Junot Diaz: "This is How You Lose Her", Authors at Google

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 01.10.2012

[Music plays]
>>Rick Kleffel: Ladies and gentlemen, can you please turn on your cell phones in case
you get a better offer. [Laughter]
>>Rick Kleffel: Where you've come from is gone. Where you think you're going to never
existed and where you are is no good unless you can get away. Where is there a place for
you to be? Nowhere. But if you've got a good search engine you do not need to be redeemed.
Ladies and gentlemen, with us today we have a man who works with the quantum level of
human communication. We're standing in a tower that showcases the enormous engines that we
can bring to bear to send atoms, molecules, electrons around the world to bring two people
together. This is the man who works at the absolute lowest level of human communication
words. His newest book is "This is How You Lose Her" and he will give you a great instruction
guide to do just that. [Laughter]
>>Rick Kleffel: His first book was the acclaimed short story collection, "Drown" his Pulitzer
Prize winning novel was "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." Ladies and gentlemen,
please welcome Junot Diaz. [Applause]
>>Junot Diaz: Thank you. I guess by way of like prefatory comments thank you all for
coming out. We all know you all are busy. I mean, gee whiz. So, I appreciate you coming
here in your spare time. I also wanted to thank Rick. I'm actually a big old time fan
of Rick's. I have been following the Agony Columns since, you know, a really long time.
I always enjoy when you're behind on reviews and you're like, "I'm gonna dig up some old
review just to warm you dudes up." [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: So it's a real pleasure to be here. It's a real pleasure and I thank all
the people who made this possible, again, you know, you guys certainly understand that
artists come, they just appear but almost always it's a bunch of people on the sideline
doing the stuff outside of their job description and outside of their pay rate to bring people
like me around and I really appreciate and wanna acknowledge that sort of invisible work
that makes these events possible. And, again, thank you guys. So, how do you wanna do this,
Rick? What are you thinking?
>>Rick Kleffel: I'm thinking you could read the first chapter of the last story.
>>Junot Diaz: Okay, just a little brief reading, I think, nothing-
>>Rick Kleffel: It's three pages, should take a couple minutes.
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah. I don't know if you guys-
>>Rick Kleffel: Utter brilliance.
>>Junot Diaz: That's highly doubtful but thank you.
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: Highly doubtful.
>>Rick Kleffel: There's a voice here that you will never forget. Reading him is like-
>>Junot Diaz: Damn you, Rick! [Laughter]
>>Rick Kleffel: No, but remember the first time you heard Aretha Franklin? That voice
coming out- [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: Come on, Rick. [Laughter]
>>Rick Kleffel: This is the literary equivalent of that.
>>Junot Diaz: This is weed smoking, the consequences. [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: Young people, stay away from it.
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: For real this is what happens.
Come on, Rick. Cut it out. [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: This is like a banal second person voice. This is actually intentionally
attempting to get away from anything that would be remotely considered attractive, you
know? So, I'm just gonna read it, second person, it's a story called "The Cheater's Guide to
Love." For those of you that are interested in narrative you know the second person, as
a form, sucks. It's like kind of repellent. Most of your experience with the second person
was as a young person. The second person command form and totally made you, hate, like, adults.
So, here we go.
"Year Zero. Your girl catches you cheating. Well actually, she's your fiancée. But hey,
in a bit it so won't matter. She could have caught you with one sucia she could've caught
you with two but as you're a totally [batched Guido] who didn't ever empty his email trashcan,
she caught you with 50. Sure, over a 6 year period but still, 50 fucking girls, God damn.
Maybe if you'd been engaged to a super open minded blanquita you could have survived it."
[Laughter] "But you're not engaged to a super open minded
blanquita, your girl is a badass [unintelligible] who doesn't believe in open anything. In fact,
the one thing she warned you about that she swore she would never forgive was cheating.
