9/24 – Williams and Cortazar consolidated

Hi, all! For Tuesday, September 24th, the assigned readings are these:

  • Gould, How to Succeed in College, pp. 74-105.
  • Herbert Read, “A Definition of Art”
  • Raymond Williams, “Culture is Ordinary”
  • Julio Cortazar, “On Receiving the Ruben Dario Award”

Since some of you have already posted about Williams and Cortazar, I thought it might help to combine those posts here — both in preparation for Tuesday’s discussion, and as a model for Thursday’s.

Please feel free to add comments and questions here! To create a new thread, use the box at the bottom; to respond to individual comments, just click one of the “reply” links instead.

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13 Responses to 9/24 – Williams and Cortazar consolidated

  1. Evgenia Gorovaya says:

    On September 15, Evgenia Gorovaya wrote:

    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    2) Williams states that Leavis taught that traditional culture has been superseded by an industrial state which “deliberately cheapen[s] our natural human responses.”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?

    • apalathingal says:

      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?

      I think the culture in New York is, in some manners, comparable to Cortazar’s description of culture. In New York, culture isn’t something that only the educated can achieve. Culture is something that is tangible by the renowned musicians and also by the singers in the subways. I have never felt that culture in New York is exclusively for any group. I feel it is something for everyone. Culture in New York comes from an individual’s desire to understand and learn rather than knowledge received from an educational setting. I really believe New York is that place where culture can be expressed in any form (music, poetry etc.) by any individual. Culture is not about being elegant or rich, rather it is about having the perseverance to go past circumstances and make use of the arts.

      • lilokuo says:

        I agree to the extent that culture is something that is polar, and that it can be embodied by the rich as well as the poor.

        However, since the definition (or commonly acknowledged definitions) of “culture” has evolved with our own cultivated opinions towards the world, I suppose many of the views from these great writers can be seen as obsolete. Same issue with the word “beauty” and “art”, where we can see that if there is inconsistency in the foundation of general agreement on the empirical definition, then we are doomed to go in circles arguing for the sake of arguing.

        Now. Culture, if defined as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively,” then I suppose it is not wrong to say that it belongs to the educated, that they alone have the capabilities and sophistication to appreciate and preserve culture.

        However, if you were to define culture as “a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc,” then it is impossible to separate the mass from the culture, for the masses is what makes the society.

        I suppose that is why there are two ways to seeing and arguing these things (and Williams touches upon this issue), the philosophical approach vs. the scientific understanding. Neither are wrong, it just depends on how you choose to see the world.

        • Destiny Berisha says:

          Perhaps the way we describe art and culture and attempt to define them are reflections of one’s personal experiences in life tied in with the grand experience of the society in which one participates. Williams is a great example of this, as he describes what he understood as culture in variations in different societies from the tightly knit farm community that he grew up with in Wales. He refers to his point that “culture is ordinary” and in all societies, it takes different shapes and forms: “Culture is ordinary…Every human society has its own shape, its own purposes, its own meanings. Every human society expresses these, in institutions, and in arts and learning…its growth is an active debate and amendment, under the pressures of experience, contact, and discovery…” How could Williams possibly come to know this without recognizing his own society’s culture? Going back to what Lilo was saying, Williams did in fact split the definition of culture in two ways: “to mean a whole way of life—the common meanings; to mean the arts and learning—the special processes of discovery and creative effort.” Being that Williams was from a small farm town and became a very well renowned novelist, he was compelled to deny the Marxist idea that the masses are ignorant and that culture is restricted to the upper classes only (this is evidence of the way that personal experiences can effect the way that people describe art and culture). I think that Williams would most certainly agree with Julio Cortazar when he said: “Culture is a process which brings to mind the phoenix, a dynamic both cyclical and continual, a dialectic that involves both history and reflection, a chameleon that is mental, sentimental and aesthetic, varying its colors according to the societies in which it appears.” Like Williams, Cortazar understands the multiple aspects of culture and agrees that vary culture varies amongst different societies.

