Elderly intellectual Parisian piano teachers married to each other in the latest Michael Haneke film, Amour, are exercising their right to musical snobbery when they sniff disdainfully at the idea of someone playing a tape-recording of ‘Yesterday’ at the funeral of a member of their elevated social set. It takes less than two seconds to realise that this exchange could easily have been stolen from real life — the Beatles having been, arguably, the 20th century’s most irresistible agents of cultural democracy before the internet took off.
The letters of Samuel Beckett starred in last winter’s reading at post-Gutenberg — and made our blog’s most popular entry. This winter, the essays of a fastidious, spinsterly Cambridge don psychologically married to his mother for much of his life (or so it always seemed to us) have been our special delight. It hardly matters how E. M. Forster came by his understanding when, in 1940, he answered his own question, ‘Does Culture Matter?’:
Culture is a forbidding word. I have to use it, knowing of none better to describe the various beautiful and interesting objects which men have made in the past … Many people despise them.
I know a few working-class people who enjoy culture, but as a rule I am afraid to bore them with it lest I Iose the pleasure of their acquaintance. So what is to be done?
It is tempting to do nothing. Don’t recommend culture. Assume that the future will have none, or will work out some form of it that we cannot expect to understand. … The difficulty here is that the higher pleasures … rather resemble religion, and it is impossible to enjoy them without trying to hand them on. The appreciator of an aesthetic becomes in his minor way an artist; he cannot rest without communicating what has been communicated to him … It is therefore impossible to sit alone with one’s books and prints, or to sit only with friends like oneself, and never to testify outside.
… So, reader surfing by, this month, this year, or as long as this blog is alive … are you moved to testify on behalf of the Beatles oeuvre – put your three most beloved songs from it into a comments box below, with or without an explanation or any expectation of a reaction? … A message in a bottle cast out to sea?