Today I read an interview with Arturo Pérez-Reverte, a Spanish writer whose books I’m quite fond of. The writer, whom I once quoted because he was very convincing upon the subject of why Homer matters. The writer I’d like to write a book for me.
In Spain Pérez-Reverte is known for not being afraid to speak his mind, and is perhaps even regarded as a little bit controversial. If he is controversial, he was true to form in this interview, floating some ‘politically incorrect’ ideas.
Like that culture is for an élite only…
…and not for the great unwashed. Although once he explains himself, you begin to see his point:
Es decir: no sacar el Museo del Prado a la estación de Atocha para que la gente lo vea; la gente que lo quiera ver, que vaya al Prado.
That’s to say: don’t take the Museum of Prado to Atocha Station so that people can see it; people who want to see it, should go to the Prado.
I understand, even agree, although I recognise that this is in direct contradiction to the idea underpinning Poems on the Underground, an initiative that – God knows – I’m very fond of.
Of course Pérez-Reverte is not against people accessing culture. He makes that quite clear:
Que nadie se quede atrás ni por economía, ni por sociedad, ni por nacimiento ni por raza ni por nada, pero que acceda quien quiera a la cultura.
So that nobody is left behind neither for reasons of economy, or society, or birth, race or something else but all who wish can access culture.
What annoys him, as it annoys everyone of us who care sufficiently about culture, is the dumbing down of culture to suit the ‘masses’ – in reality, to suit the ignoramuses and the snobs, the hypocrites and the stupid. Those who rush through Pompeii without understanding but making sure they’ve taken a selfie. Those for whom Mona Lisa is just an item to tick off on their to-do list. Those who boast of their love for Picasso without ever having seen a picture of his.
Lo que quiero decir es que hay que abrir las puertas de la cultura para la gente que quiera hacer el esfuerzo de acceder a ella.
What I mean is that you have to open the doors of culture for the people who want to make the effort to access it.
The key phrase is: “the people who want to make the effort”. To benefit from culture, you have to make an effort: you have to dedicate time, money, brain power. Without putting in this effort you will not benefit from culture; you will understand nothing. Culture will be wasted on you. So don’t gape at the pyramids if you can’t be bothered to learn who built them and why and don’t crowd round the Rosetta Stone if you don’t know what it’s famous for. You don’t deserve to see Goya’s painting Tres de mayo in the Prado.
Tiene que hacer un esfuerzo por merecerla. Tú le estás facilitando acceder a la cultura, pero él tiene que leer, tiene que pagar su precio personal de interés y sacrificio.
He has to make an effort to deserve it. You facilitate his access to culture but he has to read, he has to pay his personal price of interest and sacrifice.
When he refers to the élite, Pérez-Reverte means…
…the people who make this effort. People for whom culture is important – every day. And even if you disagree with his opinion, it’s hard to argue with reality of the example that he brings:
En cuanto a la popularización de la cultura, te voy a poner un ejemplo clarísimo: tú tienes la sala de Goya en el Museo del Prado. Hay días en que vas y no hay nadie. Yo suelo ir. Ahora bien, tú dices «Semana de Goya en el Corte Inglés» y hay colas que dan la vuelta a Madrid para ver a Goya, cuando está ahí todos los días desde hace dos siglos. A eso me refiero.
Regarding the popularisation of culture, I’m going to give you a very clear example: there is the room of Goya in the Museum of Prado. There are days on which there is nobody there. I often go. Now, right, you say, “Goya Week in the Corte Inglés” [a department store chain in Spain] and there are queues that go round Madrid to see Goya, when he has been there every day for two centuries. This is what I’m talking about.
Controversial? Maybe. Snobbish? Your call. Food for thought? Certainly.