Lapham’s Quarterly Winter 2009: Eros

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[All photos are of pages in the Eros issue of L.Q.]


Now that I have your attention, this is the Eros issue.  According to Wikipedia he is the god of love although his mother Aphrodite is the goddess of love unless you consider him a primordial god.  (Speaking of Wikipedia have you received the little yellow banner there reminding you to donate this December 2014?  I use Wiki five or ten times a day and ANYTHING I donate is a pittance compared to the yearly value received.)


If this issue is about love should it have been called the Love issue instead of Eros? Then it might have had a picture of a heart of the cover, perhaps pierced by Cupid’s arrow, instead of the big red lipstick imprint.  Speaking of Cupid, Eros’ Roman counterpart, the words Cupid and Eros are derived from desire, which might have been more appropriate for this issue since the whole thing seems to be about…



SEX! and SEX! and SEX!

Sex is definitely desire but is it love?  Is love desire, and/or sex?  It’s not for me to reason why, just for me to do or die, someone said.

One of the few L.Q. reviewers I’ve come across complained about some sex in an issue, Youth I believe.  That person or any others adverse to reading about sex may not care for this issue, but seriously people, it’s just SEX!

Authors, to name just a handful: Ovid, Flaubert, Rumi, Nabokov, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Mingus, John Updike, Plato, Casanova, Whitman, Shakespeare, James Baldwin, Marquis de Sade, Chaucer, Anais Nin, Horace, Tolstoy, Freud, Hemingway, Keats, and Euripides.

This issue’s sections of Voices In Time:

Tennis anyone?  Or is it Chase, Capture, and Win or Lose?  Perhaps thrust, parry, touché would be more appropriate for Eros.


Lewis Lapham’s preamble (one of his shortest I’ve read) is titled Transits of Venus.  It starts with a quote: “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” –Mae West.  His autobiographical tidbit this time is a summer 1964 interview of Ms. West when she was seventy-one years old and ensconced in a lavish boudoir ‘wearing a lace negligee, a feather boa, and a pink silk nightgown’.

“Over the course of a life that she construed as a transit of Venus, she hadn’t bothered to count the number of lovers who had come and gone with the leaves of autumn and the flowers of spring.  “The score never interested me,” she said, “only the game.”” (p. 14)

The first extract in Game, contemporary as usual (2006), sets the pace: “With all due attention to foreplay, penetration, and the bliss that follows, it is still usually over in half an hour so that if my wife and I start going at it by ten-thirty, even with the reverential postcoital snuggle and love-you exchange, one of us still has time to say, “You wanna watch the news?” (p. 19) [Sex is funny too.  –J]

Since I started annotating my issues (if Churchill can why can’t I?) this one is my least annotated.  Still I made notes.  There is plenty to be said about sex (the usual 221 pages in L.Q. for example) but is it deep?  I liked the piece by Gustave Flaubert about the very very long carriage ride, but the selection from Brokeback Mountain (man-man sex), very good writing, was more than enough for me.  Nabokov’s piece from Lolita is noteworthy as are the script sections from The Graduate with Mrs. Robinson and North by Northwest with Cary Grant and Eve Saint Marie.

“Is sex dirty?  Only if it’s done right.” –Woody Allen, 1972 (p. 73)  [We must keep our sense of humor. –J]

There is great writing to be read here.  I found it neither titillating nor boring.  I suspect my 93-year-old mother wouldn’t care for it and some less-mature 13-year-olds likewise might not be interested.  I hope this issue will not prevent me from willing my L.Q. collection to my local library.  Do they have an adult section, for mature readers of any age?

Lewis Carroll?  Alice in Wonderland??  Hmm.  I'm not sure about child photography.
Lewis Carroll? Alice in Wonderland?? OMG!!  Hmm. I’m not sure about child photography.

I found myself liking many extracts towards the end of the Match section.  They seemed more contemplative.  Vita Sackville-West dearly loved both her husband and Virginia Woolf.  Flannery O’Conner had another fine story of the South.

La Rochefoucauld’s aphorisms (1665) were thought provoking:
“True love is like ghostly apparitions; everybody talks about them but few have ever seen one.”
“Constancy in love is perpetual inconstancy, inasmuch as the heart is drawn to one quality after another in the beloved, now preferring this, now that.  Constancy is therefore inconstancy held in check and confined to the same object.” (p. 174) [Think about it. –J]

The full length (6-10 pages) contemporary essays in the Further Remarks section at the back were very good this issue.

The first starts “A few years ago I tried to lead my students through two brief novels… …I thought, among other things, that these beautiful books would furnish us with a good opportunity to think about the nature of sensuality and its tense relationship to sex–which is a close but not always friendly sibling–and to love, which is often another matter altogether.” (p. 179)  SEE!  Is sex love or sex or sensuality or love or sex?!  Aye, there’s the rub.

Another essay poo-poos the Kinsey Report and examines American sexual mores since the late 1940s.


Yet another eye-opening piece examines the apparently super-charged sexual atmosphere of evangelicalism.  “American evangelicalism is the most erotic of all religions…” (p. 194) WHO KNEW?!?  “This is a spiritual reality for believers, and it’s also a sexual reality, since sex is a more constant presence than the Holy Spirit itself.  Not the act, of course, but the desire, bred into us by Eve’s original sin.  The apple is always before us.  But this constant temptation is also its own reward.  By resisting it–by rebelling against the world as it is–the believer steps into a relationship with the divine, most satisfyingly embodied by one’s God-appointed and legally married soulmate.” (p. 193)  Again, WHO KNEW?!  Fascinating piece.  Perhaps the final comments enlighten: “Sacrifice,” he said, “that’s all it is.” (p. 200)

Several more essays enlightened and entertained.

I conclude with a few more bon mots from the side quotes:

“I’ve been on more laps than a napkin.” –Mae West (p. 208)

“There are several good protections against temptation, but the surest is cowardice.” –Mark Twain, 1897 (p. 209)

“To love a woman who scorns you is to lick honey from a thorn.” –Welsh proverb (p. 221)

The defense rests.

Read, read, read.  No sooner had I finished Eros than my Winter 2015 issue arrived.  FOREIGNERS!  To be continued…

5 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Winter 2009: Eros

  1. “I’ve been on more laps than a napkin.” –Mae West (p. 208)
    I think this should be the title. This is as witty as Dorothy Parker. I think I have a new female idol. Laughing…..


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