'I'll put a machete in you' she promised." [Laughter]
"And of course you swore you wouldn't do it, you swore you wouldn't do it, you swore you
wouldn't and you did. She'll stick around for a few months because you dated for a long,
long time, because you went through much together; her father's death, your tenure madness, her
bar exam and because love, real love, is not so easily shed. Over a tortured six month
period you will fly to the DR, to Mexico, to New Zealand. You will walk the beach where
they filmed 'The Piano,' something she'd always wanted to do and now, in penitent desperation,
you give it to her. She is immensely sad on that beach and walks up and down the shining
sand alone, bare feet in the freezing water and when you try to hug her she says 'don't.'
She stares at the rocks jutting out of the water, the wind taking her hair straight back.
On the ride back to the hotel up those wild steeps, you pick up a pair of hitchhikers;
a couple so mixed it's ridiculous and so giddy with love that you almost throw them out the
car." [Laughter]
"She says nothing. Later in the hotel she will cry. You try every trick in the book
to keep her, you write letters, you drive her to work, you quote Neruda, you compose
a mass email disowning all your sucias , you block their emails, you change your phone
numbers, you stop drinking , you stop smoking, you claim you're a sex addict and start attending
meetings, you blame your father, you blame your mother, you blame the patriarchy, you
blame Santo Domingo, you find a therapist, you cancel your Facebook, you give her the
passwords to all of your email accounts" [Laughter]
"you start taking salsa classes like you always swore you would so the two of you could dance
together, you claim that you were sick, you claim that you were weak, it was the book,
it was the pressure and every hour like clockwork you say that you're so, so sorry. You try
it all but one day she will simply sit up in bed and say, 'No more' and yeah, and you
will have to move from the Harlem apartment the two of you have shared. You consider not
going, you consider a squat protest, in fact, you say you won't go but in the end you do.
For awhile you haunt the city like a two bit ball player waiting for a call up. You phone
her every day and leave messages which she doesn't answer. You write her long sensitive
letters which she returns unopened. You even show up at her apartment at odd hours and
at her job downtown until finally her little sister calls you, the one who was always on
your side, and she makes it plain. 'If you try to contact my sister again she's going
to put a restraining order on you.' For some Negros that wouldn't mean shit but you ain’t
that kind of a Negro. You stop; you move back to Boston, you never see her again." That's
all, thank you. [Applause]
>>Rick Kleffel: They're a foreign species aren't they? They look like-
>>Junot Diaz: Dudes.
>>Rick Kleffel: They have the same DNA as us but they're a completely different species.
>>Junot Diaz: Oh, I thought you meant men. [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: Men, even those of us who are men know that we are like an alien unto ourselves
which is sort of an outcome of our encourage not to have much internal scrutiny. Yeah.
>>Rick Kleffel: You know, one of the things that I just reread the "Brief Wondrous Life
of Oscar Wao"
>>Junot Diaz: Rick. [Laughter]
>>Rick Kleffel: I had to.
>>Junot Diaz: Come on man.
>>Rick Kleffel: It was so much fun and one of the things that really knocked me out about
that book was the way you use, you engage in what any science fiction reader would called
world building. For those of us who have never been to the Dominican Republic or don't know
anything about that and immigrant experience and you use, you create that world by using,
in part, the language of fans of world building fiction.
>>Junot Diaz: Sure.
>>Rick Kleffel: And I think that was such an interesting decision to do that. Tell us
a little bit just about creating that kind of character and the, your fascination with
that kind of literature.
