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.

question mark

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? We’ll see.
*******

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Advertisements

How Does a News Story Go Viral?

PUBLICITY IN THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

epstein in cavern

I ADMIT IT. I’m amazed at how fast the publicity game has changed, thanks to social media. Compared to ten years ago, the creation of buzz moves now at lightning speed.

It’s the difference between military techniques in World Wars One and Two. The speed of blitzkrieg in the latter contest revolutionized the game.

As I’ve said a couple times in this series: Who wins the debate over the sexual harassment allegations about prize-winning author Junot Diaz will be decided by who’s better at PR. Institutions (MIT; Boston Review) cleared Diaz, but it’s out of their hands. In the new media age, static bureaucracies have been left behind.

A key post of ours in this regard is “System versus Zeitgeist.”

The Junot Diaz camp is now fully in the game with their army of twitter fans and trolls. They’ve moved quickly up to speed. Will it be enough?

We have two opinion armies maneuvering against one another online– across twitter, blogs, and media sites.

The accusers’ side has made significant mistakes– but their opening moves in the chess game which began May 4th were breathtaking.

CREATING HYSTERIA

epstein again

THE GREATEST publicity feat of all time was the creation of Beatlemania. Most people believe it was spontaneous. Yeah, yeah, the band was talented and young people liked them. As simple as that? Not really.

In November, 1961, Liverpool record store manager Brian Epstein saw an unkempt band playing in an underground club in that beaten-down UK working class city and thought, “I can make these guys bigger than Elvis Presley.” A hidden genius behind the scenes, Brian Epstein was in back of every step of the band’s rise. Some of the facts of how he accomplished this are known. For instance, mass hysteria in New York City in February 1964 when the little-known (in America) band landed for the first time. Reluctant Capitol Records was forced by Epstein to spend $70,000 ($570,000 in today’s dollars) to promote their arrival and the concurrent release of their single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

The-Beatles-At-JFK-tarmac-530x353

WE ALSO know the mob of kids holding signs at the airport wasn’t a spontaneous happening. Their presence was arranged. The kick-off of Beatlemania was staged.

MAY 4 ANTI-JUNOT DIAZ HYSTERIA

I’m still amazed at how quickly fervor against Junot Diaz took place. Three threads of tweets from Zinzi Clemmons, Monica Byrne, and Carmen Maria Machado taking place in the middle of night, one right after another. By morning they’d gone viral. To such extent that The Cut’s Anna Silman was already contacting Monica Byrne for a statement.

Spontaneous? Byrne said to Silman, “The network was activated”– which might be clue enough for an explanation.

Monica Byrne’s unsupported rumors about Melania Trump in June 2017, which went viral, albeit on a smaller scale, served as trial run for this situation. This time out Byrne had at least a smattering of substance to the story, and other women on her side. Enough substance that even the mighty and respectable New York Times joined the generated hysteria.

QUESTION: Was the hysteria against Junot Diaz generated or spontaneous?

Another tweet from Monica:

AIDING buzz creation was dramatic language used by the accusers in the tweeted narratives.

BYRNE: “I’ve never faced such virulent misogyny in my adult life.”

MACHADO: “–a blast of misogynist rage.”

Promotional blitzkrieg on May 4th worked masterfully– on that very same day the accusations were news across the globe. The feat deserves a chapter of its own in the history of publicity. The planning and coordination worked– but not well enough to claim quick victory. No knockout. Junot Diaz apologized, but he and his institutional backers held firm. By now, today, the controversy has settled into trench warfare– both sides sniping at each other from steady lines, World War One-style.

For the time being, the controversy is at a stalemate.

wwI
****

WILL the stalemate continue? More to come from:

-New Pop Lit News-
https://newpoplitnews.wordpress.com/

-Karl Wenclas on the literary news beat.

 

Media Malfeasance?

QUESTIONS IN THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY CONTINUE TO MULTIPLY

buzzfeed twitter dara levy

(Is this Dara Levy?)
*******
THE QUESTION TODAY is: To what extent does major media manufacture news stories?

The Related Question: Was the Junot Diaz controversy created by media– in coordination with the three main accusers?

