation is important and must continueI am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.

Perfectly the right thing (via a statement from his literary agent).

Instead of telling all concerned to go f— themselves and walking away. But that’s not how the game is played.

There are huge benefits but also costs to being a cog in the established literary system, part of its never-ending manipulations.

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THE ONE QUESTION no one is asking: Why is so much sexual harassment happening, from the very progressive men who declaim loudest against it?

Answers? Does anyone have answers?

-K.W.

(Be sure to follow this blog to not miss any updates.)

 

Unlocking the Junot Diaz Puzzle

SEVENTH IN A SERIES

lock

Abuser or non-abuser? Who, in the end, is telling the truth about this puzzling lit-world affair? Is there or will there ever be a way to tell?

THE CASE against famed author Junot Diaz is fairly well presented here, where you’ll find the statements– the charges, if you will– against him.

THE STORY is in the descriptions of these encounters– the crux of the matter in this passage taken from Monica Byrne’s narrative:

The table struck up a light conversation about the significance of statistics in publishing. I made a point emphasizing how personal narrative is important in empowering the marginalized. He said (and this is my memory, so I’m not including quotation marks), Well, I don’t know if you know how statistics work, but that’s like saying, Oh, I haven’t been RAPED, so RAPE must not exist.

Monica Byrne mentions the importance of personal narrative. Junot Diaz disagrees with her. Ironically, the accusations against him are three examples of personal narrative and the question is to what extent we should trust them.

Three intense narratives. Three brief encounters with Junot Diaz which occurred four-to-seven years ago. Are the narratives strictly accurate?

The three women were aspiring young writers meeting one of their idols. Could anyone in that situation not treat it as an important encounter?  Would (just asking) the impact of any dismissive or abrupt gesture, a raising of his voice– any formidable disagreement from him– be multiplied several times over?

One of the encounters has already been unlocked. Read the Carmen Maria Machado description– of her encounter with Diaz– linked to above. Then listen to the recorded audio of the same event (their exchange begins at the 33 minute mark):

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Oc-g4-jx-jlCQG_cuWsJa3IFrET1-3uV/view

A window into history. A disputed event six years ago is history.

A PARALLEL?

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When I was a kid my dad kept around the house a collection of boxing magazines. He wasn’t much of a reader– never read a book in his life– but he’d boxed a little in his youth and did like boxing magazines. One of the mags detailed the changes in perception wrought by film archivist Jim Jacobs, who restored footage of many of the classic fights of the late 19th century and beyond, including the Jim Corbett versus Bob Fitzsimmons heavyweight contest of 1897.

BY the 1960’s and 70’s, when these magazines were published, the old-time fights had gained the gravity of myth, due to hyperbolic descriptions in publications like The Police Gazette— which after all needed to sell copies and had to have something exciting to present.

In print, these were terribly contentious, blood-drenched battles. When grizzled boxing writers who’d been raised on the legends saw the long-lost footage, their jaws dropped. Cigars fell from their mouths. Action on the screen was minimal. Being no-limit fights in the hot sun, the boxers paced themselves. The men were merely human beings, not superheroes. (Fitzsimmons knocked-out Corbett in the thirteenth round.)

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DRAMATIC LANGUAGE

The reporters in 1897 used dramatic language which colored their descriptions, adding intensity to the event. “Fitzsimmons face was pouring blood–“ Pouring? He had a cut.

Does Machado, a creative writer, color her description?

–he became freshly enraged when I refused to capitulate . . . all (“all”) I got was a blast of misogynist rage and public humiliation– 

IS this in the audio?

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IN THE DESCRIPTION of her encounter with Junot Diaz, author Monica Byrne– who I covered in this blog’s previous two posts– writes with similar intensity.

His response was completely bizarre, disproportionate, and violent. I was speechless and felt sick.

Understandable, if Junot Diaz was indeed shouting at her. The question– was he?

UNLOCKING HISTORY

The past gives us innumerable examples of historical events or periods which have been colored in some way– intensified, romanticized, or toned-down– overstated or understated– by later narratives.

