The Bret Easton Ellis Show Trial

WATCH THE PUPPET MASTERS NOT THE PUPPETS

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WHAT was the Bret Easton Ellis interview with Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker magazine really about?

The intent was to expose Bret Easton Ellis to the world. He’d inadvertently taken the wrong political tack– had said that people overreacted to Donald Trump. (True– and likely the intent of Trump himself.) Which meant Bret Easton Ellis had to be taken down. Destroyed. Humiliated. Publicly.

FOR MOST of his career Bret Easton Ellis was one of the established literary system’s Golden Boys. The same system-lit people or same kind of system-lit people– the herd– now piling on Ellis, celebrating his takedown, once were celebrating him.

What can artificially be propped up can also quickly be taken down. Manhattan media created Bret Easton Ellis. But then the political winds shifted. Lit-darling Bret stepped over the line. Call in an attack dog. Assigned mission: embarrass Bret Easton Ellis. Which happened.

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Watch the literary/political weather vane. Which way is the wind blowing?

Are we at war with Eurasia or Eastasia today?
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Busting the Supply-Demand Equation

THE NEED FOR FICTION REINVENTION

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People fail to realize the extent to which most things in life are influenced by the supply-demand situation.

For instance in politics, the enormous oversupply of liberal arts graduates is one of the drivers of left-wing activity. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who after college worked as a bartender) is a classic example.

But what about art? Writing?

WHEN GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH

Many competent short story writers are published every year in literary journals across the country. Several of them are crafting short stories better than vaunted New Yorker magazine fiction– which for decades has been the model for writing programs across the nation. We’ve published a few of those better writers at our main New Pop Lit site.

Having fiction placed in The New Yorker has been thought of as the Holy Grail for the standard MFA writing student. Thousands of MFA grads are attempting to follow that model. To squeeze through that narrow doorway. Lining up. Jamming up. A department store before the doors open on Black Friday.

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THE PROBLEM

The problem is that there are too many creative writers, and too few paying-or-prestigious outlets for their work. A vast oversupply of product. To meet it, tiny demand: very few people who read the overwritten New Yorker model. Today the creative writer’s audience consists of other creative writers, who’ve been trained to read and appreciate that obsolete style of story writing. (New Yorker stories themselves, with rare exceptions, are unread by most New Yorker subscribers.) Well-crafted literary stories are made to be admired, not read.

Today it doesn’t matter how well you the writer can write. The margin of difference between the best and the merely competent is small enough that decisions on who deserves publication and attention are made for reasons other than quality and talent. Instead, they’re made for reasons of politics, correctness, or connections.

THE SOLUTION

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The solution is to bust the supply-demand equation which currently exists in writing. This can be done on both ends.

1.) Create a faster, vastly more readable and exciting short story model– one so new and thrilling it demands to be read. Done right, this could grow the audience for short fiction several times over.

At this point the art is so marginalized there’s ample room for growth.

2.) Create a short story prototype so different from the standard– and difficult to do well– that few writers will be able to write it.

Doing this will create the “perfect storm” of jump-started demand, with few writers able to fill that demand. Those writers a step ahead of cultural history will be in a valuable spot. The vocation of fiction writer will become a worthwhile pursuit, for the first time in years.

Creating that new product won’t be easy. I’ve been working intensively on the matter for many months– really, longer (did my first rough version five years ago)– and am finding the going anything but easy.

Then again, life isn’t easy.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Cultural Revolutions

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO IAN BURUMA?

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What happened to Ian Buruma is that he was perceived by younger members of the literary herd to be out-of-step and slow, and so he had to go.

Step back, gain perspective, and you’ll see what’s happening is that English-speaking culture is in the midst of an ongoing cultural revolution, which is really a hundred mini-revolutions occurring simultaneously. Miscreants shamed, editors toppled, with accompanying cheers from twitter mobs and in halls of the academy.

What’s happening is as old as humanity. An energetic young generation wishing to displace those in their way, grabbing any excuse necessary.

Yes, the old system, populated by decaying icons like Ian Buruma, is corrupt, clueless, patriarchal, fossilized. Some of its members are toxic– but not as toxic as what’s coming.

It’s akin to what happened with the Bolshevik Revolution. The very flawed Czar and his aristocracy were removed. Those who took their place– Lenin, Stalin, and the like– pursued the cause of social justice but were in fact another level of corruption and ruthlessness from what they replaced. As history demonstrated.

In today’s cultural scene, the ambitious newcomers seeking to topple the gatekeepers are another level of volatility and drive from the likes of Buruma, David Remnick at The New Yorker, or The Boston Review‘s Joshua Cohen. Cohen, Remnick, and Buruma perceive themselves as leftist, maybe even as Sixties-style radicals, but they aren’t really. They’ve been playing. They’ve held to long-time liberal principles of open debate, free speech, the pursuit of objectivity. Now they’re seeing with the arrival of the Jesse Browns and Monica Byrnes onto the cultural scene genuine revolutionaries whose only principle is the pursuit of power and self, letting nothing stand in their way.

Don’t kid yourself. Instinctively, the Joshua Cohens, David Remnicks, and Ian Burumas are the actual targets of those who want to clean house of toxic debris. Not consciously, but instinctively– and the Jesse Browns, Monica Byrnes, and Zinzi Clemmons of the social justice mob run chiefly on instinct. Their ideology is simply the available weapon– the justification– allowing them to achieve their actual ends. Their unconscious needs.

Targets such as Jian Ghomeshi and Junot Diaz are collateral damage. Objectives to take out on the road toward the big guys.

What of that Old Guard? Remnick, Buruma, Cohen, and others yet to be discredited?

They’re akin to Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece novel The Possessed, (aka Demons or Devils). Feckless liberals seeing the world around them change, in unpredictable and dangerous ways.

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COMING: Part II of these speculations.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Cult of Junot Diaz

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

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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.

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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. . . .)

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MORE TO COME?

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit news beat.