Louis Lapham Went Way Over The Line This TimeCommentary • Opinion • history • trends • media • ISSUE 35•21 • Jun 2, 1999 By Robert L. Gaige Robert L. Gaige I hope you don't mind, but I've really got to blow off a little steam after reading editor Lewis Lapham's "Notebook" column in the June issue of Harper's Magazine. Over the years, I've grown accustomed to Lapham's disregard for propriety, but this time he went way over the line. I tried to keep calm, but when I read that the magazine's new "Archive" feature was meant, as he put it, to counter the popular impression that we live in a perpetual and annihilating present that severs our kinship with the past—man, oh man, I wanted to find that guy and pop him a good one. Mr. Lewis H. Lapham, you better just watch where you're throwing your accusations. I, for one, have always felt that a sense of history is critical to acumen of the zeitgeist beyond the veneer. Maybe you goddamn better well delineate the perimeters of what you consider the "popular impression," pal. Oh, I'm seeing red. I can usually take Lapham's column or leave it for what it's worth, but not this month. Not this. When I read Lapham's Fortune's Child: A Portrait Of The United States As Spendthrift Heir, I managed to keep a level head. In fact, I even kept my calm all the way through Hotel America: Scenes In The Lobby Of The Fin-De-Siecle. I mean, sure, Lapham has quite a bit to say about the feckless American establishment, but I'm usually able to remember that he's entitled to his opinion. I may be troubled by the point-to-point logical flow of some of his commentary on the insouciance of the monied ruling class, but it's a free country, right? He can say what he wants. Still, there was just something about this month's editor's address that made me snap. I mean, was he trying to piss me off? I don't think he could have done it more perfectly if he'd set out with that purpose. This asshole always seems to pick just the right Edith Wharton quote to really make my blood boil. The thing is, it shouldn't even fucking surprise me anymore. What do you expect from a guy who gets his rocks off by saying that Americans need a new public narrative? We all know it's just because Lapham believes that the word "public" has become a synonym for corruption and futility with the last two decades' shift to private-sector dominance. Maybe this joker thinks the public sector is not a living presence protecting, animating and inspiring us, but that doesn't mean everyone else does. Lapham had better learn to watch his mouth, that's all I can say. I feel like telling Mr. Bigtime Editor to take his theories on a society adjusted to the specifications of the tabloid press and its inability to draw distinctions between appreciable and negligible discourse and shove them where the sun don't shine. And where the fuck does he get off saying that the images of sex in the media are meant to be understood not as representations of reality, but as symbols and allegories? That's the biggest piece of horseshit I've ever read. Yeah, right, buddy. So, now the commercial market is no longer responsible for transgressions which directly affect society? I don't think so, Lapham. Doesn't this guy have any self-control? I mean, think a little before you write this stuff. Who does he think he is? Stanley Crouch? It's kind of almost too bad Lapham has to shoot his mouth off like that. I met him at a Calhoun College Master's Tea last year, and he seemed like a pretty decent guy, as far as guys like that go. And to tell you the truth, I pretty much agree with him on his various writings concerning how the country's moral guidebooks fail to account for the political, economic, social and technological changes that over the last 100 years have reconfigured not only the relation between the sexes, but also the Christian definitions of right and wrong. But, come on, you bastard—saying that in absence of a unified field of moral law that commands a sufficiently large number of people to obedience and belief, we rely on meaningless surrogate protocols? Where the fuck do you get off? Christ Almighty, rein it in, Lapham. Rein it in.