From earliest youth I was fascinated with culture and everything foreign. Of course, to a child of about 4 or 5, most everything is a bit “foreign” or requires some sort of “cultural study” or examination as we grow into the customs, habits, language and beliefs of our own environment. In my case, raised as a Nazarene, in a small town in Northwest Iowa, my early “cultural studies” were informed, not only by fascinating Biblical stories, but also by stories found in Donald Duck and the Classic comic books. Donald Duck and his 3 nephews (and later, Uncle Scrooge) had amazing adventures in the Andes and all kinds of far flung places where the culture of foreign worlds were displayed in all their unique glory, special designs and flourishes. Indeed, it was under the influence of Donald Duck comics that I first began to write stories, using the Donald Duck characters, and placing them, too, in foreign worlds and picturing them as, on hands and knees I labored, as best I could, to create my own adventure comic book!
It was through Classic Comics, in fact, that I first became aware of a whole library of titles of famous books from world culture—that they were famous stories meant nothing to me as a child, but that they were such good stories was all. It was in Classic Comics I first came into contact with the names and stories of the likes of Socrates, Shakespeare, Homer, titles and characters in famous novels, etc. Ultimately, by about 10, I had acquired, by purchase and/or trading, a very large collection, piles high of Classic Comics—my first self-acquired library of “cultural studies.”
Of course, during the same time, under the tutelage of my Nazarene Sunday School Teachers, I listened to and read and studied the amazing stories of the Old and New Testaments. Miracles and horrors, indeed! The Nazarene’s emphasized, from earliest age, reading, study, asking questions, and learning the right meaning of words. They also arranged for competitions in learning the Bible and gave beautiful Bibles and purple velvet award badges, with shiny gold stars on them, as prizes. I won my first “First Prize,” in anything, for my ability to recite Scriptures from memory, especially the words of Jesus (the ones in red letters).
Around 11 or 12 years of age, in Junior High School, I began to actually carry on more formal “cultural studies” in the school system—courses in Greek Mythology, General Science, History, etc. I was already aware, too, from movies and the whole cultural environment, that all was not right with the world. I knew of the horrors of the recent war (World War II) and, even as a young child, was assaulted with the gruesome pictures and reminders of man’s inhumanity to man everywhere to be found in our culture (in our own home, in our city, in our culture, in the world).
In truth, I already well knew from the traumatizing horrors of my own particular family history, that insanity was a significant part of my world—now I learned, in explicit terms, insanity was a significant part of the whole world. The Nazi insanity, the leading example of our day, murdered millions. And to those, the greater world’s insanity added the horror of millions more. Atomic bombs were exploded, in a flash hundreds of thousands were dead. Mankind is far too often a murderous enemy of his human-brother. Something is wrong. How did this happen? How was the Atomic Bomb made? Why do different cultures hate each other? Where and how did they acquire their beliefs? Why are religions so often murderous instead of kind, compassionate, and loving? How did we become what we are, and what new directions can be taken before we destroy the entire human race through our cultural ignorance, fixations, and murderous prejudices?
Actually, in every way, I am lead to my interests and fundamental studies involving world culture. This is true as a playwright, and a writer of “fictional” and “non-fictional” historical dramas; as a poet who has deeply fed upon the great traditions of world poetry, music, art, and philosophy; and as a cultural worker who loves art for art’s sake, knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
Hopefully, through cultural studies and works, we can all contribute a mite to the building of new cultural foundations for a more integrated, successful, stable and emancipated world civilization. I involuntarily recall the words of Faust’s spirit urging foreword:
to shut the imperious sea from the shore away,
Set narrower bounds to the broad water’s waste.
Then open I to many millions space
Where they may live, not safe-secure, but free
And active. And such a busy swarming I would see
Standing amid free folk on a free soil.
To which inspiring words, Thomas Mann, the great German novelist added by way of commentary:
The free folk are the people of the future, freed from
fear and hate and ripe for peace.”