Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC – Pt. 2

[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 are from Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC, except where noted.]
[Click or 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 45+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]

[This is a READING section, for those who might stumble in looking for photography. My summaries of the L.Q. historical journal continue.]

EPIDEMIC is here. (Print edition arrived 30 Sept. I’ve been working with digital since 21 Sept.)

THE PREAMBLE this issue is by guest writer Francine Prose. As I noted in Pt. 1, insights into Ms. Prose and her work can be found in Wikipedia and this obscure blog. Among her many acclaimed publications, What to Read and Why.

In The Preamble: Signs and Wonders, Ms. Prose has sixteen references to extracts in the issue. She first references Death in Venice:

“Near the end of Death in Venice, the narrative takes a sharp turn and veers from a close third-person point of view into straight-up exposition, as if to circumvent our hero’s blinkered consciousness and deliver the bad news that he has so far refused to acknowledge: Venice is overrun by cholera. To remain in the city would be fatal, as it turns out to be for Gustav von Aschenbach, immobilized and doomed by his obsession with a beautiful Polish boy.”

[L.Q. has generously posted the Epidemic Table of Contents for your reading pleasure. The underlined items are links to literary extracts or author references. The Thomas Mann, Death in Venice extract is available.]

His predilection for boys aside, which is not mentioned in this extract, the Mann piece is a tale of ignoring reality and looking the other way. Sound familiar?

Ms. Prose: “I’ve been observing what Mann so succinctly describes: the criminal relationship between public health, capitalism, greed, and unconscionable lying. Concerns about Covid-19’s impact on tourism and the travel industry have been wafting through our newly poisonous atmosphere. Fears about the economic fallout have accelerated the disease’s transmission, as we have repeatedly watched the truthful and conscientious silenced and replaced by the dishonest, cowardly, and compliant.”

“What’s so startling about the texts and images in this issue is that they seem less like glimpses through the lens of ancient history, less like gazing at distant worlds through a window fogged by time, than like catching a clear, unnerving glimpse of our world, right here, right now.”

She prefaces tales of hoarding, or at least ‘stocking up’ (Daniel Defoe), unequal distribution of disease (Frederich Engels), and rapid transmission (Ibn al-Khatib).

She touches on entertainment, or story-line, at least. Romeo and Juliet: (“The romance between Romeo and Juliet interested me far less than the outbreak of plague that keeps Friar Laurence from preventing the lovers’ double suicide.) Zombie films, Michael Crichton’s Contagion, Jack London’s doomsday vision.

Ms. Prose notes that L.Q. will cover the penchant for blame, dismissal, or ignoring in times of epidemic.

This leads me to a couple of questions:

  1. What is the difference between epidemic, pandemic (and endemic)?
  2. How rampant are these ‘plagues’?

The second question is more quickly answered by Wikipedia, a list too long to reproduce:

The diseases are RAMPANT. I attribute the increased frequency in recent centuries to better recorded history.

The definitions?

1: affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time: ‘typhoid was epidemic’
1: an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time: an outbreak of epidemic disease

: occurring over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affecting a significant proportion of the population
–pandemic malaria
–The 1918 flu was pandemic and claimed millions of lives.
1: an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population :
a pandemic outbreak of a disease
–a global pandemic
–Influenza pandemics seem to strike every few decades and to kill by the million
-at least 1m in 1968; perhaps 100m in the “Spanish” flu of 1918-19. 
– The Economist

1a: belonging or native to a particular people or country
b: characteristic of or prevalent in a particular field, area, or environment
–problems endemic to translation
–the self-indulgence endemic in the film industry
2: restricted or peculiar to a locality or region
–endemic diseases
–an endemic species

“Plague occurs naturally in the western United States, particularly Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico. The plague bacterium (Yersinia pestis) is transmitted by fleas and cycles naturally among wild rodents. Plague can also infect humans and their pets.” CDC

Therefore (correct me if I misstate) an epidemic affects a large number of individuals, a pandemic is an epidemic that is VERY widespread, endemic is localized and possibly naturally occurring all the time.

Ms. Prose concludes The Preamble:

“Returning to Albert Camus’ The Plague recently, I was shocked by an obvious truth: “Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”

Of course. Of course he’s right. And it makes us wonder: What other surprises do nature and history have in store? What has happened, and happened again, and will happen again, despite how hard we try to convince ourselves that it can’t happen here?”

We have much to learn. Lapham’s Quarterly is a good place to start.

Epidemic Table of Contents 

To be continued…

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.

4 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC – Pt. 2

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