>>Junot Diaz: No, it's a really great observation, Rick. I mean, one of the things I teach at
MIT is I teach a class for, of world building for various narrative media so I have kids
that, like, wanna do comic books, I got kids that are working on computer games, kids who
are working on film, kids who are doing pen and paper stuff doing, like, fiction. So,
you know, each of these kinds of mediums have their different affordances but world buildings
a sort of essential component of this stuff. What interested me very deeply was that all
of us go about worlds where we kind of take them for granted, that old sort of super brainy
word that, our doxa, like what we, our common place, the thing that we don’t even think
about. But if you're gonna do any kind of art and tell any kind of story you have to
produce the world where your characters and your conflicts are set. Even if it's the real
world, you have to produce it, you have to create it, you have to world build. Most of
us don't notice world building in what we would call straight fiction, like what we
would call literary fiction or mainstream fiction but, of course, it's occurring. So
what interested me really deeply was I grew up reading a ton of science fiction, a ton
of fantasy, a ton of horror, genres where world building is what is used to heighten
and contextualize the conflict, right? We know that for horror most explicitly that
horror tends to use all these gothic cues and all this kind of gothic settings so that
we know that there's gonna be some horrible thing that's gonna happen and all sorts of
terrible kind of dangers and monsters are much more possible because the world sort
of, you know, leads us into a very unsteady terrain where monstrosity seems not to be
an exception but almost an inevitability. And what happens with me is I become obsessed
with reading all these books and I notice that there is almost no difference between
Jane Eyre rendering her world, yeah, a world that she knew completely, we're talking about
the narrative presence, she knew completely well but still she went out of her way to
make sure she explained the world for readers. Yeah, versus a Tolkien who is in some ways
the raison d'être, you know, he's like the most important of our concept as traditional
world builders where he goes out of his way to explain middle earth and I realized that
any story worth reading requires, or worth engaging in or worth playing with, requires
the world to be communicated efficiently and in many ways, as beautifully as possible.
So the Dominican Republic, something I know incredibly well and Central New Jersey, another
place I know incredibly well, [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: I mean, anybody, Jersey?
>>audience members: Yeah!
>>Junot Diaz: Yes? [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: Where in Jersey?
>>audience member: Montgomery
>>Junot Diaz: Oh yeah, man. I delivered pool tables there.
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: That's cool, that's cool, man.
Anyone from Santo Doming at all?
>>male: Here.
>>Junot Diaz: Yes! [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: We're always, there's always one of us.
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: [unintelligible Spanish], man.
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: So I realized that the part
of what I knew so well I had to render it, you know, I had to create it and, again, the
cues of good world building, for me, I just felt it was like a natural to just use fantasy,
science fiction, horror, as a way to show how there is almost no difference and, in
fact, they're drawing on the same grammars.
>>Rick Kleffel: It's, it really makes the world so vivid for us and one of the things,
too, that I see in all of your fiction and all your stories there's a really unique sense
of the voice in story, anything you tell us is crafted in prose and in voice that is so
compelling we are just grabbed from the first sentence and held riveted till whatever the
hell you're saying ends and it doesn't even matter. And if I were to describe "The Brief
Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" to myself I could describe it in a way I'd say, "I'd never read
a book like that" but then when I sit down and read it I am instantly linked. I'd like
you to just talk a little bit about discovering that voice and, you know, creating the Yunior
of the Rings Trilogy.
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah, no, thank you. You know part of this, Rick, comes from sort of a strategy
that you need as a story teller, I mean, especially guys if you're trying to do any kind of ideological
work which anyone who's telling stories is even they're not doing it consciously, you
know, part of telling a story is that you're in some ways pitching an ethos, you know,
it's just the nature, it comes out of it. But, for me, I tend to be really interested
in topics that people have huge resistances to talking about. So I'm really interested
in, sort of, the long term consequences of rape, you know, I'm interested in what it
means to live in the shadow of a dictatorship. I'm interested in stuff like how race and
racism and self hatred organize a sexual economy. I mean, we like to think that we just fall
in love but people fall in love in pretty predictable terms along the racial economy.
So I'm interested in all this stuff but people don't ever wanna talk about this shit. I mean,
my MIT students, I'll be like, "Is there any race issues at MIT?" and they're like, "None!"
>>Junot Diaz: Right? They're like, "None!" and I'm like, "Really? Huh?" I was like, "There
seems to be a lot of Asian girls with white dudes."
