Junot Díaz – International Authors' Stage – The Black Diamond



good evening everyone good evening you know – yes thank you welcome to Copenhagen how do you feel oh it's always nice to be back yeah thank you so much for having me when we were first here December 2007 and then the summer of 2011 yeah you know as well I don't know about anything about that but been here twice yeah June ideas we're sitting here and we're in a building that's about six million books laying around somewhere out there it's a big library and I know that you're a total bookworm how do you feel about libraries like this I was a very comforting you know but I I think these days libraries immediately provoke the question about how the funding you know because in the States we have this wonderful tradition of free public libraries but they're desperately underfunded but you know I'm one of those kids who when I think of the central institutions that helped shape me the library certainly primary among them good places if you're gonna grow up in any of these kind of crazy places it's probably best to grow up inside of a library I sort of did you know yeah and look where it got you yeah I don't know if my family's pleased but it got me somewhere what would you and your feel about sitting here in the library well I mean the one thing about writing characters is that it's really easy to write people who are smarter than you you just look up you know so he's a person who's as a character as a kind of a sort of a you know an arrow to logical figure he's a lot smarter than me so I'm sure if I thought about it he would be delighted but you know I'm not sure he's as delighted as I am he'd be a little more skeptical wouldn't he I think I'm more skeptical of him but yeah yeah not because I necessarily have skepticism as a kind of an operational code it's just that being a visitor always gives you a skewed relationship to any place when you just cruise through something you barely see anything and I remember how many times it was when I would work inside of an institution and folks would come and visit and they would be like oh this is great and you're at the job thinking well burn this place down first chance I get so you know the disparities between being inside and just sort of being a guest is always stark I guess I just wanted to mention junior because he's such a steady sort of figure in your writing and as Lisa just said you have agreed to come here and talk to us in the context of a whole series of talks and activities that have the topics of migration colonialism racism all these themes that have been acutely present for some people for many years but that seem to have become also acutely present for some of us who have been in the privileged position of not having to think too much about those themes until recently it seems like something is going on where it's becoming more central even to people who could brush off these themes earlier on anyway what I wanted to say with this was that these are very conflict at topics they're full of anger division controversy around them but to me literature and I think your works are great examples of this can oftentimes make us understand questions about migration colonialism racism in ways that are more fruitful than discussions are sometimes so this leads to a question and it is when you became an author when Union asked awha and Lola were born were you conscious that you wanted to tell stories that were would also address these themes yeah I mean most certainly I I was a I was someone who was obsessed with the Caribbean as a spaciality of forgetting to be someone who's born and raised in the Caribbean means that you grow up in the heart of perhaps the greatest amnesia that the world has ever inflicted upon itself and in amnesia that's lived not only at an international level but to lived locally the average person I grew up with wasn't exactly interested in reviewing or rehearsing sort of the most traumatic parts of our history but that wasn't on the table that wasn't that wasn't part of the you know the lunch box I I was very very interested in this I think I was one of these kids who through certain turns in my life I was given to certain kinds of exposures that made me vulnerable to these histories I had a grandfather who seemed to have a an invested interest in making sure that before his grandchildren left the island for the United States that they had certain things in their mind in certain recollections and so my grandfather wanted to make sure that we understood that we were children of African descent that we've been the descendants that we were the descendants of slaves that slavery was an infinite cruelty from which the world had yet to begun to reckon and this of course is my interpretation now as an adult when I think about some of the crazy my grandfather was doing in some ways he was a lot smarter than anyone that I knew growing up was because he sort of came at these things symbolically you know I think he understood something about children that I still come to terms with which is you know he understood that we would remember symbols in ways that we would not remember perhaps even language and I still remember my grandfather we were at a sugarcane field my grandfather worked a sugarcane field almost his entire life you were at coffee he worked all of the kind of the consumer drugs of the new world that sort of underwrote the new worlds early wealth and I still remember there so clearly I couldn't have been but five years old and he showed us the you know chains that that they would put on the enslaved Africans and I still remember him showing this to us and him saying yes this is what they used to put you in and as a kid I was kind of like what the is he talking about man you know you don't have a free man but also you're like I don't know what the hell I don't got the context for this but it was a mysterious moment that began to make sense to me the older I got and the more that I studied so therefore you know start there and I become a history major my public university this was back in the day when public universities in the United States were still affordable you know and you could in the United States is quite different from perhaps someplace like Denmark but in the United States at that time you could actually as someone like me could actually work a regular job and pay my University and not go entirely insane and so I was at this university and I my area of studies was enslavement in the Caribbean and maroon communities in the black Atlantic and this was before I began to write any kind of literature so long way of saying that in some ways a lot of my interests that ended up being reflected in a you know hopefully a subtle way and the literature came out of a premeditated study of these these histories and it almost sounds like it's recovering of yourself in a way because you say that you're born into a speciality of forgetting so it almost sounds like this is a lost memory that you're working on recuperating yeah I I don't know if I would have ever engaged in it if it wasn't for the fact that you know the United States and by extension Europe are so gleefully committed to not remembering you know it's like fantastic I mean this the