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.

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(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.)

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

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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.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

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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.”

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.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

Junot Diaz and the Sensitivity Police

SENSITIVITY TRAINING FOR ALL NOVELISTS?

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(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.

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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.

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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?

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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.
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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.

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Comments are welcomed.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Where’s the Evidence?

LATEST NEWS FROM THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

DNA-evidence

The latest news from the Junot Diaz controversy is there is no news.

FROM THE MOMENT the Junot Diaz alleged harassment controversy broke big-time on May 4th, two of the three original accusers, Monica Byrne and Zinzi Clemmons, have made numerous tweets promising everyone that more stories would be forthcoming. Zinzi Clemmons has said she has “receipts”– emails from Junot Diaz documenting the fact he’d harassed her. Monica Byrne has mentioned time and again “39” other accusers waiting in the wings. Those who’ve been covering the story, including ourselves, have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting. (Alisa Rivera came immediately afterward with an incident from a date gone awry 15 years ago, as did ex-girlfriend Alisa Valdes with her experiences.)

THE ASSUMPTION– in my opinion the wager by the original three– was that Diaz was unquestionably an abuser and that many more accusers would come forward after the coordinated presentation on May 4th made international headlines. Monica Byrne had been through this twice before (see this), and based on those experiences, believed enough other women would come forward to remove Junot Diaz from his positions at Boston Review and MIT. As we now know, both institutions held the line.

HOW LONG had the planned revelations been under consideration?

Here is their genesis, in a few of the tweets exchanged between Monica Byrne and an initially reluctant Carmen Maria Machado– dating from 2015:

THE THIRD member of the trio was brought on board beginning in December of 2017, at the same time MeToo stories were breaking everyplace. See this, and this, and this.

MEDIA BLITZKRIEG

Ausbildung, Überrollen durch Panzer

GIVEN the intensity of the criticism, Junot Diaz should’ve been completely destroyed. The calculation with any such maneuver is that the target will be. It’s analogous to Germany’s “Operation Barbarossa” invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. After a string of easy victories, Hitler believed the rotting structure of the world’s first Communist regime would collapse in on itself, as a result of a strong push. Didn’t happen. He didn’t count on the enormous fortitude of the Russian people.  What followed was a long, slow slog. Which is what’s been happening the last several months between both sides of the Junot Diaz controversy.

Bora Zivkovic and Raphael Martin, obsequious liberals unprepared for their personal idiosyncrasies to be exposed to the world, immediately apologized and resigned in the face of accusations. What happened in the Junot Diaz matter was that a recording of his verbal exchange with Carmen Maria Machado was produced– and completely changed the dynamic of the controversy. This led us, and others, to look further into the matter.

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WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? We’ll see.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

The Real Literary Gender Gap?

VANISHING MEN IN LITERATURE AND PUBLISHING

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Much noise is made by organizations like VIDA about the gender gap in today’s publishing world. When you examine the actual data, however, you find a different tale.  According to this story from 2016 in The Guardian, the U.S. publishing industry is not only predominately white, but 78% women. (At the executive level, with hangers-on from past male dominance, the industry is 60% women.)

Doing swift calculations of the figures, we can further say that the single largest demographic group in the industry is white women, at more than 60%. By contrast, Latino men make up 1.2% of the industry– hardly registering, which makes the dilemma of Junot Diaz more eye-opening.

Another striking article is this one which appeared in The Atlantic in 2017, which describes how many male authors pretend to be women in order to be published– a turnaround from the days of George Sand. According to this article, 80% of fiction readers are women.

Do you want more statistics? Per the Humanities Indicators site, approximately two-out-of-three English graduates– bachelors, masters, and Phd– are women. Per Data USA, 62% of “writers and authors” are women.

documents

We’re beginning to see these ratios reflected in literary awards. For the most recent National Book Foundation awards, 15 of 20 finalists were women. All five of the “5 Under 35” award winners were women.

As I pointed out in an earlier post about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the few male authors in some writers organizations are so outnumbered by women they feel like kids in a candy store– some of them getting into trouble for too many affairs, too many hook-ups while partaking in the book industry’s “meet and greet” soirees.
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WHAT does it all mean? For starters, an industry or art form catering to the public gets into trouble when it disregards half of its potential audience. For example look at what happened to the Western movie when it began focusing almost exclusively on men characters (many Spaghetti Westerns did not have a single woman in the cast)– writing out the women who played a large part in the historic West, to present instead sociopathic narratives of obsessive bloodletting, often starring squinty-eyed and emotionless Clint Eastwood. A far cry from the days of the torridly romantic Selznick spectacular “Duel in the Sun.”