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: And suddenly it's like the thing
that you weren't supposed to say, you weren't supposed to talk about this stuff and suddenly
they're just, their brains are gripped by this silence. And I think that we have a lot
of resistance to talk about things that we observe everyday and, so, I think part of
the work that occurs with Yunior's voice isn't simply because you're like looking for a nice
voice so that people will read the book, I need something heavy duty to misdirect the
reader so that they will read a book about the consequences of rape, the consequences
of how we seem to fall in love in ways that Adolf Hitler would be pleased and that also
on top of that, that like a lot of us are haunted, deeply haunted by all sorts of both
family, personal and often national histories which we don't even recognize and a lot of
stuff people ain't, you bring this shit up, I talk to my students about it and that's
the thing in class my students can't wait to get off. They're just like, "Yo, don't
talk to me about how everybody I date is lighter skinned than me. I wanna do it; I don't wanna
talk about it." [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: "Don't talk about how I, we all exoticize Asian women in a certain way.
We just wanna do it but don't bring it up." [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: And I think part of what happens when you create these sort of books where
you're trying to wrestle with these issues is that you need this sort of, what we call,
ledger domain, you need this kind of sleight of hand so that people are lured into the
conversation without them even knowing they're in there. And that's the plan, it never works,
I'm not kidding, it never works. It's a gesture towards a strategy.
>>Rick Kleffel: You know, it strikes me that in a sense that you're a horror fiction writer
because you're writing about the things that we're scared to even know. It's very crafty
in that sense.
>>Junot Diaz: No question. And how often, I mean first it's a nice comparison, I'm like-
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: But how accurate it is I don't
know. But sort of that's kind of a, a kind of punning into meaning. Part of what we all
do as artists, I mean, the reason, guys we're in the middle of an election campaign, you
all notice that neither of our possible oppressors-in-chief [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: that neither of them have mentioned an artist? You can go through a whole campaign-
>>audience member: [inaudible] [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah. Right, right. If that was Clint Eastwood that was as close as we
come to discussing art. [Laughter]
>>Rick Kleffel: And we're back in the horror genre.
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah I know! [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: That was like, I don't know about you but I literally had one of those
weird moments where I was watching that and I was like, "Did I start smoking crack and
never tell myself?" [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: Cause you're like, "What the hell?"
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: So-
>>Rick Kleffel: It was a media drum moment.
>>Junot Diaz: My God. My God. My God. But, so, you know, part of the reason this is always
happening is because in our culture, the thing with artists is that artists are just fundamentally
attracted to the things that no one is trying to deal with. I mean, that's what art's nature
is. It immediately goes for a silence, you know, immediately goes for an absence. So
it's not a bad thing to do it just means you have to have a certain constitution for it,
you know, and it's, you know, like you said, it's a bit of a horror story for both the
artist and for the people because it's not as if the average artist gets any pleasure
at bringing stuff up that other people resist. I mean, for real, rare is the artist who goes
to bed thinking, "Aha, I have been transgressive. I feel great."
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: Usually it costs, you know,
it's not just self validation, it usually costs an artist just as much to break these
kind of force fields but I think those of us who are drawn to be an artist, we know
this is important, we know that we're in service of a larger cause, so, you do it.
>>Rick Kleffel: When you're sitting down to, your stories have so much insight and it's
a really interesting insight into the way that men and women talk to one another because
it's influenced by absence. What we see is somebody who is abs-, you give us somebody
who is absolutely clueless in many ways as to what his, what effects his actions are
going to have. And, after awhile, at first you're just going, "Oh, this is pretty funny"
and then after awhile you're just thinking, "Oh, wait. Oh wait."
