Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2011: The Future

I’m playing catch-up on this one.  It is the favorite Quarterly of a scholarly, well-read friend.  Lewis Lapham waxes eloquent in his introductory preamble Kingdom Come.  A few excerpts:

“President Obama appears before the congregations of the Democratic faithful as a man of sorrows acquainted with grief, cherishing the wounds of the American body politic as if they were the stigmata of the murdered Christ.” (p. 13)  [There he goes, getting political again (Lewis Lapham gets political.), and this written/published late summer 2011.-JRH]

“Adapted to the service of the Church or the ambition of the state, the fear of the future is the blessing that extorts the payment of the protection money.  For the Taliban and the Tea Party it’s a useful means of crowd control, but for a democratic republic, crouching in the shadow of what might happen tomorrow tends to restrict the freedom of thought as well as the freedoms of movement, and leads eventually to a death by drowning in the bathtub of self-pity.
By way of lifting the siege of dismal prophecy, this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly draws on the teaching of history to show the future as a land of make-believe, a work of the imagination, shaped by the emotion of the present and situated somewhere over the rainbow of a deconstructed past.” (p. 14)


Each issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is a compendium of literary fragments relating to a central theme from great writers, thinkers, and philosophers (sometimes they are all three!) from throughout time.

The main body of each issue I’ve read is called Voices In Time and is broken into 3 sections.  This issue’s theme The Future is divided into the sections of
Hope and Fears,
Predictions, and

Mercifully for those of us like me who appear to be afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder (see L.Q. Spring 2012: Means of Communications for numerous discussions on limited attention spans due to the modern technology of tweeting, texting, and email) the literary fragments are fairly short, 2-6 pages.  A very few essays may be as long 10 pages or so.  The point is that less-literate, unwashed masses like myself again can be exposed to and more easily absorb a vast number of great writers than we likely would be otherwise.

The first essay in Hopes and Fears is Alan Weisman Imagines a Return to Nature written in 2007, theorizing about how New York City would return to nature were it abandoned so such could occur.  Other than a bit of global-warming finger wagging (“Each March, temperatures normally flutter back and forth around 32 degrees Fahrenheit as many as forty times (presumably, climate change could push this back to February).” (p. 22) [Presumably!?  Puh-leeze.]) he makes it sound like nature and NYC would do quite well for itself should mankind decide not to inhabit there anymore.

Weisman discusses ongoing flooding problems in NYC.  Coincidentally The New York Times published a lengthy article about the very same problems.  It’s worth reading:

New York Faces Rising Seas and Slow City Action


New York City is facing up to the threats posed by rising seas and flooding in the subway system during severe storms, but the city is years away from — and billions of dollars short of — armoring itself.  September 10, 2012, Monday

(Note that both articles above were written before Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent NYC devastation in late October 2012.)

Reading Lapham’s I frequently find myself searching for more information on authors and events.  That’s a good thing.

Non-subscribers can find free links to many of the essays here:

Here are a few recommendations or extracts I found particularly thought-provoking:


Managing the Future: 1840 / Paris  The ever-insightful Alexis de Tocqueville on the ebb and flow of faith.  Read this one.


St. Augustine (p. 88).  Read this one carefully a couple of times:

c. 397: Hippo


If the future and the past do exist,I want to know where they are. I may not yet be capable of such knowledge, but at least I know that wherever they are, they are not there as future or past, but as present. For if wherever they are, they are future, they do not yet exist; if past, they no longer exist. So wherever they are and whatever they are, it is only by being present that they are.

When we describe the past correctly, it is not past facts which are drawn out of our memories but only words based on our memory pictures of those facts, because when they happened they left an impression on our minds by means of our sense perception. My own childhood, which no longer exists, is in past time, which also no longer exists. But when I remember those days and describe them, it is in the present that I picture them to myself, because their picture is still present in my memory.

Whether some similar process enables the future to be seen, some process by which events which have not yet occurred become present to us by means of already existing images of them, I confess, my God, that l do not know. But at least I know that we generally think about what we are going to do before we do it, and this preliminary thought is in the present, whereas the action which we premeditate does not yet exist because it is future. Once we have set to work and started to put our plans into action, that action exists, be-cause it is now not future but present.

