Cultura Animi

The Grace of Age

We live in times in which old age is out of favor, fearful as we are of all that it brings: the loneliness due to the loss of all loved ones; the inevitable physical failings; the awareness of the transience of human life and our own mortality.  However, old age also brings us understanding, knowledge and life experience that youth can never give us. And every tradition is a treasury we owe to the passing of years. As a reminder of this, the fifth edition in our Cultura Animi series offers four beautiful reflections by Alexey Bogantsev, Lorraine Daston, David Dubal and Lenny Kaye on the passing of years, the value of the past, tradition and the grace of old age.

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To make a life in Russia, you had better live a long time

Translated by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse

In this essay, Alexey Bogantsev reflects on his ideological evolution growing up in the Soviet Union. As a young boy, he was a docile member of the Soviet Union's communist youth organizations and wore his Lenin badges proudly. But as he grew older, he was confronted with communist censorship, immersed himself into the history of Russian dissidents at the special repositories of his university library and came to get to know the real face of Soviet totalitarianism. A special life story that makes you think about the Russia of today.

‘How is such aggression from Russia towards Ukraine possible? How did the Russians just let it happen?’ This is a difficult and a painful question. I think that serious historians and writers will spend many years searching for an answer. They will write about the strangling of political freedom, and tell us about the censorship of independent media, and analyze in detail the malicious role played by Putin’s propaganda machine (above all, television). […] I will try instead, to offer a few thoughts based on my own life experience…

Families, Lineages, and Archives

We live in a time in which the authority lies at prediction, not at memory. The current crisis in the humanities is a crisis of the valuation and appreciation of intellectual traditions. In this essay, historian of science Lorraine Daston criticizes the contemporary focus on the ‘now’ in science, and reflects on the value of tradition in academics, in life as a whole and in her own personal history.

The scientists’ mythology is not fake history; it is real mythology. And a very useful mythology it is, too. The anecdotes about past scientific luminaries may not be any truer than Aesop’s Fables, but both teach life lessons in memorable ways.

Magnificent Survivors

The American pianist and piano expert David Dubal displays his encyclopedic knowledge of classical music by reflecting on the late years and late works of an extensive variety of composers, all of which kept devoting themselves to the arts until their deaths. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Scarlatti, Schoenberg and Stravinsky: they all make their appearance in this wonderfully erudite essay.

On the bright and luminous side of old age are the magnificent survivors who somehow kept generating throughout their days. Occasionally, the work of the last chapter of life may be the greatest.

The Grace of Age

What is it like to be an old rocker? Who could give a better answer to that question than Lenny Kaye, who has been touring and traveling around the world for decades? In this essay, Kaye describes the feel, the sensation and tension of performing. Through Thomas Mann’s classic work Doctor Faustus, a fond anecdote about guitarist Les Paul and a reflection on tradition, Kaye looks back on his unique life as a musician.

Tradition provides continuity, a touchstone of what needs to be remembered, or further nurtured, even if mistranslated, appropriated, scorned or reacted against. It can entrap as well as elevate, and that which lasts has a common thread of shape-shifting, able to accommodate relevance while remaining true to the source of its original conception.