Sunday, March 27, 2011

Culture, Part III: Accumulation

Semester break, like life, is "nasty, brutish, and short." Getting to spend three weeks in America talking with family and friends was wonderful, but not so wonderful was my first experience in the wonderful world of extended stay hotel rates, and the realization that Tuscaloosa, for now, isn't exactly home, even though nearly all my stuff is still there. One would think that being without a family, I would have relatively few material possessions to weigh me down, but this is not the case. When I was preparing to come to Indonesia, I had to vacate an apartment where I have lived for more than 20 years, and had to do it in a very short time. Thus, all my possessions came to live in Unit A534.

I had to spend my last Sunday morning in Tuscaloosa rearranging Unit A534, so that I could reach books and computer software I thought it necessary to put hands on, and longingly survey the warm winter clothing that I was never able to reach, it being located all the way at the back of the damn thing, which is quite full top to bottom, front to back. When I had finished, A534 looked just as much in disarray as when I had begun. And the winter clothes were still beyond reach, unavailable for my three more days in freezing cold Atlanta in February. Last August, I just didn't think about this.

Why is there so much junk in Unit A534? Is it because of indecision, or a misapplication of values - the part of culture that tells us what to leave in, and what to leave out?

Perhaps. But that would ignore another terribly important principle for cultural studies - that of accumulation. Culture is not built overnight, or even over 20 years, the time it takes to accumulate 2000 cubic feet of useless junk.

Lesson THREE: Culture represents the accumulation of lessons learned by countless people we will never meet, and their life experiences piled one on top of the other for many generations.

This, of course, is possible because of sentiment, the idea that value can be assigned to places, things, and thank God, people, giving them value beyond their actual material worth. The paper on which all of my college notebooks are printed might be worth a nickel, but I doubt it's worth even that. The same is true of the couch on which I slept as a boy.

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