amount of energy that Europe and North America and by extension the other settler colonies like Israel and Australia and New Zealand expend unseeing reality Jesus Christ you could move Jupiter into another galaxy it's like tremendous amount of energy and I think when you encounter that that sort of systematic and robust politics of amnesia for me was very striking and in some ways it also made me curious why we're a American soul goddamn obsessed with Columbus but so disinterested in the sights which he quote-unquote discovered slash colonize destroyed and one sense there was this what we would call forgetting to remember you know or remembering to forget Columbus stands there as a device that helps them forget even more and that was really curious and for me of great interest because it helps in some ways as an artist it's really useful as an artist to know what the culture wishes to abolish alright because it's an artist you're not interested in the artist who is interested in reminding the culture what it knows is in for a long week you know you're you're going to do any productive work as an artist you're gonna go the places where everyone is strenuously trying not to look and certainly for those of us of African descent for those of us from the Caribbean we are the grammar in which the new world forgets if the whole new world by we mean this world since enslavement if it has an operating system it is written in the zeros and ones of it's slaved Africans we forget everything based on the technologies of forgetting that we first implemented with forgetting the great crimes in the new world and this was an artist it was both useful personally but also I think important for my own aesthetics you know because you can do really I would argue interesting work if you're interested in your cultures in a sort of curious way we're gonna move on to American mainland in just a second but I just want you to talk a little bit more about the Caribbean and forgetting in the Caribbean what is it what is that society in which this very active forgetting is going on all the time except perhaps with your granddad what does that do to country or a society in which kids grow up well I mean I don't want to kind of paint my grandfather some special person just because I'm related to him I think that there's a whole ton of people who you know are very invested in trying to recall and trying to keep alive and trying to mark and try to kind of archive and many many different levels it's been in some ways one of the most important branches of Caribbean epistemology when we think if we think of modernity as organized around the terms of forgetting and the terms of what is described as coloniality that there's been a kind of a counter modernity which includes some of these things that are happening in the Caribbean but I tell you I look we're in Denmark you know if anybody remembers there was a Danish Caribbean you know even in the Caribbean a lot of people don't remember there's a Danish Caribbean I used to date this woman from st. Thomas her grandfather was named Ulrich I was like oh there was a Danish Caribbean you know and if you can have those encounters perhaps it sparks it but you know it matters quite a bit that we have these extraordinary complex histories that make so many of us complicit in so much fucked-up man I think it's significant because after all what is contemporary status policies or status politics if not in other words you guys you're all in the middle of an election right yes local election I mean that local state larger federal ultimately view politicians are making vast arguments for complexity you all have a wider arrangement of political parties therefore perhaps you have some candidates that are making arguments for complexity complexity is what you need to be able to hold these things you know for there to be a recollection of Danish colonialism and imperialism in the Danish present would require a complexity that most of I would argue the mainstream politicians are not interested in the constitute format I understand very little the constitution of Danish subjectivity does not involve colonialism does not involve enslavement Danes seem to have this really wonderful fiction at least mainstream Danish pull out politics seems to have this wonderful fiction that Denmark is this kind of unified cohesive you know space and the rest of the world is on some and we're all Danes and what are we gonna do with these outsiders well that's that's only possible if that's only possible if we pretend the Danes have never left Denmark I don't know I just I mean but I don't know I just I always the joke is you could be at the bottom of a mine in Peru and you will encounter a Danish person it's an in just at the level of at the level of at the level of what we would call neoliberal capital there is a hundred and thirty corporations Danish corporations in Vietnam the are a hundred and thirty Danish corporations doing in Vietnam well we know what the they're doing in Vietnam they are predating the way neoliberal corporations do they're behaving in their usual predatory models and so this fiction that all of us as nations have whether it's the United States or whether it's Denmark that we're just our kind of space and that these other maps that show us who we really are those maps are irrelevant that they're fake news that we shouldn't constitute ourselves but I don't know a map of Denmark doesn't look like Denmark a map of Denmark needs to include the stupid wars y'all get into it needs to include why the is your what a is your incredibly violent capitalism all over the world what the hell are so many Danish people doing freely travelling all over the planet while they're at home arguing that nobody should travel a nares place or at have it their place but this is theirs but the same thing is true for the United States is that we draw maps of our national identity that are not accurate they are alibis and they are there to be alibis so that we can be innocent of the crimes we committed or innocent of what we have done even if it doesn't rise to the occasion of crime and the United States is very true most Americans are like america yeah well I'm like well we got over a hundred and twenty something bases in over a hundred and twenty something countries where does America and therefore as artists it's for me more interesting as an artist to be engaged at that level of complexity the predator the violator the rapist has the privilege of not remembering that's the advantage of being a predator a predator never remembers all these actors who attack a assault vilely all of these people they're like oh I don't remember that of course you don't because what predator needs to remember and I think that again most of us as artists I assume the tradition of being an artist is not because you're interested in you know the technologies of predation forgetting impunity yeah those things I think are done very well by our elders and by our corporate and political leaders we're trying to fill different roles and this has been a lot of what has gotten me thinking because I come from a country that the United States invaded and occupied on a number of occasions and yet no American remembers yet no Dominican