Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2016: Luck (Pt. II of several)

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review, Sports]
[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.]

A review, continued.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 7.40.52 PM

Voices in Time (the main body of L.Q.) is in three sections:

Strokes of Luck
Wheels of Fortune
Twists of Fate

Luck, Fortune, and Fate.


Happenstance (courtesy Mirriam-Webster online):
..Simple Definition of happenstance: something that happens by chance.
..Full Definition of happenstance:  a circumstance especially that is due to chance.


Now that I’ve read the main body has my perspective on luck changed?  No.  I’m sticking with ‘an explanation for what happens in the absence of a factual explanation’.

We don’t want to be alone.  Yet we are.  So very alone.  We invent.  It’s much easier to be part of some great plan.  If it’s not the will of Allah then it’s just luck.  Plain good or bad luck.

Somewhere along the line of time and history we made up the concept of luck.  Perhaps it was about the same time we conceived of gawd, gods, and God.  That is our nature.  We evolve, invent, evolve, and invent.

Luckp23(p. 23)

It is much easier to believe the concept of a universe created and controlled by a superior intelligence than it is to believe the universe, Earth, and conscious Man are the result of the random mingling of matter.

Richard Dawkins addresses that in the very first extract, receiving my near-blanket annotation of text and coveted double-asterisk in importance symbol.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.  Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.”
“In the teeth of the stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.” (p. 21)

“We live on a planet that is all but perfect for our kind of life: not too warm and not too cold, basking in kindly sunshine, softly watered: a gently spinning, green and gold harvest festival of a planet.  Yes, and alas, there are deserts and slums; there is starvation and racking misery to be found.  But take a look at the competition.  Compared with most planets this is paradise…” (p. 23)

Dawkins likens the inhabitance of Earth with that of a spaceship of sleeping explorers searching for a place for millions of years and finally finding one.

“As I said, the story asks for too much luck; it would never happen.  And yet, isn’t that what has happened to each one of us?  We have woken after hundreds of millions of years asleep, defying astronomical odds.”
“Of course I am playing tricks with the idea of luck, putting the cart before the hosts.  It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall, and everything else are exactly right.  If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that other kind of life that would have evolved here.  But we as individuals are still hugely blessed… …we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close forever.” (p. 24)

Life is problem solving.  If you don’t solve you’re dead.  This issue of L.Q. (like every issue) has really made me think.  Occurrences have pelted me recently.  What else could go wrong?  Oh, that… and that… and that.  Still, it’s not as bad as living in a Middle Eastern refugee camp or a Syrian city battleground.  You have to deal with it.

Luckp36(p. 36)

It seems quite a few of the extracts are fictional.  Not enough factual examples extant? Some are amusing, such as Graham Greene’s piece from “A Shocking Accident”.  (Pigs can fly, just don’t let one fall on you.)  James Thurber too, The Luck of Jad Peters.  ‘…somethin’ must have told Jad to turn around.’  Dostoevsky plays roulette with Grandmother.  Damon Runyon entertains on horse racing and love’s labors lost.  Iris Murdoch, yet another great writer with whom I am not familiar, is literate on a luckless woman living a mundane life due to jumping the net.  Iris was reputedly a lover of Elias Canetti, who you recall aphorized eloquently in the L.Q. Spring 2016: Disaster issue.

Does anything pique your interest?  Unfortunately none of these fine pieces are online at  There you can find Twain, Jefferson, Hamilton (Alexander), Keynes and Schopenhauer.  They too know how to think and write.  Perhaps they will pique or satisfy.

John Maynard Keynes discusses confidence in mid-Depression 1936:

“It would be foolish, in forming our expectations, to attach great weight to matters that are very uncertain…”
“…The state of long-term expectation, upon which our decisions are based, does not solely depend, therefore, on the most probable forecast we can make. It also depends on the confidence with which we make this forecast—on how highly we rate the likelihood of our best forecast turning out quite wrong. If we expect large changes but are very uncertain as to what precise form these changes will take, then our confidence will be weak.” (p. 107)

Thomas Nagel, Dependent on Circumstance (p. 32), is very analytical of circumstance.  For example we’ve heard of people accidentally driving onto a sidewalk and into people, causing injury and death.  What if there is no one on the sidewalk.  No injury, death, or crime.  Catastrophe avoided.  Such is fate or luck.  It is circumstance or occurrence.  There but for the Grace might anyone’s life have been different if the circumstance was different. This one is thought-provoking.

Luckp50(p. 50)

Before learning more about him in Wikipedia the first lines of the 1870 extract from Jacob Burckhardt caught my attention:

“In our private lives, we are won’t to regard our personal fate under the categories “fortunate” and “unfortunate”,…” (p. 87)

Back in the est seminar days one often modestly referred to one’s successes as being fortunate, though they were generally considered so due to one’s contribution and resolve.

As I understand Burckhardt we judge history based on observations through the prisms of the present.

“But who is, as a rule, responsible for such judgments?”

“They arise from a kind of literary consensus that has gradually taken shape out of the desires and arguments of the age of reason and the real or imagined conclusions of a number of widely read historians.”

They are turned to journalistic uses as arguments for or against certain trends of the time.”

“They are the deadly enemies of true historical insight.” (p. 88)

The author info at the end of the extract quotes: “Our task,” he wrote “is to free ourselves as much as possible from foolish joys and fears and to apply ourselves above all to the understanding of historical development.”  It says he influenced a young Friedrich Nietzsche.

In Wikipedia another Swiss historian describes Burckhardt as “The great discoverer of the age of the Renaissance, he first showed how a period should be treated in its entirety, with regard not only for its painting, sculpture and architecture, but for the social institutions of its daily life as well.”

I’m lucky to have read this.

So many extracts, so little time.  I’m running out of paper.  Ralph Ellison, Thomas Jefferson, Machiavelli, all noteworthy.  Cervantes from Don Quixote, Tom Stoppard from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.  S’kia Mphahlele from The Suitcase.

Check those side quotes again, this time online:

Excellent issue.  Do ya’ feel lucky?  Read.

Luckp64(p. 64)

2 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2016: Luck (Pt. II of several)

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