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The first time I read Lapham’s Quarterly, I was shitting in a wooden outhouse overlooking the woods of Southern Indiana. This was not a normal outhouse. It was made by a real carpenter and the waste collected in a reservoir below making humanure. I was at a homestead called the Lazy Bear Lodge for a three-day environmental retreat.
Each day we heard talks about topics such as forestry, strip-mining, and intensive gardening- eating home-made vegan food in between. At night we sat around the campfire drinking moonshine and bullshitting before retiring to our respective tents under the starry sky. It was amazing- about half of the environmentalists were in their sixties, the other half were in their twenties- and we all got along swimmingly.
On the last day somebody leaving accidently ran over the owner of the Lazy Bear’s dog. The black mutt was sleeping beneath their car. I heard a terrible scream and ran up to see Andy carrying his dog. Its legs were mangled, dangling like rope. Corina fed the dog half a tyenol on a dab of peanut butter while it recovered on a blanket beneath a chair on the porch. I remember feeling unable to do anything so I gave Andy a long hug. It was a sad ending to a great weekend.
Anyway, I was sitting on the wooden toilet looking for something to read. From the stack of books and magazines I grabbed a half-an-inch wide white book with a rubbery cover. I opened to a random page and started reading about the Thirty Year’s War. It was fucking horrific. Starving soldiers from several nations wandered Central Europe killing and stealing from hapless peasants. A method called Schwedentrunk, or Swedish-drink, was used to extract information from these poor formers; a wooden wedge would be placed in the victim’s mouth and then copious amounts of human excrement or boiling water would be poured down their throat. The amount of destruction in the Thirty Year’s war, both in material and human life, wouldn’t be approximated until centuries later, in WWI.
My family comes mainly from Austria and southern Germany, where most of the fighting (Catholic versus Protestant, Christian v. Christian) took place. These days, I have some uncles who own property in the Northwoods of Wisconsin where they grow their own organic food. In many ways, they’re identical to the environmentalists I spent the weekend with. However, I believe in some ways they’re driven by a paranoia that Obama or the blacks (or both) are out to get them. I write it off as the residual effects of some trauma our family suffered centuries ago at the hands of marauding soldiers during the Thirty Years war. That shit doesn’t leave you once you die.
Anyhow, the account given about Schwedentrunk was from a primary source written in 1621. That’s how Lapham’s works- each issue they cover a different topic using excerpts from documents from across time. For example, one edition was about Intoxication, and sources included everything from Herodotus to Warhol.
In order to show my appreciation of Lapham’s, I’m going to imitate them next week, curating my own collection of primary sources around a single theme (sacrifice).