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:

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more about “Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation“, posted with vodpod
The series concludes with Clark defending the young people of the late 60s for their critical thinking and quest for knowledge. He defends, what one assumes contextually as their challenges to authority, as essential to maintaining civilisation. His is not a conservative view, that we need to do something to arrest the supposed decline, but one of hope for the future.

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I hoped you enjoyed this walk down memory lane. Does anyone else have fondness, or loathing, for the series?

I’d like to re-read and re-view both Ways of Seeing and The Ascent of Man as they are seminal for me too, maybe next holidays.



    • tony coleman

    • 14 years ago

    Hi Darcy
    I have just purchased ‘The Ascent of Man’ – 4 Box DVD set, I am looking forward to watching it this term and discussing it on your blog in the holidays.


    • dskmag

    • 14 years ago

    dont remember the series – but the idea of our civilisation being critical, creative thinkers seem of paramount importance. Let us hope that our youth are placed into environments that do that; and not rooms with stark exam papers designed to sift the wheat from the chaff.

  1. I agree, Bronowski is compelling viewing…

    • kmcg2375

    • 14 years ago

    I am germinating a response to this for my blog…I haven’t seen the series, but was particularly taken by these ideas in the clips you posted:

    Civilisation is measured in “the ways in which man has shown himself to be an intelligent, creative, orderly and compassionate animal”

    “The children of [our] imagination are also the expressions of an ideal.”

    There is no current threat of descent into barbarism, as “the things that made the dark ages so dark – the isolation, the lack of mobility, the lack of curiosity, the hopelessness” are not features of our current way of being.

    hmmm…thinking 🙂

  2. […] by kmcg2375 in english, personal. Tagged: culture. Leave a Comment A recent post of Darcy’s got me thinking a bit more about the questions of ‘civilisation’ and […]

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