Start examining the timelines of the quick reaction to the encounter between Zinzi Clemmons and Junot Diaz  which occurred May 4th at the Sydney Writers Festival, and it begins to look that way.

OUR STORY properly begins, however, with an email sent 12/18/2017 by Buzzfeed‘s Dara Levy to author Zinzi Clemmons. (Clemmons tweeted out a copy of the email several days ago, July 1.) In the email, Levy says,

I’m a reporter at Buzzfeed News and wanted to reach out regarding this Facebook post . . . particularly, your comments about a Pulitzer-prize winning, supposedly woke writer of color. We’ve been looking into a number of tips . . . One of the tips we received sounds very similar to the ‘Pulitzer-prize winning’ person you mentioned, so I wanted to see if you might be comfortable sharing a little bit more information with me on the phone.

In April, after the Junot Diaz New Yorker magazine memoir came out, there began a series of rumors and inferences on twitter which may have been aimed at Diaz.

Then: Friday, May 4th at the Sydney Writers Festival. A 3 p.m. panel discussion. From the audience, Zinzi Clemmons asks Junot Diaz a question which others in the audience take as embarrassing. She drops the microphone and stalks away.

Almost immediately afterward, 5:05 pm Sydney time (3:05 am Eastern Time), Zinzi tweeted her accusation about an event from several years ago.

Monica Byrne appears to have tweeted out her own thread of detailed accusations against Junot Diaz a mere nine minutes later–

The third main accuser, Carmen Maria Machado, followed with her own detailed thread shortly after that–

Coordinated? It sure looks that way. Especially when you realize that Machado and Byrne discussed on twitter taking Junot Diaz down as far back as 2015.
*******

dara levy linked-in

(Buzzfeed journalist Dara Levy from her Linked-In page.)

THE CURIOUS person in all this is Dara Levy– the reporter who’d contacted Zinzi Clemmons about Junot Diaz back in December. After the Clemmons-Diaz exchange in Sydney, and the follow-up tweets, Buzzfeed was one of the first news outlets to cover the story, with an article penned by Amber Jamieson and Dara Levy, here.

Buzzfeed is the only news outlet I can find which has quotes from actual attendees, as if they had a reporter on the scene. (Why would they?) In their article, they cite four attendees spoken to. (Other outlets, like Vulture, cribbed from Buzzfeed’s reportage, using the same quotes and linking to their article.)

Curious, curious. Also curious is the way so many news outlets around the world– Vanity Fair, New York Times, CBS News, ABC News, The Guardian, The Independent— quickly ran stories on the exchange, though they had a short time frame to do so– even given the time difference between Sydney and cities like London and New York.

WERE these media outlets prepped in advance?

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article the day after the Diaz-Clemmons exchange which was penned by two writers from the New York Times, Alexandra Alter and Jonah Bromwich– as if the New York-based writers and their publication were more ready for the event than were Sydney’s journalists.

A set up?

KEEP IN MIND that the exchange between Diaz and Clemmons was the kind of rushed, hectic encounter which onlookers couldn’t hear clearly, and which they had little-to-no idea what it was about. On its own, it would have caused scarcely a ripple. Only that what appeared to be a series of prearranged tweets– and possibly prearranged notifications to press outlets– turned a short dialogue into a controversy covered across the globe, which has yet to end.
*******

More to come?

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

Slate’s Junot Diaz Show Trial

MORE ON THE JUNOT DIAZ LIT-WORLD CONTROVERSY

junot-diazontrial

YOU THOUGHT the Junot Diaz Controversy was over when two of his three main accusers were discredited? When Boston Review and MIT kept Diaz on the job? We did. Think again.

CHARGING IN on her white horse to right the perceived wrong rode Slate’s Lili Loofbourow, with an essay which addressed everything but the specific accusations. This tells us something else is going on.
****

NOTE from the outset the way a photo of Junot Diaz is book-ended between two other accused harassers, Jeffrey Tambor and Bill Clinton. We’re in the realm not of objective reportage, but propaganda. (In case anyone misses Slate‘s analogy, Loofbourow throws in a fast mention of Donald Trump.)

WHAT is Loofbourow’s essay chiefly about?

