Year-End Wrap-Up 2018

CONCLUSIONS OR DELUSIONS?

Paranoid-schizophrenia
(Painting c/o wikipedia commons, “outsider art.”)

2018 was a challenging year, as we injected ourselves, on several occasions, wisely or unwisely, into debates in defense of free expression and of truth.

A score of posts at this blog were devoted to our investigation of the Junot Diaz Controversy. See one of our reports here.

We also came out publicly in opposition to the depublishing of poets in response to pressure by what I called “Poetry Cops.” One of our reports on that matter is here. In this post we asked the question, “Is American literature becoming a censorship horror show?” As of this writing it remains an open question.
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AMID the noise, we found time to present some of the best fiction and poetry found anywhere, from present and future literary luminaries and of all kinds and styles. Examine them and their work at our Features line-up here.
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OUR own highlight at this blog and in our lives in 2018 was this trip back up to northern Michigan’s Hemingway country, this time for distinctly personal reasons.
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What’s in store for New Pop Lit for 2019?

More new fiction and poetry,

BUT ALSO–

We’ll attempt to reinvent the short story. That’s all.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

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Plagiarism Debate 2018

CONFLICTING VIEWS ON PLAGIARISM

250px-George_Gordon_Byron,_6th_Baron_Byron_by_Richard_Westall_(2)(Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall.)

THE DEBATE over plagiarism which kicked off with the Ailey O’Toole revelations rages on. The latest: fledgling poet Claudia Cortese having aspects and wordings of her work apparently borrowed by poet Lisa Low in the journal Quarterly West.

EXPRESSED by different sides have been opposing viewpoints regarding questions of fair use, intellectual property, and the like.

At one pole, the online literary site Soft Cartel:

(Anything goes? The individual lost in the mob?)

AT the other pole might be members of the Poetry Cops, who’ve taken it upon themselves to eliminate writings and blackball other writers and journals to the fullest extent possible. A sample opinion:

Note the apologizing and “enduring punishment” part of the tweet– hallmarks of the would-be totalitarian.

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Where do we at New Pop Lit stand? I have a track record for speaking out publicly against plagiarism, dating back to 2005. I took a great deal of heat at the time from powerful literary personages for doing so. I leave it now to others to discuss the legal/philosophical aspects of the matter.

THE QUESTION I want to ask here is: Why does someone plagiarize?

The answer back in 2005, for the essayist involved, was pure laziness. The individual was writing long essays for a variety of high-profile magazines, making good money in doing so, and from lethargy, or ineptness, took as many shortcuts as possible.

What about today’s poetry borrowings?

The only excuse for doing it at all– having another poet’s work in front of you as you construct your own– is apprenticeship. Learning the craft. Even in that instance, one would expect the apprentice poet to A.) Use one of the acknowledged best at the game as model; a T.S. Eliot or Sylvia Plath.  B.) Never, never submit those practice poems to a literary journal for publication.

Which is where intent comes into consideration. The only reason to copy an unknown poet’s work, who moreover writes in the current fashion, is in an effort to be published.

These thoughts merely my own viewpoint. . . .

p.s. Lord Byron was involved in a plagiarism scandal over a novel fragment which may or may not have been plagiarized by another writer.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Poetic Justice?

ONE REACTION TO THE AILEY O’TOOLE PLAGIARISM ISSUE

Ailey-OToole(Photo from The Rumpus.)

THE BIG NEWS in the U.S. literary world over the weekend was the accusation of plagiarism against young poet Ailey O’Toole. The past couple years O’Toole was incessantly networking a host of interconnected literary journals, becoming known within that well-protected, well-screened community as one of the art’s rising young stars– culminating in this interview at The Rumpus. Much drama there expressed. A troubled individual, no doubt.

NOW it’s discovered, by those who published and promoted her, that O’Toole was plagiarizing not just one writer, but a lot of them.

