Literature of Limits

THOUGHTS ON SALLY ROONEY’S NOVEL NORMAL PEOPLE

steel box

ONE CAN’T HELP but notice, with the massive hype accompanying the U.S. release of the Sally Rooney novel Normal People, how willing literary people today are to settle for limited accomplishment from limited talents. To accept the achievement of small effects, delicately arrived at.

I read the novel before most because a friend of ours in the U.K. gave it to us. It’s not a bad novel. Not at all. But the final emotion given this reader upon finishing it was, “So what?” Is this really the best Big Five London-New York publishing can come up with? Careful language, careful plotting, careful characters, careful themes and ideas– as if today’s world of political correctness has put today’s writer into a cage.

rusted-lock-on-the-fence

Maybe it’s not politics (though there are signs that it is). Possibly it’s the temperament of this age, to see the world in muted tones. Melodrama? Heavens no. The reverse. By and large no drama– other than a couple brief appearances of a mostly offstage male villain in the form of an angry brother– whose rage is never explained or understood. Or the drama of deciding which MFA writing program to enroll in. (I kid you not.)

For temperament and limits, this novel can be compared to the delicate poems of recently deceased award-winning poet Mary Oliver, which aim for modest achievement, limited effects. Worthy, if that’s all you want– but a distinct dropping off from the exuberance of a Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsberg. Or the craft and passion of a Sylvia Plath.

Today’s literature exists inside the constraints of a cage or a box. It’s time to crash out.

(As we’ll attempt to do with our 3D Story project.)

3-D BIG 4-page-001 - Edited
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

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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.”

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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

How to Create Media Frenzy

THE JAY ASHER STORY

worldnewscollage

DID THE MEDIA MOB CONSUME ANOTHER PROMINENT AUTHOR?

A few months before the Junot Diaz accusation story broke across the globe, there occurred another media meltdown over an author accused of misbehavior– this one generated by a statement made to two media outlets which did little-to-nothing to investigate the story the statement was about. The person who made the statement, director of a writers organization, was at the time herself being pressured from an online mob to “do something” about the issue of sexual harassment. She did. An author’s career was all-but-destroyed as a result.

The writer? Jay Asher, author of the #1 best-selling novel 13 Reasons Why, which was the basis for the popular Netflix TV series.

Thirteen-Reasons-Why

New Pop Lit NEWS first covered the story in a general way last February, in an article we titled, “Publishing Industry Feeding Frenzy.”

(NOTE THAT the key part of the matter, an article at School Library Journal which received 199 comments, has been taken down. This is a story in itself, which we may or may not address in a separate report.)

The January 3 SLJ article can be considered THE CRUX OF THE MATTER, because this was where, for all intents and purposes, the story about Jay Asher’s behavior originated– via anonymous comments to the article. As our NPL NEWS post indicates, SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver felt herself under pressure from those comments.

Lin_Oliver_-_2015_National_Book_Festival_(2)

( Lin Oliver)

Indications are that Oliver and her staff were, at the time, unable to investigate the matter. She reacted regardless, making statements to Buzzfeed News, then to Associated Press, that Asher and another writer had been removed from her organization. (Jay Asher denied he’d been removed, and denied the harassment allegations themselves.)

That was it. A face-saving response to two media outlets. The result? A media feeding frenzy.

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How bad was it?

Here’s an incomplete list of media stories run on the matter in a three-day period, from February 12th through the 14th. (Many of the outlets reprinted the Associated Press article verbatim, with-or-without attribution. Others modestly reworded it while saying the same thing.)

buzzfeednews.com
apnews.com
people.com

vanityfair.com
businessinsider.com

indiewire.com
ew.com
teenvogue.com
theguardian.com
publishersweekly.com
usatoday.com
thoughtcatalog.com

nme.com
mashable.com
nylon.com
independent.co.uk
narcity.com
popbuzz.com
slate.com
bustle.com
seventeen.com
fortune.com
jezebel.com
nydailynews.com
hollywoodreporter.com

vulture.com
hellogiggles.com
foxnews.com
globalnews.com
clevver.com
billboard.com
mynorthwest.com
sltrib.com
wtnh.com
perezhilton.com
wionews.com
popculture.com
thewrap.com
country105.com
kare11.com
tvweek.com
mtv.com
9news.com
canoe.com
enstarz.com
lifezette.com
triblive.com
complex.com
ksby.com
wpxi.com
wtop.com

cosmopolitan.com
ibtimes.com
wftv.com
post-gazette.com
zimbio.com
chron.com
bookstr.com
wbal.com
refinery29.com
deadline.com

videtteonline.com
fox23.com
tristatehomepage.com
tvguide.com
betches.com
thebookseller.com
popcrush.com
girlfriend.com

cbc.ca
popstaronline.com
booksandpublishing.com/au
breitbart.com
yalovemag.com
sanluisobispo.com
cuestonian.com

Talk about destroying a career! All of these sites prominently displayed a photo of Jay Asher, with properly hyberbolic headlines: variations of “13 Reasons Why Author Jay Asher was booted from a writing organization over sexual harassment claims.” One of them picked that up a notch, with: “13 Reasons Why author becomes literature world’s Harvey Weinstein.”

THIS, over a disputed dismissal from a writers organization because of anonymous comments on a blog!

AS A RESULT, Asher’s Philippines tour was called off, numerous other speaking appearances and book signings were quickly canceled, his literary agent dropped him, and at least two bookstores stopped carrying his books. (See Westbrook bookstore dumps books by author.”)

Jay Asher’s somewhat-less-widely-circulated defense can be found at his blog.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS