Register Tuesday | February 20 | 2024

Letter from the Editor

Sex and Death Issue

The Sick Rose
by William Blake   

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

In the midst of producing the issue you’re holding in your hands, my grandfather died unexpectedly. He was eighty-seven, and had recently recovered from a stroke suffered several months earlier. Then his condition worsened, and he passed away within a matter of days. At his funeral, a flag from his years as a flying instructor for the Royal Canadian Air Force was placed on a table beneath the urn holding his last remains.

I don’t think my grandfather would have approved of this Sex & Death issue. He likely would have found it in bad taste. In the pages that follow we’ve tried to keep such ideas of taste in mind, even while sticking to our iconoclastic guns. Finding the right balance hasn’t been easy. Our unspoken Latinate motto has been, “Neither prudish nor perverted.” We are, after all, more openly sexual than our grandparents’ generation (see “Plato’s Retreat,” page 78, Paul Winner’s meditation on sex manuals), and more willing to offend in such matters. But it’s not at all clear whether we are more tasteful.

Sex and Death—Eros and Thanatos, in ancient Greek— have always travelled as a pair. Procreation, after all, is a form of immortality. Family, that double-edged sword, is the basic unit of every human society, and one of the traditional functions of family is to control who people have sex with and how; relationships that aren’t monogamous and heterosexual have long been seen as a threat to the family-based order. Matthew Fox’s insightful “Lowest Common Denominators” (page 9), however, reminds us that this same basic unit, retuned to the contemporary sexual reality, can accommodate more than just June and Ward Cleaver.

Some of the greatest social problems today are caused by the clash of different definitions of what is sexually appropriate. Patrick Matta’s family narrative (“Christmas in Saudi Arabia,” page 36) shows a country that has decided the best response to such turbulent times is to treat its citizens like children. Norene Kelly’s memoir of Papua New Guinea (“Orange is for Danger,” page 17) shows another society, where simply being a Western woman can get you raped and killed.

The West has developed a much higher “negative capability” than the rest of the world in regard to sexual and deathly matters. We’re far less strict than other cultures, and have the confidence and capacity to tolerate much more variety in our citizenry’s choice of lifestyle, ideas and methods. There are still things we condemn, though, such as the drug use and prostitution so prevalent in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Most people make the offenders invisible, let the police handle matters and then tune out. But when this strategy intersects with more complex social issues like poverty and the depredations of an alleged serial murderer, things fall apart—and it’s our hands-off behaviour that is criminal. The road to Hell is not paved.

The fashion section in this issue represents a new step in the evolution of this magazine. It’s sexy, intelligent and a little malevolent. Ambivalent notions of representation are part of its character. A magazine worth its salt should engage with these tensions, questioning them as it does so. Hats off to André Cornellier, a true artist and the mastermind behind this shoot, and Sarah Laroche, our impeccable stylist. Look for more thought- and eye-provoking imagery next year in Maisonneuve.

The mood among Maisonneuvians producing this issue was somewhat sombre—with good reason. Death hangs like a stale cloud over Melora Koepke’s examination of Vancouver’s Missing Women (“Corpus Delicti,” page 26); it permeates Scott Eden’s consideration of the Bush doctrine (“The New Manifest Destiny,” page 21); it inspires the short fiction “Good Meat at a Fair Price” (page 73); and it is the subject (“Death Tourism,” page 76) of this issue’s Decanter.

But like an Irish wake (see our contributors’ notes, page 95), we’ve tried to turn the tables on death and get a refund on its sting. A far purer kind of truth often lies unheard on the flipside of conventional thinking about Sex and Death, and we hope this issue comes together as a tasteful, original perception of those two subjects.

Next year, Maisonneuve is going from four to six issues. Why? Because we can. Advertisers and subscribers have shown their confidence in the magazine. Our subscription rates will not rise—and the cover price, in fact, has gone down with this issue. Now that’s sexy.