Who Defends Artistic Expression?

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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

 

 

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.