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Protecting the culture.


IT USED TO occur to me during that period of British history known as The Troubles that the IRA could have provoked the state into a more immediate and conciliatory response to their terrorist attacks on the mainland if they had blown up great historical buildings rather than murder innocent men, women and children.

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Brick and stone outlast poor human flesh and famous buildings have a symbolic power that transcends our mortality. An attack on such a building is an attack on the whole culture, society, civilisation, and everyone within. The demolition of Windsor Castle, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, etc, would have struck at the very heart of the public fabric of Britain. The effects would have been visible for longer than the debris of blown up pubs, shops or the facade of the Grand Hotel in Brighton. The terrorists could even have claimed a patch of the moral high ground by avoiding casualties but I suppose killing people is just easier than blowing up significant landmarks. It probably appeals to the purely evil streak in them as well.

Such grim thoughts passed through my mind when I started to hear peoples’ reactions to the fire at Notre Dame. Apart from the contrarian voices pointing out that it was “only a building”, most of the statements of concern and shock seemed genuine enough, and they came not just from within France but from around the world. Underlying the response was a sense that Notre Dame was a physical symbol of something more than the nation’s religion, that it embodied an identity rooted in the past, and part of a civilisational identity at that.

Macron has said France will hold a competition for the best plans to renovate it. Heaven knows what modern architectural horrors will be pitched as solutions. Already someone has suggested putting a glass roof on it. That would certainly lighten the place up. I remember when my wife and I visited many years ago we thought it rather dark. Perhaps they could add a pyramid to the roof or replace the famous flèche with a minaret or two while they’re at it. The most modern thing would be to repair it in the style in which it has existed till now. It would probably prove cheaper and more popular.

Culture is more than buildings, which can be preserved…What also needs preservation and nourishing are all the other living parts…

What to do with something like Notre Dame has ramifications beyond the physical. A culture is more than its buildings, which can be preserved in some manner even if they are drastically altered. What also needs preservation and nourishing are all the other living parts – the arts and sciences, the language, the institutions, the appreciation of the land, its birds, beasts and flowers, and so on.

Everywhere in the western world these things are under assault. They are either ignored or mocked and subverted, usually by those in power and by those to whom we entrust their care – educationalists, academics, intellectuals. I’m talking here of serious culture, not the daily pap of reality television, talent shows, quizzes and celebrities. These come and go with increasing rapidity, leaving not a wrack behind (thankfully) while the rest, somehow, endures.

Or they should endure, since they are the very material from which our present is created. If we truly believe in the value of our culture we can no longer rely on the institutions of the state for their protection. And when I say “we” I mean every single one of us individually. What we enjoy has been passed down to us by our forebears and we should aim to do the same for those who follow us. As the trite saying has it, “use it or lose it” – a culture has to be appreciated and developed, otherwise it will fade away, and the future the globalist technocrats, the cosmopolitan “anywheres”, have in mind for us will be the bland, unsatisfying pabulum of politically correct propaganda, which will flatten out the world and further the sense of disenchantment that already afflicts so many people.

It is incumbent on each one of us then to foster an interest and engagement with whatever part of the culture we like, literature, film, music, dance, theatre, art, folklore, history, take your pick, and to preserve it in some way; and more importantly to communicate our enthusiasm to others, particularly our children. The best way to protect it is to promote it.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.


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