Creative vs. Custodial Cultures

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Survival / Culture /

This module, 1998, was originally a note to my piece on School Math. More than half a dozen years passed as I meant to make it a module of its own: which I finally did: but merely to relieve the length of the parent module.

Now I duplicate that note in my Society/Culture section where I can at last add the title to a menu. That done, I can develop it further at my leisure.

The context for the note was my corrosive observation that time spent on school assignments is time taken from becoming an innovator yourself. But read the parent files: the whole series, starting with Indoctrination.

Read the Illiad by Wednesday:

Creative versus Custodial


With regard to technology, military technology in particular, we are a creative society. With regard to culture — religion, manners, the arts … — we are far more a custodial society. My favorite story illustrating the difference and starring El Greco is told in my piece on the Classics [resurrection coming]. But, in brief, when El Greco was a young man studying art in Italy, the Church, just entering its Counter-Reformation, had become embarrassed by Michelangelo’s exuberant nudes. They finally had doilies painted over the genitalia in the Sistine Chapel. But El Greco’s proposal hadn’t been doilies. “Tear it down: I’ll do it over again,” is what he had said. The young genius had to flee a no-longer creative Italy. Spain benefited.

El Greco
Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco, the Greek)

As a school boy I showed talent in writing. That meant I was to study the writings of others. My musician friends were funneled into musicology: not what music do you have to offer us? or How can we help you to do it well? But rather Study Gregorian Chants, Hayden, Mozart …  
For me it was Study Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift …

Columbia offered a “creative writing” course. I wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole. It was taught by an eighteenth-century man. Had it been taught by William Faulkner, what would that have had to do with my writing?

Miles Davis got a scholarship to Julliard. The first thing he did was run downtown to 52nd Street! Found Bird! Bird put him on the stand, put him on a record!

Did you ever notice? Elvis Presley didn’t come from any college. The Beetles were out playing! What musicology did Billie Holiday study? Twelve years old, she was better than any Julliard product. See? Even with creativity repressed, we still have more geniuses than we deserve. But I’ll bet we’re not aware of more than a small percentage of them. The culture is too busy shoving cretins at us, billed as “the best and brightest.”

But even if any of the things we brag about ourselves were true, if we were a free society, if we had a “level playing field,” would we therefore have a true reckoning of our resources? I doubt it seriously. As Staislaw Lem wrote, a thousand Shakespeares, a million Beethovens, would be cacophony. Our attention is spotty at best. And even were that not so, there’s always Homeostasis


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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