forgets and so where is the map of America do the Predators draw the map or do those who they predate to all the map and certainly literature affords us new cartography the way music does the way dance does the way all the arts mean if artists weren't drawing maps we would be completely lost and I know as a kid I would have been entirely lost in all of these investigations if it hadn't only been for artists and scholars I mean shoot I sometimes wonder let's talk about your literature then because you talk about complexity but what I think is really amazing about good literature and your literature is that it takes what's complex and it turns it into stories and stories can be complex but they're not frightening they are human and recognizable and I want to ask you to just read a little bit from a story that and I thought of four to two years ago when I made a dear friend lillas who was a Syrian refugee who came to Europe like many others at that time and when she told me what it had been like to move into a Danish provincial town Estes she's a single mom with her two boys and kind of like that's that's what it was like it's just like why are they all inside why don't they come out I thought of as scene from one of your stories in Viana and it's a story about arriving into the new country and I want to ask you to just read a little bit from it I think it's page 123 thank you that was a wild ass laugh yeah I liked it it's literally I am and I'm not taking the piss but that's literally what I sound like right before I teach yeah I always uh I know we have some young people in the audience I I always tell young people that I'm encouraging to be a professor or to be on faculty I'm like you could never be worse than me so knock yourself the out on that note I'll read you these two little paragraphs yeah from the top of Westminster our main strip you could see the thinnest sliver of ocean cresting the horizon to the east my father had been shown that site the management showed everyone but if he drove us in from JFK he did not stop to pointed out the ocean might have made us feel better considering what else there was to see London Terrace itself was a mess half the building still needed there wirings and in the evening light these structures sprawled about like ships of brick that had run aground mud followed gravel everywhere in the glass the grass pant planted late in the fall poked out of the snow in dead Tufts each building has its own laundry my father explained my mother looked vaguely out the snout of her parka and nodded that's wonderful she said I was watching the snow sift over itself terrified and my brother was cracking his knuckles this was our first day in the States the world was frozen solid yeah old Jersey Jerzy thank you can you talk a little bit about this state that the boys in this story is just about to enter right now which is the state of the immigrant of the person who kind of carries around two worlds at the same time while being in a place that only carries around one at least it feels like that can you talk about what it is about that way of being in the world that appeals to you in your writing oh yeah again I my own experience of immigrating to the United States was a little shocking I have nephews and cousins now who you know the youtubes they they're on that ship so much they know more about the United States sometimes than I do I am agreat at the United States in 1974 it's like you know I had no images zero images the United States I grew up I only had a TV in our neighborhood for like a few months before we immigrated and it seemed like the only thing they played was a these 1968 Ralph batchi spider-man cartoons so I didn't have much of a glimpse of it so America was a bit of a surprise and New Jersey more so and I was very curious as an artist too could I possibly capture some of this yeah I think that you know especially when one is a child since one doesn't have any precedent one assumes that this is what happens yeah like when you're six years old you assume that this always happens that you're one day you're living in Santo Domingo and the next day you're living in parlin new jersey you're just like that's what's going to happen you naturalize what itself is an incredible disruption and and it was fascinating and later I began to understand what the had happened but at that time it was like time travel plus being in a rocketship at one time you know plus the 70s and trying to come to terms with some of these things you know I think was real interesting for me I despite what people think English is a shitty language to try to learn lots of Danes seem to speak English but I found English to be incredibly difficult really really difficult not least of all because of the size of its syllabary like its vocabularies immense and yeah and that was a shocker and then I also found out that you know America has a really strange that people do you've got to learn so much as a kid when you're an immigrant I often think that our societies spend so much time talking about immigrants so that we don't ever have to listen to their stories you know I mean America y'all know the United States like Denmark it's talk so much about immigrants but in some ways it's to take up the whole conversation it's like it's both the United States and I assume Denmark it's like we're still in this middle of this trial should we put all immigrants in concentration camps or should we not you know jury's still out but part of that is you know it's because it would be very difficult to actually listen to immigrants why is it difficult to listen to immigrants the same reason our societies even in a society as enlightened as Denmark doesn't want to listen to women what's the reason because people who don't have the historical power have information to bring about a society the society doesn't really want to hear I mean even in Denmark which has its you know vaunted egalitarianism if every dude shut up for a year you would learn about yourself you'd never learned I promise you I promise you y'all like Bernie Sanders utopia but you'd learn some and I think it's the same thing if every single person who wasn't an immigrant which shut da up about immigration for a year and listened to immigrants I think the society would learn stuff about itself then most societies don't want to hear most societies don't want to hear we don't want to hear that we are not friendly and we don't want to hear that we are not good and we don't want to hear that in fact we are not hospitable and it's very difficult you know what we want to hear is gratitude all I want from you is gratitude and why we demand gratitude from immigrants is so that we therefore would never have to practice it we extract so much from poor people from women from folks who have disabilities from everybody who's on the receiving end of our crap we want them to be grateful so that we can hide how much we have earned from them and so well you know again as a kid I spent my entire childhood being told be grateful and when you would every word out of your mouth is you've being grateful how can you tell the truth as children we hear this right our parents will put their foot in our ass and they're like be grateful and many of us are 50 