I Woke up in NYC 5.30 this morning, which is an hour that I am normally awake only if I haven’t gone to bed yet. I went for a run in Central Park, through an empty and foggy city. On the way back the fog lifted, streets were buzzing and I was reminded why I love New York. It is striking – the towering buildings with hi-tech displays and shops (grotty and smart) at the ground level. It is not a modern city in the sleekest sense but a smelly, grubby and packed conurbation.
I love the design and architecture of New York – it reveals a powerful aspect of the country. The city was built in an era where the artistic mingles with the industrial, where mass produced has a hand-crafted look. It is also solid and proud. What it is not though is quirky and accidental that one often sees in Europe.
I imagine there was a similar tension between the Greeks and Romans in architecture, literature, plays, music. The Romans imitated the subjugated Greeks. And the Greeks were clinging to the last vestiges of their dominance, which was confined to culture. The only way to left to Greeks to humiliate the Romans was to critique their art and culture. This, I might add, did not stop the Roman culture coming whilst taking bits of Greek culture, evolving their own. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
I would take the parallel further. Greeks were considered ‘sophisticated’ and decadent. Not wishing to be left behind, the Roman decadence reached its own peak but in its brutality it could be called merely aspirational compared to the Greek debauchery. In its purest sense decadence is constraining. I do think decadence is mostly negative, although the other side of the coin of waste, chaos and lack of purpose, is redundancy, freedom and creative playfulness. But often, decadence is accompanied by irreverence. And there is a kind of effortless superiority that comes from mastering rules, principles and conventions and then disregarding them. So it is not decadence that that helps to give rise to the odd, playful and revolutionary but irreverence. Decadence often means disregard of purpose and seriousness, overridden by social pathologies such as hypocrisy, while irreverence has the potential to break the rules when they ought to be broken.
All this is a very long-winded way of nailing down the differences that I observe in different cultures across the Atlantic. What I do requires focus on long-term purpose, taking some things seriously enough to want to change and adjust, to make mental and other leaps. Decadence makes it hard to aspire, motivate and go boldly forward. Irreverence makes it is easier to break down the systems that are in the way of progress. So can we please have some irreverence, easy on the decadence…
Of course, this is just non-sense spouting from a jetlagged mind in an exhausted body. It’ll teach me to blog before I have had my morning coffee, or as I am in New York, my morning smoothie.