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Confronting the Unpleasant in our Literary Figures

On the 5th of May, writer Junot Diaz was confronted by author Zinzi Clemmons, an individual whom Diaz had succeeded in forcibly kissing years earlier. Several other individuals have since come forward to testify and solidify Diaz’s sexual misconduct allegations, and Diaz has since retreated from the public eye by stating that he "takes responsibility" for his past.

Since then, Mary Karr reminds us of the sexual misconduct of deceased postmodern writer David Foster Wallace, and more importantly brings to light the public’s indifference toward the matter. It’s no surprise that our literary figures weren’t morally upstanding individuals: Somerset Maugham’s characters and stories exoticise the supposed "orient" in a rather unpleasant manner, Hemingway was a noted misogynist and sexist, and Bukowski has a history of quotations that aren’t sympathetic to the female sex.

After last year’s fiasco in the entertainment industry, I’d like to draw us back to the world of literature and fiction. What parts do we, as readers, consumers and therefore enablers of these individuals (alive or not) play in such a changing climate? Should we say nothing in the tradition of respecting the voices fostered in the creation of what we consider "good art", even if that means reproducing a male-centric perspective for the coming generations? Or should we condemn such works on the basis that they promote unsavory attitudes towards groups of people, and therefore bear the artistic cost?

  • this is not so much a comment on the content of this topic, but i would like to point something out here: maybe don't say "witch-hunt." assuming you are referring to the slew of accusations concerning sexual assault within the entertainment industry, to use the term "witch-hunt" implies that these people are not guilty, that they are falsely accused. this article provides a nice articulation of an alternate meaning to "witch-hunt," contrary to what i think your comment implies: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/17/opinion/columnists/weinstein-harassment-witchunt.html in the present social climate, it's very important to choose our words with care. – ees 2 weeks ago
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  • Thank you for your response, and you're absolutely right in that there is a connotation of innocence when using the term witch-hunt, but of course, to an extent, I believe that is what it has come to. Kevin Spacey, Weinstein and Louis C.K. are undoubtedly guilty of their morally reprehensible acts, but I had hoped to focus a little more on the nuance of the situation than the pure black-and-white of the matter. I certainly do not use the term in reference to those already clearly guilty and deserving of punishment, I use it to delineate the necessary culture of fear that has risen from uncovering these people, and the increasingly unreliable sources from which such allegations begin (see Aziz Ansari). There is no question that these people are guilty and deserve punishment. What I hope to explore then, is what we do in the light of the growing understanding that people who we consider artists, and literary artists, deceased or otherwise, are indeed guilty. – Matchbox 2 weeks ago
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  • that's a fair point, and i won't argue that. however, "witch-hunt" is still too loaded, i think, and i would suggest rather than using that term, to say what you just said. consider: "witch-hunt" is linked to events like the salem witch trials, where obviously innocent women were targeted and killed, predominantly by men with power. to use this term to delineate something of the nature that you describe, and to apply it to (predominantly) men is, in my view, not doing the term, its history, or those people who suffered during that time, justice. that word has a very loaded history, and perhaps we should consider using something better. – ees 2 weeks ago
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  • You're right, and I've changed it. Thank you for the advice :) I'll be more careful next time. – Matchbox 2 weeks ago
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  • I think this is something where art should be separated from the person. Yes, the people who were caught in the MeToo movement did deserve their punishments, but we shouldn't ignore their art on the basis of their actions. For example, I'm still going to read books by Al Frankan and learn what he has to say about politics, in light of his recent activities. Even though he has done some things that aren't great, he still has something to say about politics and that should be heard. – 21stCenturyQuill 6 days ago
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