05 January 2008

Why we must begin with a question.

Quod Sic Faceunt Omnes. (Because Everyone does it.)

I have begun this particular blog for three reasons.

1. Recently, I attended the Annie Leibovitz and Ansel Adams photography exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art with my good friend Claven. While at the exhibit, I watched countless people usher each other around to look at the most well known or recognized works in a rush to "see it all." One person even muttered, "I've got my damned culture now." That statement made me wonder, why is there so much weight put on this particular word or concept by certain people? I know that I put weight on the word even as I am mocking it. Why?

2. Two undergraduate students professed interest in reading what they identified as a 'Culture Blog'--something that focused on literature and perhaps a bit of history. I like the idea that people can learn and engage with this so called 'culture' and each other through this particular medium.

3. As I was on a train traveling between Washington, DC and Baltimore, I heard a boy (around 10 or 11 years old) ask his cousin the following question: "Is the culture in Alabama different than it is here?" His cousin, a similarly aged girl, asked the fundamental question that I think I'd like to spend a while thinking about: "What exactly do you mean by that?"

I would like this to be a blog where I get to reengage my atrophying brain and get you smart readers to write something and engage with me, because I cannot do this alone. Frankly, I got tired of myself and want to think about something else.

So, I begin with a question.

Can you define culture? Is it even something that you'd want to define? If so, how?

And if not, why not?

18 comments:

I-66 said...

The first definition of culture by dictionary.com is as follows:

The quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.

In the instance of the individual that believes he's got culture just from going to an art exhibit, this is not the proper use. Just seeing something does not equal concern.

Still, that definition is not complete.

Dexter Colt said...

Having spent quite a bit of time as a student of sociology [i.e., around 40 credit hours] I would venture to say that I could DEFINE "culture."

Culture is not necessarily refinement. Looking at art does not give you culture any more than hanging out with hobos. Simply put, culture is a way of life. In particular, it is a way of life that is passed down from generation to generation.

Velvet said...

How dare you sneak back and not tell me!!! Ha ha, you couldn't stay away! Yes!!!! (I just high fived myself.)

Velvet said...

And we'll clearly need Reya for this because she's good at this. I, for one, cannot define culture. Everyone has a different definition depending on the classification.

The person at the Corcoran was referring to Artistic Culture. The boy on the train was referring to something like a background or heritage type culture. The bloggers are probably referring to pop culture but maybe art as well, in which I would include literature but not music. Music would stand on its own.

Seni said...

Personally, I'd say that culture is nothing more or less than whatever you learn about life between the ages of 3 and 6

Richard Madeley said...

Culture is that unwieldy item with which others, notably governments, constantly beat us over the heads as they tell us it's a good thing, even when we know different.

Megarita said...

Culture is hegemony, right? The practices, beliefs, and values of a society. Expressed through the arts, through politics, through diet, religion, etc. Your Corcoran experience sounds like the literature survey I teach every semester--just trying to cram the basics of BritLit down young throats so that they don't sound like complete idiots. :)

Keatonmask said...

MA your back! I can't tell you how much that pleases me. Hope all was good over the festive season.

Much Love.

Keatonmask said...

Ok, that should read 'you're'.

how embarrassing.

a little of this, a little of that said...

Raymond Williams makes the point that 'culture' is one of the two or three hardest to define words [and concepts] in the English language. Part of the issue is the variety of spatial and temporal contexts. Culture means different things to different people at different times.

My preferred take on 'culture,' following Williams, is that it is the 'way of life' of a group of people. Taken in the broad view of what such a group can be, I think this explanation encompasses the different concepts and meanings of what culture can be (e.g., high, low, regional, vernacular, urban, rural, hegemonic, sub, etc.) without excluding other takes on culture, or what other people, such as individuals or members of different (momentarily) academic groups, take culture to mean for them.

Airam said...

When I hear someone say that a person is "cultured" I automatically think that they are "worldly" in that they have done extensive travel or seen things that not many are privileged to see. I know that it's a silly concept and that just because I've never been to The Louvre, it doesn't mean that I am not cultured in my own way. I think being cultured is just being immersed in your surroundings, whatever that may be.

Buffalo said...

Good to see you!

Megan said...

I very briefly glanced at the other comments and see how thought provoking their definitions are, so I'll go with a very simple one: Culture is the way in which something is done. That something could be art, life, society, humanity.

What can I say, I'm a simple girl.

I like the idea of this type of blog. You'll get my brain thinking again (something I fear it hasn't done much of lately). Besides, it's great to see you around again!

Jenni said...

First of all, YAY!

Secondly, Culture?

The surroundings, traditions, customs and people that make a place unique.

That's how I define culture.

Casey said...

Culture, that's easy. It's the stuff they swab your tounge with to see if you have an infection. Obviously, in Alabama they have a different culture. One that doesn't flame wildly purple everytime it comes across a river cricket.

Oh, and could you mess around and change your settings where I don't need a blogger acount? Thankee.

m.a. said...

Thank you all for the terrific responses. I think that this is off to a great start.

Washington Cube said...

It's that stuff in yogurt, right?

Claven said...

Was I the person who made that silly comment? I did tell someone I was "getting my art on" that afternoon (BTW, I hit the SF Asian Art Musuem last weekend. I liked it more than the Freer-Sackler galleries. And nobody looked at me funny for wearing flip-flops).

When I moved from DC to San Diego I eventually conceded that San Diego had no "culture." One of the upsides to living in San Francisco has been the abundance of "culture." Obviously, this is all bullshit. San Diego has a culture that isn't found in those other, cosmopolitan cities. A lot of people in SF shit all over Southern California for that reason. Folks in SF often tell me unsolicited that people in Southern California are dumb, uncultured louts. To which I always reply, "but they aren't snobs."