A ready example from the world of letters would be Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind. Mitchell was raised on descriptions of antebellum times in the Old South. She learned the romance of those days, not the horrors.

PicMonkey Collage4

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THE FLIPSIDE to this is today’s accepted narrative about the 1950’s. Perhaps due to Eisenhower’s low-key presidency (Gore Vidal: “The Great Golfer”), and that it preceded the tumultuous 60’s, it’s considered a bland decade.

Natalie_Wood_and_James_Dean_in_Rebel_Without_a_Cause_trailer_2

Part of this perception was intentionally created by the polemicists of cultural rebellion. They needed a punching bag to knock around. In truth, in the aftermath of the nightmare of the Second World War, America embraced its traditions of country, home, church, and family. Much of the decade was indeed conformist– though hardly as machine-conformist as now.

YET when vintage 50’s cars parade on avenues in display in summer “dream cruises”– a tradition in the Detroit area– perception changes. One can only remark, “Wow!” at the colors and outrageousness on display.

classiccarscollage

Another example is the sumptuous wide-screen Technicolor movies of the era. No restrained tones or muted emotions in that era. Actors declaimed, music scores blasted and garish color bled from the screen.

DEMETRIUS-AND-THE-GLADIATORS_

ABUSIVE LANGUAGE

HOW do we classify speech as abusive? Where are the lines drawn? Who draws them?

Should we begin regulating not only what a writer says, but how he says it?

Fortunate for Junot Diaz that he publicly speaks in the low-key tones of an academic. He has circulated long enough in the homogenized land of the gentry, and seems to know their codes.

But what of those whose voices are naturally loud and aggressive? Whose personas in public performance and discussion go beyond the acceptable bounds? Can this be allowed?

Questions, questions. Never-ending questions. . . .

-Karl Wenclas

 

Flash Update on the Junot Diaz Matter

Question-mark

HERE”S part of an exchange I had yesterday with Monica Byrne about the Junot Diaz alleged sexual harassment controversy. The conversation was initiated by Byrne. The context is the previous New Pop Lit News post.

Do tweets go viral that quickly? I guess.

It remains curious that many of Junot’s defenders won’t mention the scurrilous allegations Byrne made one year ago. Did she choose an approved target?

As you can see, our twitter conversation concludes with Ms. Byrne declining to answer questions about those allegations.
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Jigsaw_puzzle_(detail)

Last evening New Pop Lit‘s editors had dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant with a train set running along the walls and had too much to eat. Afterward I had a crazy dream in which two of the pieces of the Junot Diaz puzzle came together. I’ll discuss that MONDAY.

-K.W.

Monica Byrne: Who’dda Thunk It?

FIFTH IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY

AS ANYONE following the Junot Diaz/Boston Review controversy knows, sci-fi author Monica Byrne has been one of his main accusers– describing on her Facebook page his alleged bullying of her at a literary event, while also citing McCarthy-style a list of 38 unnamed names with similar accusations. (“I hold in my hand. . . .”)

Anyone reading her description of what happened had to be immediately sympathetic. It’s only that Diaz defenders have aggressively looked into the matter that another side of Ms. Byrne is emerging.

Namely, that making unsupported allegations seems to be her stock-in-trade.
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HERE’s a photo of Monica Byrne taken from her blog, Branding While Female, dated November 4, 2015:

Monica Byrne photo-on-8-25-15-at-10-05-pm

The caption accompanying the photo reads, “That time I trolled Donald Trump with a bloody middle finger.”
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NOT TOTALLY SURPRISING then that in June 2017 she was the source of unverified rumors that Melania Trump was having an affair with the head of security at the Trump Tower lobby. You might remember the story– it ran in quite a number of media outlets, including these:

http://perezhilton.com/2017-06-02-melania-trump-donald-affair-head-security-tiffanys-tower-years-monica-byrne-report

https://www.someecards.com/news/politics/melania-trump-cheating-rumors/

https://www.lovebscott.com/oh-really-melania-trump-reportedly-affair-head-security-tiffany-co-trump-tower-lobby-years

https://www.inquisitr.com/4271083/melania-trump-affair-rumor-first-lady-mocked-on-twitter-over-alleged-cheating/

https://us.blastingnews.com/news/2017/06/man-melania-trump-is-allegedly-cheating-with-has-photo-shared-on-social-media-001749225.html

BUT AFTER ALL, it was only Donald Trump, right? Everybody hates the guy. No blowback to speak of against Monica.

