Sunday, September 29, 2013



Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays (© 2011; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2013), pp. 479-480:
In a homage to Henri Michaux (arguably the greatest poet in the French language this century), Borges made an interesting point: "A writer who was born in a big country is always in danger of believing that the culture of his native country encompasses all his needs. Paradoxically, he therefore runs the risk of becoming provincial." Naturally, the poet from Buenos Aires was in a good position to detect the secret strength of the poet from Namur (Michaux loathed his birthplace—the province of a province).

In the time of Goethe, Weimar was a town somewhat smaller than Queanbeyan today. I wonder if there was not a direct relation between the universal reach of Goethe's antennae (not only did he keep abreast of the latest developments on the English and French literary scenes, but he even displayed an enthusiastic interest in newly translated Chinese novels!) and the narrow horizon of his provincial abode. My point is not that Queanbeyan is shortly going to produce a Goethe—though this remains of course entirely possible; the emergence of genius is always arbitrary and its manifestation presents no necessity. I merely wish to underline Borges's paradox: cosmopolitanism is more easily achieved in a provincial setting, whereas life in a metropolis can insidiously result in a form of provincialism.

People who live in Paris, London or New York have a thousand convincing reasons to feel that they are "where the action is," and therefore they tend to become oblivious to the fact that rich developments are also taking place elsewhere. This is something which educated people who live in a village are unlikely ever to forget. (Still, needless to say, there is one thing worse than ignoring the outside world when in New York, and that is ignoring the outside world when in Queanbeyan.)

Culture is born out of exchanges and thrives on differences. In this sense, "national culture" is a self-contradiction, and "multiculturalism" a pleonasm. The death of culture lies in self-centredness, self-sufficiency and isolation.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?