By whatever mysterious means it may be that the future is foreseen, it is only possible to see something which exists; and whatever exists is not future but present. So when we speak of foreseeing the future, we do not see things which are not yet in being, that is, things which are future, but it may be that we see their causes or signs, which are already in being. In this way they are not future but present to the eye of the beholder, and by means of them the mind can form a concept of things which are still future and thus is able to predict them.


John Kenneth Galbraith: (Substitute the word ‘consumer’ with ‘government’ and you REALLY have the future.)

1958: Cambridge, MA

“The immediate danger in the way wants are now created lies in the related process of debt creation. Consumer demand comes to depend more and more on the ability and willingness of consumers to incur debt. And there are aspects of this debt creation which are inherently unstable.

An increase in consumer debt is all but implicit in the process by which wants are now synthesized. Advertising and emulation, the two dependent sources of desire, work across the society. They operate on those who can afford and those who cannot. With those who lack the current means it is a brief and obvious step from stimulating their desire by advertising to making it effective in the market with a loan.  The relation of emulation to indebtedness is even more direct. Every community contains individuals with a wide range of difference in ability to pay.  The example of those who can pay bears immediately on those who cannot. They must incur debt if they are to keep abreast. The great increase in consumer indebtedness in our time has been widely viewed as reflecting some original or unique change in popular attitudes or behavior. People have changed their view of debt. Thus there has been an inexplicable but very real retreat from the Puritan canon that required an individual to save first and enjoy later.  In fact, as always, the pieces of economic life are parts of a whole. It would be surprising indeed if a society that is prepared to spend thousands of millions to persuade people of their wants were to fail to take the further step of financing these wants, and were it not then to go on to persuade people of the ease and desirability of incurring debt to make these wants effective.  This has happened. The process of persuading people to incur debt, and the arrangements for them to do so, are as much a part of modern production as the making of the goods and the nurturing of the wants. The Puritan ethos was not abandoned. It was merely overwhelmed by the massive power of modern merchandising.” (p. 89)


A man wakes up after sleeping 1,000 years.  Is the world a better place?

Jerome K. Jerome from “The New Utopia” (p. 110-111)

Every one was dressed, as was also my guide, in a pair of gray trousers, and a gray tunic, buttoning tight round the neck and fastened round the waist by a belt. Each man was clean shaven, and each man had black hair.

I said, “Are all these men twins?”

“Twinsl Good gracious, no!” answered my guide. “Whatever made you fancy that?”

“Why, they all look so much alike,” I replied, “and they’ve all got black hair!”

“Oh, that’s the regulation color for hair,” explained my companion. “We’ve all got black hair. If a man’s hair is not black naturally, he has to have it dyed black.”

“Why?”I asked.

“Why!” retorted the old gentleman, somewhat irritably. “Why, I thought you understood that all men were now equal. What would become of our equality if one man or woman were allowed to swagger about in golden hair, while another had to put up with carrots? Men have not only got to be equal in these happy days, but to look it, as far as can be. By causing all men to be clean shaven, and all men and women to have black hair cut the same length, we obviate, to a certain extent, the errors of nature.”

I said, “Why black?”

He said he did not know, but that was the color which had been decided upon.

“Who by?”I asked.

“By the majority,”he replied, raising his hat and lowering his eyes, as if in prayer.


I’m still reading this issue and I don’t know if I’ll finish before the Spring Quarterly is published in a few weeks.  This should be enough for you to digest for now and I’ll let you know if I find more gems in The Future. (I’m sure I will.)

I never would have read or been exposed to great writers and thinkers of the ages if it weren’t for Lapham’s Quarterly.  Buy it, read it, keep it.

My previous posts on Lapham’s Quarterly:

Lapham’s Quarterly WINTER 2013: INTOXICATION

Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2012: POLITICS

Lewis Lapham REALLY gets political!

Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2012: Magic Shows

Lewis Lapham gets political.

Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2012: Means of Communication. Finished!

YES! My PRINT edition of Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2012 finally arrived.

6 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2011: The Future

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