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Exploding World

Junot Díaz on art, the apocalypse and the importance of 'The Terminator'



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"I'm not a bad guy," Yunior says in "The Sun, the Moon, the Stars," the opening story. "I know how that sounds—defensive, unscrupulous—but it's true. I'm like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good."

The next 200 pages show Yunior to be a cheater and an occasional liar, but always a man struggling for clarity and love. The last story, "A Cheater's Guide to Love," especially nails this point home, when after a failed long-term relationship, Yunior goes on doomed self-improvement kicks (running, Bikram yoga) that end in injury and emotional despair. The ending remains unresolved, with Yunior on the "cusp of transformation," in the author's words, but still not quite there. "It's up to the reader to write that final chapter," Díaz says.

Yunior is a reader and a thinker, but he's also trapped in what Díaz describes as "hetero-normative patriarchy." He and his "boys" describe women as bitches and ho's, and define women and lovers first by their body parts, second by their personalities. When I offer up that, as a woman, it was difficult at times to see past this raw voice, Díaz claims that it's important not to confuse representation with approbation.

In an era when the denial of racism or sexism dominates discourse, says Díaz, those who do the best job of reminding people of their oppression are artists. Looking away from the ugly side of life won't do anything to make things better, a point driven home in This Is How You Lose Her.

"How can you even be in on the conversation if you avoid it?" Díaz says, choosing his words with deliberate emphasis, as befits his job as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We've gotten into a very weird place in our culture where most of us are deeply avoidant of the kind of conversation that would be required to, in many ways, alter or improve our situation. Because to alter and improve our situation means looking into the abyss."

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