LARB Quarterly


In this issue

No. 41: Truth | Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

On the evening of March 8, 1971, for the first time in history, a pair of professional boxers who were each undefeated and each had a legitimate claim to the world heavyweight title were scheduled to fight one another. Though technically stripped of his belts for refusing to report to the armed forces in 1967, Muhammad Ali was by that point the most famous athlete on the planet; in Ali’s nominal absence, Joe Frazier had become recognized by the boxing authorities as the division’s title holder. Billed as “The Fight of the Century,” the bout at Madison Square Garden guaranteed each man $2.5 million—a little over 19 million dollars in 2024. Frazier won in 15 rounds on all cards, a decision Ali decried as political. 

While some 300 million people around the world watched the fight on closed-circuit broadcasts, an activist group called the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI field office in Pennsylvania. The documents they stole, then passed on to reporters, revealed a series of programs, sinister and illegal, designed to surveil, harass, and even kill American citizens. Known as COINTELPRO, the efforts targeted anti–Vietnam War protesters, suspected communists, and the Black Panthers, among many others. These are the files that include plots against Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Hampton.

Ghastly crimes in the alleged pursuit of “truth” are nothing new for powerful states. During World War II, Nazi scientists experimented on concentration camp prisoners and Soviet prisoners of war, flooding their brains with drugs; at home, MKUltra initiatives left some unwitting subjects psychologically destroyed for life. All of this in supposed pursuit of a truth serum—a chemical shortcut to a place that doesn’t really exist.

In the 41st issue of the LARB Quarterly, our writers and poets prod at this ludicrous idea of objective inquiry. Sarah Yanni gets at it from the opening moments of her essay about calling off a wedding: “Language is a thing with an objective.” Angles, motives, biases, blind spots. The invented folktales in our excerpt of Sam Sax’s Yr Dead “needle in the space between truth and fact, between the authenticity of feeling and the fiction of history.” There is what is literally observable, measurable, inarguable. But that’s not what we’re really talking about, is it?



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