ANOTHER discovery has been less acknowledged– that Ailey O’Toole was an enthusiastic member of the so-called Poetry Cops. She worked hard at having fellow poet Rachel Custer removed as a reader at a lit journal called Barren Magazine— and blacklisted throughout the poetry world. (In this day and age, many literary journals actively support the idea of an ongoing blacklist of journals and writers.)

IS it poetic justice then for Ms. O’Toole to end up in effect banned herself?

meangirls
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Is there a lesson in this?

IT MIGHT BE that more important than a writer’s perceived political stance is the quality of character. That when a poet is spending half her time trying to get other poets fired or blackballed– dissing and diming them out; instead of focusing on the art– it might be a sign of a lack of that long-forgotten quality.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Neo-Beats Out of Control!

style

(Classic style.)

At least, they’ve taken over the New Pop Lit site. New Beat writing in all its various iterations.

First, a review of an anthology of Beat-style in-the-larger-sense fiction and poetry.

Second, a current poetry feature of lakebeatgrunge poems from beat56.

AND, a home page Intro to all of this.

HELP!!!

(Our self-appointed task is to cover what’s happening in the lit world. What’s happening at the moment might be right here.)

A NOTE ON STYLE

One thing the cultural period of the late 1950’s and early 60’s had was style. The Beats were the obverse to the established “Mad Men” look. (Think Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack, pictured.)

rat pack

As such, the Beats were relentlessly satirized by established pillars of culture. Thoroughly mocked– in venues ranging from television shows such as Dobie Gillis and The Beverly Hillbillies, to movies such as Funny Face starring Audrey Hepburn. The point is that poets and writers mattered. The Beats suffered the slings and arrows of the culturally challenged but they also created exciting fun art.

Audrey Hepburn funny face 50s black polo neck beatnikdancing white socks

(Audrey Hepburn.)

 

Literary Lynch Mob Locates Another Villain

noose

WORD today is that Ian Buruma is out as editor of New York Review of Books after fallout from his allowing accused sexual batterer Jian Ghomeshi to write a mea culpa complaint for the publication. Some past accusers like Jesse Brown counter-complained  that Ghomeshi’s essay was filled with “inaccuracies, omissions, evasions, and mischaracterizations.” Other literary persons and activists were outraged simply that Ghomeshi’s name appeared in anything.

Ghomeshi, yes, gave his viewpoint. Distorted? Probably. Surely fair game for attack and debate.

BUT– that wasn’t enough for these hysterical times. For the mob, Ghomeshi and anyone who enables him– though he was already judged by the legal system– needs to be obliterated.

New York Review of Books was founded under questionable circumstances during a newspaper strike with Random House money. Yet, over the decades it’s had quite the glamorous history. Has been contentious, and to this commentator’s knowledge has never before caved under pressure– at least not so immediately.

SOME OBSERVATIONS:

-WRITERS themselves seem to be leading the literary lynch mob, which conjures up images of approved apparatchik scribblers during the halcyon days of the Soviet Union.

-WHETHER Ian Buruma resigned or was fired, someone at NYR of B caved into mob pressure all too quickly. Another blow to the integrity and independence of literary magazines.

-THIS is another in the ongoing castration of classically macho establishment literary publications. (See Paris Review.)

WHO’S NEXT?
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Unreason and Literature

OBJECTIVE TRUTH IN THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

scalesofjustice

Interesting to me is how the Junot Diaz accusers and the accusers’ supporters aren’t interested in the truth of the matter. To them, objective truth is an outmoded concept. To them, objectivity is impossible. They don’t care about evidence or the lack of evidence, because to them, evidence is irrelevant.

Most important is the cause.

An anti-Junot Diaz advocate tweeted this quote from Nietzsche:

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.

Nietzsche

It’s a Nietzschean concept, and also a Hitlerian one.

We’re living in a post-truth age. We’ve seen this in fiction for awhile. More and more, best-selling novels are about fantasy, not reality. Fantasy of some kind, be it vampires, zombies, sci-fi– or the medieval dragons of George R. R. Martin and Company.  Quite a difference from, say, sixty years ago when readers still lived in reality and expected to encounter reality in their reading.

