The Andre-Zinzi Combine

A COMBUSTIBLE MIXTURE

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Objective observers ask about the Junot Diaz accusations: How could they happen without being real? Did all these women lie or exaggerate?

I’ve been looking specifically into the three chief accusers– one of whom we know for sure, Carmen Maria Machado, did lie or exaggerate, based on the audio recording of her exchange with Diaz. We also know one of the others, Monica Byrne, has a well-documented history of spreading rumors and making allegations.

I BELIEVE the entire matter– leading up to and culminating in the explosion of press attention on May 4th– was like a classic reaction of combustible chemicals, placed in a laboratory “perfect storm” of pressure which resulted in the public denunciations of Junot Diaz, and the press nuclear reaction to those claims the very same day.

An outlandish theory?

KEY to it was the addition of Andre Naffis-Sahely, husband of Zinzi Clemmons, to the mix. A mild exterior, but his tweets reveal him to be quite the volatile personality.

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I’VE BEEN TRYING to look at the matter from their perspective. Zinzi, Andre, and Monica Byrne are true believers in their cause. All of them fully believed the gossip and rumors– as well as their own experiences– revolving around Junot Diaz and Donald Futers. They became convinced that all were full and true instances of sexual harassment. Around them at this time were daily news stories of harassers being outed– Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer. Every day filled with more revelations. Completely logical to believe such malignant creeps existed in the publishing scene.

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At the same time, members of the media found themselves under increasing pressure to participate in the breaking of news stories. Study the tweets of journalists Dara Levy, Anna Silman, Lili Loofbourow, and others who’ve covered the Junot Diaz issue. You find true believers in the cause of toppling the male patriarchy– by any means necessary. So we had Buzzfeed‘s Dara Levy contacting Zinzi Clemmons this past December. A tiger cub reporter eager for a story.

AT THE TIME this happened, Zinzi Clemmons was riding high from the extensive media attention she’d received a few weeks prior as a result of her break with Lena Dunham and Dunham’s band of what Zinzi called “hipster racists.”

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INTERESTING that Zinzi’s husband Andre Naffis-Sahely cited (in a tweet) December 3rd as the time he became interested in the allegations about his then-editor, Donald Futers. Rumors swirling everyplace.

IF Dara Levy put Zinzi in touch with Monica Byrne, which seems likely, adding volatile Monica to the Andre-Zinzi combine took their own Volatility Index off the charts.

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Again, a conjunction of forces. The opportunity to receive massive publicity, which they’d had a taste of, at the same time outing misogynist miscreants. Doing good and helping career at the same time– the best of everything.

This explains the near-hysteria all three have maintained right up to the present time.

Think I’m joking? Here’s Andre Naffis-Sahely going after a journalist after both stories broke:

Or this tweet:

On May 4th he sent a series of tweets to Boston Review and its editors encouraging them to fire Junot Diaz. Such as this one:

MORE REVEALING are a series of tweets sent out by Naffis-Sahely and Clemmons at two UK poets who’d apparently discussed the rumors about Donald Futers, but wished to remain uninvolved and anonymous. Here’s a quote from one of them to Naffis-Sahely:

This isn’t public knowledge. Any action I took was in support of Amy and conducted deliberately in private so as to let her dictate what becomes public knowledge. I’d appreciate it if you remove me from this list.

And a follow-up from the same person:

There have been lots of private conversations on the phone, via email as we both know. But it has always been understood the survivor did not want to go public. Your own statement didn’t name names.

Was Amy K. Blakemore pressured, by Naffis-Sahely, into coming forward with her accusation against Donald Futers? Sure seems that way.

One can understand Andre and Zinzi’s viewpoint. They’d put themselves out there in accusing two important literary personages, Diaz and Futers. Now that they had, others they’d been counting on– rightly or wrongly– to join in had seemingly backed-out. It’s like walking into a fight with a tough gang and discovering most of your buddies have fled. Not a pleasant feeling.

