There are various forms of cerebral decay that plague us. One of the books on my reading list for after I defend my dissertation is Pope's Dunciad. I am also interested in how the 18th century so freely addressed various forms of power, as Joseph Addison did in Cato, a Tragedy.
When education was slowly afforded to the less well-off, Matthew Arnold, already worried about culture, fretted even more about the outcome of education on people free from such concerns. For him, the philistine and anarchy emerge. One is reminded of the anti-elitism institutionalised in ancient Greece through the practice of ostracism. In the face of such tectonic shifts, how can criticism, a practice of the thoughtfully educated, be conducted?
Zolla, in The Eclipse of the Intellectual, describes Nietzsche as a critic with a "dialectic of provocation" against mass bestiality - his writings are not to be taken as precepts. Did I partly misunderstand him because our culture is too literal, a tribute to the very real attack on finesse - figurative and otherwise? The impassioned social critics have today, as far as I can tell, migrated to vlog-type proselytism on YouTube, ranting not writing.
As for the destruction of culture, wherein culture implies refinement and sophistication - which requires intellectual or spiritual contemplation, Zolla writes, "The literary work became a commodity manufactured according to stereotyped formulas". There are so many such gems in the book that I consider it strange that it is out of print. For example, he writes how radio and the TV help man "to transform time into a rapidly consumable material, that is, to curse it". What is more, "one cannot accept the world of industry and the mass without first divesting oneself of every concept of form and style, of spontaneity as well as tradition, which is spontaneity's foundation."
Addison writes of refinement vs. the philistine, "Discretion is the Perfection of Reason, and a Guide to us in all the Duties of Life; Cunning is a kind of Instinct, that only looks out after our immediate Interest and Welfare... Cunning is only the Mimick of Discretion, and may pass upon weak Men, in the same manner as Vivacity is often mistaken for Wit, and Gravity for Wisdom."
It seems that the refined in life may lack the appropriate survival skills. Thus Cato, in Addison's play, says: "Through what variety of untried being, Through what new scenes and changes must we pass? The wide, th' unbounded prospect, lies before me; But shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it."
He sees but the impending storm of decay, and takes his life, yet when he does so, Addison has him say: "I've been too hasty. O ye powers, that search The heart of man, and weigh his inmost thoughts, If I have done amiss, impute it not! — The best may err, but you are good, and — oh!"
In reply to expressions of decay I see the hope of grafting tradition onto the ever-changing movie that we call the present. For that same headmaster from above also mentioned that while things can appear hellish, this is never the truth, only a projection, a false depiction. Doing one's best requires endurance and imagination.