Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2017: Fear, pt. III 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. Summer 2017: Fear.]
[Click photos to enlarge.]

A review, summary, preview; continued and concluded.

I’ve finished reading FEAR and I think you few readers who do not subscribe to this superb publication are very, very lucky.  A number of the best extracts presented are available free (FREE!) online at

I had my doubts about the subject and contents of this issue but as usual with L.Q. I found it to be thought-provoking and insightful.

Sometimes fear is entertaining.  There are ghost stories here.  Don’t we like to be frightened when we know we are safe?  Are we somehow adrenalin junkies when we seek thrills and fright, whether from a story, a movie, or a roller coaster ride?  What planet do we live on where some have the luxury of fear while others in war- and strife-torn lands experience what many of us can’t begin to imagine.  I know.  Planet ‘Urrth.

Voices in Time, the main body of Lapham’s Quarterly, consists of:
Trigger Warnings – 30 extracts
Panic Attacks – 29
Terror Alerts – 22

31 of the 81 extracts are available online, as well as the 5 full, and very good, essays in Further Remarks at the end.  You can also find Lewis Lapham’s Preamble, and quite a variety of other contributions.  (Don’t miss ‘ “Fear Itself,” Itself ‘ online.  The phrase ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ has quite a history.)

The very first extract is recent, as it often is.  It’s neither eloquent nor entertaining, just chilling in its reality.  It is excerpts of ICE reports on illegal alien arrests in the U.S.  That’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  I’m all for rule of law but the raids rival the Gestapo of Nazi Germany.  The extract titled Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is available online.

They say history repeats itself, or “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” –George Santayana, Wikiquote.  Richard Hofstadter’s 1965 piece on paranoid style of the Goldwater era seems an example.

“Although American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict, it has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds.”

“…there is a style of mind, not always right-wing in its affiliations, that has a long and varied history.  I call it the paranoid style simply because no other work adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.” (p. 27)

Sound familiar?


South African, Booker Prize and Nobel awardee, and anti-apartheid activist Nadine Gordimer’s 1949 story of a mugging is beautifully eloquent.

“…the gray, soft, muffled sky moved like the sea on a silent day.” (p. 34)

“There was a chest heaving through the tear in front of her; a face panting; beneath the red hairy swollen cap the yellowish-red eyes holding her in distrust.  One foot, cracked from exposure until it looked like broken wood, moved, only to restore balance in the dizziness that following running…” (p. 35)  Not online.

Ida B. Wells, c. 1900, informs us of lynch law and frontier/Southern ‘justice’.  Chilling.  I know there is a good Poe story in this issue.  This isn’t it.  Still we must not forget man’s inhumanity to man.

Charles Darwin reports extremely detailed human biological reactions to fear.  It’s online as Body Language.

Ahh.  A diversion from reality.  The elements of horror literature in a superb extract from H.P. Lovecraft.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” (p. 54)

“Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life that may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars…”

“With this foundation, no one need wonder at the existence of a literature of cosmic fear.” (p. 55)

Online as Weird Tales.  Hurry.


Thud.  Back to the horror of reality.  Fear is horror is fear, isn’t it?  L.Q. frequently includes extracts from WWII concentration camp survivors, gratefully lest we forget.  Tadeusz Borowski inform us of Auschwitz.

“”Sir, what’s going to happen to us?” They repeat the question stubbornly, gazing into our tired eyes.
“I don’t know.  I don’t understand Polish.”
It is the camp law: people going to their death must be deceived to the very end.  This is the only permissible form of charity.” (p. 60)

Borowski committed suicide in 1951.

Alexis de Tocqueville appears often in Lapham’s Quarterly.  I’ve always thought his Democracy in America extolled virtues thereof, but L.Q. finds his sharp critiques.

“It is strange to see with what feverish ardor the Americans pursue their own welfare, and to watch the vague dread that constantly torments them lest they should not have chosen the shortest path that may lead to it.

A native of the United States clings to this world’s goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications.” (p. 65)

Touche’. That early nineteenth-century admonition no longer applies, does it?  Are we that shallow and obvious? Don’t answer that. This excellent one-pager is online as Home Insecurity.

Delacroix – Tempest

Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, relates a story of paranoid fear.  Paranoid style, now paranoid fear.  He is excellent but immediately followed and upstaged by Dorothy Thompson’s tirade against the utter stupidity of a portion of humanity in believing the 1938 Orson Welles radio broadcast about an invasion from outer space, adapted from H.G. Wells 1898 novel War of the Worlds.

“The immediate moral is apparent if the whole incident is viewed in reason: no political body must ever, under any circumstances, obtain a monopoly of radio.

The second moral is that our popular and universal education is failing to train reason and logic, even in the educated.

The third is that the popularization of science has led to gullibility and new superstitions, rather than to skepticism and the really scientific attitude of mind.

The fourth is that the power of mass suggestion is the most potent force today and that the political demagogue is more powerful than all the economic forces.” (p. 71)

Sadly this piece is not online but if you google ‘Mr. Welles and Mass Delusion’ you might find it here: .

