Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Woke Generation is Trying to Kill Literature

From Splice Today:
Novelist Joyce Carol Oates has a complaint about the current literary world that she recently voiced on Twitter: “hard to write honestly about racism in America now since, if you are a fiction writer, & need to reproduce the speech of racists, this speech-—crude, cruel, revealing-—has to be softened or censored altogether. Ironically, taboos of ‘political correctness’ protect racists.”

Her twitter account indicates that she’s a proponent of the identity politics and performative wokeness favored by the regressive Left these days, so it’s interesting, as well as disturbing, that she’s grousing like this. Just imagine how writers who don’t buy into the current “liberal” (which now often means “illiberal”) agenda and bizarre rules of intersectionality feel about having to walk on eggshells so they don’t upset a few cranks on Twitter who their publishers are afraid of.
The prolific novelist’s plaintive tweet indirectly highlights how many authors have quietly succumbed to the new need to cater to the modern reader’s sensitivity. Thousands are now self-censoring, or they’re meekly giving in after their editor tells them their work contains microaggressions. The situation’s so bad that many writers and publishers are hiring people in a new job category: the “sensitivity reader.”

For a small fee, the sensitivity reader will vet your manuscript for indications of a white savior complex, improper physical descriptions of minorities, sexism, ableism, Islamophobia, and just about every variation of accidental bias you could imagine. You learn about what’s potentially “problematic” to your readers, who have newfound powers. These sensitivity readers come in all varieties: black Muslims, mixed-race females, Chinese-Americans, you name it. You may need three or four of them just for one book. It’s depressing that a professional novelist thinks it’s necessary to have someone scour their work for “harmful tropes,” but outrage culture has raised the stakes. Take the case of a poet named Anders Carlson-Wee who excitedly tweeted about his poem, “How-To,” when The Nation published it, only to be quickly forced to apologize after he was charged with ableism for writing about a “crippled” person and brought to task for writing in “African-American Vernacular English” (AAVE)—”Don’t say homeless, they know you is.” Carlson-Wee’s white, which makes this “problematic.”

The poem was good enough to make it into The Nation. It’s about how people who give money to homeless people on the street are really doing it for selfish reasons. It ends: “It’s about who they believe they is. You hardly even there.” The Nation felt the need to publish a wordy, scurry-for-the-exits apology that read like something out of a re-education camp, when the proper response would’ve been to publish the best of the reader complaints. A publication has no responsibility for how the work it publishes is received. If this kind of risk-averse thinking catches on, we’ll soon be reading only anodyne, homogeneous dreck. Neither of the two poetry editors who greenlighted “How-To” are black or disabled, so by the new rules of engagement they were in no position to stand up for their writer. They threw him under the bus instead, to save themselves.

“Ableist language”? A poem or work of literature isn’t a display of virtue. The poet took on the voice of a street person. Are we now living in a world where we’re supposed to believe that a guy living on the street would say “disabled” instead of “crippled,” or a white writer cannot write in black dialect? That would mean that one of the nation’s greatest living novelists, Richard Price, wouldn’t have been allowed to write Clockers (1992), because many NYC crack dealers sure did speak what’s now called AAVE when he wrote about them. (Read more.)

1 comment:

julygirl said...

Get real people! The world, culture, life, history, whatever, is what it is. A writer cannot sanitize it and at the same time convey the reality of which he/she is writing.