In the past week, allegations of abuse have surfaced against writers Junot Díaz and David Foster Wallace. In Foster’s case, his abuse of an ex girlfriend was well-known for years, yet is being re-examined in light of the #MeToo movement. In Díaz’s case, allegations of sexual misconduct only arose recently, after he published a piece detailing his childhood sexual abuse.
Two women, both women of color, publicly accused Díaz of misogynistic behavior. Novelist Zinzi Clemmons stated that Díaz cornered her and forcibly kissed her when she was a 26 year old graduate student. Writer Carmen Machao related that when she asked Díaz about his characters’ unhealthy relationships with women, he yelled at her for 20 minutes.
Similarly, author Mary Karr has stated that Wallace repeatedly abused her and stalked her. The fact of Wallace’s abuse of Karr was no secret; a biography of Wallace mentions that he “threw a coffee table” at her and tried to push her from a moving car. According to Karr, this was “about 2%” of what he actually did. He also tried to buy a gun to kill her husband — something that he openly admitted to in a letter — kicked her, climbed up the side of her house at night, followed her 5 year old son home from school, and stalked her. His biographer, D.T. Max, believes that his violence made him a “fascinating guy.” He also attributed Wallace’s best known work, the novel Infinite Jest, to Wallace’s dysfunctional yearning for Karr, calling it a “creative spiral of anger.” Wallace died by suicide in 2008.
Díaz and Wallace both share troubled pasts. Díaz recently wrote a piece for the New Yorker about his childhood rape and resulting trauma, including his suicide attempt as a result of the rape. Wallace struggled with depression, alcoholism and drug addiction throughout his adult life. These realities have been mentioned as explanations for their abuse, including — in Díaz’ case — by the men themselves. In a statement to the New York Times, Díaz said, “I take responsibility for my past. That is the reason I made the decision to tell the truth of my rape and its damaging aftermath…”.
While many factors contribute to domestic or sexual violence, including an abuser’s own history of past trauma, there is NO justification for abuse. Period. We are all responsible for our own actions. As Roxanne Gay noted in her tweet below, explanations for why a person might have behaved in a particular way do not excuse unacceptable behavior. We can have empathy for a person who may have suffered from childhood trauma or who has substance abuse or mental health issues without excusing their abuse of other people.
These issues can be complex, particularly if you are in a relationship with your abuser and are conflicted by wanting to help a person who has been hurt themselves. However, it is important to remember that no matter what type of abuse they have suffered, it does NOT justify hurting you.
If you have been or are currently a victim of violence or abuse, we are here for you. You can reach us anytime at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122. Our services are available free of charge, and are always confidential.