What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fact v. Post-Fact

Photo by Victor J. Blue

Stephen Marche, in his “David Shields’s Reality Hunger in the Age of Trump; or, How to Write Now” (Los Angeles Review of Books, August 5, 2017), claims, “Nobody believes that journalists are communicating reality.” What? Nobody believes Luke Mogelson, in his extraordinary “The Avengers of Mosul” (The New Yorker, February 6, 2017), is communicating the reality of war against ISIS? Nobody believes Ben Taub, in his brilliant “We Have No Choice” (The New Yorker, April 10, 2017), is communicating the reality of the African refugee crisis? Nobody believes Danielle Allen, in her searing “American Inferno” (The New Yorker, July 24, 2017), is communicating the reality of her fifteen-year-old cousin’s descent into crime, prison, and eventual death? What are these pieces – imitations of reality? No, they’re the thing itself – life as it actually is. Marche is right to complain about writers’ “willingness to blur fact and fiction.” He calls it “profoundly willfully stupid.” But he fails to allow for the abundance of great factual reporting still being written today. His rant against “post-fact” writing is too sweeping. 

Credit: The above photo by Victor J. Blue is from Luke Mogelson’s “The Avengers of Mosul” (The New Yorker, February 6, 2017).       

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