Letter from the editor: Litro #163: Alternative Facts

Lies, damned lies, alternative facts.

Oscar Wilde, in his essay “The Decay of Lying”, bemoaned the decline of mendacity as a fine art, complaining that even politicians “never rise beyond the level of misrepresentation, and actually condescend to prove, to discuss, to argue”. This isn’t the case anymore, if it ever really was, but an aesthete like Wilde could hardly be pleased by the lie as wielded, which such blundering crassness, by today’s right-wing politicians.

Disinformation is for dictatorships, banana republics and failed states, right? Yet America is now governed by a president and a party that fundamentally don’t accept the idea that there are objective facts; instead, they want everyone to agree that reality is whatever they say it is. Shortly after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the United States’ forty-fifth president, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, used his first appearance to throw what would become a series of curve balls, by putting forth debunked information that questioned the media’s reporting on the size of the president’s inaugural audience (it had in fact been a relatively small crowd for an absolutely tiny, tiny man). Kellyanne Conway would go on the US political TV show Meet the Press to clumsily defend Spicer’s and Trump’s blatant untruths about the crowd’s size as simply “alternative facts” – the phrase joining “fake news” and “post-truth” as hallmarks of our times. All our political lives – and what’s not political? – are increasingly directed, if not determined, by the lie. Fake news misleads while the truth gets dismissed by fake news by those to whom the truth is inconvenient. That Toddler-in-Chief across the Atlantic is a continual, shameless liar; the Brexit referendum was won by lies (the mythical £350 million a week for the NHS, etc.); and Theresa May’s cynically opportunistic general election this month … well, she kept repeating the phrase “strong and stable government” until it became too obvious an untruth (she showed her weakness by refusing to debate Jeremy Corbyn, her governments’ weakness in its social care policy U-turns, etc.) – and she does seem given to moronic mantras, first “Brexit means Brexit”, then “strong and stable”. So it’s heartening to see her poll lead narrow, and the likelihood diminish of her getting the landslide victory she hubristically reckoned was in the bank.

But then again, Litro Magazine is in the business of using fiction and the story to explore the zeitgeist – though isn’t fiction all just lies? “OH, FUCK ALL THIS LYING!” B.S. Johnson exclaims in Albert Angelo (the novel with a famous hole in its pages, which itself turns out to be kind of a lie), breaking the fourth wall to address the reader directly, as himself: “I’m trying to say something not tell a story telling stories is telling lies and I want, to tell the truth…” But Johnson was wrong – in his cynicism he was naïve – and good fiction isn’t lies; it’s not even truth-in-lies. It’s metaphorical, doesn’t try to fool anyone, it’s a way of getting at deeper truths. And it’s time to insist on the truth – maybe we are living in a post-truth era, steered by the lies of dishonest or unfeeling politicians, right-wing media, and big corporations – but maybe also we can find a better way.

In this issue of Litro Magazine, Calder Lorenz’s “Writing in the Realm of Alternative Facts” tackles the fiction writer’s problem of having to write “lies” while everything else is being corrupted by lies. Brent van Staalduinen, in “Hard Sell”, a hybrid of fiction and creative nonfiction, explores five stories rotating around a landmark tragedy, a real one, occurring on a single fateful day; while Victoria Briggs, in “The Last Brown Rat of Nagasaki”, offers a beyond-improbable tale that’s no less about the truth of what it’s like to be human. War runs through both these stories, as it does, more obliquely, through Q. Lei’s transgressive “The Operation”. M. René Bradshaw’s “Tigre” takes us on a trip to Latin America; Suchana Seth, in “The Storyteller”, makes her own that ultimate teller-of-tales, Scheherazade of the 1001 Nights; while the truth is rawer in Claire Polder’s personal essay about abuse, “Con Artists”.

And finally, we have three pieces about that unavoidable monster of alternative fact: Adjie Henderson’s “The Inaugural Address”, and two artworks, Amy Gilvary’s “Trump in B&W” and Sarah Kaizar’s “Again and again”.

Our cover artist this month is Veronika Gilková a Slovakian photographer. Her photos are mainly portraits with a dreamy atmosphere and have been featured in several magazines about art and lifestyle.

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