SHAPES OF CULTURE by Thomas McFarland


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A brief, dense, yet fluent look at culture from the general perspectives of philosophy and literature. Such all-embracing topics can promote either vague drivelling or never-ending blather. Fortunately, McFarland has avoided either extreme. He seems to have read and evaluated all the major writers in the history of philosophy; his knowledge of literature is nothing to sneeze at either. Thankfully, he keeps the texture of his arguments as light as possible under the circumstances. One of his principal points is the familiar one that overspecialization is changing the learned professions. As any scientist will tell you, fields of knowledge are now so narrow that no human being has time to absorb all the information in a subject like biology, for instance. McFarland adds to these familiar plaints a solid background in historical reading, so he can cite what Leibniz or Chateaubriand thought on the same matters centuries ago. McFarland evokes concrete visual imagery from the science of topography to describe new knowledge as a bunch of ""floating shapes"" that can increase infinitely because the amount of meaning inherent in them remains constant. In short, although we may know a lot more, we don't know why we know it. Another chapter deals with translation as an epitome of cultural activity, a concept already previously explored by many poets and translators. This study should prove seductive to all but those few diehards permanently allergic to philosophical speculations on the arts.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa Press