The Slate essay is about what she calls “displays of contrition”; what accuser Zinzi Clemmons calls “the confession spectrum.” The problem isn’t that Junot Diaz didn’t apologize for crimes real and apocryphal in the 04/16/2018 New Yorker essay by him. It’s that he didn’t apologize enough.

show trial

We’re dealing with ritualized denunciations followed by a public confession– what was infamously known in totalitarian regimes of the last century as a show trial. It wasn’t enough, for instance, that accused harasser Bora Zivkovic later apologized personally to Monica Byrne for perceived sexual harassment, when he had discussed with her, in a private conversation between two adults, his sex life with his wife. He was required to be publicly denounced– with accompanying resignation of important positions and destruction of his reputation. Carcass nailed to a wall as warning.

Now it’s the turn of Junot Diaz. The in-house investigations of Diaz by Boston Review and MIT are irrelevant. That was never what this was about. His crime isn’t that he is or isn’t privately misogynist (though he might be, who knows?), but that he’s written about misogynists in his fiction, and has tried to understand such men.

Loofbourow looks for evidence against him not just in his New Yorker memoir, but in his book of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her. Which is curious, because according to Alyssa Rosenberg in a 10/4/2016 Opinion piece in the Washington Post about novelist Elena Ferrante, Lili Loofbourow came out strongly against attempts to identify a fictional character with the author.

Loofbourow said then in her tweets about Ferrante,

-She hacked the system. She made the WORK the point. She sidestepped every dumb reductive tendency we have by making herself unreachable.

-Did Ferrante *really* make all that up? Is she really that brilliant & META? Or is it just thinly-veiled MEMOIR? This last is key.

In her Slate article, Lili Loofbourow does exactly what she says one should not do– take fiction as “thinly-veiled MEMOIR.”

(Better had Junot Diaz done a J.D. Salinger– or Elena Ferrante– and made himself unreachable, rather than address the issue of misogyny head-on?)

***
A large part of Loofbourow’s argument against Diaz are portions of the New Yorker essay in which he discusses personal (i.e., private) relationships. If the skewed-by-emotion perspectives of ex-girlfriends or boyfriends become material for determining these issues, we’re all in trouble. Men and women both.
***

In examining the infamous Carmen Maria Machado recorded conversation with Junot Diaz at a literary event, Loofbourow says, “–we can learn something from the way Díaz talks about his manipulative characters–” Diaz’s crime in the exchange is insisting on his version of what he’s doing with his characters in his fiction. This very defense is used against him.

Throughout the Slate essay, Diaz’s assumed guilt is front and center:

–that you did heinous things, things you wouldn’t have done to people you truly respected as equals. 

Maybe you’re trying to figure out how to understand this moment without thinking of yourself as a monster, which you have never felt you were. Maybe you long for redemption and feel it’s no longer available.

How condescending! How assumptive.

By the end of the essay, Lili Loofbourow has reached her conclusion: “Everyone is guilty.”

Yep, everyone– but Junot Diaz is the person being targeted. Loofbourow again uses his own words against him:

The only way this thing that’s called patriarchy can be cured in me is collectively.

The hallmark of the show trial is that the person on trial agrees with his prosecutors and judges. The accused was revolutionary and correct in his attitude– just not revolutionary enough. See Nikolai Bukharin, Grigory Zinoviev, and other examples from the past.

bukharinzinoviev(Bukharin and Zinoviev caught in the spotlight.)

Lili Loofbourow’s gripe, you see, isn’t with Junot Diaz the individual, but with relations between men and women since the beginning of recorded time. Junot Diaz is merely the designated sacrificial victim.
****

NEXT: System versus Zeitgeist: The Larger Context.

Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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.)

corbettfizknockout

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?

*******

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

****

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

beatlemania-beatles-fans-1399906643-view-0

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. . . .)

tree

MORE TO COME?

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit news beat.

Will Junot Diaz Survive?

 

THE BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY CONTINUES

220px-JunotDíaz069

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.

Txrangers3

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.
****

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.

 

Handicapping the Fiction Award

toteboard

ONE big question remains: Who will win the Fiction Prize at this year’s (2017) National Book Awards?

Don’t think for a moment that such choices aren’t made with political and image considerations. This year several competing dynamics are at play.