years old and we're still figuring out how do we tell the truth about our parents how do we tell the truth about our childhoods I mean you're lucky if you're not if you're in a relationship and your partner isn't still wrestling with what it meant to be in their family gratitude chokes the truth that of people and this was also an important thing for me to work myself out as an immigrant because you know most immigrants have children and most children are caught in the double bind of being children and immigrant and societies that doesn't want to hear from either you're the most disqualified from bearing knowledge you're the most disqualified from bearing truth a child word is rarely held up in a court of law of anything yet as an artist I think that most of us really are interested in these disavowed voices and I want to ask you about this being caught up between two cultures because it's also often how migrant literature is described how your literature is described and of course that is part of what it is but I also get the sense with your characters that they are also wiser that they also have an extra layer with which to look at the same world as everyone else because they're from somewhere else or because they have this other reference you know it's a layer of reflection that I also just think gives something that's almost the opposite energy from the gap from the constriction of being caught it's also a way to tell stories that's the way it feels when when I read your books can you recognize that well I mean yeah I mean I I think a pest I think epistemic privilege is real you know I think that what we call epistemic privilege this idea that when we I was saying earlier that women have information about this society that the society because these two here because this is epistemic privilege those of us who are at disadvantages understand the society better than people who are advantage if I was in look if I was an alien and I needed to understand this society I wouldn't be speaking to anyone with money or power you just round up ten or twelve people were having shitty lives and they can draw a better map for you than anyone who's got regular meals and certainly this is for real yeah but part of the distortion and part of what really interests me as a writer is that these moments of clarity that we often get because we are marginalized right we have these what we call productive marginalization z' is almost always undermined because being marginalized is hard work you know you can have insights but when you're working these 60 hour a week jobs like I was working when I was a kid that insight doesn't go very far you're too tired and so you oscillate with sometimes catching a glimpse of the society and but other times never being able to see anything I mean I still remember my older sister saying to me you know as she was raising her two children by herself she's like every now and then I remember that I am smart and the exhaustion of the structures of our lives sometimes undermine these things and for me when I think of these characters I think of them in that way is that sometimes they have some insights that are piercingly important but almost always they're undone by their own emotional distortions by the kind of pressure these societies put on people and again that's what makes for me it makes the literature very rich it makes the characters sort of textural lives rich you know it certainly defines what I felt my childhood was you know and I was in college I'd you know college was weird because we work so goddamn hard and we hit so little money every now and then we were so brilliant and then we would be like I'm out of rent money you know and that takes up all your energy you know or what am I gonna do next and I find that that moment that space to be at least the place that I'm drawn to as her as an artist it's a defining space or a space in which you to and become yourself no no it's that it's the it's the site of a great struggle you know few are the people who find spaces where they have an enormous realm of deliberation where they have endless time to be to think to create most of us are earning this stuff by cutting other parts of ourselves off I want to talk about you about America but can we just talk a little bit about six yeah for someone who's seen is AB sort of political and activist writer and for someone who's a public intellectual and so on your books are full of sex what is what's up with that well I actually think they're much more full of intimacy you know I'm not so sure there's a lot of sex acts described the actual yeah yeah I mean it's not that I just um the longings and and the ways that certain character logical sexual ization z– can enter into narratives you know there's certain ways that people think about the world it can be highly sexualized and um certainly that's something that if you grew up hegemonic email if you grew up with the kind of the standard masculinity of whatever society it is it's often that usually comes for free as part of the kit I would me it was just intimacy is such a fantastic space where most of us reveal ourselves or are terrified to reveal ourselves it is in people's intimate lives in the ways that we long in the ways that we connect or don't connect in the way see we succeed in the way we fail that so much is revealed you know think about race think about how race works you could study race all day long but if you leave out how racialized the sexual economy of our world is you lose out an enormous sense of the way race works yeah in intimacy so much crap gets played out so much crazy like it's almost as if all the force fields of the lies that we tell ourselves begin to become undone and because of course deep down we're constantly fed all these stories about intimacy that don't really work all that well in the real world you know and and and those of us who begin to engage in intimacy when we're at high school were at college we begin to realize that for intimacy to work we have to stop lying and most of us are so busy lying to ourselves we couldn't imagine any other way who the wants to reveal to themselves that they're not as smart as they think they are but they're not as cute as they think they are that they're not as kind as they think they are you know that in fact what they learned from Love was almost nothing from their parents or from their society that mostly what they have are dreams secondhand given to them by storytellers and it's tough it's tough most of us get in bed with each other with masks on and how long it takes to take masks off now of course there's differences yeah this society encourages women to take their masks off as soon as possible for very complicated reasons yeah but those of us who've been to this you know to this pony show know that like the closest you can come to any form of telepathy the closest you come to getting outside of your subjectivity is in deep intimacy and that is a strange place for us because my god to reveal yourself to someone else who can then take that revelation and destroy you with it no it's it's it's a terrible challenge you know it's a terrible challenge and there should be awards given because so many of us do it despite the risks and for me it's not