Where’s the Evidence?

LATEST NEWS FROM THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

DNA-evidence

The latest news from the Junot Diaz controversy is there is no news.

FROM THE MOMENT the Junot Diaz alleged harassment controversy broke big-time on May 4th, two of the three original accusers, Monica Byrne and Zinzi Clemmons, have made numerous tweets promising everyone that more stories would be forthcoming. Zinzi Clemmons has said she has “receipts”– emails from Junot Diaz documenting the fact he’d harassed her. Monica Byrne has mentioned time and again “39” other accusers waiting in the wings. Those who’ve been covering the story, including ourselves, have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting. (Alisa Rivera came immediately afterward with an incident from a date gone awry 15 years ago, as did ex-girlfriend Alisa Valdes with her experiences.)

THE ASSUMPTION– in my opinion the wager by the original three– was that Diaz was unquestionably an abuser and that many more accusers would come forward after the coordinated presentation on May 4th made international headlines. Monica Byrne had been through this twice before (see this), and based on those experiences, believed enough other women would come forward to remove Junot Diaz from his positions at Boston Review and MIT. As we now know, both institutions held the line.

HOW LONG had the planned revelations been under consideration?

Here is their genesis, in a few of the tweets exchanged between Monica Byrne and an initially reluctant Carmen Maria Machado– dating from 2015:

THE THIRD member of the trio was brought on board beginning in December of 2017, at the same time MeToo stories were breaking everyplace. See this, and this, and this.

MEDIA BLITZKRIEG

Ausbildung, Überrollen durch Panzer

GIVEN the intensity of the criticism, Junot Diaz should’ve been completely destroyed. The calculation with any such maneuver is that the target will be. It’s analogous to Germany’s “Operation Barbarossa” invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. After a string of easy victories, Hitler believed the rotting structure of the world’s first Communist regime would collapse in on itself, as a result of a strong push. Didn’t happen. He didn’t count on the enormous fortitude of the Russian people.  What followed was a long, slow slog. Which is what’s been happening the last several months between both sides of the Junot Diaz controversy.

Bora Zivkovic and Raphael Martin, obsequious liberals unprepared for their personal idiosyncrasies to be exposed to the world, immediately apologized and resigned in the face of accusations. What happened in the Junot Diaz matter was that a recording of his verbal exchange with Carmen Maria Machado was produced– and completely changed the dynamic of the controversy. This led us, and others, to look further into the matter.

question mark

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? We’ll see.
*******

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Advertisements

Questions About Zinzi Clemmons

OUR COVERAGE OF THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY CONTINUES

Zinzi-Clemmons-8051

We note that Zinzi Clemmons, one of the three initial accusers in the Junot Diaz matter, has been staying off twitter since her exchange with noted novelist Roxane Gay– which didn’t go well. Which brings up the question: Why have so many leading feminist literary personalities– Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates foremost among them– declined to sign the VIDA petition about the matter, or in any other way publicly support the accusers?

THE “POWER OF INSTITUTIONS” side would insist these women fear to oppose established entities which continue to back Junot Diaz– MIT and Boston Review among them. That viewpoint gives those places more influence than they may have in reality. Besides, if anyone can afford to oppose those mid-level bureaucracies, it’s Atwood, Oates, Gay, and Company.

COULD the reason for their lack of support be the perceived volatility of Zinzi Clemmons? From the start of the controversy, Clemmons’ combativeness has matched that of fellow accuser Monica Byrne:

Or–

In another tweet, Zinzi Clemmons gave Monica Byrne all credit for organizing the anti-Junot Diaz posse–

Like Monica Byrne, Zinzi Clemmons also said their accusations were the tip of the iceberg–

IN AN interview with the Johannesburg Review of Books on May 10th, Clemmons said “it’s worse than most people think,” and affirmed that many more women would come forward with allegations against Junot Diaz. Those women have yet to materialize.
****

WHATEVER Monica Byrne’s contributions to breaking the story– with media encouragement behind the scenes– the most pressure among the accusers was put on Zinzi Clemmons. Handed the task of confronting Diaz at the Sydney Writers Festival. (Remember, the accusations were planned and coordinated in advance.) Zinzi Clemmons did confront him. It could not have been easy. Did she drop off of twitter because the pressure of being at the forefront of the story has become too much?

