Canonical Follies

Harvard-University

It frankly doesn’t matter if “The Yellow Wallpaper” is taught in high schools instead of The Great Gatsby (which is too deep and well-structured a book for high schoolers anyway). Raising the question is asking which texts students will be bored by.

THIS is a quote of mine in a review about a new book by Dana Schwartz about white male writers and the Western Canon. My own view has long been that to be a living art, that art needs to survive and thrive outside institutional settings. Categorizations such as the so-called literary canon say more about the mindset of the supporters and curators of such places than they do about the art form being preserved and celebrated. (One need look only at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with its curious list of omissions and entrants.)

IF I cared more about the literary canon, I’d mention several writers who should be in it, or ranked higher within it– beginning with the American novelists Frank Norris and James Gould Cozzens, masters at that particular art.

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(p.s. For what it’s worth, F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby is a far superior, more complex work of fiction than “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story by Charlotte Perkins Stetson— one of those overwritten, obsessive inside-the-head tales of the kind often done by overrated canonical author Henry James, and later popularized by Mary Roberts Rinehart, who no one is rushing to put into any canon. Outside that of mystery writers.)

mary roberts rinehart(Mary Roberts Rinehart.)
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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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.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Unlocking the Junot Diaz Puzzle

SEVENTH IN A SERIES

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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?

moviescreen

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

 

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.

220px-FScottFitzgerald_TheCrackUp

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.

The Other Two

OUR OTHER TWO writers selected as top (#1) bracket seeds for the Tournament ARE:

C.) Herman Melville

Melville

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D.) Mark Twain

Mark_Twain_by_AF_Bradley

We’ll explain our choices tonight at New Pop Lit‘s “Fun Stuff” Interactive blog.

Let the catcalls begin!