I was talking to a friend last night about that Ricoeur quote I keep coming back to: "In order to take part in modern civilization, it is necessary at the same time to take part in scientific, technical, and political rationality, something which very often requires the pure and simple abandon of a whole cultural past ... There is the paradox: how to become modern and to return to sources".
So I am wondering about different models, and consulted Rabindranath Tagore this morning. He writes of how "great" Europe is, but warns that she is carrying her ideals to all corners of the earth yet not sacrificing her greed: "She will have to recognise perhaps ... that it is an intellectual Pharisaism to have faith only in building pyramids of systems." While he praises science, he warns the one-sided pursuit of it thrusts man's personality into the background, lowering "man's true value to the level of his own machine". But as one cannot make friends with the machine, personality finds no permanent refuge in it. "Science should come to our aid to be humanised by us at the end".
His model is not "nourishing a spirit of rejection" but "giving out of the best that we have" which is rather alike Arnold's sweetness and light. "We have not seen the great in the West because we have failed to bring out the great that we have in us and we delude ourselves into thinking that we can hide this deficiency behind borrowed feathers." The East suffers from poverty and inertia and the West from lack of peace and happiness (money is not the way to unity).
The good in science is that it can free "the culture of the soul" from the tyranny of matter, in other words, it is science that helps feed us, to free us from being slaves to hunger. I love this line: "No great country can afford to be confined to its kitchen, it must have its reception room where it can do honour to itself by inviting the world".
But if the East is fraught with poverty, as he writes, this last part is difficult. I was in a reception room today where the new director pointed out that on the wall hung a calendar that was two years old; the shelves were not filled with appropriate decor; a cheap reproduction of a luminary hung on the wall of the stately building though grey and decayed. But though crumbling, one mustn't imitate others, but do the best with what one has, however modest.
So improvisation is what we do when we must. And yet it is through improvisation that we realise that sometimes we have more than we thought we did. This morning, I was looking at these photographs where objects were "picked out of the landscape" to bring our attention to them. A caption I would write is Tagore's question: "Is this after all the right kind of household god"? Adaptation says: it can be.