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In praise of hybridity

January 14, 2010

Ales Debeljak in Eurozine:

It seems almost obscene to speak about culture during a time of global economic and political crisis. But I will persist in my intention. I offer two justifications for doing so.

The first is my conviction that the exchange of products of cultural creativity sustains the life of a human community and gives temporary meaning to our pursuit of a better, more sophisticated and more complete experience of reality. Each and every individual needs to pursue meaning within overlapping cultural frameworks, ones that sparkle ā€“ even if deceptively ā€“ with the thrilling beauty of our living present, the better to resist the grip of banality.

The second reason is that culture is not just a more or less convenient tool for increasing the gross national or municipal income: it is much more than that. Culture is an open space of play and criticism, imagination and meditation. It is precisely within this open space that particular experiences and collective visions cross-fertilize and permeate one another, come into contact and engage with one another, thus producing specific ideas about human existence and personal fulfilment, old age and death. Culture is in fact a grand laboratory of meaning.

As I do not intend to split academic hairs, I’ll be straightforward. What I have in mind when I say “culture” are those specificities that characterize a certain group at a certain time in a certain place, while “civilization” refers to ideas and technologies that are not restricted to one group alone but are transferable in time and space. Culture rejuvenates itself by feeding on locally binding principles of thought and action, while civilization propels itself forwards by improving inventions and testing their general applicability. [More]

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