Applications to culture as we know it

In Raymond Williams’ “Culture is Ordinary,” he discusses first what he believes culture entails. He then goes on to take issue with Marxism and Leavis’ teachings, two ideologies that he says deeply impressed him, before clearing four significant misconceptions on what culture is. All the while, he maintains a ground truth that all of his arguments come back to: culture is ordinary.

1) Williams describes himself as coming from a farming valley that he believes is part of an “old society,” in which there is a deeply rooted sense of community and in which money was often a limiting factor, such that few in his family could pursue a formal education because few could spare the “immediate work.” Williams states that he was never “oppressed” by his university, Cambridge. He never felt as if he came from a different world; he was never mentally or emotionally isolated by a supposed sense of grandeur. However, he describes a tea shop in which he did feel a sense of unwelcoming and dissimilarity. The inhabitants “had [culture,] and they showed you they had it.” Have you ever found yourself in a setting with a similar atmosphere in New York, or anywhere else? If so, where?

2) Williams states that Leavis taught that traditional culture has been superseded by an industrial state which “deliberately cheapen[s] our natural human responses.” This contradicts with Anderson’s belief that art can be found everywhere, including modern-day technology and water fluoridation. With whom do you agree? Has industrialization conquered art and literature, or has it simply given them a new medium?

3) Williams wishes for three things to improve overall culture and society, one of which is added provision for the arts and education. One of the conditions he asks this on is that in implementing these funds, there be no underlying motive for increasing consumption or state revenue. One must ask himself: is this probable or practical? Looking back to the issue of the Barnes exhibit, is it possible to spend money on art for the sake of the art, or will there always be an underlying motive of earnings?

4) In “On Receiving the Rubén Darío Award,” Julio Cortázar describes culture in Nicaragua, the country from which he received his award. He portrays the culture as the exact opposite of that in Williams’ tea shop: it is that of the ordinary man, with no restrictions and complete freedom to whatever one feels or wishes to portray. On which end of the spectrum would you place the culture of New York, or of America as a whole? Why?

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