Monday, October 27, 2008

Lapham's Quarterly

I received a piece of mail recently inviting me to subscribe to something called Lapham's Quarterly. It is a new magazine which proposes to examine several times a year some current event question and then "find answers to that question from authors whose writings have stood the test of time."

Homer, Twain and Goethe would be called upon and Tacitus and Virginia Wolfe.

I am of mixed feelings. It sounds interesting -- it sounds like a shortcut to what I have been trying to do myself for the last ten years. In essence, plumb the great and sometimes obscure minds of all human history and find their relevance today.

But perhaps the shortcut is the problem. At the risk of sounding arrogant, maybe I don't want other people picking and choosing from history for me.

I get a further hint of this when the editor mentions that the failure to have a sense of history led to "the catastrophe in Iraq." Now I do try to spare my readers my political feelings for the most part, but the fact is, whatever one may think about George Bush and the invasion of Iraq, a democracy is now in place where once a cruel and warmongering dictatorship once held sway. It is admittedly a flawed and frail and messy democracy -- but aren't they all? Slavish devotion to history might have taught us that no democracy has ever existed in Iraq and therefore never could. Slavish devotion to history would have discouraged the very Founding Fathers of the U.S. from their own experiment in democracy.

But those great men learned from history, from the writings of the Greeks, of Plutarch and then they left history behind and created a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. They knew the odds and they defied them.

So I'm not sure about this Lapham thing. Plus, it costs $60 a year.


Chase March said...


I think if you subscribe to this you will probably go and check all the primary resources yourself anyway. The shortcut will actually add to your reading list. Perhaps you should just keep doing what you're doing.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Ah, Chase, you know me too well. I indeed already torture myself by checking up on the primary resources, the footnotes of the other books I read -- I don't need any more to deal with.

I will take your advice, save my $60 and keep doing what I am doing.

Molly said...

Somewhere I've got a list of all the great thinkers and writers in history. At one time I thought I'd work my way through the list, but everyday life keeps getting in the way!
I do agree that you can do as good by yourself as you can by subscribing to this quarterly [and being relieved of $60 into the bargain!] From what I've read on your blog I would guess you're well on your way.....

Maria said...

The 60$ a year would have made the decision for me.