so much when my friends at my age are like all love it's so hard the doesn't work it's so hard to find somebody I'm always like it's amazing it works at all given how flawed we are as humans we're all flawed it's there's nothing wrong with us it's just it's hard we're in a hard world and we have very vulnerable hearts and for me it's always been a great utopian site because given how little we learn about love given what this world teaches us and it's so cruel what it teaches us given how often we are failed by our parents and by the adults in our lives too sometimes no fault of their own that so many of us still find the energy to get in there and to give it a try speaks well of us and as an artist I was taught that boys shouldn't be interested in stories about intimacy and as an artist you can't help it you know if as soon as they tell you you shouldn't be interested in that you need to run for it mm-hmm I come from a military family you could read all three of my books and never have a sense of what a military family I come from yeah I come from a family where all of that was just completely rejected my family was shooting firearms every weekend it was boxing every weekend everything but vulnerability yeah we were the the Dominican version of the fry core you know impenetrable homo social and weird you know so for me I think it was my rebellion and a family like mine where love was for you know gender traitors in some way it was a place for me to go so I didn't have to be with my father who just would get an erection every time he loaded his gun that's a weird space yo yeah that's what I'm wondering buzz this intimate space exists which isn't about power relations about politics about the masks is it like a utopia or is it there you just have to struggle enough together utopia is it a utopia is it some state of Trent for me apologies to all the other interpretations utopia isn't a state of transcendence we don't put down all our human limitations for me intimacy isn't about that we stop being deeply flawed scared people it is that in spite of all these flaws we try to manage them I don't want to be in love with some perfect dream person I want to be in love with somebody just like me it's up it's scared but who is at least making an effort to manage them and I think the dream of transcendence has been one of the most troubling radiations to come out of the project of the Enlightenment and it continues to haunt us you know certainly haunts us in love but there's also something about images of something that looks like in the besi that is very that shakes you and I'm saying this because we went down and saw the exhibition that Lisa was talking about just now about blind angles of Danish colonial history and the image that I've remembered ever since it opened is the image that's also on the posters for it and it's of Carribean nanny sitting with a small white Danish girl and it's a photo that looks intimate in a parental way almost but it isn't necessarily we don't know of course we don't know what the reality behind the photo ills but when we were looking at it you are also talking about questions about intimacy that are raised by a picture like that what were you what did you think when you saw it well I mean I think one of the primary one of the look one of the for me one of the primary extracts of exploitation is effective labor in other words emotional labor the fact that how many if we just take it from that sort of a simplistic gender binary how many women do an enormous amount of effective labor they're like hey I'm a dude I'm like watch you carry my nervous system for me and if if I again even in Bernie Sanders Danish utopia I have a have a bunch of Danish friends and let me tell you you're a lot of the women are doing a lot of effective labor here yeah and so and take it to of racial modality the we were talking earlier about immigration look what we're talking about immigration at a place like Denmark or the United States we're talking about race it's a polite term the immigration is profoundly racialized part of the reason we're demanding gratitude from immigrants is because we want them to do effective labor we're like we're gonna hate you but you're gonna learn to love us there's a fair fight and when you hate us we're gonna blame you for hating us all right that sounds fair and the same way that we see in the enslavement period the gender division the amount of effective labor that enslaved women had to do in these economies was enormous and it continues to play itself out I mean you can see the echoes of this at every stage I mean for those of us who've been to New York it seems like half a denmark's been in New York but I just the amount of Colored nannies who do this effective labor in these wealthy and even sometimes just affluent communities and I think that in a situation where your community doesn't have parity of power there can be no real effective relationships these are just bizarre distortions you know that you need certain kinds of parity and when you get these yawning abysmal inequalities like you see in slavery we can't even begin to talk about that as human relationships these things are almost demonic what's being demanded of enslaved people to perform these kinds of work and let me tell you it is hard to convince people that effective labor is an exploitation that our emotional energies are finite and when we take certain groups and ask them to do emotional work for a society that is unfair and unequal we're taking parts of people's souls but we don't have any calibers to measure this and yet this I think will be something that and we imagine in the future when folks become I would argue more sophisticated that this will be one of the great crimes that our societies will be remembered for that we commit effective crimes on people that we ask people to love those that hate them that we ask people to graft they're invincible and infinite affections onto criminals that's it's a remarkable thing that we do and we'll pay for that I promise you where this this can't go without a reckoning yeah so just explain to me this parity of power because I'm thinking will there ever be this parity of power like if I want to go to work and have someone help me raise my kids by being paid to look after them am i then in no matter what the circumstances surrounding that am I then robbing them of their effective resources or are there ways in which we can help each other with bringing up our kids and in groups well of course we are I mean of course we are but look the situation isn't that we're not all inside of a contradiction we live in a society that we are all inside of contradictions nobody's got their hands clean show me a single person anywhere in the world who is it complicit in some sort of madness for me the issue is less that this is a simple thing of a Maya criminal or not the issue is that we can begin to think about this in sophisticated ways therefore permit ourselves to begin to imagine and create remedies that would be more useful to for me guilt is is useless because there's there's better ways for us to act are we robbing people's effective labor well sure we're robbing people's Labor's all the time these are the contradictions of our