2010-01-C&E_Dragon(Artwork: David Revoy/Blender Foundation.)

A noteworthy example of this change is chief planner, organizer, and accuser in the Junot Diaz Controversy, Monica Byrne. Would that her novel was as well plotted as the Diaz takedown. Instead, it’s an assault of Too Much Information– experiences and imaginings jammed together with uncountable settings, characters, and ideas in a well-written but ultimately incoherent story.

Byrne classifies herself as a Christian– a style of Christianity untethered to any church or doctrine. A belief system where the individual herself determines her own beliefs, her own morality.

It’s old-fashioned Gnosticism, which gave established Christianity heavy competition around 150 A.D.

the-gnostic-gospels

-Whoever follows the direction of his own mind need not accept anyone else’s advice.

-Convinced that the only answers were to be found within, the gnostic engaged in an intensely private interior journey.

-Elaine Pagels
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TODAY: Post-truth, post-reality, post-objectivity– spawned by postmodern philosophies which began with Nietzsche. Truth merely a construct. Who’s better at selling their version of truth? One version is as good as another– the conflict little more than a PR battle.

1979 Grammy Music Awards

Pretended truths and made-up belief systems on all sides. It’s not new. Nietzsche brought forth from his own insanities nothing new. The mindset has been with us for millennia.

Gnosticism matches the attitude toward objective truth found among the Junot Diaz accusers and their supporters. If it’s “your truth,” that’s all that matters. Your truth, your reality, accuser always believed. The accused is assumed to be guilty.
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Responses to these remarks are invited.

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Junot Diaz: Captive of the System

THE HARASSMENT CONTROVERSY VIEWED FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE

phantom monster

IF all men are monsters, then that psychic grievance needs continual proof in the form of visible examples. Junot Diaz fit that need.

THE NARRATIVE

Evidence shows the accusations against Junot Diaz to be flimsy– more a case of bruised egos or a dismissive personality than sexual harassment. Junot Diaz fans blame the accusers themselves for the controversy. (Two accusers, in fact, are ambitiously eager to exploit every opportunity to gain publicity.)

For me the matter is caused more by a politicized literary scene– and by the media which covers that scene needing a steady supply of victims and guilty. The accusers are the Id of that media– the realized expression of their beliefs and needs. Without encouragement behind the scenes, the matter would never have become a story in the first place.

THE MACHINE

chaplin_charlie_modern_times_01

One has to write outside today’s New York-centered literary system in order to see it AS a system. Those inside it have no perspective on it.

THE PRISONER

Junot Diaz’s reaction to the accusations against him has been constrained by his membership in the club. He became successful as a creature of the machine, but now the bill has come due and he’s paying it.

MUCH has been made about Diaz hiring a PR firm, and by appearing at his Boston Globe interview accompanied by a lawyer– but these are shackles on no one so much as him.

Handcuffs01_2003-06-02

Did you see the expression on his face in the photo by Suzanne Kreiter which the Boston Globe used? The expression of a prisoner. What you didn’t see are the invisible handcuffs chaining him to that lawyer. Said attorney and said PR firm exist to keep Junot Diaz from speaking his mind. From being himself.

That’s a hell of a position for any artist to be in.

BUSINESS

What was the quote from the Hyman Roth character in the movie Godfather II?

hyman roth

“This is the business we’ve chosen.”

Junot Diaz chose the world of establishment literature when he signed up for the MFA program at Cornell University he was later to write about in his 2014 essay “MFA vs. POC.”

Cornell_University_arts_quad

Diaz was one of the few writers of color in that writing program. He also may have been the only non-bourgeois person in it.

MFA programs teach students how to write in the proper upper-middle class “literary” style of long slow paragraphs of finely-detailed descriptions expressed in well-wrought sentences and it’s all very impressive to the cognoscenti but it’s also removed from the fast-paced real world lives of 95% of the American populace– a big reason why the short story, once the most popular American art form in the vulgar days of O. Henry and Jack London, is today only the delicate captive of writing programs, MFA grads, and New Yorker magazines sitting unread on Manhattan-or-the-Hamptons coffee tables.

manhattan c of alexkotlickDOTcom(Photo c/o AlexKotlik.com.)