Apparently emboldened, Monica Byrne this year joined the chorus of accusers against Junot Diaz. Did she, as some claim, smell the opportunity for easy publicity?

AT THE MOMENT things don’t look good for the anti-Junot Diaz side. (Carmen Maria Machado already fairly well discredited.) We’ll have to see how this finally plays out.

(p.s. I’ve taken a lot of heat from Junot defenders for not immediately disbelieving the accusations against him. As I said in the second of the posts about this issue, I was not about to rush to judgement either way.)

STAY TUNED!

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit News beat.

The Cult of Junot Diaz

FOURTH IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ-BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY

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RARE INDEED is it for a writer in  this day and age to create an obsessive fan base– but by all appearances Junot Diaz has done it, as I’m discovering while covering the ongoing controversy over whether he should or should not resign as Boston Review‘s fiction editor. His defenders guard twitter night and day, obsessively noting every hashtag related to the issue and commenting instantaneously. As someone who worries about the health of literature in this country, this is good to see.

THE QUESTION I’ve raised is to what extent the Junot Diaz persona matches the actual person beneath?

It’s unquestionable that he’s an intelligent person– by all indications a fairly complex one. It’d be naive to think he’s not to some extent in his public appearances playing to the needs of his audience. Would this be unusual? Not at all– not even in the pristine land of today’s literary scene, which some want to believe is all sunshine and cotton candy.

(Does anyone truly believe that the public good-guy persona of author-publisher Dave Eggers, for instance, is the actual person? Is anyone that naive?)

THERE’S ALSO the question implied by Carmen Maria Machado in her infamous recorded exchange with Junot Diaz. Namely, to what extent does the character Yunior in his book of stories match himself? A little? A lot? Does Diaz’s actual life match in any way the incidents described in the book? Is Junior in any way an aspect of Junot Diaz’s own personality?

These are questions which his defenders believe aren’t supposed to be asked about him– even though they’ve been asked about nearly every famous author who’s ever existed. (Did Hemingway’s characters resemble himself? Scott Fitzgerald’s? Naw! No way!)

ANOTHER PROBLEM the Cult of Junot has is with anyone who thinks his revelatory memoir in The New Yorker magazine was a mistake. Significantly, most who think it wasn’t are women. But I bring to the question the perspective of a man, taking the stance of the aforementioned Hemingway in regard to a confessional memoir called “The Crack-Up” penned by the aforementioned F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway felt the publication of such material was a mistake; that it was better dealt with obliquely in a novel. Ernest Hemingway followed a stoic code forgotten or dismissed in this day and age.

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The New Yorker wants its male writers to reveal– if not revel in– their vulnerability. For example we need go only as far as one of the stories in their current fiction issue, “Fungus” by David Gilbert, which has the weepy male lead character searching at the end of the overwritten tale for a “pregnant tree.”

(We’re doing a feature on “Hamlet” at our main site in a day or two. I’m reminded of one of that character’s lines: “–wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.”)

WHAT’S HAPPENING

VULNERABILITY. That word is the secret for Junot Diaz’s fanatical defenders and opponents, not a one who’s able to view the recent accusations against him dispassionately. They’re emotionally invested in the guy– likely because he exudes a sense of vulnerability. Women are attracted to this quality in a public personality– as could be proven by a long list of movie stars and pop music idols.

Are Junot Diaz’s accusers in fact (has been charged by his fanatic defenders) themselves frustrated fans? Ex-members of the Cult of Junot Diaz? (One anyway had an affair with him.)

There’s some logic to the idea. And as I said, if people are getting worked up over a writer, pro or con, that’s good to see. (David Gilbert no doubt wistfully wishes he could create that level of hysteria. . . .)

