sábado, 11 de marzo de 2017

Who could say that The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago, and The Gulag Archipelago (very Russian books all) can only speak to Russians as Russians?

Rescuing Culture from “Cultural Appropriation”

Intercollegiate Review

by Daniel J. Mahoney

References to “culture” are omnipresent in contemporary discourse, even as the word has lost almost all coherence. A word that used to refer to the demanding cultivation of the human mind and soul is today synonymous with almost any social practice (however low or degraded). One speaks freely of the rock culture, the drug culture, and many things worse. Rare are those who recognize that a salutary respect for cultural pluralism, for genuine human diversity, does not demand relativism or an abdication of moral judgment. How did we arrive at such a troubling situation?

To begin with, as the political philosopher Leo Strauss suggested many years ago, culture has ceased to be an “absolute” and has instead become identified with indiscriminate relativism. We have all become vulgar “anthropologists” enthralled by diversity as an end in itself—and the relativism that too often accompanies it. Strauss provocatively sums up the dominant view: “Every human being outside of lunatic asylums is a cultured human being, for he participates in a culture.” One is led to ask: What happened to the high and the low, and everything in between? What happened to the civilized capacity to discriminate between better and worse ways of life?

The urbanity, civility, high-mindedness, and generosity associated with genuine human cultivation has given way to a view that every human practice is worthy of our respect. Culture is thus trivialized. Eating a burrito or wearing a sombrero if one is not Mexican, or practicing yoga if one is not Indian, can become a source of controversy for those who think about culture in a reductive and relativistic way. (And as we know, the PC police are everywhere on our college campuses.) Respect for the specificity of culture supposedly demands an identity politics where people close in on themselves in the most narrow, prickly, and ungenerous manner. Any notion of common humanity is quickly erased and the unreflective practices of any group become sacrosanct and beyond criticism (or even imitation and admiration).
Genuine Respect

What does all this ideological posturing have to do with respect for genuine human culture? We need not reject a respect for the dignity and special paths blazed by the world’s high cultures to recognize that the best thought and art belongs to man as man. Plato, Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Mozart, Beethoven, belong to all thoughtful and discerning souls and not just to those in the West (and the same can surely be said in principle about the best thought and art of the East). These classics enrich the human spirit and are not reducible to the cultures that undeniably shaped their formation and aspirations. High cultures and civilizations enrich each other even as they enrich the human spirit.

The classics of world literature, for example, enrich national literature without in any way homogenizing human thought and experience. Think of the peaks of Russian literature. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak, and Solzhenitsyn are undeniable expressions of the Russian soul and give searing expression to both the Russian and the human condition. But who could say that The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago, and The Gulag Archipelago (very Russian books all) can only speak to Russians as Russians? As Solzhenitsyn argued in his Nobel lecture, literary art of a high order has the capacity, if anything does, to convey the experience of one people and nation to another, to overcome the nearsightedness and shortsightedness that is coextensive with the human condition. Dostoevsky wrestles with the temptation of moral nihilism; Tolstoy, the fog of war and the vicissitudes of history; Pasternak, the fate of decent men in a great nation and culture mutilated by fanatic revolutionaries. Solzhenitsyn chronicles the soul of man, holding on to dear life, under ideological tyranny and the inhuman reign of the Lie.


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