[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 pictures courtesy L.Q.]
LITERATURE! It’s what’s for dinner. And breakfast and lunch. What better on which to feast than fragments of thought and insight from great thinkers throughout history. Yes, they are only fragments and excerpts but ones I would never otherwise read were it not for L.Q.
I think I hear my vast readership stampeding for the exit. What! No pictures at which to look? (Few anyway.)
After all, who reads The Classics anymore? Who reads the great authors, thinkers, philosophers, and their erudite sycophants? Who has time what with texting, tweeting, and scrolling endless pages of endless news, pseudo-news, bluff, and fluff websites? But I digress.
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.”
It’s reliable. Since it’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. White covered with very high quality paper throughout, richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, exactly 221 pages up to the Sources index at the back.
S & F (see cover above). It’s the human condition isn’t it? Perhaps even Nature’s? Haven’t her creatures evolved to look fierce to adversaries, attractive to the opposite sex? Can we say then that disguise is unnatural? Is disguise a swindle or fraud or is it exercise of survival of the fittest? Regardless, humans have refined it beyond any natural guardian state and elevated it to a frenzy of living as who we are not.
Mr. Lapham’s preamble, an introduction to the issue, is titled Paper Moons. It comes from a 1930s song. (Warning, if you listen to it you may well have it in your head for several days.)
The essential lyrics:
Say, it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me
Yes, it’s only a canvas sky
Hanging over a muslin tree
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me
To wit: “…it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me”
You can hear the mythological Sirens, or is it Mohammed, or Jesus? Just ignore reality and BELIEVE.
Lewis Lapham’s preamble is also his soapbox for an always biting perspective on life and what passes for liberty these days. Since 2008 his L.Q. target is usually G.W. Bush and our wars in the Middle East. Surprisingly this issue he spares G.W. with only a single oblique reference: “…the American genius for the artful dodge in its all-but-infinite variety…” including “…the 2003 invasion of Iraq…”. (p. 17)
Lewis’ target this issue? Ronald Reagan! First he gets serious digs in against the banking disasters of 2008 and the fragile financial underpinnings of the American Revolution. (The 18th century one.)
In pre-referencing Melville’s The Confidence Man he notes “What also emerged from the antebellum [post-Civil War] mist and smoke was the winsome scoundrel as a figure of popular romance.” (p. 19)
The con-man as celebrity. Lapham says Melville’s novel anticipates Nietzsche:
What about Reagan?
First there is P.T. Barnum, L. Frank Baum (pre-Oz), Shakespeare’s Henry V, and Herr Goebbels, and St. Augustine (“…that man lies, who has one thing in his mind and utters another in words,” but a man may say a false thing “and yet not lie, if he thinks it to be so.”” (p. 22)
“Goebbels knew he was lying; Ronald Reagan did not. A movie actor rising like a paper moon in the make-believe Hollywood sky, the great communicator never doubted that all of it was so–America the beautiful as painted by Norman Rockwell, the home on the range made safe from Apaches by John Wayne, Jean Arthur, and Jimmy Stewart…” (p. 22)
“Congress never found out what happened to the [Iran-Contra] money, the weapons, or the hostages. The questions were irrelevant because what mattered was the warmth of Reagan’s winning smile, his golden album of red, white, and blue metaphor instilling consumer confidence in an America that wasn’t there.” (p.22)
Et-Ka-TAY-ra Et-Ka-TAY-ra (etc. etc) as my 9th grade Intro to Latin teacher used to say.
In the Preamble’s last line Lapham repeats from Henry V: “Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them.” (p. 23)
The Preamble can be found online if you deign buy the issue. If it’s no longer up front check the Archives.
Speaking of Melville, I happen to be plodding, PLODDING I tell you, through Moby Dick. I’m finding it a ponderous, sometimes bombastic and pretentious, read. SOARING oratory at time, words whipped about as the tip of a fencing epee. By coincidence the very last essay in this issue, A Fish Tale by David Samuels, is about Melville. In a captivating manner it discusses whether he switched to the total fiction mode of writing (“CALL ME ISHMAEL!” the first 3 words of M.D. declare) because his early works and popular successes such as Typee and Omoo were written as seemingly personal experiences, even though they may not have been entirely. Food for thought. I do remember reading Billy Budd in college, Melville’s last, unfinished work, eventually published somehow. “Handsome is as handsome does. That’s what they say about Billy Budd”, as I recollect. It’s a much shorter work if you want to sample. Christ figure, martyr, fragile young man, all that.
What else did I find noteworthy or exceptional in this issue? I had to laugh out loud at the 1969 brief exhortation against black education by angry young black man H. Rap Brown. Shucks, even Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said in his superb autobiography My Grandfather’s Son (the first couple of chapters on his childhood are riveting) that he himself was an Afro and combat boots angry young black man in his young adult years. Brown:
“Being black in this country is like somebody asking you to play white Russian roulette and giving you a gun with bullets in all the chambers.”
“Education ain’t just what comes out of the books, but it’s everything that goes on in the school. And if you leave school hating yourself, then it doesn’t matter how much you know.” (p. 210)
Laughable only because it’s sad but true.
Fictional cons of note:
Raymond Chandler from Double Indemnity.
Machiavelli from The Prince.
Mark Twain from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Charles Dickens from Our Mutual Friend. (Superb satire superbly written, IMHO. (p. 77))
Chester Himes from Dirty Deceivers is equally hilarious. I can’t give away the plot on this one. (p. 95)
Charles Ponzi, for whom pyramid (Ponzi) schemes are named.
Joseph Goebbels (shudder).
Jessica Mitford on funeral homes and caskets.
The other two essays accompanying Melville in the Further Remarks section are also notable. This section contains full essays by contemporary writers. Rogue Wounds by Daniel Mason discusses the various methods throughout history to fake ill health or injury for deceptive purposes, such as avoiding military duty! We Buy Broken Gold by Clancy Martin is outstanding. It’s about those many purveyors who will to buy your family silver and gold and the methods and calculations they go through to devalue the price they will pay. Excellent.
Read, people. READ.
Then go look at more of my pictures. Someday I hope to take photographs.