Magazine for Sexuality and Politics

A Field of Wide Dimensions

Felix Raffael

'Culture' is a term from agriculture. It goes back to the Ancient Greek word for 'field' and is referring to labour on the fields.

From this it is possible to derive different aspects that each of them are of a differing nature.

So as it were, there would be the thought of producing an effect on something, of influencing something: with the field there, something has to happen that the field itself would not do, something that is not to be expected from mere ground.

Then the transformation issue: a piece of land is supposed to turn into a plantation with crops.

Then in addition: the idea of work that is to be done in dealing with the soil. This type of work, thereby, would unite planning, effort, regularity, expertise, systematic approach, diligence, care, and purposeful orientation.

Yet the process of working a field is connected with taming wildness as well. Raw, free, unreliable earth is to do what the farmer demands it ought to.

Yielding something and being of use are also things expected from a field. The earth is to deliver something that is needed, used, or turned to account.

Not as obvious, though, is here the context of hierarchy or, respectively, of power: as its commander, the farmer is ranking higher than the obeying field, and then while doing work on the field, a farmer is subordinate to the field. Interesting about it is that in this case rule and subjection go together all in one, in personal union, so to speak...

There is something strange, in addition: in the process of tillage, Nature is prone to artificiality. Of the natural meadow becomes the orderly field that Nature never had in mind.

Thus, in intellectual hindsight country life is everything but primitive.

Still, dealing with culture today, we mark astounded that culture has to a large extent been able to get away from agriculture. 9,000 years ago, a tilled field may well have made sure there is culture at all. After all that time, then again, tillage is being taken for something that is rather uncultivated. It is quite easy to maintain that culture has moved to the city. (Big cities are not drawing youngsters alone, after all.)

Above all, however, culture has this way been granted the feature of elegance. In the modern world, it would be pointless to speak of a 'cultural event' and yet to label it 'coarse and rude'. Culture has to be elegant straight. One imagines it as fine, high-quality distillate that is obtained by selecting the very best ingredients, a sublime form of condensed liquid quasi. Culture is worth something, and it upgrades things. It no longer can be restricted to the quiet quaintness of clod and plough. 'Befitting its status,' it is to be found at museums, galleries, concert halls, opera houses, castles, villas, palaces, universities, churches and temples, libraries, in manuscripts, volumes, salons, at distinguished restaurants. Its appeal is 'tinted' with elitism.

'And yet: that alone is not quite it:' 'in days of yore,' culture was a rustic strategy which helped make life more comfortable; this was made possible thanks to the husbandry of arable land in the context of stockpiling; culture was fine with being a technique of provision; in the course of time, though, culture truly refined itself and developed that much, that it helped whole societies reach a level of exquisite self-expression. Accordingly, the entire social compound began to present itself with the help of culture. It painted of itself a flattering portrait, so to say.

So culture now portrays society and embellishes it. According to the terminology of Psychology, culture at this very stage would be the slightly narcissistic self-representation of a given society. The telling criterion of self-expression does not exhaust the social dimension of the 'extended term of «culture»'. Which goes to say: advanced society does, via culture, not simply render a version of itself -together with this, it accords itself a better and more striking reputation.

Yet when we look at how advanced society achieves such result in the sphere of culture, we in a certain sense need to again turn to that (a little decried) agriculture for defining, with the aid of agricultural production, the specifics of bringing any culture forth.

In so far, we are anew back to the old keywords we have noted down already.

Once more, producing an effect and influencing something are to be discussed: so to produce culture goods, society takes either itself or its own real life as material that is supposed to undergo something. This same material is not allowed to stay what it is: it is supposed to go through a process of transformation. Transformation does not start or run automatically: it has to be steered by means of working the material. Such kind of work requires planning, effort, regularity, expertise, systematic approach, diligence, careful treatment, and a purpose. Before work sets in, the material to be worked is raw, while in the event of its processing its wildness is tamed, constrained, canalised. Now cultural property can get useful and is able to go yield some harvest, to 'bring in' some profit. In relation to their working basis, creators of culture are masters and servants simultaneously: they determine what happens to the material, but all the same they follow the material's characteristic and the requirements that go together with the material's processing. In its nature, the cultural property that has emerged is artificial, as it in fact has not come about due to the material's own performance, but rather due to alien will, alien skill, and alien performance. That cultural property is elitist and elegant, and that in its guise society itself is presenting itself in an exaggerated manner, then again, is due to dynamics and interaction as they at least to more advanced societies do come naturally.