society even when we pay them well depends on what we're paying them the the issues are always around is their fair recompense and in societies where effective laborers are not organized they're scarcely going to be any recompense you know if ected laborers don't have a union and if it's not recognized as a central labor it's gonna be a tough issue but I'm saying this from personal experience I come from a very poor Dominican family and yet there's always somebody more poorer than us and my mother was always able to find somebody who was far poorer than we were to help her and I lived in this economy and it made me give me things to think about our complicity should be there to energize us towards strategizing better ways of being complicity is not there to shut us all down it's we're all in this some of us eat better than the others sure some of us benefit more than the others but these systems are here to imprison us all some people think that because they're wardens they're free they're not and it's gonna take a lot for us to get around this stuff yeah but again it's it's one of those things where there's nothing very heroic about thinking about these things you know I think a lot of times we're we're we're told not to think too much about them but I'm always curious that makes you curious I'm always curious I watched my mom hire somebody to raise us and then I watched my mom when I was a teenager be hired to raise other people's children and it makes you curious so give us your advice I mean I know that as Lisa mentioned you you said in policing the other day that you found it a little odd that immigration would be the biggest problem we have in Denmark and I can see how coming from any other country that looks perhaps unlikely just quantitatively speaking what is your advice if people here want to participate in being better at you know being better at being engaged in a multicultural society in which we handle all these complexities what's the best advice for that again I I'm an artist I'm no expert but then again we all seem to put non experts in charge of so you know look I did I'm always stuck in the same situation I we have a ton of young people who we can say all we want about young people but there is not a 17 year old in this room who couldn't run America better to donna tronca break and so that's not and that's not to dam the 17 year old which show what you know which small praise these we're in a situation where our societies our politics are being organized to console the elderly the politics of the United States and Denmark are consolations for old people mm-hmm who fear a shrinking world who fear an invader who fear a B C D where for the most part our elites are old predators who are stealing the horizons of young people that's the truth of it and so the issue for me is less like these issue by issue things where it's like immigration how do we stop being so white supremacists all these matter me intimately but it's certainly not going to come from having a society that seems to have no interest in their young people except as a way to create debt from them you know I and I was thinking about Denmark I teach at a university system I teach at MIT and we have a lot of Danish refugees from the university system I mean this is a university system that is under neoliberal assault this is a university system where it's faculty don't feel secure where you produce graduate students who you can't give any jobs to this society has no problems underwriting with corporate welfare its mineral corporations but seems to not be able to find jobs for its most brilliant grad students in academia there's a lot that's going on but I think that as most of us know when we belonged to neoliberal societies we're being told that the fire is over here I mean didn't they just throw out was it the law faculty used to be in the center of this city but they move the law library or something out of the city okay well there you go is your first step but these are neoliberal decision to do the universities here on their own property I don't know they don't if I recall they pay rent to the government and so when the government finds a boutique that can pay higher rent there's a lot of weird around here you know a lot of weird it's a tough place to be a young person despite what Bernie wants to say talk about what's changed for you after this election and I mean you're a public intellectual you're a professor you're a writer but you're also an American man in the middle of a country that's undergoing some wild transformations what does that meant for the way you're living your life at the moment well you know nobody wants to live when Trump is around who the hell wants that you know but you know to quote Lord of the Rings we can't choose the time that we're born in we can't choose the struggle that's handed to us you know fortunately for me I've always been sort of a member of the kind of the pugnacious let's get organized solidarity we're a struggle I'm all into that so I didn't like it it's not fun to have America's white supremists chapters all energized and activated and for those of us who wanted to live the dream that America was America – the KKK it's been harder to live that dream the centrality of white supremacy in so many of our societies is something that can't be argued with it yet most people want to argue about it Donald Trump makes that argument harder fortunately a lot of people have responded with an enormous amount of fight I mean what else can we you know what else can we hope for there are other planes of existence there's other dimensions where there's a Donald Trump in office and people are like not wanting to fight Jenna and I was thinking about that because I went to grad school when the Iraq war started in the States and I remember this really lazy way walk out from classes and the professors were like think come on guys and we were like nah we like our English class and there's almost as taboo against speaking about politics among lots of the students and it just seems like now campuses not least our battlegrounds some some but you know for those of us who are kind of interested in histories you never know which generation is gonna tear up people were saying before black lives matter exploded that this was the most complacent lame generation these young people don't want to organize and in black lives matter explodes and I'm like well what happened all that rhetoric yep I think it's human beings are not the hunger games we never know when we're going to be heroic we never know it's it's so unpredictable and I think that that's the same surprises that brought this idiot into power are the same surprises that bring certain kinds of struggle and solidarity into existence and I often think again the emphasis that we often have on blaming the young people for their not so energized why aren't they burning this down I'm like I don't know given the amount of pressure and the amount of just disgusting distortion that our society pumps into young people I think they're kicking ass I think that there's plenty of us who wouldn't have held it together if we had to grow up in these neoliberal derangements you know we can do just much to criticize all generations but you know