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Lapham's Quarterly: The Pretentious New Journal We Need

Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's from 1976 to 2006, is starting a new magazine, humbly titled Lapham's Quarterly. It aims to "place current political events within the context of their historical antecedents." I haven't yet seen the first issue, "States of War," but the endeavor seems interesting—forgiving the frequently flat quotations and hollow historical name-dropping riddling the site. ("A library," wrote Henry Ward Beecher, "is but the soul's burial-ground. It is the land of shadows." This as the description of their new blog.)

For a slogan, they've chosen a quaint little antimetabole: "Finding the present in the past, the past in the present." Sounds like Crate and Barrel was brainstorming standard engravings for brass mantelpiece clocks and tossed Lewis Lapham their leftover.

The Lapham's Quarterly website "relaunched" today, which in actuality just means they uploaded three old scans and called it a new blog. This blog, "Paper Trails," is meant to make old, archived items from the NY Public Library available online for the first time. In a publicity email, an assistant editor writes, "Where else can you read Alexander Hamilton's handwritten letter to Mrs. Hamilton about gardening in their Harlem home?" Well, I don't know. Where else would think you'd want to? Hamilton's letter is not funny, not even by virtue of being dated. The internet, if not the gossip magazines beforehand, has already established celebrities as human. We get it. Alexander Hamilton, like Britney Spears, has a personal life--a much duller one. No need to prove it by publishing the prosaic.

Basically Lapham's is a magazine for the type of person who can't write an email without an epigraph. But... maybe we'd all be better off being that type of person. Maybe we—or I—would be better off more conscious of historical reverberations in the present. Comparing, for example, Nancy Pelosi's speech on the cost of the Iraq war to Dwight D. Eisenhower's speech on the cost of the Cold War promises to be enlightening. Which is to say, nitpicking aside, Lapham's Quarterly seems like an interesting and important project. I look forward to seeing where it goes once the editors actually have time to think and the magazine really gets off the ground.

--Francesca Mari