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AS RECENTLY as June 28th, Zinzi Clemmons was attempting to bully the other anonymous poet:

You call yourself a feminist but you are nothing but an opportunist protecting a monster (Donald Futers) in hopes that he’ll help your career. Would you like me to share those emails you sent to ?

On May 6th, Zinzi had tweeted the following to the same poet, in response to the person’s book being released:

Yeah, it’s too bad you had to trample all over other women in order to get it published. I know everything.

To what does this refer? Regardless, it’s literary infighting at its dirtiest. (And you thought the book world was all sweetness and light?)

On July 19th, Amy Blakemore herself felt forced to tweet out this statement:

also i have no fucking time for anyone creating drama ostensibly at my behest. you do not have my blessing. you are un-blessed. i have nothing but respect & admiration for

–then Blakemore proceeds to name the second of the two anonymous poets, the bullied one, along with another, better-known poet who apparently is being dragged against his will– by Andre and Zinzi?– into the controversy as well.

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I’ll have a follow-up to this post by early next week, possibly sooner, attempting to tie together the threads of the two controversies and give a bigger overall picture. (Before that, we’ll have a post about more New Pop Lit happenings.) Click on the upper right hand corner drop down to follow this News site– that way you won’t miss a thing.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

System versus Zeitgeist

TWO SIDES OF THE JUNOT DIAZ BOOK WORLD CONTROVERSY

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I SAID at the outset of this examination the conflict was taking place within the established, New York-centered literary world. A narrowly exclusive yet still-powerful tower of connections, money, and power. The conflict has little effect on writers outside that world.

The impact, however, on those writers existing within the established system, and those who aspire to be there, is potentially enormous. The questions become, “How politicized is the literary world?” and, “What is the correct stance to take?”

SYSTEM

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Junot Diaz made his way as a writer as a creature of the established system, with all that entails. Compromises and rewards. Involvements with long-time flagships of status quo American literature like the Pulitzer Prize committee and The New Yorker magazine. When accusations against him arose, he looked for resolution and support from the institutions which sustained him. Chiefly, Boston Review, where he’s Fiction Editor, and MIT, which employs him as a professor. That those two substantial entities cleared him should have been enough. But wasn’t.

The matter was never going to be resolved by institutions, but within the court of public opinion and by media. It’s not an institutional struggle, but a PR battle.

The maneuvering continues– Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great attempting to overlap the other’s lines.

ZEITGEIST

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Junot Diaz’s main accusers placed their faith in the ongoing zeitgeist animating today’s established intellectual community– the political spirit and emotion existing inside institutions but also outside them. The #MeToo wave energizing journalists and writers across the nation. The Junot Diaz defense is static. His opposition, dynamic. Which puts him at a disadvantage. That he has long been himself a key part of the ongoing cultural revolution– the zeitgeist– only served to tie his hands when the rules of ideological judgement changed and the winds of correct thought and behavior shifted.

IDEOLOGUE AND APPARATCHIK

mbandlililoof(Monica Byrne and Lili Loofbourow.)

EVEN THOUGH her history of making shaky allegations was quickly exposed, accuser Monica Byrne didn’t flinch, confident in being on the correct side of the issue. Her instinct has been to follow the larger intellectual herd– more, to get in front of it, as she’s capably done the past several years, with hardly a misstep. The idea being that emotional outrage is a stronger force than evidence, facts, and truth.

So, also, is having the right politics. Interesting that Byrne’s baseless allegations one year ago about Melania Trump– about which she cannot give the slightest detail about how she was in a position to receive such information– has protected her from the scrutiny of the press. Not even the Boston Globe, which Byrne has accused of enablement, will discuss those unsupported allegations, or the rest of Byrne’s history.

Byrne’s chief technique in the Junot Diaz matter, as one year ago, has been the spread of gossip and rumor.

It creates hysteria for your side.

Reading this, who would not be worked up into a frenzy against Junot Diaz?

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Monica Byrne finds supporters everyplace.

One of them is Lili Loofbourow, whose Slate article I examined in my last two posts. If Monica is the full-bore ideologue, Lili is the media apparatchik whose ability to write articles for a variety of establishment publications depends on her knowing the zeitgeist.

