One summer in mid-July, not very long ago, I moved south to the graduate student life in St. Louis, Missouri-in “the heart of the heart of the country,” as author William H. Gass describes the Midwest. My apartment in the student ghetto backed onto a real ghetto of minimum-wage, food-stamp-collecting black Americans. Coming from Canada, I was a bit naive—I used to shop at the no name grocery store down the hill. The prices were certainly good and the quality fine; but I was a little confused by the stares I received from the black and occasionally Vietnamese clientele and employees: as if to say, what are you doing here?
Once school started, I understood why. None of my fellow students shopped at this, the nearest store—they were sublimely unaware of its existence, even though many had cars and often drove past the place. Like every other white person north of the university, they shopped on the south side, at Schnucks. I learned about the local muggings and rapes, the correct meaning of what I had thought was the sound of cars backfiring. I even learned not to shout at eight year-olds smashing bottles in the back alley. “Paranoid Walk Home,” the comic strip on page 74 became my (shared)reality. Schnucks, everyone agreed, was very clean.
I tell this story because I see it playing out daily on a larger scale. As Charles Foran's cover story demonstrates, we substitute a picture of our fear of the world for our lack of real experience. Is it just me, or does Foran's conclusion fail to inspire a sense of confidence? An indication, perhaps, that there is no distinction between caution and fear in Western countries’ civic or international life. Caution is being aware of the possibilities, but not basing decisions exclusively on them; fear is making decisions with only the worst possibilities in mind. There's never been a greater need for social and political imagination than now.
Until the Bush administration becomes a credible force worldwide for democratic revolution, speaking not to repressive and corrupt regimes but to the very kind of people who founded America—the Thomas Jeffersons of Rwanda, the James Madisons of Afghanistan, the George Washingtons of Saudi Arabia—then more terrorism is flying standby. Apocalyptic visions like Robyn Sarah's notwithstanding (see her poem on page 68), utopias are not just the territory of totalitarian demagogues of fact or fiction: they are the only points that provide reference for amelioration.
This issue of Maisonneuve is textually, intellectually and visually weighty, and may be the finest eighty pages you've ever held in your hands. For subscribers wondering why there's no short story, I present “Gary's Place” (page 28), a secular memento mori far stranger than fiction. No shrieking uber-hip Dantes from Williamsburg here—just Alighieri himself, in a new translation by the brilliant Irish poet Ciaran Carson. Life after death, it turns out, is all about tourism, and the Inferno is the ultimate good travel guide. Not too far behind is Maisonneuve. Sign up for Web exclusives with Maisonneuve Monthly or subscribe to the paper magazine—we've a lot in store for the coming year.
-- Derek Webster