A.)  The omnipresence in the news media of the ongoing sex abuse scandals favors giving the award to a woman. This year, four-out-of-five finalists are women. Could the judges not award the prize to one of them?

B.)  On the other hand, there’s the (surmised) campaign to make Elliot Ackerman the next John F. Kennedy. See our previous post, and the one before that.

C.)  Jacqueline Woodson, chair of this year’s judging panel, was the target of Daniel Handler’s watermelon jokes at the 2014 event when she won the award for Young People’s Literature. Will this impact her decision this year? Would she be willing to go along with a push to hand Ackerman the prize?

D.)  The X factor is judge Dave Eggers, one of the more powerful figures in the literary business. Several factors are at play with “The Dave.”

One is his psychological need to appear as Munificent Good Guy. This includes a Great White Savior complex. (See his book, What Is the What.) Eggers grew up in one of the richest, most segregated cities in America, and sees People-Of-Color as “Victim.” A variation of Liberal Morality Play, except Dave Eggers lives it. This theory argues he’ll push to give the award to one of the women– Jesmyn Ward most likely, whose life story in spots is truly “heartbreaking.”

On the other hand, Eggers has a personality akin to Peter Ackerman’s (again, see our previous two posts)– a Jekyll-Hyde balance between benevolence and aggressiveness. Dave Eggers respects power and knows Elliot’s father has it. Nothing need be said– these things are sensed. The son, Elliot, is a child of privilege, as is Eggers, and takes a similar global view of the world– and of America’s central place in it. There’d be natural sympathy between the two men.

Of the five judges, Dave Eggers has the standing, reputation, personality, and will to dominate the group. In addition, one of the other judges, Karolina Waclawiak, was until recently an employee of his, as Assistant Editor at The Believer, an Eggers publication. The deck isn’t stacked– but Eggers holds a strong hand.

Jacqueline Woodson is panel Chair. As a black woman (a black woman, moreover, who was disrespected by Handler, a friend of the Dave’s) Woodson carries implicit moral authority, particularly in the world of the established intelligentsia, which by definition is an ultra-liberal world. See the ideological slant of this year’s nominations. If Woodson has determined on a winner, not even Dave Eggers, hyper-sensitive as he is to issues and images of race, would be willing to stand against her choice. But if she hasn’t decided– then the decision is his.

They might agree on the choice anyway.

Here then are the odds for this year’s contest:

Elliot Ackerman:  While he has less than a 50% chance of winning, the offstage presence of all-powerful Dad still makes Elliot the co-favorite to win.

Odds:  3 to 1.
**
Lisa Ko:  Ko’s novel The Leavers, about undocumented immigrants, is the most topical and best-positioned politically to win the award. If the panel wishes to send a “So there!” message to President Trump, this book will be the choice. The other “Ko” favorite.

Odds:  3 to 1.
**
Jesmyn Ward:  The biggest argument against Jesmyn Ward is that she won the award in 2011. Would she be given another one?

Odds:  5 to 1.
**
Min Jin Lee:  Ms. Lee has terrific Insider credentials, as a graduate of Georgetown and Yale and a former corporate lawyer in New York. She also has a big-time publisher in Hachette. However, the plot of Pachinko involves discrimination against Koreans by Japan. Not a trendy cause.

Odds:  15 to 1.
**
Carmen Maria Machado:  There are two strikes against Ms. Machado: A.) Has a small publisher, Graywolf Press.  B.) A book of stories by a little-known author is unlikely to win.

Odds:  15 to 1.
*******

ALTERNATE VERSION
A different “Alt Right” view says that, based on the Radhika Jones hiring at Vanity Fair and other happenings, white males are being purged throughout New York literary culture– they present the wrong image, and so Elliot Ackerman’s real odds of winning the prize are one in 500,000. Under this version, white male publishers Morgan Entrekin, David Steinberger, and the owners of the Big Five publishing companies will commit ritual suicide at the end of the event, a la Cho Cho San at the end of the opera “Madame Butterfly.”

The entire scripted 2017 National Book Awards ceremony is in fact a ritual suicide, only, like “Madame Butterly,” it’s all theater.

(See the other posts in the series, here.)

-K.W.