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MORE TO COME?

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit news beat.

Who Controls Literature?

THIRD IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

PicMonkey Collage3

WHAT MAKES the Junot Diaz controversy interesting is the way it illustrates an establishment literary scene that today has become thoroughly politicized.

YET WHO STANDS BEHIND this scene– and behind the controversy? Who controls literature and the presentation of literature, and political changes within literature?

When you examine U.S. intellectual journals you find many of them take strong anti-capitalist stances yet are financed by wealthy capitalists. A puppet show where the behind-the-scenes puppeteer controls all sides of an issue.

Islington_Punch_and_Judy

Is this the case with the Boston Review?

The two biggest donors at $100,000 each are:

1.) Derek Schrier and Cecily Cameron.

Schrier is a former managing member of Farallon Capital. Currently he manages an investment portfolio valued at $600 million. Cameron was Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Old Navy. They keep a low profile, but made the news in 2010 for selling a home in Pacific Heights, California for $5.9 million.

2.) The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

This is a foundation worth $9 billion-with-a-b, managed by Walter B. Hewlett– the tax-sheltered fortune of the Hewlett-Packard business empire.

(NOTE that for Boston Review editors Joshua Cohen and Deborah Chasman there are good billionaires and bad ones. Until recently Elon Musk was a “good” capitalist in progressive circles, but for some reason has fallen out of favor.)
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SIMILAR SITUATIONS exist for most of the trendy literary publications on both coasts. Here’s a recent photo of the editors and backers of Los Angeles Review of Books. Several of the individuals in the photo are big money investors. What do those in the photo represent? Wealth. For such people, self-image is vitally important.

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LET’S NOT FORGET the big book publishers themselves, the so-called “Big Five” media conglomerates with attached publicity arms and media outlets, and the sycophantic literary journals lavishly promoting Big 5 books (The Millions; Electric Lit; et.al.)– all of them with progressive postures and all of them based in and around the imperial city of New York.

QUESTIONS OF TOKENISM

One of Junot Diaz’s accusers, Alisa Valdes, wrote a blog post about him, portraying Diaz as– among other things– “a social striver who pretended to be about the ‘hood, for the street cred he’d need to become a Latino lapdog for the New Yorker.” This raises questions of tokenism– a term also used by the VIDA website in their petition against him.

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(Still from the 1957 movie “Twelve Angry Men.”)

IF the standard affluent white liberal still sees minorities as tragic victims, then have Junot Diaz’s narratives– and his recent New Yorker essay about his past– fed into that sense of virtuous power? It’s a question which has to be asked.
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The world sees only the players on the stage– and not those who control the production. It’s like the 1961 movie “The Hustler” in which Minnesota Fats, top pool player, is seen as a dynamic, powerful character– until the end, when we see he has no real power at all; is controlled by the gambler who backs him. In the same way, writers and readers alike want to see only the authors whose face is on the book jacket– they seek no knowledge of how that book is made, and the many compromises made along the way.

new pop lit news

THE TRUTH is that all writers are tokens, in the sense that few have any real power within the world of letters. This is a point I made in the first part of this series covering this topic. In the recent National Book Foundation awards, most of the writers nominated and awarded were women and/or persons of color. It’s the face the book world (which sustains NBF) chooses to put on its product at the moment. From the standpoint of those behind the scenes, it means little– as long as they remain the ones pulling the strings. As Junot Diaz is finding out, the power of a successful writer is tentative, qualified, and can be taken away at any time.

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EVENTUALLY: “Ownership: Are There Solutions?”

-Karl Wenclas

Will Junot Diaz Survive?

 

THE BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY CONTINUES

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ART like the world is three-dimensional and should be approached three-dimensionally. A great novel then, ideally, should use multiple viewpoints. To understand an issue– as we’re trying to understand this issue– the critic or commentator should look at it from multiple angles.

Popova_Air_Man_Space

(“Air, Man, Space” by Lyubov Popova.)

