Cultural Revolutions

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO IAN BURUMA?

chinesemaoists

What happened to Ian Buruma is that he was perceived by younger members of the literary herd to be out-of-step and slow, and so he had to go.

Step back, gain perspective, and you’ll see what’s happening is that English-speaking culture is in the midst of an ongoing cultural revolution, which is really a hundred mini-revolutions occurring simultaneously. Miscreants shamed, editors toppled, with accompanying cheers from twitter mobs and in halls of the academy.

What’s happening is as old as humanity. An energetic young generation wishing to displace those in their way, grabbing any excuse necessary.

Yes, the old system, populated by decaying icons like Ian Buruma, is corrupt, clueless, patriarchal, fossilized. Some of its members are toxic– but not as toxic as what’s coming.

It’s akin to what happened with the Bolshevik Revolution. The very flawed Czar and his aristocracy were removed. Those who took their place– Lenin, Stalin, and the like– pursued the cause of social justice but were in fact another level of corruption and ruthlessness from what they replaced. As history demonstrated.

In today’s cultural scene, the ambitious newcomers seeking to topple the gatekeepers are another level of volatility and drive from the likes of Buruma, David Remnick at The New Yorker, or The Boston Review‘s Joshua Cohen. Cohen, Remnick, and Buruma perceive themselves as leftist, maybe even as Sixties-style radicals, but they aren’t really. They’ve been playing. They’ve held to long-time liberal principles of open debate, free speech, the pursuit of objectivity. Now they’re seeing with the arrival of the Jesse Browns and Monica Byrnes onto the cultural scene genuine revolutionaries whose only principle is the pursuit of power and self, letting nothing stand in their way.

Don’t kid yourself. Instinctively, the Joshua Cohens, David Remnicks, and Ian Burumas are the actual targets of those who want to clean house of toxic debris. Not consciously, but instinctively– and the Jesse Browns, Monica Byrnes, and Zinzi Clemmons of the social justice mob run chiefly on instinct. Their ideology is simply the available weapon– the justification– allowing them to achieve their actual ends. Their unconscious needs.

Targets such as Jian Ghomeshi and Junot Diaz are collateral damage. Objectives to take out on the road toward the big guys.

What of that Old Guard? Remnick, Buruma, Cohen, and others yet to be discredited?

They’re akin to Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece novel The Possessed, (aka Demons or Devils). Feckless liberals seeing the world around them change, in unpredictable and dangerous ways.

possessed

COMING: Part II of these speculations.
*******

-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.

463px-Labille-Guiard_Robespierre

–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!

The-Sinking-of-the-Titanic-–-Drawn-by-Henry-Reuterdahl-898x520
*******

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

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

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.