In New York, in the days following September 11, 2001, some tribal feeling was caught, felt, and acknowledged. Temples of community-new ones previously unrealized-were built in a day. The new world doesn't need centuries of shared history to weave the ties that bind. Communal suffering did it overnight.
"We do not believe, with nearly enough ferocity," writer Leon Rooke said, in Brick magazine, "that our stories deliver the news, and have the power to alter lives." Among all the arts, poetry teaches the lost, possible moment. We need this because we are always forgetting what is most important to us-beauty, family, humanity-as we passively collaborate with the very enemies of those values. Poetry retrieves that lost moment for readers and shows, with sympathy, how stark our choices really are. It's no surprise that Fellini picked journalism in La Dolce Vita as his main character's profession. How better to showcase the sickness in our media-driven culture than by portraying the very figure who generates and rides its waves? It's a dangerous game, representing the world to others. Ethics are of great concern to journalists not simply because as a group they value high standards, but because they know how easy, how tempting it is to lie without seeming to lie, to break the truth while seeming only to bend it.
9/11 has reinforced the need to put people first, both at home and abroad. From our dark highway on-ramps, accelerating, the world outside our cool interiors seems distant, mute, unrelated. In the moron twilight of television, we stare at the masses of humanity who share the planet. We think we know the world; we do not. Then at least we know what's important. We do not. Photographer D. R. Cowles shows us in this issue how little we know of North Africa. Beyond sheer beauty, why look at these photos? Cowles' work teaches the habit of seeing accurately. Similarly, the great French poet Francis Ponge urges us, instead of dehumanizing people, to humanize objects. Two obsessions that seem at first esoteric exercises in empathy become startlingly original visions of humanity, based upon a direct perception and true history of the world. Miroslav Holub: "The sad result is that we learn the norms of life from technical operating instructions rather than the core of our souls as manifested in poetry."
Seeing the world truthfully is so important that people will ruin lives for lack of it. Simple avoidance of truth, practised too long, creates the lonely twisted man in
Neal Durando's unsettling and memorable story herein. Timothy Hickey's fiction has a thing or two to say about the matter as well: loving someone who maintains a lie about the world can mess up your life permanently.
To some extent, that world of denial and mindless reassurance is crumbling these days. The distinction between high & low culture is gone. The intellectuals who went over-the deconstructionists, the pop music theorists-have been treated as traitors long enough. Yet intellectuals and connoisseurs remain confused by low culture's astounding success. It is high culture itself that is in danger, today, of no longer being taken seriously.
Within 50 years, that's quite a switch. There is no point in feeling threatened by the rising tide-we are all swimming in it now, and breathing surprisingly well. It's a new world, and it's not so bad. It just requires you, O consumer of culture, to have your eyes wide open and to look freshly at what's around you. It's no longer as simple as going down Broadway to see the best show-nor, conversely, going off-off-Broadway to see the latest experiment. There are no easy signposts anymore, directing you toward what's authentic and what's not. Terms like "alternative" have become in large part marketing tools. All people need is a chance to experience the real range of what's out there, and judge for themselves.
Doors are always metaphors, whether in painting, photography, poetry, or pop music. "Baby, let me come inside your door." From Pamela Mahaffey's freely rendered, imaginative ones to David Cowles' shot down an alley, chillingly reminiscent of the Holocaust, these doors suggest both choices made and ones that await our choosing.
Pages are doors, too. Our last show two options: John Coburn's careful and caring drawing of St. Paul's Chapel in its role as a relief centre and sanctuary in the aftermath of 9/11-or Michael Eastman's flipside, hurtling into a terrorized future. This is my sense of things, not Eastman's. Eastman feels that we have to face the pain if we hope to move beyond it. A world-class photographer, he takes the visual icons we have become so familiar with and puts an artist's interpretation upon them. Like Michael Snow's "photos in motion" of Group of Seven classics-Canada's iconic landscape painters-there is a reminder of the act of seeing within the images themselves, a nudge not to forget where we stand in relation to these images and events.
A closing note. Maisonneuve bids farewell to its first business manager, Susana Cantero, who is moving to Spain, and to its first advertising executive, Tamara Bates, who is moving to Kingston. Our cold-water walkup on Sherbrooke Street will seem empty and dull without these hard-working and extremely congenial individuals. At the same time, I'd like to welcome several new editors and staff to the Maisonneuve team, including Visual Editor George Sellers, who gives us our cover this issue. These talented individuals will help make Maisonneuve the eclectically intelligent title it aims to be.