Editor’s Note: The Value of an Illusion

Meredith MacLeod Davidson, Senior Editor

August 15, 2023

One realized all sorts of things. The value of an illusion, for instance, and that the shadow can be more important than the substance. All sorts of things.

—Jean Rhys, Quartet

When we announced the theme for this issue, we were unsure of what kinds of submissions might surface. Perhaps some unusual concrete poetry? A touch of magical realism? Certainly some fantastical art! But, as ever, our submissions queue defied our expectations.

Of the pieces we selected for the issue (no small feat given both the quantity and quality of the submissions), there are some clear through lines: the pleasure in the imagined, the comfort of unrealities, the lies we tell ourselves to survive, and the dissolution of time when acknowledging deeply entrenched literal and metaphorical inheritances.

This brings us to the Jean Rhys quotation that in some ways propelled our alignment with the illusion theme for our third issue: specifically, the value of an illusion.

In our late-capitalist, “post”-pandemic society, in which the climate crisis rages at our doorstep each day, and the wealthy and powerful debate increasingly dystopian futures, it is easy to cringe at the term value—considering it nothing more than what is extracted from natural resources and human labor for capitalist gain. Yet, the etymology of the word illusion undermines this apprehension.

While we have become accustomed to understanding illusion as a “trick of the mind” or “deceptive appearance,” its etymological roots offer a radically different meaning: “mockery, scorning, derision.” I wonder, then, how the illusions we entertain become our survival tactic as a lived experience against the aims of capitalism.

This might be the case, for instance, with the protagonist of Andrea Stoll’s “Then The Scales Started,” who recognizes she is turning into a goldfish despite the medical community’s rejection of her claims concerning her own body. Or in Harry Bauld’s “Welcome to Purgatory”:

more ignorance and moans, ash and bills piled high
as the pines above but the worse for them. Or?

Perhaps the value of an illusion is one of joy rather than avoidance—that the illusions we maintain are not dissociative strategies, but instead revolutionary acts. These illusions are not signs of madness or a sickness of a people but the rational and subversively playful acts of derision required to dismantle systems of prejudice, colonialism, and patriarchy.

This, too, is the power of art—to generate through poems, paintings, sculpture, and prose an unwavering interrogation of our world, to draw the plans for a fully realized future, one which tends to everyone, including those who have been kept in shadow.

Regardless of interpretation, temporality appears central to any conception of illusion—either time itself as an illusion, or an illusion as something impermanent, beholden to time in the same way we are as mortals.

In this way, I’ll turn to the metaphor of the candle and wax in Ruby Lawrence’s “Solo burn” and Lawrence Bridges’s “Between Mid-Centuries.” We are so used to the idea of an illusion being that which shrouds the truth, but what happens when we look at it as a softer form that can be buffed to perfection over time, melting away to something core, something true, and something in the best interest of our humanity?

At the heart of these musings over what exactly makes an illusion is the reverence for illusions as world-building creative acts, whether conscious or not—creative acts of immense power because they are something we can live in, for worse or for better.

In this issue, we have endeavored to continue our mission of “seeing the forest for the trees” and collecting a diversity of voices, perspectives, and generative illusions. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed making it.

About Meredith MacLeod Davidson

Meredith MacLeod Davidson is a poet and writer from Virginia. A graduate of Clemson University with a degree in English, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry South, Eastern Iowa Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and elsewhere, as well as anthologized in Guts Publishing’s The Transformative Power of Tattoo. Meredith serves as Senior Editor for Arboreal Literary Magazine, reader in fiction for The Maine Review, and as co-editor of From Glasgow to Saturn, the literary journal at the University of Glasgow, where she is currently pursuing an MLitt in Creative Writing.

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