Register Tuesday | February 20 | 2024

Celebrating Celebrity

Letter from the editor

Back when the Maisonneuve team first started planning issue 10, we decided to go with a theme of celebration: we’d covered death back in the autumn and warmed up the winter with the subject of taste, and now we wanted to celebrate summertime and the joys of life. In short, have some fun.

And in the beginning, that was indeed where we were heading. Stephen Elliott’s meditation on his little brother’s visit to San Francisco (page 26) seemed a fittingly ambivalent, Maisonneuve-style celebration of family: tell it like it is, slanted, candid and slyly self-enchanted. We asked Julie Traves to honour ancient patterns of sibling loyalty (page 24). Eric Shinn’s “Rock-Paper-Scissors Tour Diary” (page 22) drank to the zany, spontaneous, but never random dynamics of an astonishing game. And we found a way to salute the joke quiz, even as we waved it goodbye (page 80).

But celebrity increasingly began to intrude into our festivities, and we realized how often celebration morphs into celebrity (fitting, given that the two words spring from the same root). When someone does a thing very well, we love and acclaim it. Michel Basilières plays on this theme in his wicked little memoir of friendship and literary notoriety (page 14); as, incidentally, does Shinn in his hilarious lionizing of anti-celebrity RPS competitors. But when we love something, we risk killing it. An excellent case in point is Jana Prikryl’s dazzling essay rounding up a few of Bob Dylan’s overly sincere, enthusiasm-snuffing critics (page 63).

This deadly celebration can create misfits (page 54), the sort of celebrities who don’t fit into sensible patterns, who need to talk more, drink more, need more just to endure their strange invitations to anonymity. This issue is chock-a-block with such fascinating creatures. But what of those who cannot endure? I wonder if they pitch themselves from balconies (page 40) and bridges (page 73) for reasons akin to both celebrity and anonymity. When people render themselves anonymous, even to themselves, the continuity of their own lives can seem less worthy than the relinquishing distinction of death. By celebrating them, has Maisonneuve lifted them that much closer to celebrity? Look into the faces of the half-dressed auditioners on pages 40–48, and tell me if you don’t see something like this at work.

Perhaps the blackout of last summer (page 50) is not so unusual after all, and suggests the kind of life we live every day, without knowing it. How many of us can communicate without shadows in our speech? Or exist in the full light of others’ attention? I wonder sometimes if the artful arrangement of language we call poetry is merely a brilliant admission of defeat to darkness—and a hope that in speaking so nebulously, we can touch one another with stunning clarity. MapQuest is useless without a pre-existing road. Poetry speaks as the crow flies.

We hope we’ve crafted something truer than just straight celebration here, that we’ve caught the finer lining of celebrity and acknowledged the complexity of celebration. Keith Hollihan’s New York (page 40) seems a match for our subtly twin-bevelled theme. Or, better yet, the high-profile yet hidden face of stencil art (page 33), transforming the streets where we live; it may be the consummate symbol of this issue’s upward-spiralling, public branches. Maybe.  

P.S. Only a few days before this issue went to press, Maisonneuve won two National Magazine Awards: a gold medal for spot illustration and a silver for writing on social issues. We’re particularly pleased at the result; with two medals out of a possible six, we’re batting a respectable .333 in the majors. Congratulations to our winners, artist Todd Julie and writer Melora Koepke (check out Melora’s film columns at Maisonneuve online).

P.P.S. At the end of June, the Maisonneuve office moves to a new space in downtown Montreal on (wait for it) boulevard de Maisonneuve. Why wasn’t the magazine there already? One might rightly ask. see our masthead for our new coordinates, and write us a letter.