we're doing as best we can we have trillions of dollars aimed at us to shut us the up to put us the to sleep to have us only shop given how much money they throw at us they're not as satisfied as you would think they aren't they're like it ain't working crank up YouTube Instagram anything you know it's it's difficult their challenges I'm not under selling the challenges but you're saying that something is in the air this things happening around I a couple hundred years ago I was owned by people a couple hundred years ago no one in my community of African descent was permitted to have intimacy with whom they wanted to it all depends what your context is what's possible hmm I belong to a community that overthrew the greatest empires in the world with very little perhaps it's just foolish of me to think that we're still in the place where we can do the same thing but that's perhaps because I I believe strongly in the lessons of the ancestors that live inside of all of us this they are not unbeatable and they've never been we show this again and again again and again they rise up and again and again we fight there is no end there is no transcendence we are not going to cure human beings the fight will go on and we have to just accept that that's part of our cycle some years we get neoliberal war mongering immigrant hating Obama some years we get war mongering neoliberal immigrant hating Donald Trump we just keep fighting you know some years we get very lucky too so I'm all about that so I can see how does something really encouraging about some kinds of consensus not working anymore because at least Donald Trump has made that I don't know he's made things very clear in a way where it's been easier to see that not everyone is going to like buy into this system but I also have a feeling and this may be white privilege speaking that people are not there's not a lot of common ground a lot of conversations go wrong at the moment a lot of a lot of people say we don't have anything in common this is a sense in the air of disillusion or I don't know what it is but and it could be just my white angst or it could be some reaction against you no lies falling down about our shared wonderful Western civilization project but do you recognize the feeling that again I think it's convenient that I mean yes it is probably your white privilege yes but but that's alright because I just think it's convenient when we demographically have more young people on the planet that we've ever had before that we have all of these narratives and discourses of exhaustion it's just really convenient yeah I just I'm I guess again look it's hard to have a political defeat it's hard to reconstitute oneself when one feels that one gets kicked in the teeth it is it is hard to actually mourn it but there's I again this is probably crazy of me but I just I don't know I'm not that impressed I'm not that convinced that human beings have changed so overwhelmingly that this these societies were so fantastic tenure to go it's yes we are in a contested place yes there's a lot of up but it's never been cute these places have never been cute and I just I don't understand why the presence of Donald Trump has panicked everyone you would think Morgoth has come back you would think like the Dark Lord is chillin this is this is a dude who can barely add yo nothing wrong I'm sorry four people can add god not to faint praise but I guess I'm maybe it's cuz I'm a Mets fan for those of you who don't know anything about baseball I'm on the side of a team that never wins I'm I'm used to looking at people with power and being like let's em up what else is there and so I don't buy it I just don't buy it I was in a country where there was a civil war and yes we're really good at tearing ourselves apart especially when we're the closest to each other we're especially good of inventing fissures but I've also seen that a country like the Dominican Republic that had a very violent very bad very just long-lasting acrimonious civil conflict there's still abilities for people to create different kinds of solidarity's the future is unfuckin written I just think it's so hard for us to seed the truth about the future and the truth about the future is that none of us and as a writer I'm always really interested in this then none of us know what the future needs I write a book and it doesn't make a difference that I get invited to Denmark and people are like oh I've read it in 40 years nobody could know anything about me the future has the final vote and it is very difficult for us to allow that we think that there's something about the present that gives us special knowledge about the future but that is a fantasy you know we're in our present we've got our challenges we have to do our fight but the future six months before Trump got elected you had no idea Trump was getting elected well if the bad can surprise us so can the progressive and yet you've just edited a special edition of the person review about global dystopias I like that yeah why do you like this Tobias that's crazy well we live in dystopia so I feel like it's a vocabulary we're familiar with yeah I again I just think you dystopias are any they are discursive instruments par excellence for understanding our society and for imagining better places tom Moylan always said the you know critical dystopias their function is to map to warn and to hope and that has been the use of dystopias forever yeah you show people a bad society people are like oh just like my bad Society oh this is how bad societies function mmm perhaps it's possible for us to overthrow bad societies dystopias are great because if you live in the United States or in Western world you're told that any future that doesn't include capitalism is unimaginable and dystopias and some of them imagine futures with no capitalism and even better some of them imagined futures would know America I think it's good to imagine future's window America you know the same way it's good to imagine futures with no men and no white people not because we're encouraging but because as thought experiments they're very very useful I just say I I can't help it I look at my students when I'm in class and I keep thinking you know what the best thing what happened to you right now is if every single person over the age of 32 fell asleep for eight months it'd be it honestly I don't care what you say we wouldn't wake up to a worse Society maybe I just smoke too much weed but definitely no so I was gonna ask you what's your favorite dystopia at the moment but did we just hear it no that wouldn't be it that's kind of a utopia yeah I again I I sort of I reveal my bald age because I'm a huge fan of Octavia Butler's dawn I think it's the greatest dystopia ever and then for the kind of feed the little ultra-leftist in me V for Vendetta Allan Ward's comic book you know you don't always get an anarchist hero who fights white supremacist all day long that's great – I like that so those are – if you haven't read Octavia Butler's dawn you really should I think it's one of the greatest novels of all time what's great about it I know lots of people here have probably seen and even read The Handmaid's Tale and I know you interviewed Margaret Atwood about it and that