It’s to Junot Diaz’s credit that his talent rises above the limitations– the handcuffs– of that very same refined writing style.

NOW he’s being judged by the same people he loathed when he was in those classrooms. Yes, those perfect beings currently staffing Buzzfeed, The Cut, Slate, The New York Times, etc. etc.; almost all from privileged backgrounds and in their Resistance daydreams looking for purpose, looking for causes, looking for harsh macho misogynists looking for anyone they can accuse hang and shred on the altar of their virtue signaling. Someone to nail to the wall for offending their sensibilities with too much reality brushing indelicately and intolerably against the fragile bubbles of their sterling New York City lives.

pelt on wall

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

The Real Literary Gender Gap?

VANISHING MEN IN LITERATURE AND PUBLISHING

Penguin_Random_House_Tower_New_York_2005

Much noise is made by organizations like VIDA about the gender gap in today’s publishing world. When you examine the actual data, however, you find a different tale.  According to this story from 2016 in The Guardian, the U.S. publishing industry is not only predominately white, but 78% women. (At the executive level, with hangers-on from past male dominance, the industry is 60% women.)

Doing swift calculations of the figures, we can further say that the single largest demographic group in the industry is white women, at more than 60%. By contrast, Latino men make up 1.2% of the industry– hardly registering, which makes the dilemma of Junot Diaz more eye-opening.

Another striking article is this one which appeared in The Atlantic in 2017, which describes how many male authors pretend to be women in order to be published– a turnaround from the days of George Sand. According to this article, 80% of fiction readers are women.

Do you want more statistics? Per the Humanities Indicators site, approximately two-out-of-three English graduates– bachelors, masters, and Phd– are women. Per Data USA, 62% of “writers and authors” are women.

documents

We’re beginning to see these ratios reflected in literary awards. For the most recent National Book Foundation awards, 15 of 20 finalists were women. All five of the “5 Under 35” award winners were women.

As I pointed out in an earlier post about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the few male authors in some writers organizations are so outnumbered by women they feel like kids in a candy store– some of them getting into trouble for too many affairs, too many hook-ups while partaking in the book industry’s “meet and greet” soirees.
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WHAT does it all mean? For starters, an industry or art form catering to the public gets into trouble when it disregards half of its potential audience. For example look at what happened to the Western movie when it began focusing almost exclusively on men characters (many Spaghetti Westerns did not have a single woman in the cast)– writing out the women who played a large part in the historic West, to present instead sociopathic narratives of obsessive bloodletting, often starring squinty-eyed and emotionless Clint Eastwood. A far cry from the days of the torridly romantic Selznick spectacular “Duel in the Sun.”

duelinthesunb - Edited

Today, the Western movie has all but vanished.
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IF figures pertaining to class were available, we’d find the narrowness of viewpoint further skewed. Examine the mastheads of Manhattan magazines which cover arts and letters and you’ll find the staffers from the top down are graduates overwhelmingly of Ivy League universities, with a few Stanford grads and Brits from Oxford thrown in. The same holds true, from what I’ve examined, for the Big 5 New York City-based publishers. Those who decide which authors and books are published and reviewed are, in the main, upper-class women. Not by any measure the best way to create a representative literature for a very large and complex civilization like ours.
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With an array of male authors and editors being purged from the book industry after “MeToo” revelations, the trend toward an all-female business and audience doesn’t look to turn around any time soon.

MORE TO SAY on this matter. . . .
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

The Removal of Junot Diaz

ORWELLIAN BEHAVIOR IN A POLITICIZED LITERARY WORLD

removedjunotdiaz

While looking into another matter, we stumbled upon this article by Matthew C. Winner. Or rather, a note from Mr. Winner about an April 24th podcast involving Junot Diaz and Leo Espinosa, “The Children’s Book Podcast #435,” which on May 5th was removed.

