Didn't subscribe to Lapham's Quarterly, and simply decided to support the local bookstores and purchase off them. However, I didn't bargain for the immense popularity of the fall issue- Volume VI, Number 4. I was travelling and was kinda two weeks late in popping in to buy a copy, and it was all sold out. WHAT. Is the theme 'Death' like super hot or whut. The one edition that I truly lust after. ARRRRGH. Books Actually and Kinokuniya were out of stock, but they were nice to direct me to distributor Allscript who knocked me off the socks by spending time over the phone to track down the one last copy of the journal at their outlet in Star Vista Mall. I was super grateful.
As usual, many contributors past and present curated, including Carl Jung, Annie Dillard, John Stuart Mill, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath (of course), Philip Roth, John Crowley, et cetera. The accompanying illustrations and photographs are mesmerising. Powerful images. In tandem with the epic poem C. I200 BC: Aulis 'Taking One for the Team' by classical tragedian Euripides, there's a photograph of the installation from "Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present," 2010 titled 'Nude with Skeleton', depicting Marina Abramovic lying naked beneath a skeleton. The journal on 'Death' opens with a befitting quote from Chinese historian Sima Qian, c. 98 BC, Han Dynasty.
A man only has one death. That death may be as weighty as Mount Tai, or it may be as light as a goose feather. It all depends upon the way he uses it.
If you can read Chinese, here's the quote in which Sima Qian wrote within a gentleman's letter his friend Ren An, about how the politics fare in the court of temperamental Emperor Wu (汉武帝) of the Han Dynasty who ruled a record 54 years from 141 to 87 BC. The next dude to break and hold that record was Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty who ruled for 61 years from 1661 to 1722. All too familiar since I had to study this in school for a double whammy of History and Chinese Literature for six years. Gaah.
I was curious which story of utterly talented depression-plagued Sylvia Plath's would be included. It was from her journals dated November 3, 1952: Northampton, MA, titled 'Mere Anarchy'. Written at 20 years old, she had already wanted to commit suicide, suffering from the immense internal mental pain. Guessed that it would that poem from Dylan Thomas, and I was right! Of 1951: Wales, 'Protest Song'. We all know this, heard him read it aloud in that sing-song manner (I had wanted to write a death-metal melody for it and use the poem as lyrics, and screech it out), and can easily quote the first stanza at will. It's one of those poems you'll never forget from English Literature classes.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Love love love this fall issue's theme with all its awesomely sad and enlightening stories. The real horrors of death are much more frightening than any made-up nightmares or stories of monsters and ghouls. Towards the end of the journal, Brent Cunningham's 'Last Meals' drew me in. It talks about well, the last meals of death-row inmates, how in 2011, the state of Texas stopped offering special last meals. and the whole world's answers to every uninspired food journalist's favorite question, "You're about to die, what's your last meal?"
No matter your stance on capital punishment, eating and dying are universal, and densely symbolic human processes. Death eludes the living, and we are drawn to anything that offers the possibility of glimpsing the undiscovered country. If, as the French epicure Anthelme Brillat-Savarin suggested, we are what we eat, then a final meal would seem to be the ultimate self-expressions. There is added titillation when that expression comes from the likes of Timothy McVeigh (two pints of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream) or Ted Bundy (who declined a special meal, and was served steak, eggs, hash browns, toast, milk, coffee, juice, butter and jelly). And when this combination of factors is set against America's already fraught relationship with food, super sized or slow, and with weight and weight loss, it's almost surprising that Pizza Hut didn't have a winner on its hands.