Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2017: Discovery, pt. II and last

[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. Spring 2017: Discovery.]

A review continued.


The two-page graphic this issue traces Great Migrations.  “Humans left Africa less than 100,000 years ago, but since then they have settled in nearly every corner of the earth.” “…New Zealand, one of the last areas on earth to be settled, was reached only 800 years ago.” (p. 10-11)  Free online.

The three sections of Voices in Time are:
To Strive
To Seek
To Find

Not surprisingly the issue’s 75 extracts are heavily represented by explorations and discoveries in nature, geography, and science.

A commenter noted “Were I doing a piece on discovery, I might have thrown in the space shuttle Discovery.”  Surprisingly, I do not recall a piece among the 75 which relates the first-hand experience of flight in space.  There are photos; of Earthrise 1968 by Astronaut William A. Anders while orbiting the moon (p. 21), of the launch clouds of Discovery Mission 51A (p. 22),  and of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person to travel into space, 1963 (p. 156).

However, the very first extract in the issue is a 2014 interview with Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, Inc (electric auto, energy storage, and solar panel company) and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX, an American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company. (Thank you Wikipedia.)

“…he said that going to Mars is as urgent and crucial as lifting billions out of poverty, or eradicating deadly disease.
“I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi planetary,” he told me, “in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen, in which case being poor or having a disease would be irrelevant because humanity would be extinct.  It would be like, ‘Good news, the problems of poverty and disease have been solved, but the bad news is there aren’t any humans left.'”” (p. 23)

See my post of 12 May 2017 for a link to a TED talk interview with this amazing visionary:

The L.Q. Tesla CEO interview is not available on the Laphams website but a noteworthy full-length feature version which I have yet to read might be found here.  Tesla, Nikola on the other hand, has a short piece at titled Life on Mars?, contemplating exchange of messages with inhabitants of other planets.

You condescenders to cheap television science fiction might be following the SyFy channel series The Expanse, in which Mars and The Asteroid Belt have been colonized, are semi-independent, and of course in contention with each other and Earth.  Apart from the storyline the various living conditions are an interesting portrayal in the hi-tech production. But never mind that.  Enough about space.

Unbroken seal on Tutankhaman’s tomb, Valley of the Kings, Egypt, 1922

Steven Millhauser’s fiction piece from A Precursor of the Cinema is entertaining. Apparently a lot of his work seems quite lifelike.  Per the endnote: “What am I after? Let’s call it the place where invention and imitation intersect, resulting in implausible reality.” Perhaps Millhauser, only a little older than me, saw the 1956 Walt Disney episode ‘The Plausible Impossible“.  Perhaps.

Loren Eiseley, an anthropologist and philosopher (can you be one and not the other?) with whom I am not familiar, has a contemplative piece on Man’s existence.  Very introspective. I spent half an hour trying to find this online for you but didn’t.  Comments and quotes will have to suffice.  He refers to “…the long war of life against its inhospitable environment, a war that has lasted for perhaps three billion years.”  Is survival of the fittest the impetus for Man’s violent nature?

“It began with strange chemicals seething under a sky lacking in oxygen; it was waged through long ages until the first green plants learned to harness the light of the nearest star, our sun.  The human brain, so frail, so perishable, so full of inexhaustible dreams and hungers, burns by the power of the leaf.” (p. 44)

“The human body is a magical vessel, but its life is linked with an element it cannot produce.  Only the green plant knows the secret of transforming the light that comes to us across the far reaches of space.  There is no better illustration of the intricacy of man’s relationship with other living things.” (p. 45)

He goes on to talk about ‘a specialization – the brain – that offers escape from specialization and extinction’.  We are indeed unique, existing through no cause of our own, but arrogant that we can shape the universe as we see fit.

“…man thoughts… contemplating now the nearest star with the threat of bringing with him the fungus rot from earth, wars, violence, the burden of a population he refuses to control…” (p. 46)

Lapham’s Preamble notes Man as Nature, looking back on itself.  Elon Musk looks to the stars or at least nearby planets for colonization, for surely we may be bent on this world being less habitable.  Eiseley posits that we might take our rot with us.  Will Man improve his existence or destroy it?  Many of us wonder that now.

