Civilisations (1)

A week or so ago I was encouraged to write a letter to the Times commenting on an article which implied that the new, multi-part series on Civilisations was a sad letdown from the cultural authority and certainty expressed by Kenneth Clark in the original 1969 television series on Civilisation (in the singular).   I refused on the grounds that I could not possibly comment on something I hadn’t seen, other than the short clips shown at its launch.   I have now watched the first episode, Second Moment of Creation, which I thought was wholly admirable:  extraordinarily wide-ranging (I don’t think I have been to a single one of the places filmed), beautifully filmed and delivered with appropriately intelligent and avuncular authority by Simon Schama.   So, I disagree with the many people who have been disparaging about it.

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8 thoughts on “Civilisations (1)

  1. I agree with you. I thought it wide ranging and excellent. And all of them spoke about it very well on Andrew Marr’s Start the Week on Radio Four. They recognised Kenneth Clark’s brilliance without being daunted by it. It bodes well.

  2. A very good point, Paul. Clark used music effectively. It’s definitely a weakness of this production, but, that aside, I think its very good, so far (!).

  3. edward chaney says:

    Where our cultural historians used to nag us about the dangers of seeing the past through the eyes of the present, they now seem to wallow in contemporary subjectivity, having deconstructed truth in favour of relativist ‘truths’ or indeed… ‘civilizations’, whilst putting down Clark’s classic version as ‘of its time’. Technologically deficient though i am i managed to access future episodes, so as well as avuncular Simon – with his welcome opening attack on those murderous iconoclasts – i’ve seen matronising Mary’s multi-cultural apology for word-worshipping image smashers (though at least she got to Egypt). Her concern with the ‘#me-too’ contemporary (‘Aphrodite never consented’) is such that she seems to overlook the derivation of the ‘erotic’ from ‘Eros’, the primeval god of love who evolved into Aphrodite’s son and who used to encourage us to perpetuate the species…

    • Dear Edward, Having not yet seen the later episodes, I can only say that I thought Schama was not so far from Clark in terms of talking about the origins of culture (great cultures), although both global and archaeological in a way that Clark was not. Charles

  4. Charles, I, too, thought that the first episode (the only one I have so far seen) was first rate and made me think about human creativity in a different way. It was absolutely not about soppy relativist judgements as I had been led to believe.Clark stated at the outset what he intended to do and did it splendidly. This also set out its stall and in this episode did it splendidly.

    • Yes, I particularly liked the way that the opening in Palmyra used words (apparently unconsciously) which reflected Clark’s opening outside Notre Dame. Clark: I know Civilisation when I see it. Schama: I know barbarism when I see it (or words to that effect). I certainly don’t view Schama as in any way a relativist, but a pugnacious and well informed proponent of high culture. Charles

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