Sunday, August 02, 2009

Rémi Brague

Rémi Brague

I apologize for posting late this Sunday, but I'm having diffculties with my internet connection. A brief electrical storm yesterday seems to have broken the link. I've had to come down to my office this Sunday afternoon to get access, so my blog entry today will be short.

I'm re-reading Rémi Brague's Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, and I was struck by Brague's quote from Ortega y Gasset, which he uses to express his own concept of European culture's "secondarity." Brague tells us that concerning "secondarity":
One can formulate it by reusing, even if it must be nuanced, a famous pun of Ortega y Gasset. Recently returned from America, he had answered someone who asked him the reasons for his return: "Europa es el único continente que tiene un contenido." "Europe is a continent / container [Castilian doesn't distinguish the two words] that has a content, and it is the only one to have one." The formula seems overly proud. It was perhaps for Ortega. For me, if one understands it well, it is completely the contrary. For one must equally realize that "to have a content" supposes, rightly, that one can "have" a content, and therefore that one "is" not this content, that one is not completely identified with it. One can thus reverse the formula: the content of Europe, it is just to be a container, to be open to the universal. (Rémi Brague, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, pages 145-146)
Brague's point is that European culture (and hence Western Civilization) has inherited the attitude that Rome held toward its 'own' culture, namely, that it looks outside of itself for its culture, specifically to Greece. When Rome became Christian, it looked outside of itself for its religion. This is Rome's sense of "secondarity," and Europe took over this Roman secondarity and its intrinsic eccentricity, for neither Athens nor Jerusalem were located in Western Europe.

However, Brague is overstating his point when he says, "the content of Europe, it is just to be a container," for Europe is not simply a container of some cultural goods or other that were borrowed from outside of itself. Rather, it contains cultural goods borrowed from Athens and Jerusalem.

If the container that is Europe were to 'borrow' Islam to replace its Greek and Jewish goods, for example, Europe would no longer be European.

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At 1:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Malaysian once remarked to me, "America doesn't really have a culture to speak of." The snobbish attitude of some peoples from traditional cultures towards the US displays ignorance of what culture is. We don't walk around in traditional garb or have a single defined cuisine, but we do have an amazingly diverse musical heritage with global appeal.
American literature and art are likewise rich and diverse with works that incorporate local content or styles while speaking to the universal human heart.


At 4:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ortega y Gasset's views may have been snobbish. I don't know the context to his remark, but it's nicely deconstructed by Brague.

Your Malaysian acquaintance was merely expressing his inferiority complex in an arrogant manner. We've seen this occasionally on the Marmot's blog recently by commenters who maintain that Americans don't use proper English -- despite the irony of their own error-ridden comments.

Jeffery Hodges

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