was it the critical dystopia right that did exactly what you were just describing does Octavia Butler do the same similar that assume very much so very much so I think it's one of the great books of all time it imagines what would happen if what would happen if we found ourselves all of us victims of an alien invasion that what they wanted from us was our genes and how they get them is that they insert themselves into the intimate space between people oh and it's the most disturbing thing I've ever read highly it's like erotic vampires really terrifying yeah but it's so great on white supremacy and slavery it's like if you want a great x-ray of American history that's go on it's not a bad place to start I'm I'm curious about this because I was just rereading your books preparing for this and I hadn't seen that rasca Wow loves like the apocalypse he loves sort of superheroes destroying the well I guess saving the world and villains destroying the world and I guess in that sense he's a close relative of yours them well I when I write my characters I tend to give them different loves than mine it's useful that your characters don't love the same books you do at least for me I can't keep track of them if they do you know and and and I like writing about people who like books I've always found readers again everyone has their different bag I have a beloved mentor the writer scholar critic Samuel R Delaney and he always makes it clear he's like ah any time you see my characters they're always falling in love what people would really be in up hands and I I find people with good books on their shelves very attractive and so I tend to make my characters even the bad ones somehow textually involved textually involved I'm also just wondering if that's bringing us back to to where we started which in the sense that the deliberate forgetting of stuff is kind of what you're struggling and it's it seems this dealing with this Tobias is also something you find healthy it's kind of an act against forgetting looking away that in itself instead of being afraid just look at in the eye and and use art for that is that like a survival mmm survival mechanism a survival or a sense of creation and Howe but–look guide whether we're talking about whiteness maleness straightness ability we were they're talking about the poles of privilege at their heart is the fantasy of innocence denmark's like America both of these places think they're innocent they think everybody else has committed a crime they're like all these immigrants have commit a crime all these black people on the bus they're criminals all these Syrians trying to get across our border they're criminals and the the nature of innocence is that to maintain an identity of innocence requires forgetting and requires amnesia you have to create alibis for yourself nations especially nations that have whiteness at their heart they cannot exist without the dream of innocence we darker bodies are criminalized the nation is innocent of all crimes and this for me is not insignificant if you want to be an artist you have to understand how a society works because you are going to be drawing them mapping them and if you are unaware of how important innocence is even if you're just writing about your characters falling into bed with each other you're not going to understand the basic social gravity of your story worlds and I take this concept of innocence that map it out over my male characters all day long they think they're innocent and they slowly discover for better and for worse that this innocence is an ideological project to take out the ability for people to understand what's really really happening and that's good that's sort of uh I think part of what we call this gnostic project of removing the veils I think if if you're not as an artist unless in my mind if you're not trying desperately to remove those veils to remove in the Gnostic terms to remove that you know that orientalist vision that they have to kind of take the scales from your eyes it's it's it's a dead end it's a dead end we we we must understand clearly and to understand clearly as an artist means that you have to undo a lot of the negative education they call it negative hallucination for a reason negative elucidation is how our societies teach us to unsee and we have to do a lot of relearning that unseeing you know for us to begin to really understand where we're at and Hoover who we are I think you just gave a really good reason to go downstairs after this and check out the exhibition so wonderful deserving yeah and I also think you said something that leads us to the last paragraph from your books that I would ask you to read as a final part of this conversation because this is a story about jr. suddenly facing some of the violence underneath his feet as I read it and I just want to yeah thank you for this talk and just ask you to read us a couple of paragraphs about you nurse experience yeah thank you so much for being my interlocutor and thank you all for being so very patient and very kind so I'll just read this and then everybody run home and get drunk or not so all you have to know is my protagonist dumbass his girlfriend catches him cheating and so he's crying because he thinks she's innocent and he's running around with some bucketheads and so here we go and they're at a cave in the dominican republic that the vice-president of the country is trying to convince this young character who has run into the vice president for reasons that are never explained that that if he looks into this cave he will have visions that will help him clarify where he's at right would you like to see inside the vice president asks me I must have said yes because his bodyguard by de Berto gives me the flashlight and the two of them grabbed me by my ankles and lower B into the hole all my coins fly out of my pockets bendición s I don't see much just some odd colors on the eroded walls and the vice president's calling down isn't it beautiful this is the perfect place for insight for a person to become something better the vice president probably saw his future self hanging in this darkness bulldozing the poor out of their shanties and body bottle to buying a concrete house for his mother showing her how to work the air conditioner but for me all I can manage is a memory of the first time me and Magda talked back at Rutgers we were rating for an e bus together on George Street and she was wearing purple all sorts of purple and that's when I know it's over as soon as you start thinking about the beginning it is the end thank you thank you [Applause] you

3 thoughts on “Junot Díaz – International Authors' Stage – The Black Diamond

  1. yo, this host was really out of their depth, yo. it's great to watch junot díaz gracefully put them back in their place on various occassions, but still, it's unfair that he should have to negotiate the host's blindspots and prejudices in addition to trying to give a coherent, informative response to their questions. it's really fucked up, yo.

  2. Jesus christ every time i listen to junot he blows my mind how clearly lucid & amazingly articulate he is in describing & analyzing subjects most people shy away from

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