Sometimes one hungers to write; sometimes to read; sometimes to edit. I’ve been so distracted by the latter two that it seems I haven’t published in about a week, which is practically professional misconduct in these days of graphomania. But the diversion allowed me to finally catch, among other things, Jack Schaefer’s two-week-old diagnosis of the Lewis Lapham problem.
Lapham has, at least in the last few years whenever I’ve picked up the magazine, been on a strange, violent, and increasingly obscure tear against such big obvious targets as Bush and Ashcroft and American popular culture. The occasion for the Slate article was Reason magazine’s recent catching of Lapham writing about the Republican convention in advance of it taking place. The best line in Schaefer’s piece comes at the end: "Lapham's magazine once contained multitudes, and so did he."
Schaefer’s borrowing from the great poet of democracy Walt Whitman, and that line about multitudes makes a fine description of the basic claim of editing. Very presumptuously, you go around telling all kinds of people how to better sound like themselves and how to better write what they’re thinking. You know how to get them, you say, to where they want to go. In the ethereal movie George Washington that came out a few years ago, a strange little boy comes to inhabit a fantasy world after a terrible accident: He puts on a football helmet and a cape and starts directing traffic in the middle of town. In my, albeit limited, experience, editing is rather like that.
14 minutes ago