Cultures of Everything and Nothing

OXFORD: In the late 1960s Yehudi Menuhin dedicated a performance of Beethoven's violin concerto to "the indomitable and defiant spirit of man." Do we still look at the arts in that way? To be sure, the paperback, the cd, the technical quality of art reproduction provide millions of people with entry tickets to Malraux's musee imaginaire of all culture. But as the inhuman tenor of this century comes to condition our feelings, the terrible impotence of culture stands naked.

More than arguably, European civilization will not regain its truth or vitality until the causal implications of Christianity, of its founding doctrines and institutions thereafter, in the 20th century catastrophe, are faced up to unequivocally. Vast lies and strategic amnesia have hollowed out the heart of Europe since 1945. Of that emptiness may come the monstrous, witness the former Yugoslavia.

It is not, as Auden bitterly observed, that "poems make nothing happen". It is that we now know of the neutrality of art in the company of barbarism, of the capacity of people to appreciate music, art, poetry, profoundly in the evening, and then to proceed to bestiality the next morning. One need only listen to the pellucid wonders of Furtwangler's concerts in the 1940s or recall that it was under the Occupation that French drama -- Claudel, Sartre, Montherlant -- reached new heights, to experience the paradox. Great art, indeed, has not only co-existed with political madness, it has adorned and celebrated it.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Angela Merkel’s Endgame?

    The collapse of coalition negotiations has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a stark choice between forming a minority government or calling for a new election. But would a minority government necessarily be as bad as Germans have traditionally thought?

  2. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.

  3. A GrabBike rider uses his mobile phone Bay Ismoyo/Getty Images

    The Platform Economy

    While developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly aging, emerging economies are predominantly youthful. Nigerian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese young people will shape global work trends at an increasingly rapid pace, bringing to bear their experience in dynamic informal markets on a tech-enabled gig economy.

  4. Trump Mario Tama/Getty Images

    Profiles in Discouragement

    One day, the United States will turn the page on Donald Trump. But, as Americans prepare to observe their Thanksgiving holiday, they should reflect that their country's culture and global standing will never recover fully from the wounds that his presidency is inflicting on them.

  5. Mugabe kisses Grace JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

    How Women Shape Coups

    In Zimbabwe, as in all coups, much behind-the-scenes plotting continues to take place in the aftermath of the military's overthrow of President Robert Mugabe. But who the eventual winners and losers are may depend, among other things, on the gender of the plotters.

  6. Oil barrels Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images

    The Abnormality of Oil

    At the 2017 Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the consensus among industry executives was that oil prices will still be around $60 per barrel in November 2018. But there is evidence to suggest that the uptick in global growth and developments in Saudi Arabia will push the price as high as $80 in the meantime.

  7. Israeli soldier Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

    The Saudi Prince’s Dangerous War Games

    Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working hard to consolidate power and establish his country as the Middle East’s only hegemon. But his efforts – which include an attempt to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon – increasingly look like the work of an immature gambler.