By Stephen Henighan
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Extra info for A Report on the Afterlife of Culture
How can we empathize with Jane Austen heroines who must choose the right partner the first time around when we no longer have access to the historical chronology that generated the cultural context in which the social morality of Jane Austen novels – to say nothing of their language, wit or irony – was nurtured? The fact that today’s young readers do not feel themselves to be propelled forward within the fast-moving net of historical chronology is intimately linked to the downgrading of literature to a form of mental jogging.
The truth is,” Robbie writes, “I feel rather light-headed and foolish in your presence, Cee, and I don’t think I can blame the heat! ” This typically elliptical British statement of affection does not make it into A Report on the Afterlife of Culture 57 the envelope. By mistake, in an improbability that lumbers the novel with an air of formula fiction contrivance, Robbie puts the first draft of his note into the envelope that he hands Briony. ” Robbie is horrified when he discovers what he has done, but the note unfreezes the frigid Cecilia, leading to a bout of raucous stand-up lovemaking against the bookshelves of the library, the concluding seconds of which Briony witnesses, possibly prompting coitus interruptus.
By contrast, the Stare Miasto, a tenacious attempt to reclaim history by a nation crushed by the Stalinist ideology of its occupier, teaches a lesson more relevant to our time: that, under the pressure of an ideology that admits no alternatives, when the soul can be captured in a tangible space (the tourist’s camera, the would-be early aviator’s bottles, the perfect copy of a building from an earlier century) the image (the tourist’s snapshot of a Mam child, the individual’s first aerial glimpse of his landscape that reveals the dominance of the city, the window and lintel that replicate 18th-century contours unsupported by 18th-century culture) replaces cultural engagement with a simple proliferation of material objects – the condensed form of images – and cuts us off from meaningful engagement with history.
A Report on the Afterlife of Culture by Stephen Henighan