A man is drowning: He’s going under for the first time. He comes up and he sees someone standing on shore with a life preserver. Someone who looks a lot like [future Sarah Palin stalker] Joe McGinniss. The man shouts, “I’m drowning, please help me!” The guy on shore says, “Fuck you. You’re a cold-blooded killer. I don’t give a rat’s ass about you. Die, fucker.” The man goes down.
He comes up again and this time he sees a woman on shore who looks a lot like Janet Malcolm. He cries out, “Throw me a life preserver, I’m drowning, help me!” The woman on shore says, “I’d like to help you, but you misunderstand the nature of our relationship. You see yourself as a drowning man and me as a woman with a life preserver, but there’s a meta-narrative here. I’m studying the relationship between a drowning man and a person with a life preserver, and for me to throw it would be to break the constraints of the meta-narrative.”
So, which is worse: the post-modern meta-narrative that removes you from the sphere of journalistic responsibility, or just being completely irresponsible? It is a really important question. Janet Malcolm is one of my heroes, which is what is so weird about all of this. Her writing is extraordinary. She made McGinniss paradigmatic—a sinister sort of exemplar of journalism. But she misses the point. The facts matter. (…)
Cleckley wrote or co-wrote two books you might say define the 20th-century psychologically, both of which are insane. In Three Faces of Eve, he invented multiple personality disorder. His other book is Mask of Sanity, in which he invented, not out of whole cloth, but still, the idea of psychopathy. Cleckley’s idea being that the psychopath wears a mask that makes him look like everyone else. But guess what, underneath the mask is the beast. The guy with the horns.