So many fine pieces in this issue, but thyme and I are marching on and I want to say a few words about the fine essays at the back.  Who am I skipping over?  Aristotle, Dostoevsky, Orwell, Freud, Poe, Machiavelli, James Baldwin.  Former Intel CEO Andrew Grove’s piece from Only The Paranoid Survive (there’s that word again) is outstanding.

“Constructively debating tough issues and getting somewhere is only possible when people can speak their minds without fear of punishment.” (p. 125)

I can’t continue without mentioning the 1975 piece from Vaclav Havel, former president of the new Czech Republic:

“The basic question one must ask is this: Why do people do all the things that, taken together, form the impressive image of a totally united society giving total support to its government? For any unprejudiced observer, the answer is, I think, self-evident: they are driven to it by fear.”

“Fear of the consequences of refusal leads people to take part in elections, to vote for the proposed candidates, and to pretend that they regard such ceremonies as genuine elections…” (p. 132)

Compare that to this excerpt from a July 30, 2017 article in the Washington Post on the recent elections in Venezuela:

The nation’s 2.8 million state workers risked losing their jobs if they did not vote. Poor residents were warned that they could lose access to food baskets and government housing for failing to turn out for the election.

“To be honest, I’m voting because I’m afraid of losing my benefits,” said Betty, 60, who lives in public housing and was too scared to give her last name. “The government gave me my house, and I don’t want to lose it. I’m surviving because of government programs.”

Three of the five full essays in Further Remarks, at the end of every issue, I thought outstanding.  Film buffs will love the analysis by J. Hoberman of the movie The Wages of Fear, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot.  I had not heard of Clouzot but I had heard of one of his other movies, Diabolique.

The Wages of Fear, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring of 1953, is movie as doom show: the four principal characters have signed on to a suicide mission, driving two truckloads of nitroglycerin across three hundred miles of winding, mountainous, badly paved roads. After a lengthy setup, the movie itself becomes a fuse of indeterminate length. “You sit there waiting for the theater to explode,” the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther ended his review when The Wages of Fear opened in early 1955 at the posh Paris Theater in Manhattan.

An evocation of human existence under threat of instant annihilation, The Wages of Fear is no less a manifestation of nuclear anxiety than the Japanese monster movie Godzilla (1954) or even Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964). In its way, The Wages of Fear—in production when the United States tested the first hydrogen bomb at Enewetak in the Marshall Islands—is cinema’s original articulation of that angst.” (p. 199)

The uncut version appears to be available on  Check it out.

Actors Yves Montand and Charles Vanel

Suki Kim’s Land of Darkness essay about North Korea gets my coveted triple-asterisk award.  How timely is this, with Kim Jong Un taking ever larger steps in going ballistic toward the United States.  Have you checked your geography maps lately?  I’m surprised he hasn’t already accidentally dropped one on South Korea or Japan.

“I am the only writer ever, as far as we know, to have lived undercover in North Korea, embedded within the system to investigate the place. In 2011 I took my fifth trip into Pyongyang, where, under the guise of being a missionary and an ESL teacher, I lived for six months with 270 North Korean males in a military compound. For this act, I am often described as “fearless.” People call me brave. But even if it sounds illogical, I consider myself to be a very fearful person. Even more, I believe my fearfulness is the only way I can begin to explain my time undercover in the gulag nation.” (p. 205)

“I have always been afraid of the dark. I rarely dream, and I used to sleepwalk as a child to escape the pitch blackness of being asleep. Even now, I cannot turn the light off at night. This is a dreary habit since artificial light is so disruptive that I almost never sleep well. But my fear of the dark is overpowering; I would rather forsake good sleep if it means keeping the darkness at bay.” (p. 205-206)

“I experience the world, that is, as a map of fears to navigate, its coordinates all shattering bits coming at uneven speeds.” (p. 206)

Finally, Phillipe Petit, the world renowned high-wire artist, is quite articulate In Search Of Fear.

“A void like that is terrifying. Prisoner of a morsel of space, you will struggle desperately against occult elements: the absence of matter, the smell of balance, vertigo from all sides, and the dark desire to return to the ground, even to fall. This dizziness is the drama of high-wire walking, but that is not what I am afraid of.”

“Sometimes the sky grows dark around the wire, the wind rises, the cable gets cold, the audience becomes worried. At those moments I hear fear screaming at me.” (p. 214)

Despite recent fears, sorrows, and horrors of my own, this issue deepened my understanding of them without adding to them.



Roughly 1/3 of the entire issue is free online.  The extracts I thought particularly exceptional can be read by going to the LQ website, find the FEAR issue, click on List, and search for the following:
Body Language
Weird Tales
Home Insecurity
Expectation Management
Bad Moon Rising
Torment Unforeseen
Fears Founded And Unfounded
Dust To Dust
Night Vision
What are They Afraid Of?
Every Pebble Can Blow Us Sky-high
Land of Darkness
In Search Of Fear

I do encourage you to subscribe, even purchase and read every back issue as I have.  I’m determined to get that free toaster and judging from the lengthy list of wealthy donors at the back of this issue, L.Q. needs the money.

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’).
3. 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.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication.  It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.

If you read one of the online items I am interested to know your opinion of it.  Feel free to leave a comment here.

Read, enjoy, learn, think, act.

4 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2017: Fear, pt. III and last

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