Monday, April 09, 2012

Hamsun about "being cultured"




“There is a great deal of talk about ‘being cultured’ these days, it’s been commonplace for some years now, even the newspapers at home write about it now and then. And  'being cultured' means above all having made so-and-so many journeys, seen this many paintings, read this number of books, and generally speaking, to be able to use one's memory.  ‘Lack of culture' - that has nothing to do with speaking disrespectfully about John Stuart Mill - Nietzsche did that, after all, and he was what you might call a 'cultured' man  - ‘lack of culture really means that one had parents who didn't make one a student, or a doctor, or something along those lines.  'Lack of culture' means to have been driven to America, to physical laboring in prairie, so that later one was not in any position to acquire the accepted views of educated people on all the acknowledgeable great men and great works of art, in spite of all one's honest and diligent efforts to do so. I don't know if I understand what  'culture' is. But I think it might be something in the direction of the education of a heart. Back home in Norway I used to meet people, specially journalists, untrustworthy and dishonest people, with a more limited experience of life than mine, ungenerous people with only a limited love of truth. And these people could with their born and nurtured superiority turn their nose up at anyone who wasn't 'cultured'. And it occurred to me, that if could acquire and hold a consistent view of life, then in my books I might try to attack those injustices which 'education' continued to support and respect, and I could do this without having to regret that I had never had the learning to take a university degree. But then, everyone knows about me, that I was born a peasant, that I don't have any exams to prove that I know things, and that I never had the money to enable me to sit for fifteen to eighteen years and study philosophy; and it's such a help to know that, when it comes down to judging my views on matters of 'culture'.”

Knut Hamsun (quoted by Robert Ferguson, Enigma, The Life of Knut Hamsun, Farr, Strauss & Giroux, New York, 1987)

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