Lapham’s Quarterly Winter 2011: Celebrity

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review, Photography]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[All snapshots (and they’re only that) poorly taken with an iPad2 from this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly.  Sorry photo people! Click to zoom.]


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

I’m reading back issues from my Complete Collection of Lapham’s Quarterly (est. Winter 2008, still available in the literary market if one seeks and he shall find) as well as reading each current issue as it arrives.

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.’

Narcissus again (see the Youth issue)

I’m still working on 2008 (one to go, Fall) but was prompted to jump to this issue by the recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams at age 63.  What a great, great comedian (and dramatic actor) he was, giving us the gift of laughter and release from our mundane daily lives.  Now he has had the nerve to deprive us of him.  It was thoughtless, selfish, and unfair.

Then, before I finished reading this issue, comedian Joan Rivers died at age 81 after a medical procedure.  There was no one quite like her.  I love the synonyms listed online for acerbic (sharp and forthright), as in acerbic wit.  They are so HER.  [Unless you are already bored to tears do NOT feel like you need to click the links for the definitions.  I’m too lazy to remove them.]

synonyms: sharpsarcasticsardonicmordanttrenchantcutting, razor-edged,bitingpiercing, stinging, searingscathingcausticbitteracrimonious,astringentabrasiveharsh, wounding, hurtfulunkindcruelvirulent,vitriolicvenomousmaliciousviciousMore


Celebrity.  As this issue reminds us, we mankind have sought, fawned or pursued celebrity since the beginning of time.  Early on ‘the great ones’ were kings and conquerors, perhaps also those of soldierly or athletic prowess.  Today it seems like it is everyone and everything.  I wonder/fear mankind (at least the western ‘civilized’ of us) embodies some severe psychic aberration.  We are not willing to be ourselves just for the sake of our self. We must be recognized, applauded, regaled, feted.  If we can’t do that then we live our lives vicariously through an endless number of fantasy/reality outlets.  Sports!  Movies! TV!  (Even books!  Fiction explodes these days. YA (young adult) novels, soon to be transported to a big screen near you!  Hunger Games!  Divergent!  Twilight!  Glorious fantasy.)  Facebook!  Selfie photos!!  CosPlay!  (Which actually looks like fun.) ANYTHING but dirt, grass, trees, sky.  (I hope you saw my marathon comments on L.Q. Book of Nature.)

Lapham’s thoroughly (as usual) explores the span.  Lewis Lapham’s always exemplary Preamble is present, this time titled Dancing With The Stars, a play on a popular TV show airing in 2011 and still at this writing.  The main body of the issue, Voices in Time, has the sections of On the Rise, At the Top, and Out of Sight.  Priceless representative art, anecdotes, and side-quotes are liberally distributed, all on high-quality bond paper to the exact number of 221 pages before the Sources reference section.  I love knowing how many pages are left.  I have some urge to be finished and knowing the remaining distance is a comfort but we all know it’s every bit the journey where the value lies.


I’m getting very wordy and I’ve promised myself I will restrict my comments on this issue to a single blog post.

The superficiality of celebrity can be readily seen  in Gossip Girl (Lili Langtry) and P.T. Barnum Sets the Stage.  (Free online!)(Use the 2nd link at the top of the page.)

Singer Bob Dylan is noteworthy in that all he ever wanted was to have a normal family life with wife, kids, and quiet time.  How did that work for ya’ Bob?


Of course many of the really good extracts are not free.  ‘Behind the Lens…’ on paparazzi is chilling and insightful.  Fictional celebrity is represented by a slice of The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald.  I saw the movie recently with Leonardo de Caprio as Gatsby.  Didn’t care for it. It was excessively color-stylized.

I thought Andy Warhol was very insightful on the subject:
“Some company was recently interested in buying my “aura”.  They didn’t want my product.  They kept saying, “We want your aura.”  I never figured out what they wanted.” (p. 106)
“An actress should count up her plays and movies and a model should count up her photographs… …so you always know exactly what you’re worth, and you don’t get stuck thinking your product is you and your fame, and your aura.” (p. 107)


Buffalo Bill is a personal favorite (Hitting It Big (free!)) as I visited his gravesite and museum this summer.

