In this issue appears the first of several articles by the French writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, based on his recent extensive travels in the United States. In the years since 9/11 Americans have come to understand that the United States and its people are often seen by the outside world in ways we did not expect—and in ways sharply different from our perceptions of ourselves, to put it mildly. This is something Americans need and want to understand. We invited Lévy to come to America and undertake a journey around the country, like a latter-day Alexis de Tocqueville, and report on what he found. Why Lévy? He has broad experience writing about many parts of the world, in keenly observant and idea-inflected prose. Though he has criticized specific U.S. policies over the years, he is fundamentally sympathetic to the American idea, and in recent years has stood robustly against the visceral anti-Americanism of many of his compatriots. (He calls himself "an anti-anti-American.") In France, Bernard-Henri Lévy is a kind of public intellectual who has no real counterpart in the United States; he is recognized by everyone and referred to as BHL. American readers know him best as the author of Who Killed Daniel Pearl? Lévy first came to American attention a quarter of a century ago, through his book Barbarism With a Human Face, which courageously took to task his soul mates on the left for their blindness to—or their unwillingness to confront and condemn—the totalitarianism of communist regimes.
Since the spring of last year Lévy has crossed the country twice, always traveling by land, following his curiosity to big cities and small towns and into the middle of nowhere. The result is neither a grand Cartesian synthesis nor a Gallic finger-wagging but the perceptive travelogue of a visitor who finds himself variously attracted and repelled, astonished and mystified, and both very much at home and very much a foreigner.
On several occasions during the past year readers have written to point out the obvious: that short fiction, an Atlantic mainstay, has sometimes been missing from these pages. That intermittent phenomenon reflects a larger challenge—one that we have long needed to confront. The challenge is "real estate"—space in the magazine—at a time when in-depth narrative reporting from around the country and the world has become more important than ever.
The Atlantic has never been exactly the same from generation to generation: its sensibility and outlook have been remarkably consistent, but the magazine's components have varied according to the needs of the time. During much of the late nineteenth century The Atlantic was primarily a "literary" magazine, dominated by fiction and criticism. At other times we have been an important home for writing by social reformers, academic specialists, and public figures and public intellectuals. Such voices will always have a place.
"Chiefly About War Matters" (July 1862)
One of Nathaniel Hawthorne's most famous essays—a description of his trip to the nation's capital during the Civil War.
Long-form narrative reporting made its appearance in these pages during the Civil War and has been part of the editorial mixture ever since. Today there is an urgent need, and a corresponding hunger, for this kind of writing. Everyone knows that the surface features of the news are being reported faster all the time, in smaller and smaller bits. But explaining the deeper features of the world requires a different and more expansive kind of reporting—one that has increasingly become The Atlantic's signature. That reporting consumes a lot of space.
This brings us back to fiction. We will no longer offer a short story in every issue of the magazine—but we remain committed to the form. This August we will therefore produce an extra annual Atlantic fiction issue—available in print form on newsstands, and on our Web site for subscribers—which will include original work by the best-known writers in the country and the most promising newcomers.
The impresario of the fiction issue will be C. Michael Curtis, who has been an editor at The Atlantic for four decades. For most of that time he has had primary responsibility for selecting short stories. In the course of his distinguished career Curtis has helped hundreds of fiction writers to find their voices. He is a frequent visitor to writing programs around the country, and keeps up a vast correspondence with young writers seeking counsel. All of this, and a role at the magazine, will continue. Readers who enjoy fiction will want to be aware of Curtis's publishing activities on the side: he has edited a number of highly regarded story collections, including Faith: Stories and God: Stories, both published by Houghton Mifflin.