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Thread: Has Culture Peaked?

  1. #1
    Dylan2010
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    Default Has Culture Peaked?

    happened to be reading the article below essentially commenting non the linearity of major cultural developments and advances. But the question I'm asking is, have some elements of culture actually peaked, music for instance in as much as you can measure it, did the classical giants of the 18th and 19th Century hit a technical peak that hasnt been surpassed today? and if so what are todays "Mozarts" doing, designing video games? making movies? or otherwise focusing on mass market culture which by definition will be dumbed down somewhat to make it easily digestable so that there is no incentive or demand to try surpass what has come before?




    The Valve - A Literary Organ | Why are the greatest composers all German?



    I’m talking about classical music of course, and I can start with polemical oversimplification, as follows: almost all the greatest composers were from a small area in northern Europe, and all were working within a relatively short period of time. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Wagner … all of them were German. Some notable other figures (Smetana, Holst, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Grieg) came from territories proximate geographically and culturally to Germany. All these figures composed during a narrow historical timeframe from the end of the eighteenth-century to the end of the nineteenth. So this is my question, boiled down to its essentials: why is it that all the great classical composers are German, working within a tightly-defined period of a handful of decades of one another?

    Thousands of years of human musical creativity has resulted in an enormous body of work, from every culture. Why should this corpus be so dominated by a small group of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century Germans?
    I’m not actually that interested in the supposed German dominance of the classical music canon; I’m interested in art more generally conceived. I would argue that similar phenomena are evident in all forms of art. Human artistic achievement repeats this pattern: a long period of low-level achievement, then a short period of inspired production of marvellous art by a small group of exceptional creators; then another long period of low-level production overshadowed by the canon of works by this earlier group. Let me call this phenomenon golden-age clumping; an uneuphonious phrase by which I mean that separate discourses of artistic productivity are almost always dominated by a “golden age”, a small cadre of artists working in close proximity to one another.

    For example: classical literature from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century AD (that’s 700 years, give or take) was dominated by the brilliant achievement of just such a small group, all from the same city (Athens), all working within a hundred years of one another (in the 5th century BC), many of them friends: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Socrates, Plato, Herodotus, Thucydides, names that are still resonant today. These poets, dramatists, philosophers and historians, overshadowed Western culture for two millennia. It is not that nobody else was writing between the 5th century and the Renaissance. On the contrary, each generation produced myriad scribblers and thinkers, aspirants to the golden-age mantle. They just weren’t as good as the golden names of Periclean Athens.

    Here’s another example: in two hundred years England gave the world Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning: no poetry written before or since, I patriotically (or chauvinistically) assert, comes close to the cultural dominance of the poetry written by that group. Great poets have come and gone all over the world, of course; but this list represents some of the most influential and dominant grouping in the history of world poetry.

    Painting has been a feature of every single world culture for thousands of years, and yet our notions of ‘great painting’ are still rooted in two clumps: a handful of Italian Renaissance painters on the one hand; and a handful of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century French painters (or painters who lived and worked in France) on the other. Why should this be? Moreover the enduring success of the second group is grounded in the fact that they invented a new way of doing painting, and so created a body of work distinct from the Renaissance masters. What does this tell us?

    And what about fiction? Two hundred thousand new novels are printed every year. Many of them are good. Yet I’ll hazard a prediction that no novelists working in any language today will have the enduring cultural weight and influence enjoyed by a group of a dozen-or-so French, British and Russian novelists from the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century’, amongst them Jane Austen, Scott, George Eliot, the Brontes, Dickens, Flaubert, Hugo, Tolstoi, Dostoevski, Henry James, Balzac, Zola, Conrad, Proust, James Joyce.

  2. #2
    Politics.ie Member LamportsEdge's Avatar
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    Doubt it. I dare say that this question has been posed many times in many cultures worldwide since the dawn of the ability to ponder philosophy.

    I think the notion of a plateau or stasis in culture may just be a reflection of our short-termist view of society.

    We have on average three score years and ten or thereabouts and have as part of the digitalisation of the industrial age experienced a sense of the jaded about modern Europe and its place in the world perhaps.

    There is evidence the Greek and Roman philosophers pondered these things at various times also.

    I rather like the 'Long Now Foundation' which include Brian Eno as a supporter and thinker which deprecates our current habit of thinking only of the 'now' and the near future rather than thinking and pondering on 10,000 years ahead for example.

    Our current psychological cultural view may be a little jaded and hesitant about what comes next but there is no evidence that the natural human impulse to walk across a flat nowhere towards a distant horizon on instinct is lessened any- in Europe or elsewhere.
    Whenever understanding exists, accepting or rejecting is unnecessary. (Fundamentals of a Gnostic Education).

