I was surprised, as reading two full issues since I subscribed to Lapham’s Quarterly last winter I had found it to be a pleasant relief that it was apolitical. Someday the quarterly theme could be politics. At least then we’ll know what we’re in for.
The friend who introduced me to this fine publication, which I still highly recommend as part of your lifelong reading diet, said Lewis has been political before, and equally critical of liberal as well as conservative views. At least he is ‘fair and balanced’ and I can respect that. However it was nice to read good literature that was absent of politics. We already know where to find political thought and commentary when we want it. (Anywhere!)
I’m referring of course to Lewis Lapham, founder and editor/publisher of the aforementioned publication.
Lapham writes an essay at the beginning of each issue called Preamble in which he discusses the quarterly theme. As noted in my discussion of the previous issue, Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2012: Means of Communication. Finished!, my email announcement says this new issue (Summer 2012: Magic Shows) “…delves into mankind’s predilection through the millennia for the marvelous, the mysterious, and the supernatural”.
Since the beginning of time mankind seems to have had a propensity for wanting to look beyond the facts at hand, or lack thereof, and believe. One must have faith in the unknown we are told. Perhaps that is what Magic Shows is about.
Lapham’s preamble, titled Wonders Never Cease, opens with a quote:
Lapham eloquently sets the tone in the second paragraph:
“In the beginning was the word, and with it the powers of enchantment. Across the reach of many centuries this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly speaks to mankind’s predilection for the marvelous, the evidence taken from every quarter of the compass, the testimony touching on the various conjugations of the supernatural into the tenses of divination, poetry, medicine, witchcraft, philosophy, and religion.” (p. 14)
He does state:
“The issue takes its cue from Marlowe’s tragical Doctor Faustus (London, page 123) because his dreams of “profit and delight, / Of power, of honor, of omnipotence,” are the stuff that America is made of…” (p. 14)
We know that Marlowe’s 16th century play The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, commonly referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is a play… based on the Faust story, in which a man sells his soul to the devil for power and knowledge. (Wikipedia.)
I personally take all this to mean that Magic Shows will study not only mankind’s predilection for the marvelous, mysterious, and supernatural, but also his tendency to use it for profit, delight, power, honor, and omnipotence. No problem. Witch doctors, seers, and priests have been at the right hand of rulers since the beginning of time.
I specifically object to a portion of the essay near the end. Let’s take a page from my college elective in Critical Reading and examine that portion. (Prime directive: read critically?)
On page 19 he continues, with my comments, marked [-JH], footnoted beneath:
How else to classify the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq if not as an attempt at alchemy? [5.-JH] At both the beginning and end of the effort to transform the whole of the Islamic Middle East into a democratic republic like the one pictured in the ads inviting tourists to Colonial Williamsburg, the White House and the Pentagon issued press releases in the voice of the evil angel counseling Faustus,“Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,/ Lord and commander of these elements.” Charles Krauthammer, neoconservative newspaper columnist and leading soloist in the jingo chorus [6.-JH] of the self-glorifying news media, amplified the commandment for the readers of Time magazine in March 2001, pride going before the fall six months later of the World Trade Center: “America is in a position to reshape norms, alter expectations, and create new realities. How? By unapologetic and implacable demonstrations of will.”
[3. One thing I love about the Quarterly. Ya’ have to look stuff up. -JH]
[4. True enough, all of that. We seem to be consulting crystals, incense, and tarot more than ever, despite ‘modern technology’. -JH]
[5. “…Ay, there’s the rub…” (Shakespeare, Hamlet.) What does Bush (G.W.) and Iraq have to do with ANYTHING here!? This is purely an opportunity for the author to vent his personal spleen. “I’m Lewis Lapham and I approve this political aside.” Here I am trying to better myself by reading quality literature and the sanctimonious so-and-so has to express HIS opinion on the Iraq War. Thanks a lot. (In hindsight don’t we all love to criticize the PAST.) -JH]
[6. Make sure we get a stab at those sanctimonious talking-heads too. We’ll show THEM! -JH]
[7. To belabor the point I (Lapham) will spew a few inanities from Rumsfeld. -JH]
Being ‘fair and balanced’ Lapham makes a few cursory swipes at Obama:
“The Rumsfeldian message accounts not only for what was intended as a demonstration magical in Iraq, but also for the Obama administration’s current purpose in Afghanistan, which is to decorate a wilderness of tribal warfare with the potted plant of a civilized and law-abiding government that doesn’t exist.” (p. 19-20)
“The eight years that have passed since its [A referred report.-JH] publication have brought with them… …also the election of President Barack Obama in the belief that he would enter the White House as the embodiment of Merlin or Christ.” (p. 20)
Well, you catch my drift on all this I trust.
In closing, I’m disappointed we can’t read fine literature without having political opinions imposed. These opinions add nothing to the theme at hand. Yes, it is Mr. Lapham’s football (uh, publication) and he can do whatever he wants with it. A continuing excess of political opinion would be one of the few reasons I would stop paying him to read it. For now I will try to be amused.
[Apologies for the various type fonts used. A problem with text OCR conversion that I could not correct despite several attempts. -JH]