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Today, the Western movie has all but vanished.
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IF figures pertaining to class were available, we’d find the narrowness of viewpoint further skewed. Examine the mastheads of Manhattan magazines which cover arts and letters and you’ll find the staffers from the top down are graduates overwhelmingly of Ivy League universities, with a few Stanford grads and Brits from Oxford thrown in. The same holds true, from what I’ve examined, for the Big 5 New York City-based publishers. Those who decide which authors and books are published and reviewed are, in the main, upper-class women. Not by any measure the best way to create a representative literature for a very large and complex civilization like ours.
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With an array of male authors and editors being purged from the book industry after “MeToo” revelations, the trend toward an all-female business and audience doesn’t look to turn around any time soon.

MORE TO SAY on this matter. . . .
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

What’s the Future of Bookselling?

A TRIP TO A BOOKSTORE

Barnes_&_Noble_Interior

WE HAPPENED to step into a Barnes and Noble bookstore the other day. The experience set the wheels in my head turning– reawakening ideas I’ve had for a while.

On one level the experience was disheartening. An enormous store filled with tens of thousands of titles of well-packaged books on every possible subject– with about seven customers in the entire gigantic place, counting the two of us. As it was, there were two clerks for the store– several registers sitting closed, as well as an information counter. We eventually found a stray clerk to help us– the other was at a front register which seemed a mile away.

I’ve often thought that while big box stores may work in some instances, they aren’t ideal for books. You need large turnover– one would think– simply to pay for leasing, lighting, and heating the monster places. High-ceilings yet. Tremendous overhead– not to mention the amount of stock.

Titles, yes, and authors. Too many for any of them to stand out.

book stacks

What am I saying? Less is more. Smaller is better. Avoiding Too Much Information is the first rule of sales.

OR– a new style of bookstore could be developed– it’s on our drawing board. It would work only in conjunction with the right kind of promotion, driving demand, and with an entirely new style of literary writing designed to stand out. Which hits the reader hard from the start.

The novel itself needs to be overhauled.

No easy trick– but possible.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Poetry Cops: An Investigation

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FINDING THE RIGHT ANALOGY FOR TODAY’S CENSORS

WHO are the Poetry Cops? How do we best describe them?

We’ve already used the pod person analogy from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Close, but incomplete.  How about Programmed Robots? Blackballers use stock phrases and code words as if the phrases had been programmed into them.

robot

OR: Leninists?

Statue-of-Lenin-in-Nizhyn-Ukraine-wikimedia

SPEAKING of which, there’s this. A Poetry Cop?

Their biggest mistake? Calling her a lady.

“That’s no business, that’s social injustice.”
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The “Mean Girls” analogy has already been put forward–

meangirls****

FINALLY, we come to the most accurate parallel: Carry Nation:

carrie_nation_1910

–and her acolytes:

prohibitionists

The cause may have changed, but the impulse remains the same: Stamp out bad behavior and the hint of untoward words, opinions and ideas wherever they’re found. BAN THEM!
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Beneath the silliness is a core truth. Freedom of expression is a value for the public-at-large. But for the artist, the writer, the musician, the poet, it’s VITAL. It’s everything.

Begin restricting language, the free expression of opinions and ideas, and you kill art.
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“Poets in Name Only”

When you’re squealing and snitching and stoolin’ and lying,
when banning other writers takes up all of your time,

Hunting down opinions different from your own,
not thinking of the damage and destruction you have sown.

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You’ve lost your credibility, poetical integrity.

You’d like another target, another carcass on your wall;
Kill ALL the other poets you’ll be the fairest of them all–
(you think)–
but the portrait in your closet says your cause is gonna stall.

1The-Picture-Of-Dorian-Gray_1945

We don’t want your duplicity, mendacious mediocrity.

It’s ego it’s ambition it’s politics it’s pose,
narcissistic bonfires of art is how you want to close.

1933-may-10-berlin-book-burning

Keep your hellish attitudes, your social justice platitudes. . . .