That the commissioned article carries a slant is a given. Objective journalism is an extinct species in the realm of establishment media. Everything from a person’s writings and life can be thrown into the mix to paint the picture of villain. The emotion becomes so strong, readers don’t notice or care about the absurdities in the piece.  Notably when Loofbourow concludes it with, “Everyone is guilty.”

Everyone? Are we talking about collective guilt– or a secular version of original sin?

What, then, is the solution to the stated problem of collective patriarchy? Destroy society from top to bottom? Eliminate men? A matriarchal society with test-tube babies? Loofbourow never says.

But does she really mean what she says and implies? Or is it posturing? Following the zeitgeist? Loofbourow herself, by all accounts, is in a happy monogamous relationship with (gasp!) a man.

ANOTHER BUREAUCRAT

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ANOTHER typical example of herd follower is Adam Morgan of the Chicago Review of Books, who has announced on Twitter his support of the accusers of Junot Diaz. Just so everyone knows. “Chicago’s premier literary critic,” Morgan, like Loofbourow, knows which side to be on in order to sustain his career. He has the bureaucrat’s talent for spotting the ascendant power, and accommodating himself to it.

An example is this article on “5 Books That Changed My Life.” For Adam Morgan, all five life-changing books were written by women. After he tweeted out a link to the article, his next tweet gave the game away: “Honestly, these were the first 5 that came to mind.”

Honestly. Adam Morgan didn’t expect anyone to believe his selections, because he didn’t believe them himself. (Glancing sideways as he sends the tweet to see if he’s fooled anybody.) He knows how the game is played. Jane Austen said, “In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.”  Not in 2018!

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Have we reached the point of what this old movie trailer calls “vigilante bloodlust”? Or a better question might be, “Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?”

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NEXT: Conclusions.

Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

Slate’s Junot Diaz Show Trial

MORE ON THE JUNOT DIAZ LIT-WORLD CONTROVERSY

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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.
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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.

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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?)

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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.
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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.
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NEXT: System versus Zeitgeist: The Larger Context.

Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

 

 

 

 

 

How to Write a Hatchet Job

PRELUDE TO EXAMINING SLATE’S JUNOT DIAZ ARTICLE

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THE TRUTH is that a character assassination can be written on anyone– especially when you delve into the person’s long history of writings and cherry pick from them to bolster your argument.

Did Slate‘s Lili Loofbourow do this in her examination of the Junot Diaz sexual harassment controversy now dividing the literary world?

THE TRICK is that the same treatment could be performed on Ms. Loofbourow. For instance, two minutes of google searching found this article:

“In Praise of Fleabag and the Unapologetically Flawed Female Antihero.”

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The television show Loofbourow acclaims is, in her own words, “–a tremendous, oddly nourishing show about a liar and thief.” “It’s the story . . . of a woman who reads people too well and takes advantage of them,” “somehow desperate,” “a lean, amoral Matilda with no impulse control.”

(Anyone we know. . . ?)

Reading the article, one would think Lili Loofbourow doesn’t care, really, about apologies– nor about ethical behavior and truth. One could readily believe that Lili Loofbourow is simply a media gun-for-hire, fixing her opinions to fit the needs of her editors– or those of the greater conglomerate media herd.

That would be unfair.

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THE SLATE article is interesting to me, because it reminds me of a long essay that was written fifteen years ago for a major literary publication, about an activist writers group. A writers group coincidentally devoted to exposing blatant corruption in the established literary world. That long-ago essay was a well-written hatchet job, filled with half-truths, distortions, and omissions. It defined us, creating a narrative which became “the truth” about us in everyone’s heads, so much so that any journalist afterward covering the organization read that essay as part of their research on it, viewing it through the same prism of misconceptions.
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I’m not complaining. I’m stating how the game is played. Those who rise to a position where they crank out articles for a variety of publications play the game very, very well.

The solution? To create an alternative literary world, and alternative lit-media, not based in the shark tank of New York– one devoted to facts, talent, and truth.

COMING SOON: A more direct look at the Slate article.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News.