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Franz Josef Wetz

Franz Josef Wetz

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Published by: Salvador Dida Leyso on Nov 15, 2011
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Culture – A Testament to Indigence
Fz J Wz
Cultural philosophy is one of the leading disciplines of contemporary philosophy. The great-est challenge to it today is Naturalism, which – putting it simply – is the basing of Culture on natural  phenomena. Even when this endeavor has been achieved, Culture remains in our everyday lives as it always was: its own phenomenon, which we urgently need in order to survive, and to live well. There are many interpretations of Culture, but the most important of all is Culture as a medium of coping with life and the world. A signicant sign of Culture is the mastering of reality. Reality, then, is when it rains;Culture is when you use an umbrella! 
Is it possible to conceive of a life without the experience of disappointment?Surely only in a world in which there is no such thing as “the unexpected.All disappointment is a matter of unfullled expectation, an experiencewhich we human beings are spared only so long as our needs and their sat-isfactions, our expectations and their fulllments, coincide – only so longas life keeps its promises, so to speak. But something comparable also holdsfor those occasions when we feel that we cannot rely upon anything in thisworld, when we are prepared for anything. One who already anticipates eve-rything need fear no bitter disappointments, no unwelcome surprises. Butno one can actually or permanently live this way – to adopt such an attitudeto life would exceed the powers of every one of us. And, similarly, a life inwhich need and its fulllment absolutely corresponded with one another ismerely the dream of a paradise from which we have long since been expelled.And yet we do not simply stand in utter or hopeless impotence before theunpredictable character of reality, a reality which can be imbued with formsof order and meaning that oer certain possibilities for human fulllmentand orientation. Culture represents the sum total of such possibilities, and itis with the existential signicance of culture in this sense that the followingobservations are primarily concerned.
Iris, ISS 2036-3257, I, 1 April 2009, p. 205-226© Firene University Press
206Fran Josef Wet
1. The Forms of Culture 
The word “culture” has so many dierent meanings that we may legitimatelydoubt whether it can be precisely dened at all. The most satisfactory courseis to elucidate the concept of culture through examples. Culture is generallyunderstood as embracing the realms of art, law and religion, but also thoseof science, technology, economics and politics, along with a host of associ-ated social norms, customs and practices. Sometimes we draw a distinctionbetween culture in the broader sense, which includes the entire life-worldand its various sub- and counter-cultures, and what is often called “higher”culture: the visual and plastic arts, the world of music and literature, forms of religious belief – the cultivation of which frequently contributes to the mostsatisfying, fullling and exalted experiences life has to oer. The idea of cul-ture thus ranges from the invention of tools and implements that simply helpto preserve and maintain life itself, through to the creation of works of artwhich bestow great meaning and value upon our life. The “philosophy of cul-ture” has long developed and appealed to certain oppositions and distinctionsin this connection – that of “culture and nature,” for example, or of “cultureand civiliation.” The sort of modern philosophy of culture which operateswith such conceptual oppositions generally regards itself as a form of cultural“critique.” I shall briey consider two examples of such critique here.
2. The Critique of Culture 
In the midst of the age of Enlightenment Jean-Jacques Rousseau alreadymounted a fundamental critique of culture in the name of nature. He felt thatculture, the ensemble of the arts and sciences, had become predominantlyestranged from the true end and purpose of human existence.
According toRousseau, culture had only enfeebled his contemporaries as far as moralitywas concerned and, instead of satisfying their true and natural impulses, hadmerely given rise to a myriad of unfulllable needs. Rousseau contrasted thisdeleterious culture with the original goodness of “nature” – a familiar enoughmotif which can be traced all the way back to classical antiquity. Sophists likeAntiphon, Cynics like Diogenes, and Stoics like Panaetius, had already repeat-edly criticied culture in the name of an intrinsically perfect and uncorrupted
See J.-J. Rousseau,
Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts
(1750), in Id.,
Œuvres Complètes
, 5 vols,B. Gagnebin and M. Raymond (eds.), Paris: Pléiade-Gallimard, 1959-1995, vol. 3, pp. 1-30; [
 ADiscourse on the Moral Eects of the Arts and Sciences
(1750), in Rousseau,
The Social Contract and The Discourses
, trans. G. D. H. Cole, London: Dent, 1973, pp. 1-26].
207Culture – A Testament to Indigence
nature, and in our own time “alternative” or counter-cultural movementshave often enough called upon nature as the principal witness for the pros-ecution in the case against culture. But this approach is extremely problem-atic nonetheless. For, rstly, “nature” in its goodness is already a product of culture, a result and consequence of human sensibility and imagination. And,secondly, nature can only provide a critical measure for judging the true andthe false once we human beings have introduced such a criterion into naturein the rst place. But the most important point in this context is indicated inthe following question: if the original state of nature is so perfect, why havehuman beings abandoned it in order to produce and develop culture at all?Rousseau, and many thinkers after him, have attempted to answer this ques-tion by appealing to the gradual emergence and awakening of the humanmind in its own right, as a process of consciousness and self-reection whichineluctably encourages the construction of culture.
There is another kind of cultural critique which approaches the questionquite dierently, and criticies culture in the name of culture itself. In this con-nection we could mention Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse, or Benjamin andFoucault, to name only a few.
From this perspective, modern civiliation rep-resents a universal “context of delusion,” a soulless and “administered,” world,a “one-dimensional” society, in which human beings are basically governed byprevailing structures of domination, such as technology and bureaucracy, whichhave now become independent in their own right. Even the “higher culture”explicitly represented by the string quartet, by painting and poetry, has cometo appear suspect in their eyes since, rstly, such forms of culture have donenothing to hinder or prevent the horrors and cruelties of previous history, and,secondly, have merely served to entrench the existing state of things. For insofar as culture in this sense inwardly captivates human beings, elevating them into anobler world over and above the material order of life, it discourages signicantchange in the prevailing world and thus betrays the original promise of utopia.Thus it is no longer consciousness and self-reection which are seen as thereal agents or bearers of culture, as in Rousseau, but rather a kind of anonymous
See Rousseau,
Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes
(1754), in Id.,
Œuvres Complètes
, vol. 3, pp. 109-223; [
 A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
, in Rousseau,
The Social Contract and The Discourses
, pp. 27-113].
See T. Adorno and M. Horkheimer,
Dialektik der Aufklärung 
(1947), Frankfurt am Main:Suhrkamp, 1981; [
Dialectic of Enlightenment 
, trans. E. Jephcott, Stanford: Stanford UniversityPress, 2002]; H. Marcuse,
One Dimensional Man
, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964; W.Benjamin,
Sprache und Geschichte: philosophische Essays
, Stuttgart: Reclam, 1992; [see
Illuminations.Essays and Reections
, trans. H. Zohn, London: Jonathan Cape, 1970]; M. Foucault,
Dispositive der Macht 
, Berlin: Merve, 1978; [see
Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 
, C. Gordon
et al.
(eds.), Brighton: Harvester Press, 1980].

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