In his essay “Culture and Anarchy,” Matthew Arnold defines culture “as having its origin in the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection.” Those in pursuit of human perfection—those who aim to be enriched and ennobled by art, literature, science, and philosophy—incline naturally towards what Arnold famously called “sweetness and light.”

Almost a hundred and fifty years on that sweetness has soured, that light has been crudely snuffed out for the Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. Anarchy, or at least philistinism, has triumphed over culture. Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society is a provocative essay collection on the fast decline of intellectual life, and one that manages the dual feat of shedding light while spreading gloom. As with the artful Freudian wink in the title of Mohsin Hamid’s recent collection...

 
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