Thursday, 2 October 2014

Who best understands modern culture? - us now, looking-back, or those of the past, with foresight?

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Hegel said that the Owl of Minerva flies only at dusk - meaning that only in retrospect, when they are declining, can philosophers understand cultures.

But (according to Wittgenstein) Spengler said almost the opposite - that a civilization can only have its 'epic poets' in advance, with prevision, as prophets; because at the end of a civilization there is nobody capable of understanding it.

Spengler seems right on this matter. We live at the end of a culture, a civilization - yet 'nobody' understand it: modern philosophers and poets are just too small and feeble and corrupt - their audience too dumb and distracted.

To understand we need to go back. A century ago, two centuries ago, there were great men who knew what was coming; and their fore-knowledge was deeper and more accurate than our retrospective understanding.

We can, at least, recognize that reality - although seldom fully appreciate it.
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3 comments:

Adam G. said...

*But (according to Wittgenstein) Spengler said almost the opposite - that a civilization can only have its 'epic poets' in advance, with prevision, as prophets; because at the end of a civilization there is nobody capable of understanding it.*

Sorta. Spengler would say we don't understand our culture because we are the ending of it. Once it's ended, it would be understandable again, but never quite the same way as it was from the inside when it was young.

Jables said...

Would you count writers from the twentieth century as those of the past who can understand modern society?

Because Orwell, Huxley, Lewis, Chesterton, Tolkien, all seem to have understood modern culture and transmitted something of their understanding. So that their works have become paradigms which we now habitually refer to to interpret modern culture.

For me Lewis's The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength stand above the rest as prophetic statements about the culture we live in now.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jables - I would certainly count some of them - although I regard Orwell and Huxley as being very partial prophets (for all their brilliance of insight) compared with the others.