Who Defends Artistic Expression?

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THE LATEST NEWS is that literary editors are adding what they themselves refer to as Morality Clauses to their sites. Not an aesthetic guideline for submitted work– the clause regards the writers themselves. Editors are doing background checks on writers via google and other tools. Background checks! The mindset has come full circle. We’ve entered a neo-puritan world.

For these uptight-to-the-max editors, getting along with the herd– enforcing an ideology– is their primary focus. Art is a secondary consideration.

THE EDITING POLICE

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These literary editors have taken it upon themselves to monitor the writer’s behavior– including after the work has been published. “Yep, he did something regrettable and embarrassing. We published his poem five years ago. Doesn’t matter. Yank it out!”

The entire history of literature is filled with writers engaging in bad behavior. (It once was a badge of honor.) Beginning with Christopher Marlowe– who wouldn’t make the cut in this day and age. Neither would Shakespeare. There’s that rather disconcerting speech in Hamlet when he says, “Get thee to a nunnery!” Hurtful words. Yank his works.

WHEN I fronted an activist group from about 2000 to 2008, our numbers included many outcasts, outsiders, and those who regularly engaged in bad behavior. They were from every possible ideological stripe, left to right. We had no litmus tests or background checks.

Today, we see Editor-as-Cop. “Are your papers in order? Where are your papers! Can you prove you did not engage in harassment and abuse?” (One silly lit editor argued for Rachel Custer proving she hadn’t engaged in verbal abuse.)

AT ONE TIME, the novel, poem or play itself was considered verbal abuse! Its very existence.

Has the writer engaged in bad behavior outside the walls of  our little literary project known as New Pop Lit? What’s that to me? I’m a literary editor. If he or she has broken a law, report them to the authorities.

A QUESTION: Would you publish a story or poem by a convicted murderer sitting in prison if the work were good enough? 

LAST LINE OF DEFENSE

Every other segment of society has reasons to limit or crush artistic expression. The state, the advertiser, the dependent-on-donors foundation, the speech-squelching university, the project-a-proper-image corporation. It’s the task of the artist; the writer– and the editor, the publisher, the promoter, the arts impresario– to stand up for creative expression. For the ability to be creative. The ability to surprise, stir, anger, or shock. If not us: Who else?
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Mischievous Monica

FRESH REVELATIONS IN THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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MY LAST blog post (here) ended with Duke professor Jaybird O’Berski appearing to have engaged in sexual harassment of Junot Diaz-accuser Monica Byrne via twitter. At least, Monica charged him with such, providing an example.

But what if the sexual language he engaged in had also been engaged in by her– even encouraged by her? Apparently they had quite a few lusty conversations– on twitter and by email.

Below, a sampling of O’Berski’s twitter feed, taken from exchanges with Monica.

(Does this throw light on the other incidents– those outlined in my previous post? Judge for yourself.)

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Is there much more to say?

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

The Monica Byrne Four

EXAMINING ONE THREAD OF THE JUNOT DIAZ AFFAIR

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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.
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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.)
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A.)  Bora Zivkovic

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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

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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.
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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:

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D.)  Jay O’Berski

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

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

STAY TUNED!

-Karl Wenclas
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Playboy and Today’s War Between the Sexes

OR: WHY ARE PROGRESSIVE MEN HARASSING WOMEN?

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The question isn’t as off-the-wall as it seems. What’s taking place is an internal war between two parts of the sexual/social/cultural revolution which kicked-off in the 1960’s and is ongoing.

ON ONE SIDE you have the hedonists and free-love people. Their first advocate was Hugh Hefner of Playboy magazine fame.

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Recall his ethos? The playboy devotes himself to having as many women as he can, all the time. A generation of men– several generations, really– were raised to believe that their share of the sexual revolution could be summed up in one word, which begins with a “p.” (It’s not “playboy.”) Give women their rights; give them their freedom, and this in return was the payment. Another “p” word, “the Pill,” made this, at least for a time, reality. Woodstock, 1969:

Przystanek Woodstock 2012

Free love. Old-fashioned monogamy destroyed.

THOSE MEN who eagerly embraced this were sexist pigs, yes, but many were on the left– or, if they weren’t to start with, soon enough joined it. Businessmen throwing away their ties and grabbing paisley shirts and beads before eagerly jumping into the pigpen with the rest of the gang. Liberation.

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THE OTHER SIDE in this battle is the feminist movement, a huge portion of which has pulled back on this unlimited freedom, no limits, appetite-all-the-time part of the deal. Their avatar is Catherine MacKinnon.

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What does this have to do with men accused of sexual harassment in the literary realm?

HAVE progressive men, in sympathy with women and women’s issues, felt at liberty to go beyond normal bounds with them?

I’ll explore this, with examples, in my next post. Coming soon.

-K.W.

(Be sure to follow this blog to get all the updates. Much is upcoming.)

Hard Truths

NOT A WRAP-UP OF THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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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.

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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.)

 

Flash Update on the Junot Diaz Matter

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HERE”S part of an exchange I had yesterday with Monica Byrne about the Junot Diaz alleged sexual harassment controversy. The conversation was initiated by Byrne. The context is the previous New Pop Lit News post.

Do tweets go viral that quickly? I guess.

It remains curious that many of Junot’s defenders won’t mention the scurrilous allegations Byrne made one year ago. Did she choose an approved target?

As you can see, our twitter conversation concludes with Ms. Byrne declining to answer questions about those allegations.
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Last evening New Pop Lit‘s editors had dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant with a train set running along the walls and had too much to eat. Afterward I had a crazy dream in which two of the pieces of the Junot Diaz puzzle came together. I’ll discuss that MONDAY.

-K.W.

Publishing Industry Feeding Frenzy

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THE LATEST big news in publishing are the charges of sexual harassment taking place at writers conferences put on by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This must-read post at School Library Journal is revealing on several levels– particularly if you read the comments, of which there are many. It reminds me of a fish tank in which the fish have begun feeding on themselves.

There are as many dramatic moments within the comments, in fact, as in a novel. One is when author and diversity advocate Tristina Wright is herself accused of harassment. Another is when the son of SCBWI‘s founder Lin Oliver jumps in to defend his mother against charges of inaction.

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(Tristina Wright.)
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Before making any kind of judgement about this matter, one should understand what writers conferences are about. Aside from making money off wannabe authors, they’re about networking, schmoozing, and socializing– often accompanied afterward by ample amounts of booze. Introvert writers away from home, brushing up against– and no doubt lavishly complimenting– well-known writers. Stuff will happen.

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(Well-known author Sherman Alexie, one of the accused, at a Weinstein Books party.)
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The situation with SCBWI is especially pronounced. According to photos, women outnumber men at their conferences ten-to-one. Put a wandering male in that situation– especially one with a too-healthy ego– and he’s going to feel like a kid in a candy store. An environment designed for a stray predator.

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(Photo from recent SCBWI conference.)
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Might the problem be with the conferences themselves? Beyond this, with the way the entire industry is set up, putting writers– the talent– in a position of marked inferiority?Making them face from Day One a series of barriers to leap over and hoops to jump through: instructors, agents, editors, publishers; each one holding the carrot, the desired book contract, at arm’s length. Does anyone believe that with this situation, a ton of machinations, ass-kissing, and real abuse would not take place, human nature being what it is?

There has to be a better way. At New Pop Lit, we’re devoted to finding and constructing that better way.