Culture vs Knowledge
About the concept of ‘culture,’ the Oxford Dictionary says that this noun means “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively” and “a refined understanding or appreciation of this.” As usual, the Oxford Dictionary is a great source of knowledge and reflexion. It is simple, direct, essential – and for free.
The noun ‘culture’ comes, in fact, from the Latin verb ‘colere’ that means ‘to prepare the ground for the sowing; to break and turn over the clods’. There is a clear meaning: when you break and turn over the clods – with fatigue, with suffering: it is a hard job – your ground becomes refined, cleaned, widely exposed to the rays of the sun, ready to accept all the seeds and nurture them in the best way. So the focus is not on a harvest, in a sort of specialization of the efforts and outcomes, but on the preparation of the ground in itself, on the resulting quality of the ground. So it is possible to improve the intrinsic quality of the ground working on it, breaking and turning over the clods.
Pay attention, there is also a literary ideology in this assumption, the passage from “‘market, target’ to ‘from’,” a revolutionary perspective (in a consumerist world) that is not in contradiction with the concept of ‘art is communication’ and ‘form is substance’. I’d like to discuss more this Copernican passage that refocuses the concept of culture on the ‘from’, on the ground of the author or the reader, more than on the skill.
At the end of the long process, you can own a “refined understanding of the arts…”
Thus, ‘culture’ is a higher level than ‘knowledge,’ a superior concept and goal. Let’s read Oxford Dictionary about knowledge: “facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”
There is confusion about these two words, also because we are more familiar with the concepts of ‘what is known,’ of skill, experience, of craft too. There is a large branch of the modern literature, for example, that confuses culture with craft. For this reason, it is not strange that a book that shows of a good writing craft is automatically judged as a good book.
‘A man of culture’ has not only knowledge. His ‘ground’ is different, his ability to understand and judge, to connect and compare, his vision and his artistic sensibility. His quality is higher.
I met in my life maybe ten men/women of culture, not more, and for me they are also today a benchmark, a light, also if some of them have passed. One of my teachers, Laura Sanna, was a source of culture and refused every border between philosophy, literature, theatre, music, etc. I was especially fascinated by her ability to connect different arts, to understand a historical period, for example, or to perceive future trends, to see things and meaning I did not feel.
Using this filter (author’s ability to understand and judge, to connect and compare, his vision and his artistic sensibility, therefore his whole ‘ground’ and quality), I think it is quite easy to understand whether a novel is written by an author who is a ‘man of culture’ or not.
Returning to Bulgakov, for example (I wrote about “The Master and Margarita” in my very first blog), I think that he definitely was a man of culture (maybe he reached this level just during the twelve years of writing of his masterpiece, I don’t know, and certainly the construction of such novel is an extraordinary intellectual path). His piece clearly denotes, through its continuous cross-references, multiplicity of levels, ability to deal with different dimensions, styles, and voices, and use of historical and artistic doorways, that Bulgakov’s sensibility and vision would transcend the simple concept of experience or knowledge. Or craft.
My family always encouraged me to read, to follow every artistic event or movement, to be creative, unsatisfied, and curious. My father had a library of more than five thousand books. I think I doubled that number: nowadays I have books everywhere, from my house in HK to my sister’s in the Alps, so I’m never alone. Thousand of volumes in Sardinian, in French, in English, and especially in Italian, of course. By the way, even though I’m an engineer I don’t have technical books.
Am I a man of culture? I don’t think I’m, sorry.
I spent too many years working as a manager and travelling. My career took priority over any other matter. But now I’m doing my best to reach that goal as if a red line exists, studying again, and giving myself new challenges as if I were twenty-seventh, with fatigue, with pain.
It is a hard job indeed, I confess.