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah, no, it's true. I mean, I think that privilege requires an operational
cluelessness. [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: You know, I think it's no accident that Yunior is completely blithely unaware
of what his masculinity in his relationships to women does. You know, I mean, I think it's,
in fact, in many ways is part of his legacy. I think, again, it's one of those things where
Yunior's cluelessness is what always, the consequences of operating in a world where
you have privilege is you quickly begin to realize that the energy it takes for you not
to notice what you're doing begins to slowly eat at you. You know, and I think that, you
know, it takes, I'm telling you it takes a lot of effort to sit around and pretend that
you're not harming anyone, to pretend that you're not predatory. I mean, no one likes
to think of ourselves as predatory but the nature of privilege is that you're predatory
and I think that if you have any kind of a soul or any kind of compassionate soul it
creates all this kind of contradictions in you, it begins to eat at you. And I always
think like, "God, when I grow up" when I was growing up most of what I was learning as
a young man in a super masculine culture, I came from a military parent, my little brother
is a combat veteran, marine combat veteran, my sister was married into the army, my two
nephews served in Iraq. My family was like seriously military family. What I noticed
is a lot of this shit that we were learning as boys, as men, was how to manage our masculinity.
Like what we would do to take the bite off of that slowly devouring recognition and it
wears you out.
>>Rick Kleffel: I'd like to invite the audience to ask some questions.
[Laughter] >>Rick Kleffel: before you and I spend the
next three hours up here dweeby nerding. [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: Well we're gonna fuckin' do the worm on you guys.
>>Rick Kleffel: There's a gentleman in a green shirt right there.
>>Junot Diaz: That's you, sir.
>>male #1: Oh, hi.
>>Junot Diaz: Oh, that's what you were doing. You're so good, bro.
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: They got you-
>>Rick Kleffel: Oh, here we go.
>>male #1: So I am a Boricua from Newark New Jersey, Boricua Puerto Rican for anybody who
>>Junot Diaz: Where North New Jersey?
>>male #1: Newark New Jersey.
>>Junot Diaz: Oh, Newark.
>>male #1: Yeah, yeah.
>>Junot Diaz: I spend a lot of time in Newark.
>>male #1: Yeah, my parents went to Rutgers where you were an undergrad, I just graduated
from Cornell where you got your Master's of Fine Arts; I read your Wikipedia page, of
course. [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: Damn you.
>>male #1: Yeah and I just wanted to know how much, you know, I'm a big fan of your
writing. Last time when I was an intern at the Hispanic Googler's Network, I started
a book group and the book we read was "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" and I was
wondering how much of your, how much of your writing is giving insight to those that don't
know what it's like to grow up as an urban Latino youth? And how much of it is, you know,
writing for the Latino population and being that, being that, you know, that author that
everyone knows as standing up as an example and a model for other aspiring Latino writers?
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah, that's a wonderful question. You know, I think part of what, what one begins
to understand when one, especially a reader, is that most of us are not exposed to a culture
where our experiences are narrativized. Where, in other words, we're mysteries unto ourselves
especially if you come from a background like say an immigrant background or a Latino background.
Often enough we don't really have any language to explain who the hell we are. We don't have
like 200 narratives that explain how we get here. You know what I mean? And I think that
often I am not writing so that, for example, other people understand what this experience
is, I'm writing so that I understand what this experience is. And in that way it sort
of opens up by being incredibly particular, you know, creating a space of deliberation
for someone like me, it opens up that universal, sort of, door where anyone who's interested
in this experience can sort of connect to it. I mean, again, I remember when I first
read a book by someone of African descent. I mean, we live in a country where you can
actually say this, I remember my first book about the African Diaspora. I'm from the African
Diaspora. It wasn't until I read this book that I suddenly began to see and understand
myself in a totally different way because many of us, again, we live in a culture where
we are in a culture and we are ghosts. There is nothing in that culture that helps us understand
ourselves. There's nothing on TV, there's nothing in books, there's nothing in the larger
sort of universe that gives us any insight into our own experience. So I guess that's
my approach, my approach is that usually I'm writing to kind of explain this experience
to myself through my characters but that guarantees that anyone who's interested and who enjoys
it will also join me on the same exploration. As far as the last part of it, you know, again
it's you're an artist and you know that you're coming out of a community, I'm coming out
of a Dominican, African Diasporic, Caribbean, military, Jersey and a million other spaces
background, you know, nerd, whatever. I guess, I'm aware that as a writer, as an artist my
presence is really just what I would call a marker of absence. The fact that I'm a Dominican
writer just speaks to how many thousands of Dominican writers we don't have and need.
