Consumerism ≠ cultured

Wonderful observation made by W.H. Auden in 1967, quoted at Opus:

Again, while it is a great blessing that a man no longer has to be rich in order to enjoy the masterpieces of the past, for paperbacks, first-rate color reproductions, and stereo-phonograph records have made them available to all but the very poor, this ease of access, if misused — and we do misuse it — can become a curse. We are all of us tempted to read more books, look at more pictures, listen to more music than we can possibly absorb, and the result of such gluttony is not a cultured mind but a consuming one; what it reads, looks at, listens to is immediately forgotten, leaving no more traces behind than yesterday’s newspaper.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

4 Responses to Consumerism ≠ cultured

  1. A. Julie says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Beautiful. Funny, Paul, I’ve been kind of immersed in 1960s stuff lately. (Not surprising, since one class is called Art Eros and the Sixties). But my bedside reading includes “Stranger in a Strange Land” (Heinlein), “Raids on the Unspeakable” (Merton), “Centering” (M.C. Richards), and “Matter and Memory” (Bergson). Consuming ‘culture’ is really a consumption of signifiers of culture… one can perform ‘culturedness’ without it ever becoming a reality. I guess one enacts ‘culturedness’? Repetition and absorption is key, somehow… Also of that era, Marcuse’s “One Dimensional Man” is a beautiful text, one I had to read too swiftly for class to absorb as well as I’d like.

    • A. Julie says:

      Trying to find a page number for the Auden quote… no luck yet… but found this gem: [T]he majority never read anything twice. The sure mark of the uniliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. . . . It was for them dead, like a burnt-out match, an old railway ticket, or yesterday’s paper; they had already used it. Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life.” [from An Experiment in Criticism]
      I love the library… just requested An Experiment in Criticism; they’ll hold it at the desk for me. (When I’ll actually read it, that’s another question.)

      • A. Julie says:

        Page 128 of the 1968 publication… probably.

      • pcNielsen says:

        Nice. I read so little in the first place (to my chagrin) that re-reading something I think is very good is always an option. I’m just finishing The Case for Working with Your Hands by Matthew Crawford, and am considering re-reading the first half (the second half seemed to be an attempt at sneaking an academic paper into a mass-market targeted book, which normally I wouldn’t mind except that the first half was so enjoyable and the second half fails to actually make the case as the title implies).

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