The Late Lamented Culture

The Late Lamented Culture

Handwriting disappears. Reading, classical music, and the theater are abandoned. French is rejected in favor of English in popular culture. Comedians make do virtually alone on the podium of artistic popularity. The company of video games little by little robs teenagers of all their free time …

In short, everything is disappearing!

For those adults who have a more or less classic conception of culture, perusal of some of this weekend’s great newspapers was unnerving.

In Le Devoir, the runaway loss of the skill necessary to write by hand was reported. “Everything is the computer’s fault,” deems American Kitty Burns Florey, author of a book on the subject. In La Presse, which covered teens at cégep [College of General and Vocational Education – Quebec public institutions of post-high school collegiate learning], they declined the decline of … everything else. Everything else buried beneath the weight of the computer and games; of pop, rock and hip-hop music, which lives in English; of ubiquitous humor and of “pop-corn” film. Indeed, only one cégep student out of five deems himself more cultivated than his parents.

Come on, a little funeral music to bury culture? Mozart’s “Requiem”? Or perhaps, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”?

One should be wary of “it was better in the old days.” Still, it is a fact that progress is never guaranteed: dramatic reversals have happened to great civilizations.

Is that the case for our own? In terms of culture, the debate is open.

The optimists’ hypothesis is attractive. According to them, what is disappearing is making room for something else which has no less worth. “Youth are cultivated differently,” says Jacques Roy, a researcher at the Observatoire Jeunes et société [Youth and Society Observatory]. They often ask me, ‘What’s that good for?’ …”

Precisely!

Learning Latin and ancient Greek as one did in classic prep schools, was not used to know these languages, useless in themselves, but to create a “competency” (as the gods-of-reform-in-Quebec call it): that of thinking in a rational, rigorous and well-tried manner. Knowing how to calculate even though we have calculators remains a form of brain gymnastics. Knowing how to write by hand … in fact, is it still useful?

The pessimists’ hypothesis is that culture, in the sense that this term has been understood until now (that is, not only the knowledge of the great systems of thought and the masterworks of the past and the present, but also the taste for perfecting that knowledge) is definitely in the process of vanishing.

Does that make room for something else? Perhaps. But what, exactly, is not yet very clear.

Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.