ink-stained wretches

Ten Questions From a Non-Genius to Lewis Lapham

Lewis Lapham

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Lewis Lapham is smarter than we are. See, he’s just brought forth this new quarterly, which will deal with history through the words, images, and thoughts with which that history was recorded. Yeah, that much smarter. Each issue of Lapham’s Quarterly will deal with a theme, and the first theme is “War.” In this edition, he includes essays, poetry, speeches, photographs, diagrams, lists, quotes and timelines from all of recorded history. Hence, works by Shakespeare, Virgil, Tim O’Brien, Herodotus (duh), Pope Urban II, Jessica Lynch, and dozens of others appear. Yeah, it’s like that, y’all. In Lapham’s introductory note, he explains: “The method assumes that all writing, whether scientific treatise, tabloid headline, or minimalist novel, is an attempt to tell a true story.” (FYI: That was about the shortest sentence in his essay, and therefore the only one we could include in a blog post.) In other words, Lapham’s Quarterly is epic. It’s historic. It’s all-encompassing.

But we have some questions. We are not historians, we are not experts in anything, we didn’t even read War & Peace in college. But maybe that’s why we can see the forest for the trees? After the jump, ten genuine questions a non-genius might ask Lewis Lapham about his new magnum opus….

1. “War” is 223 pages of words. They are some of the greatest words ever written or spoken about the topic. But after the first 50 pages, we realized what was probably your main point: Wars are all, essentially, the same. Hence our question: Who wants to read 222 pages about it? Especially if it’s not a book with a conclusion to enlighten us?
2. We can imagine what you’ll write about next year. “Food,” perhaps, or “Love.” “Government,” maybe, or — dare we say it — “Peace.” But what about after that? There is, it seems to us, a finite amount of giant topics exhaustively and interestingly treated universally throughout history. What happens when you run out of those? “Anguish”? “Magic”? “Social Security”?
3. Did you exchange high-fives in the edit room when someone thought to do a body count of all the Rambo movies?
4. If you are writing this, as we suspect, not for readership, but for history’s sake — as a comprehensive journal of record — how do you reconcile the fact that all of this stuff already is, technically, the record?
5. Didn’t we take this class freshman year of college?
6. In your introductory note, you say that you are doing this for humanity. “The blessed states of amnesia cannot support either the hope of individual liberty or the practice of democratic self-government,” you explain. Well put (again, this was maybe one third of an actual sentence). But the assumption is that all of humanity will need to read this journal to benefit. In reality, we’re guessing that only people who already know a lot about these historical subjects will subscribe. In which case, who is this really for?
7. This issue is exhaustive. There are over 182 pieces of writing in the table of contents and dozens more quotes and images throughout. We count only three assistant editors on your masthead and two interns. How are you going to keep this up?
8. Do you think being stoned would help, or hurt, in terms of trying to get through the whole thing?
9. Why should we, as young people, subscribe to this, and not the older, similarly themed, younger-skewed, freshly written Topic magazine? (Full disclosure: Topic’s editor-in-chief, David Haskell, is on the New York staff.)
10. Why on earth did you name it after yourself?

Lapham’s Quarterly [Official site]

Ten Questions From a Non-Genius to Lewis Lapham