8 Questions for Lewis Lapham

The editor of "Lapham's Quarterly," sat down with Kim Tidwell, Bridgeman's Marketing Manager, to dish on why he loves history, Shakespeare and long-form journalism.

"He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living hand to mouth."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

KT:  One of the reasons I enjoy working for Bridgeman, is that I can pick any concept out of the air and find a wealth of material in the archive. Art from different eras has the ability to connect us to the universal ties that bind us together. Your magazine takes a concept and features historical writing and imagery alongside contemporary pieces to produce a nuanced discussion. Why is it important to reintroduce older writing that may be unfamiliar to many people today?

LL: The stories printed in the old books, like the ones painted on the old walls, are also our own. On the long journey across the frontiers of the millenia mankind salvages from the wreck of time what it has found to be beautiful, useful or true. The historical record is our inheritance, the vast reservoir of human energy and thought that Goethe had in mind when he said that ‘He who cannot draw on 3,000 thousand years is living hand to mouth.” What survives the death of cities and the fall of empires is the force of human imagination and its powers of expression. Which is why Shakespeare still draws a crowd in Central Park, why the Bridgeman archive can find a market for the paintings of Botticelli and Vermeer.

 

Portrait of Lewis Lapham © Lapham's Quarterly
Portrait of Lewis Lapham © Lapham's Quarterly

 

KT:  Your next issue is entitled Magic Shows, on newsstands June 15th. Why magic?

LL:  Magic can mean pulling rabbits out of hats, but it also encompasses the forms of magical thinking that animate the stock market, decide our foreign policy and market our presidential campaigns. Between the natural and supernatural it is often hard to draw a firm distinction. It is in the nature of human beings to believe in wonders that never cease, among them the transfer of Norman Rockwell American democracy to the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the always upward movement of the prices paid for houses in Florida and California. One era's magic can become another era's science. The 21st Century American takes for granted the miracle of electric light; to an ancient Greek or Roman it would have been deemed a proof of sorcery.

Click here to view the Bridgeman images licensed for the "Quarterly's" Magic issue.

Learn more about the "Quarterly's" Art Director, Timothy Don, and how he finds imagery for each issue.

 

Cover of Magic Shows, ©Lapham's Quarterly
Cover of Magic Shows, ©Lapham's Quarterly

 

 

KT:  Before you started "Lapham’s Quarterly," you were the editor of "Harper’s Magazine." As an editor and a sort of societal philosopher, how does your publication differ from "Harper’s?"

LL:  The "Quarterly" is less interested in journalism, more interested in art and literature.


KT:  What artist or historical figure would you like to go back in time to interview and what is the one question you’d ask?

LL:  I’d ask Herman Melville about his sightings of the white whale.

 

KT:  Many of us have a love/hate relationship with the soundbite world of social media and headline news, what are your thoughts on the presence of long-form journalism and does it have a place in this environment?

LL:  Our spring issue, Means of Communication, considers the possibilities available to both the electronic media and idiom of print. Both have value, but they answer different needs. Television lends itself more easily to the selling of a product than to the expression of a thought.

 

Do Not Disturb (oil on linen) by Rebecca Campbell
Do Not Disturb (oil on linen) by Rebecca Campbell

 

KT:  The "Quarterly" recently held it’s first Decades Ball benefit here in New York City, which had a 1920’s theme. If you had the choice to go back and live in another decade, which one would it be and why?

LL:  I'd welcome the chance to return to London during the reign of Elizabeth I, to Paris during the 18th century French Enlightenment. But always with the proviso that I could enjoy the conveniences of wealth and privilege, choose the company and keep my teeth. As with the Bridgeman archive, the grace and beauty of the past is best observed from a safe distance.

 

Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses, 1569 by Hans Eworth / The Royal Collection © 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses, 1569 by Hans Eworth / The Royal Collection © 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

 

KT:  What is your favorite piece of writing?


LL:  I cannot choose one, but here are five:
Novel:         "The Lost Illusion," by Honoré de Balzac

Poem:         "For the Time Being," by W.H. Auden

History:       "The Hundred Years," by Phillip Guedalla

Biography:  "Elizabeth and Essex", by Lytton Strachey

Play:           "As You Like It," by William Shakespeare
 

 

(Detail) 'The Pale Complexion of True Love and the Red Glow of Scorn and Proud Disdain' from As You Like It, 1899 (oil on canvas) by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale/ Christie's Images
(Detail) 'The Pale Complexion of True Love and the Red Glow of Scorn and Proud Disdain' from As You Like It, 1899 (oil on canvas) by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale/ Christie's Images

 

 

KT:  Bridgeman is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary in 2012. Though the "Quarterly" has only been around for 4 years, it has established itself as a force to be reckoned with. As you look forward - what are your hopes for the "Quarterly" for it’s 40th?

LL:  That the publication will still be around in 40 years.

 

To find out more about Lewis Lapham and the "Quarterly," visit www.laphamsquarterly.org

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