Tuesday, January 01, 2008

My New Year's Resolution

"Culture is what is left over after you have forgotten all you have definitely set out to learn."

In December 2006 I was reading through the introductory material of Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence. In his discussion of the word culture's various meanings, Barzun quotes the above and attributes it to a wise man unnamed in the text. I checked the endnote and found the wise man named there (with a name I'm not sure I can pronounce correctly) as John Cowper Powys.

A search of ASU's online catalog showed that the library at ASU West had a copy of Powys's The Meaning of Culture. I got it, read it, and was impressed. It reminded me of another little book I liked: The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet.

Both Powys and Dimnet wrote in the early part of the 20th century, and you can tell by the style of their prose. Their common intention is also somewhat dated: to indicate how a person can "be cultured."

I am drawn to both books, but I'm also embarrassed by my attraction. There is something that seems pretentious and prissy about a book with chapter titles like "Culture and the Art of Reading" or "Living One's Life on a Higher Plane."

I suspect, though, that what seems like pretentiousness to me only seems so because I'm swamped by a leveling and uninspired popular culture. What seems like prissiness is probably just refinement, and refinement seems weird in a culture that routinely celebrates the gross and even brutal pleasures human life contains.

I resolve, then, not to be embarrassed if, during the course of this new year, my Hansoniana offer to the blogosphere something in the line of Barzun, Powys, and Dimnet.

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