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.

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(“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.

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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.)

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MORE TO COME

-Karl Wenclas

Junot Diaz and Abuses of Power

 

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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.

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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.