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    Politics.ie Member Prester Jim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dylan2010 View Post
    happened to be reading the article below essentially commenting non the linearity of major cultural developments and advances. But the question I'm asking is, have some elements of culture actually peaked, music for instance in as much as you can measure it, did the classical giants of the 18th and 19th Century hit a technical peak that hasnt been surpassed today? and if so what are todays "Mozarts" doing, designing video games? making movies? or otherwise focusing on mass market culture which by definition will be dumbed down somewhat to make it easily digestable so that there is no incentive or demand to try surpass what has come before?




    The Valve - A Literary Organ | Why are the greatest composers all German?
    No, history is not over yet and every time we think we have reached the zenith of human achievement we are proved wrong.
    It may well be that the Greeks remain unsurpassed in their area but I can confidently predict that there will be many more fruitions of human genius in the future.
    It may well be that the next flowering is in the area of computer and video games; story and visionary visuals and technological prowess and breakthrough forming a synergy that breaks new ground unseen before or allowing greater immersion then any of the past masters could have hoped for.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dylan2010 View Post
    happened to be reading the article below essentially commenting non the linearity of major cultural developments and advances. But the question I'm asking is, have some elements of culture actually peaked, music for instance in as much as you can measure it, did the classical giants of the 18th and 19th Century hit a technical peak that hasnt been surpassed today? and if so what are todays "Mozarts" doing, designing video games? making movies? or otherwise focusing on mass market culture which by definition will be dumbed down somewhat to make it easily digestable so that there is no incentive or demand to try surpass what has come before?




    The Valve - A Literary Organ | Why are the greatest composers all German?

    Was listening to some Beethoven the other night and in complete awe at how beautiful his music is and was wondering will we ever see his like again. The 3 'B's' Brahms, Beethoven and Bach and then you had Mozart and Schubert too and all roughly around the same time. It was the cultural zeitgeist of the time you might say but I honestly can't imagine their likes ever again. Their music was just perfect.

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    Politics.ie Member Prester Jim's Avatar
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    Even the statistics are on the side of the future; greater population, greater average level of education, much, greater amount of people involved in the arts, greater nutrition and fitness and excess of energy for most of the 2nd world and much of the 1st world.
    It may well be that the increasing homogeneity of culture worldwide works against it...

  6. #6
    Politics.ie Member LamportsEdge's Avatar
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    Problem is our perception of culture too... Europe since the Renaissance has been the leader in thought and reflection in the developed world, call it those nations with the liberty and ease to be the accepted centre of the commentariat in this area.

    That may change with the movement of resources, endeavour and energy eastward to Asia but there is no reason to assume any perceived European lacuna or lassitude need inhabit humanity overall.
    Whenever understanding exists, accepting or rejecting is unnecessary. (Fundamentals of a Gnostic Education).

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    That article has a very flawed understanding of genius, Art, Literature and Music.
    Regards...jmcc

  8. #8
    Politics.ie Member LamportsEdge's Avatar
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    Quite possible that at this moment in time somewhere in Asia there is a ten year old listening to a form of music that will become one element in that child's mind in the founding of a new hybrid era of classical music.

    Something so inspiring that it would make Beethoven weep. There may not be such a child. But the process exists and there is no reason to assume a sudden shortage of genius in humanity so we may be just poised on the edge of a form of music that will change classical music itself forever.

    We don't know. But we will when it happens.
    Whenever understanding exists, accepting or rejecting is unnecessary. (Fundamentals of a Gnostic Education).

  9. #9
    Dylan2010
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    Quote Originally Posted by Prester Jim View Post
    Even the statistics are on the side of the future; greater population, greater average level of education, much, greater amount of people involved in the arts, greater nutrition and fitness and excess of energy for most of the 2nd world and much of the 1st world.
    It may well be that the increasing homogeneity of culture worldwide works against it...
    indeed, back a couple of hundred years ago, the pool of talent was much smaller as was the audience smaller all be it the composers had patrons and nolibity in mind when they were writing. " a billion middle class Asians" have the ability to move things up a gear.

  10. #10
    Politics.ie Member LamportsEdge's Avatar
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    The arts is where it seems more obvious that new genius stands on the shoulders of past giants.

    I would say given an observation of the way in which Asian students attack classical music and master the use of classical instruments it won't be long before the essential twist arrives.

    Something to look forward to unless deeply wedded to the notion that only Germans, Austrians, French can wield a baton or lead an orchestra.
    Whenever understanding exists, accepting or rejecting is unnecessary. (Fundamentals of a Gnostic Education).

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