Commentary Magazine


Civilization

To the Editor:

. . . Theodore K. Rabb’s review of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation [Books in Review, June] seems to me to be an example of an instance where the critic insisted on comparing apples with oranges. Mr. Rabb takes Lord Clark to task for his omissions, for his definition of “civilization,” and for his failure to take into account recent scholarship; but Civilisation is not a text, it is an essay. It was not designed to introduce the reader to the history of art but to make interesting reading. The subject serves only as the framework upon which the writer demonstrates his skill with words.

Mr. Rabb states: “The reader might find far greater substance and understanding, presented with no less elegance, in H. W. Janson’s history of art.” Janson is a useful text and a good reference work, but it is dull, dull, dull. Clark is fun.

I don’t think that Lord Clark actually intended to do anything but talk about art in an interesting manner to people who are not particularly interested in the subject. The success of his book is not to be denigrated. It shows that he accomplished exactly what he set out to do.

Harry J. Kanin
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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To the Editor:

. . . I was angered and indignant that “civilization” for Kenneth Clark begins with Christianity. What a very rude assumption. . . . The fact that Lord Clark showed clear prejudices about so many things . . . casts doubt on the whole enterprise. . . .

Ida Aber
Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York

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Theodore K. Rabb writes:

Harry Kanin’s letter implies that omissions, careless definitions, and indifference to recent writings (let alone inaccuracies and distortions) are acceptable if an author’s concern is “to make interesting reading.” Perhaps. But why should Lord Clark have sacrificed anything? Other scholars have treated scholarly subjects with no less of the devil, but without losing so much of the deep blue sea.

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