The recent film Shattered Glass terrified me. There’s nothing worse than knowing someone in a film is lying, or deluded, or otherwise in deep caca. It makes me positively scream into my mental pillow.
Stephen Glass was a gifted young writer at The New Republic, who cooked up story after story—lying in part or entirely—in order to provide his editors with material that was more dramatic, more exciting, more in tune with the times. Republicans have the moral high ground? Here’s a story about young Republicans at a party convention, hiring strippers, snorting coke, getting more stinko than Churchill on a bad day and generally acting piggish and immoral. Computer companies getting worried about the possibility of being infiltrated by fifteen-year-old hackers? Here’s Glass, reporting on a (totally fabricated) conference of teen hackers, at which a made-up corporation pays off the very kid who’s just hacked into its site—and hires him to protect the company in the future. You couldn’t make up a better story if you tried. Which is exactly what Glass did.
Writerly ethics are of great concern to journalists. Not only because, as a group, they have agreed to value certain standards, but because they are intimately aware of how easy, how tempting it is to lie without seeming to lie, to bend the truth in twenty different ways until breaking it becomes moot. On the other hand, a training in fiction leaves one well equipped to know the distinction between truth and lies. One has, after all, been converting various forms of fact into fictional currency for years. It’s like having two passports or growing up in the no man’s land between two countries.
This is where Stephen Glass comes in. Journalists who try to combine fact and fiction often get burned; but the fact is, the elements of writing are essentially the same for fiction and non-fiction. For good writers who understand both sides of the fence, there’s only a slight adjustment in the way the story is told. It’s a funny game, representing reality to others, and part of our approach here at Maisonneuve is to seek out people who are in the business of fiction and ask them to write non-fiction—people like poets, short-story writers, novelists and screenwriters who are actively ignored by their professional counterparts across the fiction/fact divide.
We think there’s a mountain of talented writers out there—slaving away over a line break, staying up late to get that key dramatic passage right—and we’re inviting them to start commenting politically and socially in a more direct manner than artifice usually allows. We’ve also thrown down the gauntlet for journalists: start dreaming again.
As for this issue, what is “taste”? It’s what brewmeister David Toft does for a living. It’s what editors like myself spend their lives perfecting. It’s learning how to distinguish real connoisseurship from aimless consumption. It’s sticking out your tongue and sampling the Zeitgeist.
In his quest for drama, Stephen Glass seemingly forgot these things. Perhaps, if he had looked inward, he wouldn’t have gone so frighteningly astray. Thankfully, the author of our lead feature, Marius Kociejowski, stayed the course. We’re proud to publish “A Likeness of Angels.” You want exciting? This is the first biographical essay written about Simeon Stylites in the past fourteen hundred years. Kociejowski’s portrait of the Syrian saint is based entirely on original sources. You want good reading? Engage in something that was written from the bottom up.
P.S. This magazine continues to evolve in its design. Regular readers will notice we’ve tinkered with our look and retitled some sections. The previously named “Spirit in the Machine” end section was, well, poorly named. “Balconville” fits this section’s purpose much better—removed from the action downtown, a high place where one can kick back with the plants and consider life in all its malapropish municipalities. The new front section, “Open House,” is an invitation to enter, browse and pick up a list or a poem before turning to our features. The guiding metaphor of this magazine is a house (Maisonneuve means “new house” in French), so we thought we’d try to evoke that more consistently throughout. Let us know what you think of these changes—or any other matter. Our mail slot is always open.