Everything is Now Political

The future of the literary journal in the age of Trump.

by Mark Lager, Poetry Reader

“Everything is now political. We have the responsibility to make the political personal.”

Roxane Gay challenged booksellers with this statement. She challenged booksellers to extend their scope beyond their usual predominantly suburban, predominantly white demographics. She challenged booksellers to share marginalized voices. She cited as examples bookstores in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles that had reached out to minority communities.

She had already caused controversy in the publishing industry by withdrawing her new book How To Be Heard from Simon & Schuster as an act of dissent. Some commentators had criticized her demonstration as another posturing of political correctness. They were wrong in their assumptions. Her choice was a bold and courageous move.

Simon & Schuster’s imprint, Threshold, had originally planned on publishing the book Dangerous by the alt-right firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos. His speeches and writings have tapped into much of the same misogynistic and xenophobic fears and hatreds which fueled the ascendancy and election of Donald Trump. Protests against his college tour turned explosive in California on the campuses of UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

Despite his disgusting and divisive rhetoric, the ACLU decided to defend his First Amendment free speech rights. Censoring Milo Yiannopoulos and others like him reinforces his supporters’ suspicions of the liberal media, which will only encourage even more dangerous and outrageous alt-right agitprop. Censorship is never the answer. Counterdemonstrations are essential and important.

Simon & Schuster eventually did the right thing: they canceled the publication of Dangerous. However, the burning question still remains: how many more major booksellers will consider publishing someone like Milo Yiannopoulos in the first place? Will the publishing industry’s attention seeking (through a figure like Milo) continue?

Joy Peskin of Farrar, Straus and Giroux has detected a disturbing pattern here between the political and publishing worlds: “It’s not a coincidence that Trump went from a reality television star to president of the United States, thanks, in part, to the radicalization of the white working class. And a lot of the leg work was done by Milo and his mentor, Steve Bannon…If you think Trump’s presidency is the last gasp of the white male patriarchy, think again.”

Authors, booksellers, bookstores, and literary magazines need to step up to the plate as Roxane Gay has done. They need to address the issue of inclusiveness. This is absolutely fundamental now because of the forces of bigotry and racism previously beneath the surface but now unleashed by the presidency of Trump.  Literary journals must create communities of marginalized voices, what Roxane Gay recently nicknamed “sacred spaces” so that writing will progress, not regress, in this current charged climate.

Minorities have always faced an uphill battle in their writing being published and now this could only get worse if literary journals do not continue to disseminate these voices.

John Freeman argues that an alternative to the contemporary literary magazine is one which is international. Freeman says that “corrective narratives” are necessary right now in order to counteract the dominant capitalist and corporate narratives being used to manipulate the populace. However, Freeman also says that these narratives themselves should not be didactic on a moral or political level. They should simply present a region of human life which goes against these narratives.

Can a piece of poetry or fiction accomplish this ambition without being political? According to Roxane Gay’s more radical stance, this is no longer viable.

“The overlooked, the misunderstood, and the silent” are the voices which Arkana promises to share with the world in our mission statement. We have included voices which contemplate the complexities of life in China and London, of genocide in the Middle East, among other voices. All literary journals need to keep pushing themselves beyond their borders. It is only through this process that we will be able to combat the insular mindset which has prevented progress for such a long time and create communities which are truly inclusive.


Mark Lager is currently enrolled in the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Central Arkansas. His work has been published in Chiron Review, Circumference, Columbia Journal, and Denver Quarterly.
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