Presented by Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book

About this project

A note from Lewis H. Lapham

As expected and in line with standard government practice, the report issued by the Iraq Study Group issued on December 6th comes to us muffled in language protecting it against the accidents of meaning–a document to be seen as a praiseworthy gesture instead of being heard as a clear statement of purpose or a candid arrangement of the facts. How then to interpret the message in the bottle or read the handwriting on the wall?

Lapham’s Quarterly in association with the Institute for the Future of the Book answers the question with a new form of discussion and critique–an annotated edition of the report on a website programmed to that specific purpose, evolving on short deadline into a collaborative illumination of an otherwise black hole.

We invited a quorum of informed sources (historians, generals, politicians both foreign and domestic) to add marginal notes and brief commentaries at any point in the text seeming to require further clarification or forthright translation into plain English. The respondents are free to address any one of the seventy-nine recommendations (the New Diplomatic Offensive directed toward Syria and Iran or the re-ordering of American military priorities in and around Baghdad), to doubt a broad gauged assertion (“Iraq is a sovereign state”, “the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating”), to deconstruct a clich├ęd chapter heading (“Precipitate Withdrawal,” “Staying the Course,” “Performance on Milestones”), to question the character or motives of the committee that composed the report. We’re asking for historical perspective and geopolitical dimension; they can add two sentences, three or four paragraphs, five footnotes, or an apt quotation from any source they think entitled to a voice in the proceedings–i.e., prior observations embedded in the writings of D. H. Lawrence, Ibn Khaldun, Gertrude Bell, Richard Nixon, Golda Meir, or Edward Gibbon.

As the discussion attracts an increasing number of participants, the annotated edition of the ISG report should prove to be a good deal more instructive than the one distributed to the members of Congress and the major news media.

A note on participation

This publication is an editorial experiment. In the weeks prior to President Bush’s address to the nation on January 10th, 2007, the notes and commentaries in the ISG Report consisted only of those from the respondents solicited by Lapham’s Quarterly. At this point the discussion has been opened to the public by way of a short review process. [apply here to join the conversation]

About Lapham’s Quarterly

Forthcoming in the spring of 2007, Lapham’s Quarterly is a new publication that sets the story of the past in the frame of the present, opens the door of history behind the events in the news. Set up in the form of a high quality paperback book–224 pages, perfect binding, four color illustration–Lapham’s Quarterly makes the assumption that accurate observations of the human predicament don’t become obsolete, and that although history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes. That was now, and this is then.

Four times a year the editors find a topic prominent in the headlines–foreign war, scientific discovery, financial panic, technological change, belief in miracles–and within the focus of that topic they assemble a set of fifty or sixty texts–expository narrative and literary commentary as well as letters, diaries, speeches, bills of lading, writs of execution–that pass the test of time. Among the contributors, the reader is likely to find Thucydides, Caesar, St. Augustine and William Shakespeare, as well as Ibn Khaldun, Casanova, and Benjamin Franklin. [read more]

About the Institute for the Future of the Book

Based in Brooklyn, NY and connected to the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC, the Institute for the Future of the Book is a small experimental collective dedicated to inventing new forms of publishing for the network age. The Institute is currently working with Lewis Lapham and his staff to develop an innovative Web component for Lapham’s Quarterly.

The ISG Report is an experiment along the way. The form in which it is presented is an early prototype of a new style of Internet document that puts the conversation of readers on equal footing with the text. For more on the ideas and experiments that have informed this latest project, visit the Institute’s website and the if:book blog.