Just finished John Armstrong’s In Search of Civilisation: Remaking a Tarnished Idea (Penguin 2009) and then went to look for more which turned out to include the video above. The oddest part is that the authorial sound of the book as you read it has no resemblance to the actual sound of the book’s author. That said, a wonderful book and cannot recommend it more highly. Excellent throughout, but this particularly caught me.
I try out an old strategy of inquiry: one most vigorously pursued by St. Augustine. Why, he asked of of the results of scholarly investigation, is it good to know that? … Augustine was in search of a principle of quality – a principle that would help us see what, out of the infinite variation of possible knowledge, it was important to devote one’s time and effort to. (Armstrong 2009: 159)
Why is it good to know anything? More to the point here, which bits of knowledge will make one “civilised” and which is just part of life. And in what way and for what reason is it good to be familiar with The Mona Lisa or with Cosi Fan Tutti?