The fact that I'm like a Caribbean writer explains, for me, it's more I'm standing in
for how many more stories we need. I don't think I represent anyone but I think I a marker
of a great unhappy absence. So, there's other hands, yeah.
>>female #1: I don't think this is working.
>>Junot Diaz: It is.
>>female #1: Okay, so you mentioned, you said that you think of privilege as predatory and
that it eats away and you're using masculinity as an example, do you see, do you apply that
to something like white privilege as opp-, which I never thought of as eating away at
anyone since they're kind of unaware of it and do you feel qualified to write about it.
Obviously masculinity is something you write about and maybe feel qualified as a man but
writing about that in terms of race issues as opposed to gender issues where you're not
white, I don’t know, I just wonder how you, is that an analogy that you can also apply
to white privilege?
>>Junot Diaz: Without any question. I mean, I feel like we often, again, the training
we get in this country is that we rarely get a starter course on white supremacy.
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: But I think it's very important
for us to have a starter course on white supremacy because we tend to think that-
>>Rick Kleffel: It's American history 101.
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah. [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: But we also tend to think that white supremacy is a discussion of white people.
White supremacy doesn't, if you think, guys if you really think that white people are
running white supremacy, that's crazy. They can't do the work to run it. I think that
the nature is that white supremacy is in every single person in the system. So that someone
like me in the Dominican Republic, all I have to do is take you into one of our pharmacies
and show you all the skin lightening creams, show you all the horrors that people inflict
on their skin to try to match a white ideal. You don't even need white people to practice
white supremacy; in fact, it works best when there's actually not a large collective of
white folks around. I mean, I think that white supremacy is a force, it's sort of a gravitational
force, in almost all the cul- not in almost, in all the cultures of what we call the new
world. And I certainly am very much interested in this I mean my characters are aware even
within their group of how lightness as a privilege and darkness is something to be avoided or
at least to be thought of in certainly particularly deformed ways like, you know, a certain kind
of darkness in males becomes hyper sexualized and darkness in females becomes a desirable
mulata. But, again, I think that this is something that eats at all of us because think about
how white supremacy has divided folks from a real sense of communion with each other.
You know, and how it has just damaged communities. I mean, I don't know if you've seen the figures
of how many billions of dollars worldwide are being spent by people trying to burn their
skin pale. So I guess for me it's the same thing, it's a, any kind of privilege is a
predator that eats at us, you know, but I always say to my students, I'm like, "You
can take every single damn white person on the earth, put them on a spaceship, send them
out and we will keep white supremacy running fully well. Yeah, in China, try to be a black
person trying to teach English in China. You can't get a job. You can't get a job. I had
a student went to China tried to teach English and they're like; "We only want white people."
So I think that this is something that is important and as an artist I'm just drawn
to it.
>>male #2: Hi, so I was reading the new bio of Dave Foster Wallace recently and there
was a lot of talk about various author's thoughts on the contemporary state of literature and
like really consciously writing with an ethos like [unintelligible name] and Franzen saying
we have to return to literature's roots and paraphrasing, it's unlikely that anyone with
a computer at their job is writing good fiction. And since you're at Google and you teach at
MIT, I'm wondering if you have like maybe thoughts on that particular statement but
generally on like the role of fiction in an increasingly like Twitterized world.