    • Janna Wu says:

      Raymond Williams holds a very democratic view on his opinions of how the arts and culture should be retained and kept “ordinary” that one “should not have to go to London to find it”. His wish for more active public provisions to the arts sounds ideal but, in my perspective, improbable particularly in today’s society. I agree that more funds should be allocated to galleries and museums to promote adult learning of culture but in the practical sense, people will always find ways to counter this and make use of these finances for commercial motives. I think the Barnes’ relocation was a great example of the impracticability of this. Although Dr. Barnes’ intention for his institution to be a mean of education for the public, in the end, his artworks were transferred into Philadelphia with obvious reasons for money-making. Williams’ proposition is henceforth ideal but naively impractical in modern days unfortunately.

      • dennism says:

        I agree with this. What Williams speaks of could only exist in an ideal world, one in which the existing machine would work towards change simply because it is positive. That said, what he proposes certainly sounds wonderful. I agree that people should not look at art, education, and culture as something that average people would never really comprehend. But people have a tendency to isolate and call themselves “better” than everyone else, and I have no reason to believe that will change in the foreseeable future.

  2. Daniel Vargas says:

    On September 18, Daniel Vargas wrote…

    The Name of This Post is Secret

    “Culture is Ordinary” by Raymond Williams argues (like the title states) that culture and the arts are not only found in the teashop of “cultivated” people but also in the lives of ordinary people.

    1) These “cultivated” people use their positions as the “educated” to remove art and culture away from the masses. Almost like the masses are uneducated and cannot benefit from the art. Williams asks how and why some “call certain things culture and then separate them from ordinary people?” Can anyone benefit from art or do you need to have some education in art to truly enjoy it?

    2) “So when the Marxists say that we live in a dying culture, and that the masses are ignorant, I have to ask them where on earth they have lived.” With which side do you agree more: with the Marxist who believe that culture is fading and the masses are uneducated or Williams?

    3) What is education? “The Times sell nearly three times as many copies as in the days of its virtual monopoly of the press.” Is reading a newspaper truly the way in which people learn?

    • Olivia Nadler says:

      On September 19, Olivia Nadler wrote:

      1) Art is not directly proportional to education in that the more education one has, the more he/she will appreciate art. Williams even states that the lower class “masses” create their own culture, disproving the idea for the necessity of a higher education to have/appreciate culture and art. And how can one “truly enjoy art?” Truly enjoy it as opposed to somewhat enjoy it? Enjoying art is a matter of emotion rather than of education.

      2) As one who grew up as part of the “masses” in a working class town, Williams understands firsthand whether culture is fading at that level or not. Culture exists in all societies and social classes and it is constantly changing. Marxists may believe that culture is dying, but from another perspective it is just evolving according to the time period.

      3) Education is more than just the gaining of knowledge, but rather being able to understand the knowledge and apply it in one’s life. Newspapers are an especially good source of information such as the New York Times which includes topics ranging from international conflicts to health issues. Being more knowledgable allows one to perhaps be more open minded and to see the world in a different light as opposed to a limited view in which they are uninformed.

    • danitsa andaluz says:

      Can anyone benefit from art or do you need to have some education in art to truly enjoy it?
      I do not believe that one needs any formal education to benefit from or enjoy art. To benefit from art/to enjoy art means to have an emotional, perhaps even psychological, reaction to the work of art. No diploma or degree could possibly facilitate that. Any person (rich, poor, educated, uneducated) could look at a painting and feel something, whether it be what the artist intended or simply confusion as to what it is they feel. It could be argued that attending an art class could help one understand the context of a work of art, such as the time period, the aesthetic of the artist, and/or the artists that influenced that artist. In many ways, this could allow one to look more deeply into the piece, however the educated individual does not enjoy the piece any more than the uneducated one. If a performance is designed to make one feel something it will make both the educated person and the uneducated person feel something.

