Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Miguel De Unamuno on the Future of Culture

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Miguel De Unamuno on the Future of Culture

Article excerpt

In 1993, the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation organized a series of talks in Madrid in which Miguel de Unamuno gave his views on the future of culture. Professor of Greek and later rector of Salamanca university, philosopher, poet, playwright and a lifelong opponent of bigotry and dogmatism, Unamuno was one of the most influential Spanish thinkers of his time. When he gave the talks (between 3 and 7 May) he was 68 years old.

I must admit that after over forty years as a teacher, I have reached the stage where I don't know what culture is. What I do know is that I find it rather burdensome. Instead of making a series of formal observations, I am going to treat you to an outpouring of personal impressions. I'm feeling a little tired and so, I think, is most of civilized humanity at this moment. What we need is not so much peace as rest, because there is such a thing as peace without rest and a dreadful thing it is!

In economic terms, everyone knows that there is a disparity between production and consumption. We have consumed for the sake of production rather than produced for the sake of consumption, and the same thing can be said of intellectual and spiritual life. Most people cannot keep up with today's intellectual output. People are thinking too fast. That is a very serious matter. Pindar said that Tantalus had been punished for not being able to digest happiness and joy. Perhaps many people suffer today because they cannot digest truths and, even more serious, cannot digest the truth. It is very unpleasant to be incapable of digesting happiness--swallowing it is something different. But it is even more serious not to be able to digest and swallow the truth.

In this very place I met one of my friends, a highly cultivated, well-read man who has travelled widely but never writes anything. When asked, "Why don't you produce anything?" he answers, "I produce consumption."

Of course, in consuming culture we produce it as well. It is perhaps more difficult to consume than to produce. It is more difficult to listen than to speak, more difficult to read than to write, far more difficult. Most of the writers I know, unfortunately, cannot read. Digestion is very difficult.

The question of the future of culture, its goal and purpose, which will be, perhaps, to achieve the spiritual unity of humanity, has not been raised. Speaking for myself, I never achieve my own unity. I always carry within me a people fighting a civil war. One of the things that makes me suffer the most, when I am engaged in a discussion with another person, is to see that person defend himself when he is unfamiliar with the grounds for his argument and I know them better than he does. At present most people, here at any rate, are living in anguish. But I do not want to talk about current affairs because they are above or below what we are dealing with here.

Of course, the cultural point of view in my opinion is a matter of religion. I am going to make a digression. In the past people said, "Long live Christ the King" to show that they were monarchists. The other day I was talking about Velasquez, to whom I dedicated a poem. His painting of Christ says something, it tells you quite clearly, "My republic is not of this world, it is of another world."

Yes, education is a national issue, but it is also a danger. When I look at all these books about how to teach I have the impression that children are being used as fodder for testing, that the aim is not to educate them but to bring them up as if they were frogs or guinea pigs for psychologists. This is dreadful. Poor young people! What they have to go through because of these books! They are trained like performing animals!

"Is teaching an unnatural function?" Socrates was not a teacher, but a vagabond. He wandered the streets of Athens talking to everyone. That's what culture is. Here in Spain there is a deep-rooted popular culture forged by tradition in what is the true people's university of Spain, the cafes. …

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