Old Words #10 – ‘Approximate Visions’

‘Descriptio Maris Pacifici’,, the first known map of the Pacific, drawn by Abraham Ortelius, in 1589, Antwerp

This month’s Old Words were originally written as a lecture for the University of Antwerp, in Belgium, given on 26 March 2012. It relates to British government structures and cultural policy as they were in 2012 based on data current at the time. To that extent, it’s a historical snapshot, which it is neither possible nor useful to update. The political crisis that has engulfed the UK since its decision in June 2016 to leave the European Union has destabilised everything, including the British government’s idea of culture. In seven years, there have been nine Secretaries of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, none of whom showed conspicuous interest in or understanding of their responsibilities. Two have been contestants in the reality TV programme, ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’, while still sitting as Members of Parliament. They say they want to humanise politicians, but simply help make the difference between government and entertainment meaningless to many, with dangerous consequences.  

The lecture is not concerned with cultural data as such, but with what it is imagined to be and represent, so I hope it retains some value, if only to those with a professional interest in cultural policy. Sadly, when I revised it recently, I was struck mainly by how far we have sunk since 2012, though that was hardly a good year. Even the weak and misguided policies in place then look wise when compared to the carelessness of present day ministers towards norms and institutions they once professed to defend.

Download ‘Approximate Projections’

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