    • Ahmed Ashraf says:

      1. I, like Williams, was born and raised in one of the most remote part of a third world country. I can personally relate to most of the cases Williams presented in this piece of writing. I saw and experienced some of the best things in my life when I was in there. I grew up in the freedoms and restrictions, appreciations and disapprovals, recognised form of intellectualism and unrecognised talents, the different descriptions of purpose, love and fear of nature, and a sense of community. All of these contributed to a sense of understanding that may be called culture. With that in my mind, it can be said that culture can develop in not only within the “educated,” but also the ordinary masses who may or may not be “educated.” This, like Williams’ examples, invalidates the theory that culture can only be developed by the educated ones. I don’t think education is not an absolute necessity to create, understand and benefit from art. It may add a little bit of more sense to your understanding as well as distract you from that understanding. It may allow you to express what and how you feel from the art, but it may as well as stop you from reaching the highest level of understanding where you can’t describe the feelings. So, just because you are educated doesn’t mean you will understand art and just because you are not educated doesn’t mean you will experience otherwise. Lastly, like Olivia, I couldn’t ignore your use of the phrase of “truly enjoying.” Is it possible to define that phrase?

      2. It would be shameful to conclude that the masses are so ignorant that they cannot develop a highly interesting culture for history holds numerous examples of extraordinary cultures and creation of art by people who can be considered uneducated in today’s standard. On the “dying” state of culture, I hold the view that culture is not static. It is an ever changing phenomena which flows with the understanding of the society that nourishes it.

      3. There is a saying that education is not a part of life, it is life itself. This may help to define “education” in some sense. Education is the understanding and experience a person gains over his life. Newspapers provide humans with mostly current events which may contribute to the understanding of a time, nation or the world. It is one way of gaining information and experience, but not the only one if you meant it to be by saying “truly the way in which people learn.”

  3. Sanam Bhandari says:

    On September 18, Sanam Bhandari wrote:

    Is Culture a connotation of privilege and elitism?

    In “On receiving the Ruben Dario Award” Julio Cortazar states that “Culture here (Nicaragua) does not have the usual connotations of privilege and elitism which it has on so many circles” and because Culture is integrated into the everyday vocabulary of the people, the masses are more interested in the affairs of their country and are able to “understand complicated speeches and appreciate art.” Do you agree that culture has a connotation of elitism and elegance? If so, does stripping it of its connotations and integrating it into our everyday vocabulary help us attain a state of mind where we strive to learn and grow as a person?

    Williams states that Leavis thought that the industrial society has deliberately cheapened our natural resources whereas, William argues that any aspect of culture that denies the value of an industrial society is really irrelevant. Do you agree with Leavis teachings that traditional culture has been degraded due to the industrial society or with Williams that industrial society has given people more real freedom to dispose of our lives?

    Raymond Williams felt oppressed by a teashop in Cambridge because the people there insisted that culture is the difference of behavior and speech habit, and showed that they had culture. Both the authors of ”Culture is ordinary” and “On receiving the Ruben Dario Award” disagree that culture is limited to a certain number of “educated” people and that culture is an intellectual attainment. In your opinion does a person have to be educated to be cultured?

    • danitsa andaluz says:

      Do you agree that culture has a connotation of elitism and elegance? If so, does stripping it of its connotations and integrating it into our everyday vocabulary help us attain a state of mind where we strive to learn and grow as a person?

      I agree with Williams that in American use the word “culture” is often associated with wealthy, elitists who, (as Barnes argued) use art as a backdrop for their social affairs. However, I do not agree that integrating it into our everyday vocabulary can help us strive to learn and grow as people. Our willingness and drive to learn, stems not from the way we use the word “culture” but from many other sources. I believe it comes more from our own curiosity, maturity, and an encouraging environment. Changing the connotation of the word “culture” does help to expand our perception of what can qualify as “culture” and perhaps even encourages creativity and innovation. Nonetheless, our quest for knowledge in general and growth will remain unaffected.

    • apalathingal says:

      Both the authors of ”Culture is ordinary” and “On receiving the Ruben Dario Award” disagree that culture is limited to a certain number of “educated” people and that culture is an intellectual attainment. In your opinion does a person have to be educated to be cultured?

      A person does not have to be educated to be cultured. Culture is something that anyone who has the drive and determination to learn about the world and it’s arts can have. Culture is not about having the best grades or the highest educational degrees. Someone who is cultured cannot be conceited or arrogant. A cultured person would have enough knowledge to realize that type of behavior is not proper. A person who has culture does not flaunt it, rather he or she will be humble. Now that being said, I am not saying that an educated person cannot be cultured. There are many educated people who are cultured and modest. At the same time a individual can express him or herself through the arts and be cultured. If one has the passion, one can be cultured.

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