Culture

Eliot's and Pound's mature work is profoundly concerned with the maintenance of culture. Whether we agree or disagree with their definitions of culture and their recommendations for its protection, their insistence on its importance for all parts of society is one of the most valuable elements of their legacy. Both poets wrote treatises on culture: Pound published Guide to Kulchur in 1938; Eliot published Notes towards the Definition of Culture in 1948. But what do they mean by this famously difficult word? For Eliot, culture is 'a way of life', which includes 'all the characteristic activities and interests of a people'. For mid-twentieth-century Britain Eliot suggests an indicative list of: 'Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth-century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar'. It is also closely related to religion, in fact the culture of a people is 'the incarnation of its religion': 'we can see a religion as the whole way of life of a people [. . .] and that way of life is also its culture'. According to Eliot, 'no culture can appear or develop except in relation to a religion' (1967: 27, 31, 41).

Where Eliot argues that culture develops in relation to religion, Pound argues for its relationship with philosophy. In fact, he deplores the rise of Christianity in the West, which he sees as taking the place in everyday life that philosophy had occupied in ancient Greece. By the twentieth century, he laments, philosophy is thought of as highbrow, 'I mean as distinct from roast beef and the facts of life, as distinct from the things that come natural'. However, in the East, philosophy, in the form of the teachings of Confucius (551—479 bc), remained integrated with daily life, and Pound recommends Confucian values as a basis for culture, as Eliot had recommended Christianity: 'Confucius offers a way of life, an Anschauung or disposition toward nature and man and a system for dealing with both'. (Between 1928 and 1954 Pound published five book-length translations of Confucian texts.) Like Eliot's, Pound's definition of culture is inclusive and anti-elitist: he explicitly distinguishes between book-learned 'knowledge' and 'culture' that is 'in people, "in the air"'. To specify this latter sense of culture Pound used the term 'paideuma', coined by the German anthropologist Leo Frobenius (1873—1938), and defined by Pound as 'the tangle or complex of the inrooted ideas of any period' (1970b: 24—26).

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