YET on this issue of whether Junot Diaz is an abusive misogynist and whether he’s assaulted women and been insulting and patronizing and whether or not he should resign or be fired from the Boston Review, everyone is taking a side. Everyone wants a fast decision (even though there’s a lot of gray in the issue). “Yes! No! Guilty! Innocent!” Dueling mobs, only in this case it’s one mob, with a few deputies standing outside the jailhouse door with shotguns, guarding it like out of an old western movie.

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The mentality is binary. Which is curious, because Boston Review and its opponents stress their support of non-binary persons, but in no sense do they engage in non-binary thinking.

We’re conditioned to think in terms of two choices– Column A or Column B. The court system– protagonist versus antagonist; defense attorney against prosecutor, with no middle ground between them. Politics: red state or blue state. Either-or. Two choices at the ballot box. Which is your party? All-in either way, with no give-and-take. Black-white. Good guys or bad guys. The world as soccer field: choose your side.

IRONICALLY enough, the Boston Review plays this game as strongly as anybody. They present a one-track mindset.

The Boston Review editors know. They have the truth on every issue and are out advocating it– only this time the perceived truth is blowing up in their faces.
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I LISTENED to the recorded exchange (starts 33:00) between Carmen Maria Machado– one of the main accusers– and Junot Diaz. It’s not an argument, not even a debate. Is Diaz condescending and arrogant? Possibly. The recording is like a modernist painting that the listener sees what he or she wants to see in it.

More interesting is the way Junot Diaz reaffirms his politically-correct stance throughout the talk– even before Machado enters into it. He takes the requisite swing against white supremacy. He mentions “masculine privilege” and “toxic misogyny.” “Sexism,” he says about a book, “is going to be implicit on every fuckin’ page.” He’s saying, “I’m on your side.” Shocked he must be that he’s on women’s side– so he proclaims– but they’re not necessarily on his.

The same holds true many times over for the chief editors at Boston Review, Deborah Chasman and Joshua Cohen. Every article takes a political stand, in the most progressive fashion. It might be the most progressive and politically-correct journal you will ever read. They’re against the cakeshop ruling, neoliberal market police, wealthy whites, and Elon Musk (that chic billionaire– boo!), and pro- California, Afrofuturism, and Planet Earth. Every base covered.

None of this surprising when you realize Joshua Cohen has taught political science at Stanford and MIT, or that his stated mission when taking over as editor in 1991 was to have the journal become more politically oriented, while retaining a profile in fiction and poetry.

The impression given when listening to the recorded Junot Diaz lecture, and studying the Boston Review website, is that literature has become thoroughly politicized. Politics is a major part of the Diaz recording– every question asked and answered comes through a political lens. The audience and Junot Diaz are presumed to be on the same side– indeed, everyone there is. That room for disagreement was found despite this becomes fascinating.

WHAT’S HAPPENING

Revolutions tend to eat their own, whether Danton and Robespierre in one instance, Zinoviev and Bukharin in another.

Stalin-Bukharin

Joshua Cohen and men like him spearheaded a cultural revolution in America. It began in the 1960’s and never stopped. At some point the original grass roots revolutionary impulse became co-opted and since it’s been stage-managed from above. Cohen himself is a graduate of both Yale and Harvard. Elite of the elite. Select of the select. His periodical Boston Review has the superstructure of MIT behind it, as well as this list of powerful individual and institutional donors. Joshua Cohen defines the term white patriarch. Now he finds the forces he helped unleash don’t always behave as he wants.

Arrogance? Of a sort, in that Joshua Cohen doesn’t seem to understand the rules of the game even though he helped create them. In other words, at some level, or many levels, the dispute is about power. Who’ll hold it within the tottering structure of established literature? Who should hold it?

(The lynch mob marches down the street with rope and torches– “Where is he?”– Joshua Cohen at the front of it. “This way!” he shouts. A culprit is found and taken to the scaffold, rope put around his neck– he turns to face the crowd and Joshua Cohen finds to his shock and horror that the figure about to be lynched is him.)

Lynch-mob-2-e1525465690886

MORE TO COME

-Karl Wenclas

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.