Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2008: About Money, partial review two and last

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts reviewing or referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]

My reading of this issue continues.  As noted in partial review one About Money is becoming one of my favorite issues of Lapham’s Quarterly.


“Money, to be sure, of itself is of no use, for its only use is to part with it.” –James Boswell (p. 96)

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Alexis De Tocqueville is outstanding.  (p. 97-98)  This is Chp. 10 of his Democracy In America, ‘Of The Taste For Physical Well-Being In America’.  Two translations can be found online here and here (scroll down) but these are not the Arthur Goldhammer translation in L.Q.

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A few excerpts (from the 2nd link previous):

“Amongst a nation where aristocracy predominates in society, and keeps it stationary, the people in the end get as much accustomed to poverty as the rich to their opulence. The latter bestow no anxiety on their physical comforts, because they enjoy them without an effort; the former do not think of things which they despair of obtaining, and which they hardly know enough of to desire them.

In communities of this kind, the imagination of the poor is driven to seek another world; the miseries of real life inclose it around, but it escapes from their control, and flies to seek its pleasures far beyond. When, on the contrary, the distinctions of ranks are confounded together and privileges are destroyed – when hereditary property is subdivided, and education and freedom widely diffused, the desire of acquiring the comforts of the world haunts the imagination of the poor, and the dread of losing them that of the rich.”

“If I were to inquire what passion is most natural to men who are stimulated and circumscribed by the obscurity of their birth or the mediocrity of their fortune, I could discover none more peculiarly appropriate to their condition than this love of physical prosperity.

The passion for physical comforts is essentially a passion of the middle classes: with those classes it grows and spreads, with them it preponderates. From them it mounts into the higher orders of society, and descends into the mass of the people.

I never met in America with any citizen so poor as not to cast a glance of hope and envy on the enjoyments of the rich, or whose imagination did not possess itself by anticipation of those good things which fate still obstinately withheld from him.

On the other hand, I never perceived amongst the wealthier inhabitants of the United States that proud contempt of physical gratifications which is sometimes to be met with even in the most opulent and dissolute aristocracies. Most of these wealthy persons were once poor; they have felt the sting of want; they were long a prey to adverse fortunes;…”

Materialism? (For worse or BETTER?) In America?  ”S’il vous plaît, monsieur!”

Chekov is noteworthy on The Lottery Ticket (p. 110) (Also free a.k.a. “…Runs The Numbers”.)  We can dream can’t we.

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I love the sidebar quotes:

“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.” –Jean-Baptiste Colbert (p. 114)

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“To suppose, as we all suppose, that we could be rich and not behave the way the rich behave, is like supposing that we could drink all day and stay sober.” –L.P. Smith (p. 116)

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Edith Wharton (on upward mobility?) was a bit dry for me.  (Undine Spragg Tacks East, p. 117, also free online).  What do I know, I’m barely literate.  Of the 99 or so literary extracts in this issue I’m sure it’s not the only one that I won’t fawn over.  I bet the Dorothy Parker piece will more than make up for it.

John Updike is hilarious.  Sex, Kruggerands, and, uhhh, more sex.

“It was simple.  All you got to do is produce a certified check within twenty-four hours after they quote you a price.  They guarantee to buy them back at the going rate any time, so all you lose is their 6 percent commission and the sales tax, which at the rate gold is going up, I’ll have made back by next week.”  (p. 120)

What could be more lascivious than that?  (Most of the rest of this extract, that’s what.)

Virginia Woolf is next.  Relieved of the drudgery of working for a living by an annual stipend from an inheritance.  Such freedom!

“…I had earned a few pounds by addressing envelopes, reading to old ladies, making artificial flowers, teaching the alphabet to small children in a kindergarten.  Such were the chief occupations that were open to women before 1918.”  [Horrors!  That was it? –J.]

“…always to be doing work that one did not wish to do, and to do it like a slave, flattering and fawning…”  [Horrors again.  This working for a living really sucks.  –J.]

“…what a change of temper a fixed income will bring about.  No force in the world can take from me my five hundred pounds.  Food, house, and clothing are mine forever.  Therefore, not merely do effort and labor cease, but also hatred and bitterness.”

No wonder she committed suicide.  Her life was a living hell.  Further research tells me however that this piece was published in 1929 and she was married from 1912 to her death in 1942, thus I’m not certain about all the hoopla and liberation when receiving an inheritance.  However I am not unsympathetic to her mental illness.

The piece on the opulence of William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon is excellent.  It is fiction, or perhaps historical fiction is more precise.  It is written by Upton Sinclair as part of his Lanny Budd novels.  This extract alone would inspire that semester’s worth of additional study of both persons.  Sinclair is he of muckraking fame with 1906’s The Jungle about meat-packing industry conditions and 1919’s The Brass Check about yellow journalism.  Hearst is the great newspaper publisher of, wait for it, yellow journalism fame.  Wikipedia is your friend to whet your appetite about Sinclair and Hearst.

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The next two pieces are available via the free link.  Dennis Kozlowski briefly describes his wife’s million-dollar birthday party that helped land him in jail for corporate malfeasance. Andrew Carnegie on the other hand encourages the distribution of wealth to help the poor who will work for it:

“In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves; to provide part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so, to give those who desire to use the aids by which they may rise; to assist, but rarely or never to do all.”  (p. 152)

What a novel idea.  Oh these Robber Barons and their wily ways.  Charity isn’t just a handout?  Hmm.  The author’s note says Carnegie gave away about $350 million, nearly all of his fortune.  I wouldn’t have been so generous.  I read elsewhere that fellow Baron John D. Rockefeller gave away $530 million but his net worth was north of $330 BILLION.  That’s more like it.  I still like the 1930’s book God’s Gold about John D. and the birth of the Pennsylvania oil industry.

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Speaking of which, John D’s sidebar on p. 179:

“I believe the power to make money is a gift from God–just as are the instincts for art, music, literature, the doctor’s talent, the nurse’s, yours–to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind.  Having been endowed with the gift I possess, I believe it is my duty to make money and still more money, and to use the money I make for the good of my fellow man according to the dictates of my conscience.”

Perhaps ‘the dictates of my conscience’ should be emphasized.  He was a devout Baptist by the way.  God’s Gold author Flynn posits that he was an Old Testament, fire and brimstone Baptist, inclined toward a tumultuous, hard knocks world.  His business acumen was brutal.

“A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” –Everett Dirksen. (sidebar p. 177)  Wasn’t he prescient.

John Maynard Keynes is noteworthy on the diminution of gold: “Gold has ceased to be a coin, a hoard, a tangible claim to wealth… …It has become a much more abstract thing–just a standard of value…” (p. 177)

Freud on the other hand discusses the psyche’s relationship of gold and feces.  Hmm.  Too deep for me.  A gratefully brief extract.

I’ve read the five sections of Voices In Time:
Exchange Rates

I’ve read the four fine essays at the end in Further Remarks.  (Online free of course, but you should consider ordering this back issue from L.Q.  (I wish I received a commission.))

What is money?  It is everything and it is nothing.  To me it is a medium of exchange.  It is the grain I harvested, the eggs I gathered, the cattle I raised, in my little cubicle at the computer company where I worked, and with which I’m trading for my self-support and the pursuits and pleasures I can afford.  As noted at the beginning of this post Boswell nailed it: “…of itself is of no use, for its only use is to part with it.”

I must read this issue again.  SOON!  It is a fave.

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