Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC – preview

[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, quotes, and images from Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC, except where noted.]
[Right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[New to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 50 LQ summaries I jump right in.]

This is a READING section, for kind-hearted souls who may stumble in looking for photography. You are equally kind-hearted if you stay and read.

When I last posted about LQ, mid-May 2020, I said: ‘My work here is done. The next issue of Lapham’s isn’t due for a month.’

Little did I think that the COVID pandemic would interrupt this fine journal, despite a primary epicenter being in the city of publication, New York City. For two and one-half months there was no journal and no word about delay, other than replies to my June email inquiries that it had been pushed back to late July.

I was surprised when, late July, I received an email saying:

“We’ve been hard at work on our newest issue, Epidemic. The issue is printing now and will ship in late August. Thank you for your patience.”

I immediately hit the email reply button (to the Editorial Dept.), and with all the wisdom, intellect, and maturity of a ten-year old I could muster, wrote: “YAAAAYYYYYYYYY!!!!”.

Will I ever grow up? Stupid is as stupid does, or something like that.

The L.Q. email comments: ‘Epidemic, the Summer 2020 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, considers an issue that has affected everyone on earth. From the Athenian plague during the fifth century BC to the emergence of Covid-19 late last year, epidemics have ravaged cultures and determined the course of history.’

Several authors are mentioned, which give me something to explore until the issue arrives.

‘…Jack London’s futuristic vision of a world conquered by a mysterious disease…’, I found, might refer to short story The Unparalleled Invasion, a somewhat generalized, but now prescient, look at the growth of China and the use of biological warfare to contain it.

First published in 1910, and based on the Japanese victory over Russia in their 1904-1905 war, London specifies future dates (1922, 1976) as he outlines rampant Chinese population growth and temporary dominance by Japan, which is thrown off.

“Japan’s rainbow dream had gone glimmering.  She grew angry.  China laughed at her.  The blood and the swords of the Samurai would out, and Japan rashly went to war.  This occurred in 1922, and in seven bloody months Manchuria, Korea, and Formosa were taken away from her and she was hurled back, bankrupt, to stifle in her tiny, crowded islands.  Exit Japan from the world drama.”

“…in 1970 France made a long-threatened stand.  French Indo-China had been overrun, filled up, by Chinese immigrants.  France called a halt.  The Chinese wave flowed on.  France assembled a force of a hundred thousand on the boundary between her unfortunate colony and China, and China sent down an army of militia-soldiers a million strong.  Behind came the wives and sons and daughters and relatives, with their personal household luggage, in a second army.  The French force was brushed aside like a fly.”

“In the five years that followed, China’s expansion, in all land directions, went on apace.  Siam was made part of the Empire, and, in spite of all that England could do, Burma and the Malay Peninsula were overrun; while all along the long south boundary of Siberia, Russia was pressed severely by China’s advancing hordes.  The process was simple.  First came the Chinese immigration (or, rather, it was already there, having come there slowly and insidiously during the previous years).  Next came the clash of arms and the brushing away of all opposition by a monster army of militia-soldiers, followed by their families and household baggage.  And finally came their settling down as colonists in the conquered territory.  Never was there so strange and effective a method of world conquest.”

“The Convention of 1975 was called at Philadelphia.  All the Western nations, and some few of the Eastern, were represented.  Nothing was accomplished.  There was talk of all countries putting bounties on children to increase the birth rate, but it was laughed to scorn by the arithmeticians, who pointed out that China was too far in the lead in that direction.  No feasible way of coping with China was suggested.”

Well, to make a short story shorter, China’s population continues to exceed most of the rest of the world combined. China expands its territories into neighboring countries. Finally, a scientist comes forward to Western nations and a plot is hatched. Armies and navies amass at China’s borders, to keep China in, and small glass vials are air-dropped all over the country (May 1, 1976 in the story).

“The plague smote them all.  Nor was it one plague, nor two plagues; it was a score of plagues.  Every virulent form of infectious death stalked through the land.  Too late the Chinese government apprehended the meaning of the colossal preparations, the marshalling of the world-hosts, the flights of the tin airships, and the rain of the tubes of glass.  The proclamations of the government were vain.  They could not stop the eleven million plague-stricken wretches, fleeing from the one city of Peking to spread disease through all the land.  The physicians and health officers died at their posts; and death, the all-conqueror, rode over the decrees of the Emperor and Li Tang Fwung.”

It’s a noteworthy postulate. Like a lot of science fiction, I think the predictions are as much coincidental as they are prescient, but London certainly had the trends correct.

London was a prolific writer, best known for his novels The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea-Wolf. As I’m about to conclude my summary, I see he wrote a novel titled The Scarlet Plague. “…A post-apocalyptic vision takes place in 2072, sixty years after an uncontrollable epidemic has depopulated the planet. James Howard Smith, one of the few left alive San Francisco area…” This is more likely the ‘futuristic vision of a world conquered by a mysterious disease…’.