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Power Grabbers of Literature

HISTORY DOES repeat itself, but in vastly different ways. The patterns are there if you look for them.

Sea_Trials_of_RMS_Titanic,_2nd_of_April_1912

The ship of culture– even of literature– floats placidly along, but below deck revolution is taking place. All is conflict. The takeover of the ship is of a Gramscian variety– one room at a time.

SIMULTANEOUSLY occurs a struggle within the revolution itself, the pertinent question there being: Who controls it?

It’s a truism that in revolutions the communists devour the anarchists. (See Russia 1918; Spain 1938.) Philosophically, this is happening in the English language poetry scene– Control Freaks taking over, seeking to eliminate all who hold the opposite viewpoint. To shut down those who believe poetry– art itself– is imaginative commotion. Who think the way to attain this is through unrestricted expression. A vanishing attitude being squeezed between Left and Right. For the Control Freaks– the Poetry Cops and their go-along-to-get-along acolytes– this casual attitude is dangerous.

(The P.C.– Poetry Cops– are extremely casual about the poetry itself– but not about what it says, or who says it!)

DIFFERENT patterns from the past occur throughout the ship. One is a last gasp reaction of the (academic) aristocrats, similar to what happened in Russia during the civil war of 1919 between “Reds” and “Whites.” It’s what the noise of Jordan Peterson, Claire Lehmann, Quillette Magazine and their allies is about. This is doomed to failure. You can’t reimpose an ancien regime.

The question remains–

WHO CONTROLS CHANGE?

Old power structures are beginning to crumble, and a new paradigm in which a multiplicity of voices and identities hold authority is emerging. 

This is a quote from an article at Dispatches Poetry Wars, one of the new literary outfits struggling to get to the forefront of radical change in the poetry field. The key to their mindset is to “hold authority,” because that’s what the poetry wars they promote and document are about. Publicly denouncing alleged abusers like Joseph Massey is a means toward that end. It’s not about the poetry. For thirty years or more it hasn’t been about the poetry– which is why an Anders Carlson-Wee poem in The Nation won’t find too many defenders, because in truth it’s not very good. It’s political posturing more than poetry.

IT’S NOT SURPRISING that most if not all of the writers being attacked or taken down by MeToo advocates the past six months or last few years have been on the Left– because that’s all who inhabit the scene. (Not surprising that both Joseph Massey and Anders Carlson-Wee have had poetry in the faux-Leftist magazine The Nation, which publishes short examples of the dwindled art on their site, in-between splashy ads for hyper-priced Alfa Romeos.)

What a Dispatches Poetry Wars is about is the total politicization of the art.

I’ve read their manifesto. I have to say, I agree with much of it. It could’ve been distributed fifteen years ago by the Underground Literary Alliance and no one would’ve been surprised. But let’s understand why these fellows are using activism– for the same reason the ULA used activism: To increase their profile. To upend the literary scene and become a credible player within that scene. With DPW however I smell a trace of phoniness– in that they don’t really want to liberate “autonomous” zones (safe spaces). They don’t actually support unruly, “wild poets,” because otherwise they wouldn’t be joining the chorus of Poetry Cops eager to remove from the scene the work of all those who scribble or act outside the lines of acceptable behavior. (A Rachel Custer, say.) But they do see in which direction the parade is headed. They call for Robespierre-style denunciations and more denunciations.

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–we’re appalled by the silence emanating from institutions that have supported this person and granted him platforms from which to extend his predation.

A LITTLE CHECKING reveals that Dispatches Poetry Wars is run by two older white guys, Michael Boughn and Kent Johnson, who have ties of their own to the established poetry world. Boughn (if it’s the same Boughn) seasonally teaches at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson’s old stomping grounds. Kent Johnson (if it’s the same Johnson) has received grants from the heart of the cultural establishment, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a PEN grant.

I suspect their position is analogous to that we outlined here of Boston Review editor Joshua Cohen. Unleash the mob and it may someday turn on yourself!

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(Titanic paintings by Karl Beutel and Henry Reuterdahl. Portrait of Maximilien Robespierre by Labille-Guiard.)

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Should Writers Be Purged?

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?

Ezra_Pound

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?

American_Psycho_by_Bret_Easton_Ellis_first_US_paperback_edition_1991

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.

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(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.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Who Defends Artistic Expression?

LastCommand11_zps83a7f075
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