Critical Voice by Terry Locke

Heaphy Track notes

act of lifting

It has to be where it arises, or everything related to the life there ceases….It is the realization of the qualities of a place in relation to the life which occupies it; embracing everything involved, climate, geographic position, relative size, history, other cultures – as well as the character of its sands, flowers, minerals and the conditions of knowledge within its borders. It is the act of lifting these things into an ordered and utlized whole which is culture.

William Carlos Williams (1954). The American background in Selected Essays, New York: New Directions, p. 157.

For the American mind, culture is viewed as an encounter. It is rooted in immediate experience, of which the experience of the past is only part. It is the spirit of place. Geography is its refining agent. In contrast, for the European mind, culture is viewed as an inheritance. It is rooted in the past, sanctioned by tradition and honoured by present-day observance. It is the tift of time. Time is its refining agent. For T.S. Eliot, seeking a definition of the term in hits 1948 Notes towards the definition of culture, is its a product.

It includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people: Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth-century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar.

Culture is observance, custom, habit, taste and artifact. For the European, culture is something to be preserved and transmitted through generations, however modified the product might be by time.

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In 1951, Charles Olson drew from his archaeological experiences on the Yukatan Peninsula and produced “The Human Universe”, an essay where habitual ways of thinking about man in nature were severely questioned:

If unselectedness is man’s original condition (such is more accurate a word than that lovely riding thing, chaos, which sounds like what it is, the most huge generalization of all, obviously making it necessary for man to invent a bearded giant to shape it for him) but if likewise, selectiveness is just as originally the impulse by which he proceeds to do something about the unselectedness, then one is forced, is one not, to look for some instrumentation in man’s given which makes selection possible. And it has gone so far, that is, science has, as to wonder if the fingertips are not very knowing knots in their own rights, little brains (little photo-electric cells, I think they now call the skin) which, immediately, in responding to external stimuli, make decisions! It is a remarkable and usable idea. For it is man’s first cause of wonder how rapid he is in taking in of what he does experience. (Charles Olson [1973]. The human universe in D. Allen & W. Tallman (Eds.). Poetics of the New American Poetry, New York: New Directions, pp. 167-8.

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