So forget about The Unparalleled Invasion, and consider The Scarlet Plague. The idea of plague is not new. There have been many throughout history. Wikipedia has a lengthy list. If you sort by estimated deaths, COVID-19 currently ranks 22nd in number, though many death counts are unknown and could be in very high numbers.

Illustration by Gordon Grant from The Scarlet Plague.

As Wiki notes, the idea of devastating plagues has not been absent in literature, either. “Jack London was inspired in part by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1842 short story “The Masque of the Red Death”.[5] Both Poe’s story and London’s fall into a genre of apocalyptic fiction featuring a universal plague that nearly wipes out humanity. Other examples include Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826), George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949), Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain (1969) and Stephen King’s The Stand (1978).[6]

To name but a few.

I finished reading The Scarlet Plague, a very short novel, courtesy (The Unparalleled Invasion is free online also. Both are easy reads or skims.)

I liked the writing in Plague better than I did Unparalleled. It read more like a middle-20th century boys novel (think Hardy Boys, perhaps), whereas Invasion seemed like a rather rough-edged report.

Plague gave more food for thought in terms of our current COVID-19 crisis, though Invasion made a good point about the devastating effect of intentional biological warfare.

Most of Plague is about the rapid deterioration of ‘civilization’ (itself almost always a misnomer, in my opinion), the loss of any and all methods of producing anything, and the equally rapid loss of education in immediate generations. The death count is so high that very few remain to sustain anything but a hand-to-mouth, rural, goatherd, existence. London does not dwell on the savagery that might accompany such conditions, but looks at the rampant ignorance in speech, thought, and even denial that ‘modern’ production ever existed.

Point taken, as we observe reality-deniers in our own modern world.

Illustration by Gordon Grant from The Scarlet Plague.

The Lapham’s sneak preview advises us “…Vitruvius writes on the importance of architecture during a public health crisis…”

I found, in his Ten Books on Architecture, Vitruvius writes in BOOK 1,  CHAPTER II, THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF ARCHITECTURE:

“7. Finally, propriety will be due to natural causes if, for example, in the case of all sacred precincts we select very healthy neighbourhoods with suitable springs of water in the places where the fanes are to be built, particularly in the case of those to Aesculapius and to Health, gods by whose healing powers great numbers of the sick are apparently cured. For when their diseased bodies are transferred from an unhealthy to a healthy spot, and treated with waters from health-giving springs, they will the more speedily grow well. The result will be that the divinity will stand in higher esteem and find his dignity increased, all owing to the nature of his site. There will also be natural propriety in using an eastern light for bedrooms and libraries, a western light in winter for baths and winter apartments, and a northern light for picture galleries and other places in which a steady light is needed; for that quarter of the sky grows neither light nor dark with the course of the sun, but remains steady and unshifting all day long.”

Chapter IV, The Site of a City, mentions health numerous times:

“…we cannot but believe that we must take great care to select a very temperate climate for the site of our city, since healthfulness is, as we have said, the first requisite.”

“First comes the choice of a very healthy site.”

“Again, if the town is on the coast with a southern or western exposure, it will not be healthy, because in summer the southern sky grows hot at sunrise and is fiery at noon, while a western exposure grows warm after sunrise, is hot at noon, and at evening all aglow.”

“…healthfulness being their chief object.” “…the healthful qualities of a site…”

We will have to wait for the issue to find what is meant by ‘public health crisis’.

Another preview reference is ‘…Ahmed Ali’s portrait of Delhi overrun by influenza in 1918…’ The 1918 epidemic is one we most compare to in these days of COVID-19. While searching, I came across this introductory article in The Times of India from which I obtained the above and banner photo.

“Twilight In Delhi is Ahmed Ali’s first novel”, per Wiki. “This novel, as its title implies, describes the decline of the Muslim aristocracy with the advance of the British colonialism in the early 20th century.” A preview of the book is here.

Other references in the Lapham’s Quarterly issue: ‘…Barbara Tuchman writes about the aftermath of the Black Death and how it changed the world, Gene Tierney writes about what it means to live with loss, and Katherine Anne Porter tells us how it feels to return to the world after a devastating illness.’

To be continued…

P.S. During COVID and the lack of a Lapham’s Quarterly, I’ve been reading Smithsonian Magazine, a very informative and captivating combination of history and nature articles. I recommend it.

The 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, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda 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.

5 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC – preview

  1. I wonder if many fictional stories were based on thoughts about the Black Death in Europe.
    On another subject, I recall the the plague then has been credited [I forget the source] for the end of the feudal system; labor was in short supply and valuable to the lords.
    Any thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A quick google shows me yes, many stories about the Black Death, and yes, it was a major contribution to ending the feudal system. I don’t think we’ve begun to see the deterioration the global economy will suffer if we don’t get a vaccine for COVID and future viruses. Businesses cannot run at half capacity, IMO.

      Liked by 1 person

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