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Guilty or shameless?

August 03, 2008

I very much enjoyed Scott Timberg's piece on "Shameless Pleasures," [July 27] as well as the entire Calendar and Arts & Music sections on the same theme. Though both of those sections are devoted to the topic "Shameless Pleasures," it's interesting to note that many of the contributors chose to characterize them as "guilty" pleasures.

Students of the human condition, anthropologists and classicists have long noted and distinguished what has been termed "shame culture" and "guilt culture," a distinction articulated particularly well by E.R. Dodds in his opening chapter of "The Greeks and the Irrational."

As a professor, I've always thought that undergraduates tend to be particularly egregious examples of a shame culture: Students won't raise hands in class to answer a question for fear of what it might cost them socially should their responses somehow be amiss. Being ignorant is no problem, but being thought ignorant is out of the question. As we grow older we trade ends and tend more toward guilt than shame. Dodds observes the same phenomenon in ancient Greece.

Most of The Times' writers tended to dwell on the enjoyment of allegedly low-brow pleasures rather than more fashionable and better-bred counterparts: ukuleles and guitars, Herb Alpert and jazz, etc. But have you ever read Robie Macauley's novel, "Disguises of Love"? Macauley describes a child who loves to read Nietzsche, but hides the fact from his friends by hiding his copy of Nietzsche behind a comic book. As novelist and poet James Dickey described it, he was a "little boy buried deep in (Nietzsche's) 'Beyond Good and Evil,' consummately protected from the scorn of his schoolmates by Batman and Robin."

Stephen L. Glass

Claremont

Glass is a professor of classics & classical archaeology at Pitzer College.

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The definition of culture is: to cultivate. Cultivation requires assiduous devotion or time and thought to the development of the mind.

Technology has so indelibly insinuated itself in today's culture that it not only deprives us of cogitation, but also the physical experience that cogitation requires: sitting on a park bench in thought, or just a leisure walk sans cellphone, radio, iPod etc.

We are insidiously destroying the culture of America, and perhaps eventually the world, with mindless entertainment, which includes the imposition of TV news.

After all, the purpose of news is to present information, but not to inculcate knowledge and wisdom.

This sadly, is shameful, but what is more shameful is the "shameless pleasure" we get out of it.

Giuseppe Mirelli

Los Angeles

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