Πέμπτη 7 Ιουλίου 2016

The word 'culture'

Τα αποσπάσματα είναι από το πάρα πολύ ενδιαφέρον βιβλίο του Terry Eagleton, "Culture", Yale University Press, 2016.

'Culture' is an exceptionally complex word ... but four major senses of it stand out. It can mean (1) a body of artistic and intellectual work; (2) a process of spiritual and intellectual developments; (3) the values, customs, beliefs and symbolic practices by which men and women live; or (4) a whole way of life. (p. 1)

It is industrial civilisation, ..., which helps to bring the idea of culture to birth. The word 'culture' did not become widely current until the nineteenth century. The more everyday experience seems soulless and impoverished, the more an ideal of culture is promoted by way of contrast. The more crassly materialistic civilization grows, the more exalted and otherworldly culture appears. Middle-class citizens of Berlin and Vienna began to dream of the unblemished organic society of ancient Greece. Culture and civilisation now seemed to be at loggerheads. The former is a Romantic concept, while the latter belongs to the language of Enlightenment. (p. 10-11)

As an idea, civilisation clips together the material and the spiritual. It tells us that there are a lot of sizeable buildings, ingenious facilities and elaborate organizations around, while also suggesting that all this tends to enhance our moral well-being. The notion of civilisation is, among other things, a judgement on people who are ill-starred enough not to have public libraries, central heating, Charlie Sheen or Cruise missiles. Instead, they inhabit something called a culture, which may mean that they have not yet evolved to the stage of wearing suits or skirts. Yet this is not always judged a defect. Oswald Spengler argues in The Decline of the West that all cultures eventually petrify and externalise themselves into civilisations, which suggests a decline from the organic to the mechanical. (p. 15)

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