Ellen Dissanayake synthesize knowledge from a variety of fields – including anthropology, developmental and cognitive psychology, ethnology, and philosophy. In her essay If “Great” Art is Dead …”, Matthew Arnold is an important source of inspiration.
Culture is the pursuit of total perfection by means of getting to know the best which has been thought and said in the world, and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.
The aspiration, according to Arnold, is to leave the world better and happier than we found it.
Dissanayake goes on to say:
Responsivity to revelatory experience, acquaintance with the human condition, and examining one’s life in the broadest possible context are intrinsic to taking life seriously.
We can float around in life like a coconut bobbing on the sea, accepting consumerisms cannibalization of culture, or we can choose to take life seriously.
Opening up for a large (I guess never-ending) argument … I understand Dissanayake’s ambition to be to formulate a well reflected criticism of post-modern and post-structuralistic ways of dealing with art and also ethics. Post-modernism is marked by excessive use of irony and an understanding of self as something impermanent, in constant flow. Against this ideology of equalization, leveling or reconciliation, Dissanayake is advocating universal differences; urging us to talk about quality as something special, not as a kind of democratic concept, but rather as result of judgement, of our willingness to distinguish between which is good and which is not.