Shovel_sculpture_at_Roy_Station

REGARDLESS, this commentator is discovering the more he digs into the story, the more complicated it becomes. Which includes Zinzi’s volatile, score-settling spouse, and another, different sexual harassment accusation in the book world, which I’ll discuss in a future New Pop Lit NEWS post.

-Karl Wenclas

System versus Zeitgeist

TWO SIDES OF THE JUNOT DIAZ BOOK WORLD CONTROVERSY

Butler_Library_Columbia_University

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

View_to_One_World_Trade_Center
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

lightning_over_the_city_20171218_1848356786
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?

*******

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

adam morgan
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?”

****
NEXT: Conclusions.

Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

Slate’s Junot Diaz Show Trial

MORE ON THE JUNOT DIAZ LIT-WORLD CONTROVERSY

junot-diazontrial

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.
****

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.

show trial

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?)

***
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.
***

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.
****

NEXT: System versus Zeitgeist: The Larger Context.

Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

 

 

 

 

 

The Monica Byrne Four

EXAMINING ONE THREAD OF THE JUNOT DIAZ AFFAIR

monicabyrne2

WHY FOUR?

THERE HAVE BEEN four men in the arts and publishing worlds accused of sexual harassment by Monica Byrne. One of them is award-winning author Junot Diaz. The charges by Byrne and several others against him have gained international attention.

(For purposes of this post, not included are the unsupported allegations Monica made about Melania Trump one year ago– addressed in other New Pop Lit News blog posts.)

In an attempt to find the truth of the matter, I decided to look into the incidents of the three other men– besides Junot Diaz– who were accused.
****

FIRST, let me state that one has to be skeptical of any powerful institution– such as MIT– dealing with such matters, as the first instinct of any such institution is CYA: “Cover Your Ass.” For a tragic example of this we need look no farther than Michigan State University. In matters of public opinion– not in the courts– the burden of proof may well be on the involved institution.

SECOND, I believe that in all these affairs Monica Byrne sees herself on the side of truth and justice; that she’s made these accusations in pursuit of a good cause. I don’t question that. I’m describing what happened in these instances to see if misperceptions and miscommunications were involved. (As appears to have been the case with Carmen Maria Machado and her encounter with Mr. Diaz.)
****

A.)  Bora Zivkovic

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In September of 2012 Monica invited Bora Zivkovic, editor and blogger at Scientific American, for coffee to talk about her work. They met at a cafe in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. According to her narrative, she discussed her visit to a strip club, among other things she’d done in pursuit of stories. Zivkovic opened up about his sex life with his wife. Monica was bothered enough by the encounter that afterward she sent him a note about it, then another. He apologized. In October Monica wrote about the incident for her blog, without naming him. A year later, October 2013, she updated the post, naming Bora Zivkovic as the man involved, and also contacting Scientific American about the incident. When two other women came forward with similar complaints, Zivkovic quickly resigned from his position at S.A. One of the other women complainants later said this:

-it may not look like sexual harassment. There was no actual sex or inappropriate touching. Bora wasn’t vulgar toward me, nor did he even directly announce his interest. It was all reading between the lines–

B.)  Raphael Martin

Raphael Martin

In 2013 Raphael Martin, then Director of New Work at Soho Repertory Theatre in New York, was visiting Durham, North Carolina. Monica Byrne had written a play she wanted Martin to read and somehow arranged to be part of a group he had dinner with in town. After dinner he invited Monica for a “late night rendezvous drink.” When they met up he may or may not have already had a drink, according to her Facebook write-up on the encounter, posted three years later on 10/25/2016.

Monica told Raphael Martin about her latest play, “Tarantino’s Yellow Speedo”– “about a polyamory cult at the Olympics.” According to Monica, “he seemed weirdly affectionate.” Despite this, she offered to drive him back to his hotel. On the way, he questioned her about whether she was polyamorous. She “tried to glide over it, saying yeah.” When they pulled up to the hotel he gave her a hug “that made my skin crawl, and sort of fondled my forearms.” Receiving no positive signal from her, he got out of the car and she drove home.

In 2016 Monica sent her blog write-up describing the encounter to a Facebook friend, who shared it and asked publicly if anyone else had also been sexually harassed by Raphael Martin. When other women described similar incidents he was quickly fired by Soho, left the job quietly and moved to London, England.

C.  Junot Diaz

junotdiaz

I still have a few questions regarding Monica Byrne’s encounter with Junot Diaz. Such as:

-Who was the date Monica mentions in her Facebook post on the incident, and why hasn’t that person come forward? *See added comment below.

-The dinner at a restaurant was after a sold-out talk Junot Diaz gave at the North Carolina Literary Festival in April, 2014. Likely everyone there would’ve liked to have been at the afterglow dinner. How did Monica and her date manage the invitation?

-Famed author Peter Straub was described as very present at the dinner, witness to all that occurred. Why has he had no comment? (Btw, I asked him for one via twitter. No response.) *See added comment below.

LIKE Zivkovic and Martin, when the accusations against him appeared Junot Diaz said all the right things, quickly withdrew from a literary festival and cancelled other public appearances. The statement issued in his name from his literary agent:

I take responsibility for my past. That is the reason I made the decision to tell the truth of my rape and its damaging aftermath. This conversation is important and must continueI am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.

WHAT HAS to be noted about all four of these men is that they’re all politically progressive. Their public statements have long been in support of women’s issues, and against the kind of behavior they were accused of. Which does not at all mean they weren’t themselves engaging in such behavior. All four are gregarious, touchy-feely men, “huggers,” who felt no inhibitions (until now, obviously) in engaging regularly in such contact. All appear harmless– and in these affairs, hapless. For what it’s worth, not a one is your stereotypical ultra-macho ogre. Not one made much of a protest, personally, against the charges. They meekly left their fates in the hands of others.
****

BUT WAIT! Haven’t I spoken about four men accused by Monica Byrne of sexual harassment? Yes, there’s a fourth, and on the surface things don’t look good for him.

Here’s a tweet Monica recently sent out to the world, dated June 6 of this year:

*******

D.)  Jay O’Berski

oberski - Edited

The accused, Number Four. A theater professor at Duke.

IS there more to the story? Much more???

STAY TUNED!

-Karl Wenclas
*******

 

Hard Truths

NOT A WRAP-UP OF THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

MIT1

Some truths for both sides of the issue to ponder:

A.)  For the Anti-Junot Crowd:

While Junot Diaz was cleared of charges of harassment by Boston Review and MIT (the same animal), in large part for institutional reasons, it’d be naive to think they didn’t do “due diligence” beyond that stated. The scope of their investigation no doubt did extend beyond the narrow and stuffy walls of MIT. One has to believe they did look thoroughly into those making the accusations. They’re not speaking about this for their own (decipherable) reasons.

B.)  For the Pro-Junot Crowd:

Don’t think for a moment that Junot Diaz is not entirely a creature of that same elitist institution. And others like it such as his literary agent, Aragi; his publisher, Penguin Random House; and the Pulitzer Board, safely placed at the center of east coast institutional power at Columbia University.

Junot Diaz is not a free agent– and can’t be. These forces made him, and so he’s had little say on how any of this game has been played. (Though he’s likely maneuvered behind the scenes.) I’d wager others have dictated what he’s said– always making the proper statements, because he’s always made the proper statements.

I take responsibility for my past . . . This conversation is important and must continueI am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.

Perfectly the right thing (via a statement from his literary agent).

Instead of telling all concerned to go f— themselves and walking away. But that’s not how the game is played.

There are huge benefits but also costs to being a cog in the established literary system, part of its never-ending manipulations.

MIT2

THE ONE QUESTION no one is asking: Why is so much sexual harassment happening, from the very progressive men who declaim loudest against it?

Answers? Does anyone have answers?

-K.W.

(Be sure to follow this blog to not miss any updates.)

 

The Cult of Junot Diaz

FOURTH IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ-BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY

beatlemania-beatles-fans-1399906643-view-0

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.

220px-FScottFitzgerald_TheCrackUp

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. . . .)

tree

MORE TO COME?

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit news beat.