Nostalgia for world culture

Quick stray thoughts tonight... Osip Mandelstam once defined the impulse of the Acmeist movement (early 20th cent. Russian poetry) as "nostalgia for world culture."  Nostalgia for world culture.  Implying that "world culture" once existed (or still existed, elsewhere).  But then Acmeism also promoted a Bergsonian, anachronistic anti-sense of Time - what was deep in the past (Ovid, Dante) was actually calling to us from the future.  (In this he may have been attempting to one-up the contemporary Futurist movement, among other things.)

But what would be a real world culture?  A global culture, life-supporting, life-enhancing, humane, refined, playful.  Not the world as we know it today... but maybe an aspiration.

Then again one way of thinking of culture is as an inherently parasitic lichen-like growth.  Culture is opportunist.  For example, the culture of the "divine king", established around the world in various phases & formations - the culture of powerful rulers and autocrats, with their enormous suction machines for collecting & channeling the labor of millions of slaves (see : pyramids) - the culture of royal power might be seen as a defense mechanism of the kings themselves.  A survival mechanism, in other words, insinuated into society by the rulers, to protect themselves from being divided up and eaten, tossed about in communal games, by the whole peon mass of the tribe itself (see A.M. Hocart's Kings and Councillors for a consideration of such phenomena).

Then imagine that the speedy vine-growth of culture takes another world-historical bend, once the ziggurat of royal power & totalitarian government reaches its apex : I mean the turn toward apocalyptic messianism (see Norman Cohn's classic study of the Iranian-Zoroastrian roots of same, Cosmos, chaos & the world to come).  Here religious thinking happens upon a viral antidote to overweening political power : the idea of the return of the God-King - the uber-King, the "King of Kings", who will finally put the tyrants in their place (like Yurtle the Turtle, at the bottom of the pond).

I think of these parasitic culture-shifts as edge-phenomena, happening on the margins of something even deeper & more invisible & slow.  I'm thinking of the historical project of "species-Man", homo sapiens, seeking equilibrium.  Humankind is still building the conceptual house which is truly life-enhancing, lovable, livable.  This, as it happens, is another theme which turns up in Mandelstam's version of Acmeism : the idea that poetry has a role to play in the human project to "domesticate" life on earth.  "Domestic hellenism", he called it.

What would be a really "domestic" global culture?  Livable, lovable, familial, gemutlich?  It would have to involve the old English theme of liberty - the freedom from encroachment by tyrannical government.  But, on the other side, it would also have to involve something beyond pure individualism : the active engagement in the common good, the commonweal, the welfare of the whole community.  (These are, you may have noticed, the primal ideals, respectively, of the two major political parties in the U.S. - yet how sadly & stupidly & rigidly & uselessly & backwardly & corruptly & blindly & dogmatically & inflexibly they have worked themselves out in the electoral process.)

What's really needed in order to stimulate Mandelstam's "world culture" - what's required at the most basic level of conception - is a spiritual orientation.  Pope Francis, it seems to me, is saying some of the right things in that direction.  The "poor church" is the global house we share.  The spiritual attitude is one that sets aside narrow pleasures & greedy ambitions & haughty pride on behalf of a sense of wholeness : a "gratitude for existence" (another Brodskian, Gumilevian, Mandelshtamian theme).

How is this possible?  I'm not an advocate by any means of any kind of theocracy : don't get me wrong.  Rather I am talking about something much more basic, simple, and primitive - the kind of childlike faith represented by the original St. Francis.  How can we live in the global house if we cannot trust in the benevolent love of the Spirit that formed & created it all?  How can we build a future without a sense of being "at home" in the universe?  I think of Jesus, the first "son" of God, as playing the middle C on the piano, of a major chord of affirmation - of union with the source of Being.  Francis only echoed the same.  "Unless you turn & become as little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

Granted much of this will strike many as idiocy or ideology, or both.  So be it.  The poet represents a "nostalgia for world culture".  As such he or she represents a link in the spine of historical time - a time working itself out in the human sense of reality & possibility.  The poet's vision is grounded in harmony, triggered by a basic sense of wonder : of wonder at all that exists, majestically, from nothing at all.

The personal, subjective & familial love we experience among ordinary friends, strangers, & family, might someday be echoed & reinforced by culture at large - & this might, actually, be a return to "Nature" itself - the natural cosmos stamped by the seal of divine Providence.  "The Son of Man is coming, & he will restore all things."  O ye of little faith!  Sursum corda.

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