Thursday, March 03, 2005


I notice Lewis Lapham's Philadelphia appearance is suddenly back on-- poster presenting his google-eyed Brahmin mug holding the slimy smirk of a child molestor. I'm not exaggerating! The photo is classic; very revealing.

It occurs to me that this entire society is built on bluff. (As Lapham acknowledges but always declines to apply to himself.) We have a President-- the notion that we have to have a leader. Billions of dollars go into buttressing this notion, telling us that this one or other mediocrity, dunce, or political whore has unique qualities raising him above the nation. For this childish nonsense we have to blame George Washington, our first President and the only one who appeared Presidential; impressive by his very character, posture, and graceful bearing. He could walk into a room and instantly dominate it, even if it contained a host of geniuses. For over two hundred years since we've been searching for another Washington. We always come up disappointed.

The world of the arts has become bluff. Millions of dollars of publicity proclaim a coagulated work by intellectual dullard Jonathan Franzen a great novel. People rush to buy it. The power of bluff.

Lewis Lapham is the beneficiary of bluff. He has a limited view of the world, along with a limited collection of ideas which he recycles again and again in books and essays. The man he replaced, Willie Morris, at least possessed genuine talent. Lapham is merely a typical aristocrat; modest material expensively educated to its highest modest level; with a billionaire's backing. A clean-cut mannequin dressed in the best suits in Manhattan, stiff and gray, his magazine's apparatus pushing the notion relentlessly that the man is one of our distinguished essayists. It's been said enough times for 28 years that many gullible people actually believe it.

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