Political Correctness Backfires

POLITICIZATION OF LITERATURE LEAVES EVERYONE CLUELESS

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OR, THE IMPLOSION OF ESTABLISHED LITERATURE CONTINUES

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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

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!

THE MOB
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