Civilisation (3)

As will be clear from the Comments section of the blog and previous entries, I have got interested in where Kenneth Clark got his ideas about Civilisation since so few are declared in the text.

He was certainly influenced by Burckhardt, whose The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy he read at Oxford as a counterpoint to Ruskin, who was a bigger influence on his prose style.

He was much influenced by Roger Fry, who he met in his twenties, became a friend, and whose Last Lectures he edited; but he was surely more influenced by Fry’s formalism than his attitude (never well developed) towards history.

He was definitely admiring of Aby Warburg, attended one of his lectures in Florence (but misrecorded its date), helped acquire his library for London, and who deeply influenced Clark’s writing of The Nude.

He acknowledges the influence of H.G. Wells.

I have no evidence that he had read Norbert Elias’s Über den Process der Zivilisation which was first published in 1939 and republished in 1969, but Clark was no fool and he would have consulted friends in Oxford in the writing of Civilisation who would have been familiar with Elias’s ideas, if only second hand.

In his opposition between ‘heroic will’ and what he regarded as the more effeminate aspects of Civilisation, I wonder if he was also influenced, if only subliminally, by Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West, which, like H.G. Wells’s Outline of History was so fashionable in the 1920s, even if Clark, like Gombrich rejected any form of intellectual determinism.

I will rely on Edward Chaney to correct me.


6 thoughts on “Civilisation (3)

  1. edward chaney says:

    if you’re really asking, i still think the Warburg lecture took place in Rome (at the Hertziana); and am still sceptical of the use or indeed relevance of Elias to Clark’s larger mind (and Burckhardt still lacks a ‘c’). To explain how humankind’s ‘habitus’ is determined by our culturally accepted manners merely in terms of medieval Western Europe without reference to the 3000 years’ worth of the supremely ‘mannered’ civilization of ancient Egypt seems bound to produce limited results/insights . .. As for Spengler, Clark was an admirer of Wyndham Lewis (even if he didn’t warm to him), and Lewis’s Time and Western Man (1927) was an all out attack on Spengler, Toynbee and all other Bergsonian (flux-celebrating, Heraclitian) ‘Time philosophers’. Time and Western Man underpinned Lewis’s later attacks on ‘The Demon of Progress in the Arts’, a demon that Clark critiqued more politely but no less consistently…

  2. edward chaney says:

    I think this one-off is even better than the earlier series: ‘Civilization’ (and what is lacking in ‘Civilizations’). In The Other Half, Clark wrote: ‘I wanted it to make people reflect on what i believe to be the greatest miracle in history. By the year 2750 Egypt had developed nearly all the qualities that we value or used to value, in our own civilization: a belief in the individual as moral being: pride in the merciful execution of justice, a well organized system of government, a sense of the beauty and dignity of man, who had a soul that would survive him after death; an awareness of animals as something very close to ourselves, which could be lovable as well as useful; geometry and its application to stone architecture; and above all an art that combined grandeur with humanity.’ Wyndham Lewis thought similarly about ancient Egypt. Partly because of this he and Clark would have agreed about the state of contemporary art/society…

  3. edward chaney says:

    Berenson and Clark (who had a v complex relationship) shared a dislike of Spengler… Gombrich benefitted from Clark’s support for the Warburg Institute and correctly identified the iconography of the four ‘Giorgione’s’ that Clark acquired for the National Gallery… Honour and Glory, both of a younger generation, were huge admirers of Clark…

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