Then too, almost nothing in our coverage of the Soviet Union provided noticeable illumination before the late eighties and it didn’t cast its highest light until David Remnick came to Moscow carrying the treasure of the literary sensibility that forbade him to stop with one or two of the great novels of Dostoievsky but pushed him on to Poor Folk, which, however lesser a work, manages to tell you most of all you need know about what life was like on the collective farms.
For Remnick knew a secret, which took me so long to learn that I was well down the road before I went to Mississippi and found out that Faulkner wasn’t weaving fantasy at all but was instead soberly working off the files of country weeklies. Ever since, I have shunned the researches of social science and depended upon the novelists and have since come across no Sovietologist as useful as Chekhov and no guide to the incorrigibilities of rulers and ruled in Central America as Conrad’sNostromo.
No reporter, however good, can avoid realizing that the novelist is his better; but both know that the victim is in the end most of the story. Since the victim is and probably will ever be less and less able to come to us, the reporter who is worth his salt recognizes that his one commanding duty is to go out himself and look for the victim.
And that is why I so much fear that the futurists may be right and that in time to come the accountants will have had their way and the reporter will slip into the category of surplus labor and affliction to the profit margin.
That would be sad. I won’t say that it would be tragic, because I have been taught not to indulge in hyperbole, even when it is as true to the facts of the case as I feel it to be in this one.