Sooo many great writers and insights.  Virginia Woolf.  Leo Tolstoy.  John Hinckley’s love letter to Jodie Foster (This Is Just To Say (free!)).  He shot Ronald Reagan and James Brady.  Brady remained incapacitated until his death Aug. 2014 at which time his death was ruled a homicide.  It reminded me that one of the many school shooters seeking fame told his jailor “At least people will remember me”.  His jailor replied “No they won’t”.  I don’t remember his name or location either and only recall the jailor’s prescience. Celebrity is fickle.


I thought Lisztomania (free!!) was noteworthy as yet another example of the idiocy of a fawning public.  At least they had the good taste to chase a virtuoso pianist.

William Hazlitt (his Wiki page is the size of a novelette) makes pertinent points in The Royal Self (free!!):
“All we want is to aggrandize our own vainglory at secondhand, and the less of real superiority or excellence there is in the person we fix upon as our proxy in this dramatic exhibition, the more easily can we change places with him and fancy ourselves as good as he.” (p. 153)
“…we say in our secret hearts, there is nothing but accident that prevents us from being at the head of it.”
“Almost every true and loyal subject holds such a barren scepter in his hand, and the meanest of the rabble, as he runs by the monarch’s side, has wit enough to think, “There goes my royal self!”” (p. 154)


L.Q. again surprises me that it doesn’t have more of a presence of Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.  Isn’t this too what Celebrity is all about?  The masses, en masse, chasing their tails and the meaning of their lives in the shadow of someone else.  I must read that book yet again.


There is a single side-quote from Hoffer: “Glory is largely a theatrical concept.  There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience.” –Eric Hoffer, 1951 (p. 221)

Hoffer’s quote is on the last page of the issue but before that the final extended-length essays (free, Free, FREE online!) delve further.


A Public Man, on Lord Byron and his young personal physician Polidori:

“From the point of his exile to the end of his life in Greece, Byron became increasingly lost in the labyrinth of the Byronic creation, causing him to become coquettish and contrary and seemingly always trying to provoke a reaction. As Lady Blessington wrote of him a year before he died, he “had so unquenchable a thirst for celebrity that no means were left untried that might attain it; this frequently led to his expressing opinions totally at variance with his actions and real sentiments, and vice versa, and made him appear quite inconsistent and puerile.” The fictions of celebrity had come to consume their creator.” (p. 184)

Gilgamesh to Gaga, on the fame machine:

“If Martin Luther and Johannes Gutenberg made every man and woman a priest, with Gaga and Facebook every user becomes an icon. We must all now pass through a mobile, multifaceted, and omnipresent fame machine to enter even the modest arenas of friendship, family, and work. And we are coaxed—or indeed compelled—to extend our aura, to transform ourselves into diffused, delocalized entities whose power, size, and value we measure out (from the archaic, nondigital shadows) in hit counters and “followers.” We make ourselves our own cloud of glory, whose contours and impact are obsessively monitored and adjusted by an increasingly vaporous source.” (p. 191)

Dali (Salvador of course). You had to ask?

I really liked this one: Vanishing Act, on a child writer destined too soon to wither and fade.

““My dreams are going through their death flurries,” she wrote that June. “I thought they were all safely buried, but sometimes they stir in their grave, making my heartstrings twinge. I mean no particular dream, you understand, but the whole radiant flock of them together—with their rainbow wings, iridescent, bright, soaring, glorious, sublime. They are dying before the steel javelins and arrows of a world of Time and Money.”” (p. 197)

I recommend it.

The story of Orson Welles young success and fading star is outstanding.  Against Appearances.

P. T. Barnum and his employee/attraction Commodore George Washington Nutt. 1862

Who better to finish the issue with than the original sham artist P. T. Barnum.  Celebrity is the thinnest of veneers, more likely cheap cotton cheesecloth than the finest silk.

‘Nuff said.

5 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Winter 2011: Celebrity

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