The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

By Daniel Bell | Go to book overview

2
The Disjunctions of Cultural Discourse

IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, I tried to show that the disjunction between culture and social structure creates a pervasive set of tensions which the society (as well as the individual) finds difficult to manage. But there remains another, central issue: the coherence of culture itself in modern society, and the question of whether culture, rather than religion, can provide a comprehensive or transcendental set of ultimate meanings, or even satisfactions, in daily life.

The question of the coherence of culture was set forth by Wordsworth , in his "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" ( 1800), when he deplored "the craving for extraordinary incident" and the thirst for "outrageous stimulation" created by the rapid spread of communication and the quickening pace of life, so that "the works of Shakspeare [sic] and Milton, are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse. . . ." Almost 150 years later, when T. S. Eliot reflected on the problem, he pointed out that culture had come to have different meanings when related to the whole society or to a group or class, and he concluded: "As a society develops towards functional complexity and differentiation, we may expect the emergence of several cultural levels: in short, the culture of the class or group will present itself."1

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1
See William Wordsworth, Selected Poems and Prefaces ( Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), p. 449; and T. S. Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture ( London: Faber and Faber, 1949), p. 25.

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