T Nation

Harper's Magazine Fortells the Future

This has to be kind of embarassing…

http://www.reason.com/hitandrun/006531.shtml#006531

I Remember It Like It Was Next Week

In the latest issue of Harper’s, Lewis Lapham has a long, tiresome essay on the “Republican propaganda mill”–which, to judge by one of the accompanying graphs, includes the foundation that publishes Reason. (No wonder we find ourselves praising the president so often.) Lapham briefly mentions but otherwise ignores ideological divisions on “the right,” lumping together “the Catholic conservatives with the Jewish neoconservatives, the libertarians with the authoritarians, the evangelical nationalists with the paranoid monetarists, Pat Robertson with the friends of the Ku Klux Klan.” According to Lapham, all are part of the same conspiracy against decency and compassion, bound together by a common “resentment” (of what, exactly, he doesn’t say). It tells you something about Lapham’s acuity that he sees George W. Bush as a faithful disciple of Barry Goldwater. The main thrust of the piece is that all conservatives are stupid and closed-minded, with the possible exception of Irving Kristol.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the article is the paragraph where Lapham pretends to have heard the speeches at the Republican National Convention that does not open until a week from today. Referring to “the platform on which [George W. Bush] was trundled into New York City this August with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the heavy law enforcement, and the paper elephants,” Lapham writes:

"The speeches in Madison Square Garden affirmed the great truths now routinely preached from the pulpits of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal--government the problem, not the solution; the social contract a dead letter; the free market the answer to every maiden's prayer--and while listening to the hollow rattle of the rhetorical brass and tin, I remembered the question that [Richard] Hofstadter didn't stay to answer. How did a set of ideas both archaic and bizarre make its way into the center ring of the American political circus?"

True, the issue is dated September, but I got my copy in early August, and Lapham must have written those words in July. Didn’t it occur to him that his readers might notice he was claiming to have witnessed an event that had not occurred when the magazine went to press? Evidently, Republicans are not the only ones Lapham thinks are stupid.

Nice try, BB. He employed a common rhetorical strategy, something I’m sure you’re familiar with, by describing the coming convention. The fact is, he doesn’t need to hear speeches at the RNC to predict the ridiculous idealogy we’ll be subjected to. Pretending not to give him enough credit to know that the issue of the magazine he has edited for years will be released before the publishing date is pretty transparent. Going after Lewis Lapham? Really? I notice you had no comment on Naomi Kleins piece on the attempted illegal privitization and war profiteering of Bremer and other neocons, one of the more disgusting things I have ever read about.

[quote]DrS wrote:
Nice try, BB. He employed a common rhetorical strategy, something I’m sure you’re familiar with, by describing the coming convention. The fact is, he doesn’t need to hear speeches at the RNC to predict the ridiculous idealogy we’ll be subjected to. Pretending not to give him enough credit to know that the issue of the magazine he has edited for years will be released before the publishing date is pretty transparent. Going after Lewis Lapham? Really? I notice you had no comment on Naomi Kleins piece on the attempted illegal privitization and war profiteering of Bremer and other neocons, one of the more disgusting things I have ever read about. [/quote]

I admit I am relying on the person who authored the post above for the characterization. I looked online for the article, but couldn’t find it - thus, no link. I myself am not a Harper’s subscriber, which means that I have no comment whatsoever on those other articles, the existence of which you have just apprised me.

However, if you are right, please support with the rhertorical set up, and I will humbly apologize.

[quote]DrS wrote:
I notice you had no comment on Naomi Kleins piece on the attempted illegal privitization and war profiteering of Bremer and other neocons, one of the more disgusting things I have ever read about. [/quote]

you have a link to an article here?

[quote]DrS wrote:
Nice try, BB. He employed a common rhetorical strategy, something I’m sure you’re familiar with, by describing the coming convention. The fact is, he doesn’t need to hear speeches at the RNC to predict the ridiculous idealogy we’ll be subjected to. Pretending not to give him enough credit to know that the issue of the magazine he has edited for years will be released before the publishing date is pretty transparent. Going after Lewis Lapham? Really? I notice you had no comment on Naomi Kleins piece on the attempted illegal privitization and war profiteering of Bremer and other neocons, one of the more disgusting things I have ever read about. [/quote]

DrS –

I don’t see that you have provided the set up for your proposed rhetorical device. Surely he, as an author, would have given at least a few clues he was pretending, rather than just writing as if he had observed?

Another possible explanation:

http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2004_08_21.shtml#1093373108

[Eugene Volokh, August 24, 2004 at 2:45pm] Possible Trackbacks
Editors writing things they know are not accurate:

I at first didn’t want to get too outraged about Lewis Lapham’s writing – before he actually had a chance to see the Republican convention – about “the platform on which [George W. Bush] was trundled into New York City this August with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the heavy law enforcement, and the paper elephants,” and adding

"The speeches in Madison Square Garden affirmed the great truths now routinely preached from the pulpits of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal--government the problem, not the solution; the social contract a dead letter; the free market the answer to every maiden's prayer--and while listening to the hollow rattle of the rhetorical brass and tin, I remembered the question that [Richard] Hofstadter didn't stay to answer. How did a set of ideas both archaic and bizarre make its way into the center ring of the American political circus?"

The falsehood was so obvious (Harper’s subscribers would read this before the convention), and its obviousness must have been so obvious to Lapham, that it’s hard to see this as a deliberate lie. If a 5’6" man tells you he’s 5’8", that might be a lie. If he tells you he’s 6’6", then it seems like something else – a joke, maybe, or a delusion, or irony that’s way too deep for me.

But I wonder what that “something else” here. One explanation is that Lapham wrote the column to be published after the Convention – but that’s really not an innocent explanation: He’s writing that he listened to something, and giving his characterization of what he heard (or at least heard about), even though at the time of writing he hadn’t actually listened to it, and thus had no opportunity to characterize things accurately.

A more innocent explanation might be that he wrote this as a draft, meant to go back to update this if necessary, but somehow the article slipped out early. That’s an odd way to write a column, and bespeaks a certain closed-mindedness: I’d think most writers would have left the paragraph blank, and filled it in afterwards, perhaps with some telling details and with an eye towards reflecting the actual proceedings – yes, conventions are predictable, but they’re not completely predictable, so why mentally box oneself in with a first draft? Nonetheless, different writers write differently, and in principle if a writer wants to write a draft of what he expects the article to be like, with the expectation that he’d revise it later, that’s fine.

But is this really what Lapham did? Or did he just say “Hey, I’ll just write it now as if I’d seen the whole thing, and send it now to be printed as is later”? If it’s the latter, then shouldn’t someone announce, well, a scandal or something?

Also, if this really was a screw-up, how many people had to have screwed up for something like this to happen?

http://harpers.org/BackToTheFuture.html

Back to the Future
Posted on Thursday, August 26, 2004. Originally from Harper’s Magazine, October 2004.
Sources

I was most impressed to read of Lewis Lapham’s ability to travel in time in “Tentacles of Rage” [Essay, September]. As far as I can tell, on the day I received my copy of Harper’s Magazine, the Republican convention had yet to take place, and living in New York, I think I would have noticed. Admittedly, the pablum will be predictable (barring some unforeseen event), but it seems awfully sloppy of Lapham to discuss feelings he had while watching something he has yet to watch, simply in order to put some additional feathers on one of his rhetorical barbs. What is most appalling is that he chose an actual piece of journalism, rather than his accustomed punditry, for this rather silly fillip. This doesn’t exactly give me faith in his understanding of what it is reporters actually do.

On the other hand, if he has in fact traveled in time, I would appreciate it if he could let all of us subscribers know the outcome of the forthcoming election.

Matthew Ostrowski
Brooklyn

Lewis Lapham responds:

As Mr. Ostrowski properly notes, the rhetorical invention was silly. The mistake, however, is a serious one, and if I’d had my wits about me as an editor, I wouldn’t have let the author mix up his tenses in manuscript or allowed him in page proof to lapse into poetic license. Both of us regret the injury done to the magazine and apologize, wholeheartedly, to its readers.


http://oxblog.blogspot.com/2004_08_22_oxblog_archive.html#109352912047936565

Posted 9:55 AM by Josh Chafetz
AS I NOTED on Tuesday, Lewis Lapham either time-traveled or fabricated in the current issue of Harper’s. He has now posted an apology on the front page of Harper’s website. But I can’t be the only one who finds this a little thin. (Indeed, I’m not – cf. Mr. Sachs.) Lapham claims he simply “mix[ed] up his tenses” – but c’mon! He wrote that, “while listening to the hollow rattle of the rhetorical brass and tin [at the RNC], I remembered the question that [Richard] Hofstadter didn’t stay to answer. How did a set of ideas both archaic and bizarre make its way into the center ring of the American political circus?” If this is simply a tense screw-up, then Lapham intended to write in the future tense about how he will have felt upon hearing speeches whose contents he doesn’t yet know. Again, sure, it’s fairly predictable what the speeches will say. But would it actually have been run in the future tense? And if not, how can this be a mere screw-up?

(Relatedly, I know Lapham is the editor, but doesn’t anyone read over the boss’s articles to make sure he isn’t embarrassing himself and his magazine? When I was at TNR, Marty Peretz’s articles usually ran without a whole lot of edits, but they were always fact-checked.)