[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.]
[L.Q. cover and art from L.Q. Summer 2016: Luck.]
As luck would have it I received this issue just a day after guessing I would receive it soon. How lucky is that?
What is luck? To my current actual knowledge it is not a solid, liquid, or gas. Is it a condition? Is it a situation, defined as “a set of circumstances in which one finds oneself”? Is it an explanation for what happens in the absence of a factual explanation? Not quite that.
I seems it is more like the good or bad fortune of something that has happened to someone or something. Fortune is a synonym as nebulous as luck. It is only really a thing of the past. You can say I will have good or bad luck in the future but it is just a guess. To say I am having good luck now in the present is only an observation of successive moments of now, each in the past before you’ve barely acknowledged it. (See L.Q. Time.) One is mostly looking back saying that was bad luck or good luck. It also needs a declarant or attributor. If a tree falls in the forest does it have any luck if no one is there to observe it? A state of mind perhaps.
I trust Lapham’s Quarterly will enlighten.
When I receive a new issue I browse it. I look at the cover art, the IFC (inside front cover), and the Table of Contents. Who do I recognize? In addition to the usual suspects often present there are always people new, unknown to me, and brilliant. How have I never heard of them? I think I’m functionally illiterate. It is comforting that there are many great writers. If one looks at the daily news too often one might think that a dark cloud of ignorance is sweeping the globe like a mysterious fog in a horror story. It is comforting that some people think and write.
I leaf to the Among The Contributors page. Short, informative paragraphs of a seemingly random selection of the issue’s authors are here.
The graphic follows, most often by the inscrutable Haisam Hussein. The art is always exemplary. The text this issue is more informative than some other times. The random foibles of fortune are portrayed disguised as the game of Snakes and Ladders.
Contributors, Graphic, Preamble and more are available at LaphamsQuarterly dot Org. Gloriosky! (Little Annie Rooney, not Little Orphan Annie.) I just discovered dot Org has different contributors than the print edition. There is no end to it.
Next I peruse the piquant side quotes (pleasantly stimulating or exciting to the mind) (I had to look it up) and casually view the exquisite art reproductions, both generously distributed.
“I sometimes think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not the bad luck of the early worm.” –Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1919 (p. 19) Good point.
“There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it, and when he can.” –Mark Twain, 1897 (p. 62)
“Beware good luck: fattening hogs think themselves fortunate.” –German proverb (p. 72)
“You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not.” –Dr. Seuss, 1973 (p. 110)
“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” –Cormac McCarthy, 2005 (p. 158)
“The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable, for the happy impute all their success to prudence and merit.” –Jonathan Swift, 1706 (p. 208)
Editor Lewis H. Lapham’s waxes autobiographical again in his Preamble: Dame Fortune.
“At the age of eighty-one I still can’t say whether the vessel of my life is on or off course, but I do know that its design was none of my own doing.” (p. 15)
I find this surprising considering his success in publishing and his intelligent wisdom in writing. Does he think he’s a puppet on a string? Does he feel guilty coming into the world with the silver spoon of privilege?
“Born in San Francisco of sound mind and body to loving parents in a neighborhood under the protection of money, I understood before I was ten that I’d been dealt favorable cards…” (p. 15)
Does being born into favorable or unfavorable circumstances make it easy or hard to realize ones talents? Luck perhaps.
I like and agree with some of the references he cites in his preamble: (Strangely, I almost always like that with which I agree.)
“…the thought of Greek philosopher Epicurus, who in the third century BC taught that the universe consists of atoms and void and nothing else. No afterlife, no divine retribution or reward, nothing other than a vast turmoil of creation and destruction…” (p. 14) OMG.
“But what is chance? Nothing happens in this world without a cause. If we know the cause, we do not call it chance; but if we do not know it, we say it was produced by chance…” -Thomas Jefferson, 1826 (p. 14)
Earning my precious double-asterisk annotation is this quote from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King: “Learning “is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”” (p. 17)
Mr. Lapham makes several references to the extreme randomness of there being a planet here at all, let alone inhabited with such a wide variety of creatures. He doesn’t make any reference to a supreme being responsible but it’s no wonder man invented religion to give this delicate and perfectly constructed world a purpose. It is too astounding to think it all just happened, but we have no proof otherwise.
Surprisingly shying from politics again in this tumultuous election year he expounds on chance intervening in the American Revolution circa 1776:
“If a heavy fog doesn’t drift into New York Harbor on the morning of August 30, George Washington’s retreating army trapped by the British in Brooklyn Heights, doesn’t make good on its escape in rowboats across the East River to Manhattan; if that army doesn’t survive, neither does the American Revolution. Nor does the revolution succeed without the assistance of France, which wasn’t a gift from Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The Treaty of Alliance followed from the particular quality of Benjamin Franklin’s intelligence that allowed him to persuade an absolute monarch to bankrupt his kingdom in order to finance a democratic rebellion.” (p. 19)
No one knows what else might have happened instead. It’s all imagining. Is this the issue about ‘nothing’? We shall see.