Good-bye to Western Culture

Good-bye to Western Culture

by Norman Douglas

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A GOOD while ago, as I was stepping into the train, a friend who had
come to see me off put into my hands a book and said:

"Have a look at this. Very rich, in places. Pure sensationalism, of
course; she wants to get herself talked about. I think you'll enjoy
it. If not, just throw it out of the window."

That is how I came to read _Mother India_, while the train crawled
slowly through a level, dried-up landscape under the cobalt sky of
early autumn. It was a drowsy afternoon; the corn had been cut long
ago, the country wore an air of exhaustion, and everything seemed half
asleep. And still we panted forwards, past white farmhouses and fields
of yellow stubble, stopping at every station. _Mother India_ is a
fairly long book; this was a fairly long journey, hot and tedious.

"Pure sensationalism," it soon became evident, was not quite correct.
If you poke your nose into unsavoury corners, the result is bound to
be more or less sensational. It struck me that the author had
performed in business-like fashion her job of disembowelling old
Mother India, though some of her arguments, I felt sure, would
certainly be challenged--as indeed they were. In other circumstances I
should have read it with greater attention (I did, later on).

That railway carriage was not conducive to the reading of a book like
this. The heat, the proximity to objectionable fellow-creatures,
children squalling in the next compartment, the screeching of
machinery, the perpetual coming and going, the banging of doors, the
whistling: what a coarse, undignified mode of travel! Here we were,
cooped up like hens in a basket; open the windows, and clouds of
noisome smoke pour in; shut them, and you are suffocated. A man
sitting opposite me was intent upon some newspaper article; I caught
sight of the heading "Indemnity." Indemnity--reparations; it was all
we could talk about then, it is all we can talk about now; an endless,
unbecoming haggle.... And the red velvet seats, my pet aversion.
Velvet in the brooding heat of August! Here was a sample of the
unnecessary discomfort which we Europeans endure all day long in one
form or another; that railway trip, a trifle in itself, made me
resentful against the Western world and its institutions, while this
book, with every page I turned, took me further away from them and
conjured up memories of a land where one feels more at ease. As I read
those disclosures, I could not help contrasting the two and thinking:
What she tells of India is all very sad and unpleasant, but--but how
about Europe?

Well, Europe has lost her smile. Moreover, she is growing smaller than
ever; small and explosive and hectic--_balkanized_. An air of
parochial defiance broods over us, signalizing its presence by
offensive aggressions upon liberty. Life in this continent must
present considerable difficulties just now to a really conscientious
person. They who make it their business to evade its laws and
conventions whenever possible are on a different plane; they find
their existence tolerable, and some of them--one, at all events
--would not be sorry if it lasted for ever.

* * *

A FEW observations then scrawled on the margin of _Mother India_ have
now blossomed, or at least expanded, into the following footnotes. The
long interval between the two events may suggest that the idea of this
book was conceived, and again discarded. So it was. Why bother about
the state of Europe? Such tasks should be left to the qualified
Western enthusiast, the world-improver, the dreamer, the eternally
hopeful and eternally muddle-headed. Can the leopard change his spots?
An occasional spasm of lucidity is all we may ever expect. Enlightened
individuals crop up in the most unlikely places and epochs;
enlightened groups of them are as common as a flock of white
blackbirds. The world has grown not only older since Pericles; it has
grown stupider.

The reader will find no suggestion of remedies in these pages. I am
not the stuff of which reformers are made; rather than indulge in that
variety of meddlesomeness I would sweep a crossing. Nine-tenths of the
reformers of humanity have been mischief-makers or humbugs. I have no
desire to be added to the list. A man who reforms himself has
contributed his full share towards the reformation of his neighbour.

Let Europe and Asia do what they please: good luck to them!

I observe, and pass on.

HERE they are, then--just a few footnotes, a few _asides_ that touch
the fringe of a great problem: East or West? The problem confronts
every one of us and its solution is uncommonly easy. It is a matter of
temperament; it depends, to a large extent, upon whether a man likes

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013775404
Publisher: WDS Publishing
Publication date: 01/13/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 112 KB

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