>>Junot Diaz: Sure, yeah, do I have any, like, stupendously unhelpful generalizations
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: It's really what it is because,
well no because really what it is, it's so strange to hear authors talk about the state
of American fiction. Guys, I read a book, this is what I do for a living, I read a book
every two or three days, you know what I'm saying, like I'm a herb like that. But I have
probably read .00001 percent of American literature. For me to draw any conclusions on my reading
about what's going on in American literature, Franzen has shown no awareness, I totally
respect the guy, but he's shown no awareness of what women writers are up to, I've never
heard him ever mention a writer of color, ever. I mean, he doesn't seem to have any
awareness of what the other America's writing. I'm not sure that we understand well what's
happening in any artistic pursuit. Now, are there certain tendencies? Certainly, but I
wonder if our descriptions of our art don't reveal mostly our ignorance of what's going
on on the ground. And, again, I'm not so sure, I mean, certainly we're being dispersed and
atomized and our attention is being multiply divided by this kind of world which is asking
us to constantly consult a machine every three seconds to kind of feel normal but we've been
under weirder conditions before and we've produced enormous art. You know, I think that
the challenges are real. Living in this pace that we live now is a real challenge not to
be dismissed but I guess I have an enormous faith because I come from a community that
has come out of worse situations than this and has produced most of the culture that
we call American and is quite beautiful. So I guess in my mind I think that we're not
as bad as people make us look. And our resistances to these kind of forces is certainly valiant
but the reality of the forces raised against us cannot be under, you know, undervalued.
And I don't know, I just, I guess I'm a utopian, I really believe that writing inside of a
problem often generates answers. And that from sitting up top and saying that we need
to return to, what literature are we going to return to?
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: I'm like; Franzen is the whitest
white, white, white, white, white. [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: He wants to return to what, the 70's when it was white, white, white,
white, white, white? [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: I mean, I don't know, I don't know what utopian past there is where things
are better. We're jacked up, we're human, we take both our hands intuitively, put them
around our own necks and try to choke ourselves to death, we just do it naturally. And the
nature of us is also to try to fight that. So, I don't know, I mean, no disrespect to
my fellow writers but the reality is it's tough but you young people are always up to
the challenge, you surprise us. Madam? Oh, no you had a mic, sir please and then we'll
pass it over.
>>male #3: Sure. No problem, is this on? Alright. Well I think the answer to your question is
Ralph Waldo Emerson, right? That's where we wanna go.
>>Junot Diaz: Enough said. [Laughter]
>>male #3: but actually we, you know, here, I'm a sort of digital humanist and so we have
a few things going on here that are kind of interesting which I'd be happy to talk about
maybe later or something at Ngram Viewer where we're actually able to look over like millions
of books and kind of get, at least from a linguistic level, and idea of what might be
going on currently which is kind of interesting. But I have a more important question to ask
you which is we were talking about privilege and you said you teach at MIT, that's correct?
So, and I was wondering cause you mentioned earlier that neither of the presidential candidates
have really mentioned art, artists, humanities, what you think from your position of privilege
of being at MIT cause it's not exactly like a regular liberal arts school funding wise,
what you think that people can do to promote the arts and humanities? What is there, I
mean other than just speaking out because, obviously, you know, the way we're going and
we're at Google right which the stem fields get all the funding, right, so what do you
think is possible for us to do?
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah.
>>male #3: To support art.
>>Junot Diaz: No, I think it's a wonderful question and I think, you know, what's funny
about MIT is that MIT for me is just emblematic of the larger culture. Meaning MIT just makes
more explicit stuff that's being said all across America and usually all across America
they're saying art is frivolous or it's utterly irrelevant. And MIT just sort of makes that
sense more explicit. They're like, "We're too busy doing this other stuff so we don't
need this." You know, but it's the same kind of general argument. I think in the end we're
always stuck in a situation where the promotion of art is a grass roots movement. When I hear
Republicans talking about a faith based initiative, to believe in arts and to believe that communities
deserve art is literally a faith based initiative. Because in the sort of economy we live now
where everything has to show black, everything has to be like well what's the economic outcome
of it? Art doesn't correspond to this at all, at all. So our logic of this sort of way that
the world works and sort of leaves art out of it but, again, there's a billion strategies
most of us are pursuing it, you know, people form book groups, yeah, people go see movies
occasionally. You know, people like TV shows and have conversations about them. The real
thing, for me, when I'm at MIT is that my goal at a place like that, yeah, for me MIT
is like when I immigrated to the United States I immediately entered the top notch privilege
in the world. So going to MIT was paled to my immigration to the US. You know, that was
real privilege. MIT, eh, but what I felt that my absolute role at a place like MIT is to
champion the centrality and fundamental importance to art in a place where it's really you against
everybody. But there also is so many allies; you'd be amazed how many people, given the
chance to support art, will. And it's, it's a fight we have to do and before it used to
be like, you know, we have to have our civil rights, we have to have our civic engagement
but certainly we've come to a place now where our sort of social ecology has made art very,
very threatened and we all have to push and there's a billion strategies. You know, me,
I go into the students and model my excitement, my enthusiasm and that's not a small thing
because if you convince an MIT student that art is essential to their well being and to
their practice you've flipped a person who otherwise never would have been flipped and
you just gotta do it that way. Other people do it other ways, you have these meetings
here but the battle is long but our love for the arts is more powerful. I mean, that's
the thing. We all love a certain kind of art and that's the thing that keeps us going despite
the desert of our social moment.
