The sixth issue of Lapham's Quarterly, "Crimes and Punishments," looks at the legal and societal aspects of our criminal justice system--and seems to examine heroic criminals more often than villainous ones. The sidebar "Killing Time: Books written in prison" (p. 107) got me thinking about how often our heroes are criminalized as they stand for justice while opposing the law. This requires, of course, the sort of disunity between justice and legality that has ensnared giants of our intellectual and moral heritage from Socrates and Galileo to Martin Luther King Jr.
As always, the LQ selections cover an impressively wide span of human history and geography; just to stick with the beginning of the alphabet, "Crimes and Punishments" has Primo Levi writing on Auschwitz, Saul Levitt about Andersonville, and the enforcement of Sharia in Afghanistan. Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" would have been a good lead-in to MLK's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," and Camus' "Reflections on the Guillotine" a fine companion to Orwell's "A Hanging," but I nonetheless appreciated the editors' choices.
For the second issue in a row, one of the essays is an absolute delight. Michael Dirda's reconsideration of Aeschylus' trilogy The Oresteia (consisting of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides), which he called "the greatest of all the Greek tragedies," has added another Penguin Classics volume of the Greeks to my reading list.
Such is the magic of Lapham's Quarterly.