Monday, October 25, 2021

"But because it is only Christian men Guard even heathen things."

Khaemweset took an interest in restoring the monuments of his ancestors, and Nabonidus looked for the foundations of the ancient temples of the Akkadians, and many of the Chinese tried to restore the relics and rites of the ancient dynasties. In Europe as leisure grew, so did interest in their ancestors--including their cultural ancestors.

But something new happened--perhaps because the cultural ancestors of Europe included the Jews, or perhaps because of the catholicity of Christianity--interest in other cultures' ancestors grew too. At first they collected prizes and curiosities, but after a while there was study to find the meaning of the things. This real interest in the outside--uncovering the history for peoples who had forgotten theirs--is one of the great accomplishments of the West. Perhaps other cultures are better at other things (hospitality, perhaps?), but looking outward is one thing at which the West was best.

Naturally many things were misinterpreted, but Said's position that European understandings were necessarily wrong is also wrong. Scholars often defend the conclusions of their youth all the way to their deaths, but on the whole people learned. I can't think of another culture that cared about the antiquities of strangers. Romans emulated Greek things--but then, much of Italy had been settled by Greeks and they were already cultural ancestors.

It's a shame to fragment that knowledge. Instead of accumulating and sharing the cultures and voices, the fashion seems to isolate them, so that only a mexican ought to speak of mexican things, or only a woman speak of a female painter.

We can safely presume that the Chicago Art Institute firing is a way of creating patronage jobs for relatives of the clout-heavy--it's the Chicago Way--but it's garbed in this claim that only bodies similar to the artist's can interpret the work properly.

Where did this despair come from?

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

This is hugely true, and important. It is a forgotten truth about the West, that its interest in other cultures is almost unique among the people of. the world. How much is French Guiana interested in Moldova, South Sudan, or the Philippines, or any of those in return? Even in supposedly scientific pursuits, China devotes its resources and considerable intelligence in archaeology solely for ways to show that China is,and always has been superior. What great advances in the studying of history have come from Egypt, or the sociology of Europe from Indonesia? Other cultures care about themselves only. that is normal. Europeans are WEIRD.

While it is true that Westerners took curiosities and even valuable items from other cultures when they studied them, these were nearly always items that were not valued in their own cultures at the time, that no one there was digging up or understanding on their own. Only later did they regret this and cry foul. The breast-beating of current anthropologists, accusing their predecessors of evil while congratulating themselves on their own virtue is just one more anti-Western display by Westerners, not because they feel guilty, but because they feel ever so much more virtuous than the others in their country.