>>Rick Keffel: We're a narrative species and that's why stories are so important to us.
We, if I ask any one of you people here who you are, you're going to tell me a story.
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah.
>>Rick Keffel: So we all need to know about that. Last question.
>>female #2: Okay, so my question is actually about genre fiction. You mentioned that you
read a lot of science fiction and fantasy when you were growing up and I also did and
one of the things that I noticed was that the future was very white. In reading, especially
science fiction, certainly reading fantasy was just a little different because of that
incredible nostalgia for a certain type of whiteness. So I'm wondering if you're still
reading in that genre and how you feel about the feel today and also since you used so
many tropes of the kind of genre fiction if you've thought about expanding your writing
into that arena?
>>Junot Diaz: Yeah, I wrote and published a science fiction story like a couple months
ago called "Monstro" which appeared in the New Yorker, it's kind of an alien virus giant
monster invasion story. Look, I, the genre is shifting very, very swiftly. You have all
sorts of new practitioners, you know, M.K. Jameson, you've got all these interesting
people of color writing, sort of giving us, giving the future I think a much more realistic
view but what's interesting about even the whitest white science fiction or fantasy future
is that it's extraordinary how some of the preoccupations that don't appear in realistic
fiction take over genre fiction. For example, I come from a country haunted by an American
backed dictatorship. The average American is not aware of how much we love to fund dictatorships
and the sort of immense impact that has. The average American, if you guys are not in the
military you don't, or don't have a military family, you have no idea what the American
military looks like at a global level. Those of us who are in military families, we're
like, we have a totally different sense of a map. Realistic fiction doesn't do a good
job of that. But you read science fiction and fantasy and there's stuff in there about
genocide, about slavery, about the breeding of human beings which if you're of African
descent in this hemisphere that's your legacy, you were bred into existence. Usually raped
but it was a breeding project of form. And there were questions of power, of how a dictator,
of one person with an immense amount of power, so while the future often, not more than often,
is predominantly white, a lot of the issues that people are wrestling with are sort of
the taboos that realistic literature doesn't like to address. So the one can recuperate
even from the whitest narrative, some interesting things but what really I'm excited about is
how many young, brown colored nerds are out there beginning to totally transform the field
and there's a bunch of young people that are coming out and that I'm like really, really
excited about. Again, I don't know if I'll ever be able to really write a full science
fiction book because it actually, its way hard, man.
[Laughter] >>Junot Diaz: But I wouldn't mind doing it,
you know, you'll always have, if you have a young love, if you like love tennis there's
always a part of you that wants to like, "I wanna win a competition" or "I wanna play
somebody" You know? So there's some of that. [Laughter]
>>Junot Diaz: But I keep reading it, I keep reading it. I mean I love these Filipino brothers
who, these 'Pino brothers who write this comic book, the Luna brothers, I don't know if you
know them. Really fantastic young brothers, they're 'Pino and they write an under image
comic. They've written some wonderful books, "Girls" "The Sword" and, again, I think its
happening but we have to look for it.
>>Rick Kleffel: Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to thank you for your time and for coming
here and joining us today. Please welcome and say thank you to our guest.