8 mar. 2011

How Much Capital Is Enough?

it's hard to judge how much cultural capital is enough. I have the illusion that, what I know now, I have known for a very long time, but in some cases I learned very significant things ten years ago, when I was already forty and well beyond my PhD. And, of course, there is still plenty I don't know. I've never considered sheer erudition to be my strong suit.

So how much cultural capital is enough? I think it's safe to say that if you mainly know what you've learned in courses, that is not nearly enough. What if you never happen to have taken a course in European history, I'm assuming you'd still know what the French revolution is. Let's assume you've never taken a college-level music class, but you still know what a tone-row is.

You can't give a course on general knowledge, because it's large and unsystematic, general in a word. There is too much of it, but its borders are not fixed. You can't just memorize a list like those in Hirsch's Cultural Literacy, because the idea is that some your general knowledge will have some degree of depth. You'll have read Kafka, not just have a very general idea about a guy turning into an insect. Here, too, the definition is very porous: some of my knowledge remains at the very superficial level. My knowledge of Thomas Mann, for example. If you asked about Heinrich Mann I'd know only that he is Thomas's brother, also a novelist, and had some political differences with his brother. This is getting extremely hazy, since a lot of general knowledge lies in a strange penumbra area, just on this side of total darkness.