As evidenced in these pages, one way to improve is to keep discovering.

Galileo notes the difficulty of science fact replacing science fiction:

“A few years ago… I discovered many thing in the heavens that had been invisible until this present age.  Because of their novelty and because some consequences that follow from them contradict commonly held scientific views, these have provoked not a few professors in the schools agains me, as if I had deliberately place these objects in the sky to cause confusion in the natural sciences.” (p. 29)

Vera Rubin notes the difficulty of women breaking into science:

“For the United States, Maria Mitchell became the symbol of women’s emergence into the public world of science.  In 1848 she became the first woman elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences__ninety-five years were to go by until the next woman was admitted.” (p. 53)

Evan S. Connell relates the difficulty of Douglas Mawson, Xavier Mertz, and Belgrave Ninnis exploring Antarctica.  The last surviving of the party of three, after falling in a crevasse and hanging from his wedged dog sled by a harness, Mawson “…remembered a couple of lines from Robert Service:
Just have one more try–it’s dead easy to die,
It’s the keeping-on living that’s hard” (p. 63)

Mawson survived.  Wikipedia enlightens on Mawson and Mertz.  You diehard L.Q. fans will recall my mention of Robert Falcon Scott’s final letters to team member’s families and his wife before he freezes to death on his ill-fated quest to the South Pole in my review of Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2016: Disaster.

Photochrome of a glacier, Grindelwald, Switzerland, c. 1890.

Eve Curie, Madam’s daughter, relates the difficulty of research and the folly in the late nineteenth century of even thinking to ask the French government for a grant:

“Out of the traditions and principles of the French Revolution, which had created the metric system, founded the Normal School, and encouraged science in many circumstances, the state seemed to have retained after more than a century only the deplorable words pronounced by Fouquier-Tinville at the trial in which Lavoisier was condemned to the guillotine: “The Republic has no need for scientists.”” (p. 75)

Per the endnotes: “…her mother, the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize, first in physics in 1903 and again in chemistry in 1911. …She [Madame] died in 1934 as a result of radiation exposure. (p. 79)

Discovery by exploration can be reaching for outer space, traveling across vast white expanses, or journeys toward the center of the earth.  Section two, To Seek, starts with a longer than usual extract of deep caving in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.  “Deep caving demands what Stone calls siege logistics.  It’s not so much a matter of conquering a cave as outlasting it.” (p. 89)  Mother Earth/Mother Nature always are alive to us.  If only we understood her language better.

I suspect there is a reason this Burkhard Bilger piece and the other really really good extracts are not free online.  Perhaps you can find the original lengthy caving piece from The New Yorker here.

Reading of exploration is adventurous!  And much safer than the real thing.  Just don’t forget to return to your own reality.  Yet another superb extract pointed inward earthly  is the 1930 William Beebe account of bathysphere ocean diving to 1400 feet below sea level.  Technology has out-paced these initial dives twenty-fold, bathyscaphes having now dived to 35,813 feet according to Wikipedia.  Of his dives Beebe said “To the ever recurring question “How did it feel” etc., I can only quote the words of Herbert Spencer.  I felt like an infinitesimal atom floating in illimitable space.”” (p. 131)

Free online are Einstein and Darwin, as Preestablished Harmony and Names In Vain.  True Colors with Isaac Newton.  Two French explorers in 1673 Iowa as Missionary Imposition. Skin Game is superb.  Good reading is endless.  Make your own discoveries.

I leave many gems half buried, awaiting your discovery.

Westernmost Colossus of the Temple Re, Abu Simel, by Maxime du Camp, 1850. LQ p. 180.

The now-standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is 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.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history.  It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham.  The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout.  Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).

Per the L.Q. website,

“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”

I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication.  It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.  The free online site has a wealth of information too.

Read, enjoy, learn, think, act.

Stop the madness.

My mentor, peer, best friend, high school buddy, and introducer to Lapham’s Quarterly passed away recently.  His exchange of thoughts and ideas will be greatly missed.  R.I.P. Leighton Bromiley Dorey III, 12 Oct. 1945 – 30 May 2017.

4 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2017: Discovery, pt. II and last

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