AS Winner’s own comment states, the removal took place within 24 hours of accusations of sexual harassment being made against Junot Diaz– a knee-jerk action after no reflection, no investigation, no waiting for any dust to settle.

WAS Matthew Winner caught up in the media hysteria over the matter?

Note that he refers to “an overwhelming number of women” making such charges. (There were four by this time. An ex-girlfriend chimed in ten days later.)

Winner also says,

I, Matthew Winner, and The Children’s Book Podcast will not support the works of individuals accused of misogynistic acts, sexual predation, or any other offense against women. That behavior is intolerable. . . .

Do you catch the jump in logic? He goes from “individuals accused” to “That behavior.” For Michael C. Winner, the accusation is enough.

To make his point he slaps a large “REMOVED” over the image of Junot Diaz.

Flushed down the memory hole?

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Political Correctness Backfires

POLITICIZATION OF LITERATURE LEAVES EVERYONE CLUELESS

blog_anders_carlson_wee

OR, THE IMPLOSION OF ESTABLISHED LITERATURE CONTINUES

Kai

THE SUSPECTS

LIVE BY politics, die by politics seems to be the new credo of today’s literary world. A brief scandal taking place the past days has been a poem, “How To” by Anders Carlson-Wee appearing in The Nation magazine. The poem was meant to be progressive, talking about the homeless and other downtrodden people. It ended up offending readers. The Nation has added an apology. More a confession than apology:

We made a serious mistake by choosing to publish the poem . . . We are sorry for the pain we have caused to many communities . . .we are listening and we are working . . . we know the onus on change is on us . . . we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.

No word yet as to whether the Nation editors have entered a re-education camp.

WHAT’S the story behind the story?

Anders is trying to get in step with the zeitgeist– in so doing, has inadvertently upset people he was attempting to portray. Maybe he should’ve skipped the political stance to begin with– except he’s benefited greatly from being political in his poetry. He has a book out from New York publisher W.W. Norton. There’s also this from his bio:

His work has appeared in BuzzFeed, The Nation, Tin House, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry DailyThe Sun, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. His debut chapbook, Dynamite, won the Frost Place Chapbook Prize. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, Bread Loaf, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He is codirector of the award-winning poetry film Riding the Highline and winner of Ninth Letter’s Poetry Award, Blue Mesa Review’s Poetry Prize, New Delta Review’s Editors’ Choice Prize, and the 2017 Poetry International Prize.

ONE CAN SURMISE that The Nation decided to publish Carlson-Wee’s poem based in part on its P.C. politics, but also because its author is apparently one of the up-and-comers of the establishment poetry scene.

A taste of where Anders is coming from as a poet is given in a long, narcissistic interview Anders and his poet brother, Kai Carlson-Wee, a professor at Stanford (second photo) did with 32poems.com. There’s this revealing quote from Anders:

Our parents would often encourage us to think beyond the strictures of gender, class, age, religion, etc. and I think we grew up with a sense that in order to tell our own stories, we needed to tell the stories of others. One didn’t exist without the other.

Do you buy that?

And this one:

I wholeheartedly agree that road narratives of women and POC are severely lacking in pop culture and literature—while in reality, these stories are abundant, alive, and wild. It’s not that the stories don’t exist, it’s that they’re silenced and underrepresented. Travel narratives are universal in human storytelling, and they belong to everyone. And while white male travel narratives are drastically overemphasized–

Uh, dude, if you truly believe that, why are you writing in the voice of women and POC??

Anders is confused, clearly (as even his photo shows), but the nonstop indoctrination he’s been subjected to– beginning from his Lutheran-minister Minnesota liberal parents– is most to blame.

DO WE see a parallel with the Junot Diaz controversy?

As I said in our second post on that complicated issue, Diaz has himself been as progressively political as possible. In an ever-changing literary scene looking for culprits, not properly political enough.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS