Lewis Lapham Returns From the Future


Jesse points out, by way of the Volokh Conspiracy, that Harper's Editor Lewis Lapham has apologized for describing his thoughts as he listened to Republican convention speeches that have not been given yet. In response to a reader who wondered if he had in fact perfected time travel, Lapham writes:

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.

Lapham should get credit for his prompt apology, but his description of the passage as a "rhetorical invention," a "mistake," and an exercise of "poetic license" suggests there was no intent to deceive. Since the issue of Harper's in which his essay appeared was dated September and will be on the newsstands after the convention, it seems more likely that he was trying to seem as current as possible. If so, his "mistake" was in thinking that no one would notice the trick.

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  1. The passage felt, to me, like another chunk of evidence for Lapham’s divorce from reality. It still feels like that. I mean, this is a guy who leads with a roundtable on the future of progressive politics, and he corrals … Ralph Nader and Kevin Phillips.

  2. Time is an illusion. It has no substance. It is merely a concept. Can you hold “time” in your hand? Can you see it, smell it, hear it, or taste it?

    Assuming that “time” indeed exists, can anyone prove that it only runs in a one-way, unbroken, linear path? Do other “timelines” run concurrently? Perhaps some superior minds are able to expand beyond the common shared perception (that is, again, illusionary), and look into the future realities. I know a weekend is coming up, but think about it.

  3. I looked into the abyss of time — and saw the face of the shover robot.

  4. Muad’dib would have no trouble watching the RNC a few weeks early.

  5. Wait a minute … LL refers to himself as the editor, and to another person as the author. He writes “Both of us regret” the incident. But, wasn’t LL the author? Maybe he’s joking, but isn’t this another example of his misleading prose?

  6. Wait a Minute:

    One one transcends the linear timestream he can exist in multiple bodies at any “point”.. hence a collective. Duh.

  7. I agree.

  8. That’s nice, but who asked you? Please go home now.

  9. db,

    good analogy. Didn’t muad’dib go insane?

  10. No. Muad’dib simply was unable/unwilling to make the difficult choice to merge with the worm and ensure the golden path.

  11. ryan,

    He was blinded in an assasination attempt, but could still see (as his prescience caused a limitation on the possible futures and made it so he could only ‘see’ what was happening at the exact moment it happened) and wandered the desert for a very long time. That’d probably make anyone a bit eccentric, at the very least.

    I don’t know if he went insane, but his son Leto did a better job of managing his prescience than Muad’dib did.

  12. I think the original article is a good example of what happens when journalists feel the need to “one-up” themselves. The most extreme example is Stephen Glass. After you write one story that gets attention, the pressure is on to make the next story even better.

    One way to do that is to have a first-person account of the convention in your magazine while the convention is in session. Unfortunately, you have to write that first-person account months in advance if you want to make the publication date for the September issue.

    Editors are supposed to keep this type of journalism in check, but if the editor is writing the article, who edits the editor? Did he have one of the reporters on his staff review the article? How does a staff reporter tell his boss that his article stinks?

    I suspect that he was so eager to write a negative piece on the Republican convention that he suffered a lapse in journalistic ethics. But hold it! Aren’t journalists supposed to be unbiased? How could that be? Despite the propaganda released by the the press, they are only human and they have opinions just like the rest of us. I just wish they would admit it occasionally instead of maintaining the facade of “unbiased reporting”. Come on, tell me what you really think!

    I would love to know what Tom Brokaw really thinks of some of the world leaders he’s met. Maybe after he retires, he’ll write a book (ya think!!). I read David Brinkley’s memoirs years ago and it was very interesting. I always saw him as a colorless “newsreader” until I had a chance to learn about his experiences and outlook on life. I didn’t always agree with him, but I could better understand how he formed his opinions.

  13. Maybe SOME L.L.-initialed pikers haven’t perfected the art of time travel, but please don’t think the good Mr. Lapham speaks for ME.

  14. My dear Mr. Long (or do you prefer ‘Commodore Sheffield’?),

    I beg to differ with your assertion that it was you who perfected time travel. It is well known that I perfected the technology of the continuum craft.

  15. Jake, you might’ve invented the continua craft, but Ted Bronson up there was time traveling LONG before he met you. Was it not Minerva who thought up the idea of using the irrelevancy drive to materialize in a previous time?

  16. Jake, Woody – SHUT UP!

    Ixnay on the imeraveltay.


    Vanishing Point

  17. Whoa…. this is heavy stuff, Doc.

  18. Good work Jacob. We can all rest easy now.

  19. Rip Hunter cool handle. Haven`t seen any posts from Booster gold on this thread yet. Lapham is a termiinal bore – it is nice to see him get caught in a bind. I can remember when Harper`s was a magazine I had to read. Now its easy all too easy to put dowwn and very hard to pick up.

  20. That Lewis Lapham isn’t wearing a nametag, a silly hat and limited to asking ‘Do you want fries with that?’ is solely the result of inherited wealth and position, earned by generations of Laphams before him. The notion that anyone might actually want to construct something of value and be compensated accordingly is anathema to him.

    When Lapham’s complains about Bush’s inherited wealth and status, it’s funnier than an hour of Three Stooges shorts. It’s even funnier than the chain-smoking, former Drug Czar, Bill ‘Mr. $500 Slots’ Bennett, hectoring Americans on matters of private morality.

  21. I suppose what happened is that Lapham thought it utterly predictable that there would be lots of free-market rhetoric at the Republican convention (which no doubt there will be–the actual *actions* of Republican administrations are another matter entirely, of course) and that it was therefore safe for him to refer to it as if it had already taken place, forgetting that the September issue would be available before the convention. (Yet it does seem strange that an editor wouldn’t know when his magazine hits the stands.)

    His editor-author business is of course a (tedious) joke.

  22. Any of us could have predicted what the RNC rhetoric would be –and we all are aware of the current misguided administration. Lewis did not err in this. His comments are always worthy of consideration, no matter whether we agree –

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