Kenneth Clark‘s television series Civilisation was written and filmed in the year of my birth, 1968. It is not funky, fashionable, contemporary, postmodern or politically correct but I recommend you view or read the book for a stimulating ’personal view’ of ‘civilisation’.
Of course, when you view it now there are passages that make one cringe and would not be broadcast today. It is dated, understandably, in a number of ways but I dearly love Kenneth Clark and often think of his insights - and tweeds.
The series has had a limited renaissance recently, on the 40 anniversary of screening in the UK and US.
The book and the series open with a passage that has resounded with me, as a student of history, until this very day and I oft remember it (from page 1):
What is civilisation? I don’t know. I can’t define it in abstract terms — yet. But I think I can recognise it when I see it…Ruskin said: “Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last.” On the whole I think this is true. If I had to say which was telling the truth about society, a speech by a Minister of Housing or the actual buildings put up in his time, I should believe the buildings.
Here’s the opening and the above quote from the series: