Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Lewis Lapham: Editor for Life?

Campaign to Impeach Lewis Lapham as Editor of Harper's Magazine.

Wealthy blueblood Lewis Lapham has a lot of nerve always complaining about privilege and nobility when he's the best example of same in the United States. He's been welded into the Harper's Editor chair for-- how long? Over 20 years? With no signs of departure. Two Marine brigades fresh from battle in Fallujah couldn't blast him out of there, though we suspect that's what it would take. For complete honesty he should change his title to "Dictator for Life."

It's not as if he offers anything new in Harper's pages-- the same stale essays and stories by the same stale writers; Francine Prose, Louis Menand, Vince Passaro, and the like; guaranteed to be of Lapham's same mindset. (Maybe they attend the same Manhattan parties.) Lapham's own contributions are predictably similar-- descriptions of courtiers in Washington. He hasn't had a new insight in decades. Try something new! Talk about courtiers around the Editor's chair at your magazine. One wonders if the staff has a few dozen Lapham editorials on file which they keep in rotation.

Which raises the question of Lewis Lapham's condition. I'm not saying he's in Arafat shape (well, metaphorically he is); more like the decrepit Brezhnev-style rulers during the Soviet Union's last days-- wacked-out to the max but surrounded by yes-people too dim-witted to mention retirement to the guy. Must keep the rusty machine operating! Lapham-- spawn of a rich New York banking family-- is on good terms with the billionaire who finances the thing so the mag keeps staggering along on its million-dollar tax-avoiding subsidy.

Harper's is known as one of the flagships of American writing and it's completely fossilized. Term limits for editors? Why not? Let's enact some before the Harper's staff decides to stuff the guy after he dies. They'll have someone behind his desk speaking for him-- moving his arms on occasion-- to keep their comfortable scam operating. As long as he's silver-haired, polished, and stiff as usual it'll fool people.

(Not the last word on this campaign.)


Brad Plumer said...

Comment and a question (followed by another comment):

I found Jack Shafer's attack on Lewis Lapham in Slate a tad more informative, original, and insightful than your own. (I mean, come on... "Two Marine brigades fresh from Fallujah"?) That's understandable--this is, when it comes down to it, only a blog. But Slate is supposedly one of those stale old magazines that are decadent and tired and whatnot. And you, after all, are the revolution. So how do I reconcile all these facts? What happens when the demi-puppets are better at critiquing their own than you are?

At any rate, tidy up your historical analogies! Brezhnev was certainly old, but his regime was pretty much the high military-mark for the Soviet Union. You're thinking of Andropov and Cherenko--old and merely spinning the wheels. Oh well.


Anonymous said...

Louis Menand wrote a single piece for Harper's called "What Are Universities For?" in 1991. I don't think he's written there since. Francine Prose did a book review there recently, but I don't see her byline pop up that often--and whenever it does, it's a delight, by the way. Vince Passaro? He does contribute from time to time, but so what? Should a magazine not have regular contributors? Your image of this group as a cabal conspiratorially sipping cocktails at some imaginary party says more about your palpable envy than about finding the serious problems with the magazine that do exist. Lapham did fabricate an RNC convention before it actually happened, and there is something pretty predictable and ossified about his columns. They have too much time on their hands there to edit pieces to death. They do need some new life there, I agree. It's rough out there, I know, but whoever eventually succeeds Lapham (Virginia Heffernan plucked back from the Times? John J Sullivan, boy wonder and recent Whiting winner?) will still be sipping cocktails somewhere, and you still might not get invited.

King Wenclas said...

Brad, you're wrong about Brezhnev. In his last few years as dictator he was totally out of it. There's a famous story about him giving speeches where he couldn't read what was written for him, would wander through various words, the result, nonsense (kind of like much postmodern fiction) but the apparatchiks would applaud regardless. The entire Politburo, except for Gorby, was out of it (Andropov physically more than mentally).

Did no one read my last remark? This was a partly tongue-in-cheek rant-- but there are solid reasons for Lapham to resign, one being his made-up essay on the Republican convention-- but also the failure of HARPER'S to address the Tom Bissell plagiarism matter; and other reasons going back into the past. I intend to cover these-- but there may be another campaign to pursue first.

c.t. said...

Brezhnev - and the Brezhnev era - was the the symbol of the long death stagnation of the Soviet Union, which I gather was what King had in mind in invoking his name.

Anyway, on the overall point... I often invoke Lapham's name when I am making a point about the lack of blueland turning out any of the things that they think justifies their sense of importance and superiority, i.e. intellectuals, literary inspiration, basically all things having to do with ability with words. Lapham is such a cartoonish, vain, pretentious intellectual bufoon and moron all in one that his name is useful.

(Did I misspell 'bufoon'? Dang.)

Anyway (pt. 2): Why revive Harpers? Just overtake them with something new. Keep it located in redstateland and no policing... Or keep it wherever and just no policing...

Anonymous said...

By the way, Lewis Lapham smokes like a damn chimney. And, if I recall correctly, he is the spawn of a San Francisco railroad-baron family--and, perhaps of Satan, too.

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed when the new issue came in on November 1 without Lapham's postmortem on the election.

I got a subscription for $4 a year off some internet site. Very deep, with photo essays of uncaring rich Republicans unsmilingly sipping cocktails at convention. Am now expecting one next month with religious zealot Republicans unsmilingly not sipping cocktails at church.

Anonymous said...

what a bunch of right-wing nuts! lewis lapham is one of the few men left with cojones. if bush and his bushwackers have their way we will soon line up to lick their boot polish when they fuck us in the ass!