I posted links to this interview earlier this week, but I found an embeddable video at gloria.tv.
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Father Santan Pinto, according to the conference flyers, joined the Jesuits in 1966 and was ordained a priest in 1977. He worked in Calcutta, India with Mother Teresa. After a supernatural experience of Jesus, he entered the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) in 1987. In 1992 he founded the Disciples of Jesus and Mary, a formation program for the laity.
What was this thing called Western culture? Who created it? Who sanctioned it? Most important: What was so valuable about it? Why did it matter to study a poem by Blake, or ponder a Picasso, or comprehend the poetry latent in the religions of the world?
I'm not sure that teachers and scholars ever offered a good answer. The conservatives, protected by tenure, immersed in the minutiae of their fields, slammed the windows closed when the parade passed by. They went on with what they were doing. Those who concurred with the students bought mikes and drums and joined the march. They were much in demand in the news media—figures of great interest. The Washington Post was calling; the Times was on the other line. Was it true? Were the professors actually repudiating the works that they had purportedly been retained to preserve?
It was true—and there was more, the rebels yelled. They thought they would have the microphones in their hand all day and all of the night. They imagined that teaching Milton with an earring in one ear would never cease to fascinate the world.
But it did. The media—most inconstant of lovers—came and the media went, and the academy was left with its cultural authority in tatters. How could it be otherwise? The news outlets sell one thing above all else, and that is not so much the news as it is newness. What one buys when one buys a daily paper, what one purchases when one purchases a magazine, is the hypothesis that what is going on right now is amazing, unprecedented, stunning. Or at least worthy of intense concentration. What has happened in the past is of correspondingly less interest. In fact, it may be of barely any interest at all. Those who represented the claims of the past should never have imagined that the apostles of newness would give them a fair hearing, or a fair rendering, either.
Now the kids who were kids when the Western canon went on trial and received summary justice are working the levers of culture. They are the editors and the reviewers and the arts writers and the ones who interview the novelists and the poets (to the degree that anyone interviews the poets). Though the arts interest them, though they read this and they read that—there is one thing that makes them very nervous indeed about what they do. They are not comfortable with judgments of quality. They are not at ease with "the whole evaluation thing."
They may sense that Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience are in some manner more valuable, more worth pondering, more worth preserving than The Simpsons. They may sense as much. But they do not have the terminology to explain why. They never heard the arguments. The professors who should have been providing the arguments when the No More Western Culture marches were going on never made a significant peep. They never quoted Matthew Arnold on the best that's been thought and said—that would have been embarrassing. They never quoted Emerson on the right use of reading—that might have been silly. (It's to inspire.) They never told their students how Wordsworth had saved Mill's life by restoring to him his ability to feel. They never showed why difficult pleasures might be superior to easy ones. They never even cited Wilde on the value of pure and simple literary pleasure.
The academy failed and continues to fail to answer the question of value, or even to echo the best of the existing answers. But entertainment culture suffers no such difficulty. Its rationale is simple, clear, potent: The products of the culture industry are good because they make you feel good. They produce immediate and readily perceptible pleasure. Beat that, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Touch it if you can, Emily Dickinson.
So the arbiters of culture—our former students—went the logical way. They said: If it makes you feel good, it must be good. If Stephen King and John Grisham bring pleasure, why then, let us applaud them. Let's give them awards. Let's break down the walls of the old clubs and colleges and give them entry forthwith. The only really important question to pose about a novel by Stephen King, we now know, is whether it offers a vintage draught of the Stephen King experience. Does it deliver the spine-shaking chills of great King efforts past? Is the mayhem cranked to the desirable degree? Do homebody sadist and ordinary masochist get what they want and need from the product?
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).Socrates might respond that Google (and the whole Encyclopediast project) has not served to spread knowledge and enlightenement, but merely confirmed people in their ignorance as they continue to be deluded in their belief that they have knowledge rather than opinion. It's all about definitions -- what Socrates (and the Socratics) meant by knowledge is probably different from what Nicholas Carr means. I suspect Carr follows certain moderns in understanding knowledge as justified belief.