[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.]
A review concluded.
The Further Remarks: Essays section, Conversations, Miscellany, and Glossary remain after the main body Voices in Time. There are six essays this issue. All are currently available online at LaphamsQuarterly.org under the Issue page for Luck. That’s lucky!
First is a short piece by Pushkin Prize winner Ludmilla Petrushevskaya about her efforts to help her son avoid conscription to Afghanistan in the 1980s. Definitely a stroke of luck.
Voltaire’s Luck by Roger Pearson gives a brief but informative history of lotteries and how they enriched this French Enlightenment writer of more than 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets.
“As he approached his sixties, Voltaire began to care more about income than capital growth, and he entered into a number of loan arrangements that were tantamount to life annuities and therefore depended on their long-term profitability on living to old age.
In truth, it mattered little if he lost–what does a dead man care how much capital he has left?–but nevertheless he did what he could to tilt the odds in his own favor.” (p. 193)
You can’t take it with you indeed.
“ln his Mémoires (1759), Voltaire recalled how in his youth he had come across so many writers who were “penniless and held in contempt” that “he had long since decided not to add to their number.” Thanks to his fortune he was indeed free to pursue his writerly life more or less as he chose and later in particular to conduct his vigorous campaign against despotism and intolerance from the comfort of his “safe house” at Femey. Money allowed him to become one of the great heroes of the Enlightenment and arguably the world’s first champion of human rights. While not quite the charitable purpose that Jean Leclerc might have had in mind back in 1696, this outcome is nevertheless one for which today we may count ourselves lucky.” (p. 193)
Free thy selves from indebtedness to patrons and subsidy. Go forth and express.
Wikipedia enlightens at length on Monsieur François-Marie Arouet.
La Soledad by Robert Coover is a superb essay I rank right up there with Richard Dawkins’ extract from Unweaving The Rainbow, the very first in Voices In Time I mentioned previously. Being of neither hispanic or catholic origins the subtle intro escapes me for a short while:
“We’re in Catalonia on a certain Friday during the celebration of the execution of an accused Middle East terrorist, one of millions over the centuries, though by chance one more famous than most.”
As it quickly unfolds I catch that this a reference to Jesus I haven’t quite heard put this way. Was Jesus a terrorist of his time (if so, then certainly kinder and gentler than those today) or are terrorists just Jesus-like in their own way? I have a hard time with that.
Mr. Coover even more quickly segues to the modern day:
“If they’d had drones, his executioners might well have skipped the uncertainties of trial and the messiness of hands-on killing by taking him out remotely with one of those flying death machines instead, though it’s not story material easily converted into wooden statuary. The odds of nailing him wouldn’t have been as good either, and the unavoidable collateral damage would have created the nuisance of more resistance, more executions. But drones are quicker and cleaner and there’s almost no risk for the shooter, only for those unlucky enough to be in the immediate neighborhood of the strike, persons mostly invisible and probably also guilty of one unforgivable crime or another like everyone else.”
“There’s not much room for luck in the terrorists’ deterministic universe.”
In a deterministic universe, religions, responding to human desire, offer a local game of choice and chance, sin and redemption, a subsystem illusion of meaningful human interaction with destiny, temporarily ignoring their own beliefs in their god’s implacable will, against which luck and human interventions are not options.” [Emphasis mine-JH.]
“Faced with oblivion and its erasure of meaning, humans make up wild stories as a buffer against despair.”
“If one is born into poverty in an inhospitable part of the world, there’s not much one can do except throw rocks at the power elite, or else form a procession and emigrate to a better place.”
“It’s just not fair. Strife arises. Gods get into it and make things worse.”
“If religion didn’t exist, rage and resentment still would. Paranoid would. Fear. Cruelty. Greed. Ignorance. Despair before the void.”
“There is no obvious reason, other than fairy-tale ones, why humans should exist at all, and, lacking such a reason, people look for it in the lives and deaths of superpeople, like these oversized wooden characters of the Good Friday procession.”
“As far as we know, she [Virgin Mary, the Virgin of Solitude] and we are utterly alone in a meaningless universe on a floating rock, doomed for extinction.” (pp. 194-198)
Isn’t he the optimist! This is quite the noteworthy bookend to Dawkins’ piece at the beginning which is equally fatalistic on our creation but otherwise brimming with enthusiasm for our good fortune. Perhaps the juxtaposition is intended.
If you read nothing else in this issue then shame on you (not YOU, I’m referring to that other person). At least read Dawkins and Coover. Coover can be read at the Lapham’s website, Dawkins’ extract can be found in Chp. 1 of the ‘Look Inside’ of Unweaving The Rainbow on Amazon. Read the chapter up through “…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.”
Such is my intention.Burns: / “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.” –Bladerunner
The rest of Further Remarks is good too. Oil In The Can comments on pari-mutuel betting and ‘reading the sheets’ for horse races with the intent of divining the results. Dream Reading is another take on the numbers racket, assigning numbers based on dreams. It’s all made up. The Gorgon’s Head relates the tale of Perseus and how circumstance fulfills a prophecy.
The Conversations section has a noteworthy point from two somewhat similar but disparate people. Oprah Winfrey says, from Oprah’s Master Class, 2011, “For me, luck is preparation meeting the moment of opportunity.” (p. 213) Donald Trump, in this surprisingly non-political issue in an eventful political year, says in Trump Never Give Up, 2008, “You may have heard the saying “luck is when opportunity meets preparedness”. I agree.” (p. 215)
Do great minds think alike?
[Do you miss having pictures with the review? Perhaps I’ll go back and add.]