As example may serve us Leonardo's Mona Lisa.

The initial data of the famous painting: wood, oil paint, a patrician's daughter from Florence, a Tuscan landscape. The transformation: wood becoming painted surface, oil paint coagulating to engender painted forms, the privileged young lady stiffening to become a flat type of bust and forfeit her eyebrows also, the Tuscan landscape ending up, fogged up notably, as some kind of hazy mirage. The labour involved: cutting wood to size, priming, observing a model, thinking of composition matters, drawing, painting, varnishing. Doing the job has cost Leonardo planning and effort, without special knowledge he would not have been capable of painting the Mona Lisa, his picture he had to handle in a systematic way, diligently and with care, seeing his painting in its final version was a goal that the artist was aiming for. Before the painting got finished, the wood, the colour pigments, the Gioconda and the Tuscan landscape enjoyed unbounded freedom of movement -then in the picture they find themselves affixed and condemned to sheer immobility. The picture was well of use to its owners, in that it glorified them and multiplied their fortune. Leonardo was lording it like a king over his painting and served it as if he were a serf. He had power over his painting, and his painting had power over him. With his painting, the painter got away from Nature and created something artificial. By force of Mona Lisa's discreet smile alone, the picture is radiating nonchalant elegance. The painting is to be found in one of the world's most eminent museums -the Parisian Louvre, that is. The painting's priceless value transforms the painting into a luxury-goods item. Leonardo's produce made it possible for Renaissance society to rank its burghers above the saints of the Church, and the painted Mona Lisa gave subsequent societies the possibility to act like cultivated gallerists and to affect a certain intra-societal eroticism that was found flattering.

Thereby, culture is fairly permissive when it comes to materials. Some of them are airy like language, others substantial like marble, others again as ephemeral as eat.

That explains the numerous compounds including the word 'culture': see 'culture of living,' 'culture of drinking,' 'culture of speaking,' 'culture of driving,' 'culture of sleeping.'

Culture really has a pronounced artistic side, but it does still not always have to be art. In accordance, creators of culture do not have to on the spot pretend they are creators of art.

Interestingly, however, the bringing forth of culture fails totally when one of culture's elements shaped by agriculture is missing.

Without material, we see: no underlying base of cultural property. Without transformation process: no fresh cultural property generated. Without labour (and planning, effort, regularity, expertise, systematic approach, diligence, care, purposeful orientation): no cultural property at all to produce. Without taming of wildness: no cultural property whatsoever formed. Without yield and use: nobody interested in cultural property anyway. Without hierarchy and power: only coincidence and chaos. Without artificiality: cultural property excluded even as mere term.

Sometimes one has to be oldfashioned so to not be left empty-handed.

Yet the neglecting of this rule does especially in today's hypermodern societies lead to a strange situation: the particular society concerned does outright lust after exquisite self-expression (given that society today never can get enough of all the 'symbolic capital'!), and none the less society's proper standard of self-expression does frequently enough remain far behind society's specific claims because society is missing to produce some suitable cultural property for the sake of its very own self-expression.

Especially labour related to cultural property is posing a problem at present. Such labour is nowadays simply too meagre as an effort. May we feel free to compare a dresser from the 18th century with one of today's sideboards: apparently, the dresser is a cultural gem, the sideboard a trite but useful piece of furniture. And that is precisely because plenty of time and of effort was invested in manufacturing the dresser, whereas time and effort were intended to be spared in manufacturing the sideboard.

Another problem is that precisely where enough cultural property is available, hypermodern society does not wish to be represented by it. More poems than ever before are being written, for instance, yet most of them are not being published and taken notice of; they rather stay ignored and forgotten. And when somebody happens to do a painting, they are firmly being advised to better come up with a video installation.

More hope there is for the field, it must be said. It currently is experiencing a renaissance. Ever more often a field is being tilled without the use of pesticides, and contemporary fields are yielding exclusive organic products. Culture loves its origins indeed.

26 January 2024

Photos: Bruno Martins, unsplash, 2024

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