Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2008: Book of Nature, pt. I

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see previous posts reviewing or referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free. See Archives on that page for back issues.]

L.Q. posts are for inquiring minds and avid readers. I gently chide you if you do not proceed.

As I have finished reading the Summer 2014 issue I now have time to read one or two back issues from my Complete Collection of Lapham’s Quarterly before the next issue is published in September. Summer 2008: Book of Nature is next.

L.Q. describes itself much better than I:
“Lapham’s Quarterly is a journal of literature and history, edited by Lewis Lapham. Four times a year we collect fiction, non-fiction, poems, and essays from over four thousand years of recorded time, all gathered around a single theme.”

My standard L.Q. comments apply:
1. ‘Lapham’s Quarterly is the finest publication I read.’
2. ‘In L.Q. I am exposed to great minds without having to read the complete works of each.’

What authors are in this issue? Chief Luther Standing Bear, Plinys the Younger and Elder, John Muir, Immanuel Kant (ugh), Jack London, Al Gore (double ugh, but it is about Nature and who knows more about the settled science of climate change, nee’ global warming), Beowulf, Hitler (triple ugh, he was just in Spring 2014: Revolutions), Aldous Huxley, Theodore Roosevelt, Yeats, Shakespeare, Herodotus, Emerson, Whitman, Hawthorne, to name a few. Should be seventy-five or so total.


The two-page graphic near the beginning of this issue was especially noteworthy. ‘Clearing the Inventory’, map by Jonathan Corum. It’s about how man is using and using up some of the world’s resources. It deserves attention. A reproduction can be seen here. Mr. Corum’s fine work can be perused here.

Lewis Lapham’s preamble this issue is particularly good. That means I personally like it more than many others. It’s titled ‘Messages In A Bottle’. As usual it starts with a quote:

To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow, All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.”
—Walt Whitman (p. 13)

[I must get what the writing means.–JH]

“Whitman had in mind the writing in the book of nature—whether encoded in a cloud, engraved on a leaf, or printed on the page—the messages in a bottle washed ashore from the shipwreck of what was once a distant star. The tone of urgency in the poet’s voice is well met with the ever more frequent reports of anomaly in the biosphere…”

“The media upgrade the bulletins to terror alerts…” (p. 13)

There he goes. Always pursuing/blaming the media. This from the former editor of Harpers Magazine. Lest I digress, what I like about this preamble is his assertion, logic, insight, clear observation, IMO, that we humans ARE NATURE.

We are not, as some would have you believe, some alien virus or nature malformation spawned to destroy the planet. Man’s innovation and ‘man-made’ creations are as much a part of the planet and universe as water, grass, and sky.

He notes that some of this issue’s extracts will argue whether or not nature is here to serve man. I look forward to those arguments. IMO nature is to be used by man. To what extent, “ay, there’s the rub”. (Hamlet.)

A bit more of the preamble:

“Which isn’t to say that I stand unmoved before the sight of the rising or the setting sun, indifferent to the crying of a loon or the mystery of sand, only that the wonders of nature I find no more or less miraculous than the products of civilization and its discontents.”

“Whitman’s willingness to see the beauty in a city street runs counter to the sermons of our own more zealous preachers of the environmental gospel. …they draw so severe a distinction between what is “natural” (the good, the true, and the beautiful) and what is “artificial” (wicked, man-made, false)… they equate humanity with vermin, civilization with disease.” (p. 15-16)

“If it is in the nature of beavers to build dams, and of glaciers to cast off icebergs, so it is in the nature of man to compose operas, design cows, and set in motion the beating of Vice President Dick Cheney’s cybernetic heart.” (p. 16)

“Nature is what we do for a living…” (p. 17)



(p. 15)

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