"culture is what remains when all else is forgotten" -- an original source?

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 6 10:33:23 UTC 2013

Here is a possible precursor in the form of a technical definition for
"formative eduction".

Date: May 1899
Volume: 10
Number: 9
Journal: Educational Foundations
Article: The Swedish Educational Sloyd System by E.D. Battle
Start Page 537
Quote Page 538 and 539

[Begin excerpt]
In this relation education can be viewed in two ways, formative and
material. The formative education gives to us that which remains after
we have forgotten all that we have learned in the schools; material
education gives us specific knowledge in respect to certain subjects,
and teaches those things which it is necessary for us to know for
[End excerpt]

The version of the adage with "education" instead of "culture" has
some early instances. Here are some raw matches in GB that might help
other searchers. (Raw means I have not verified the GB date or looked
carefully at the images.)

The New Music Review and Church Music Review - Volume 9 - Page 84
1909 - Read - More editions
The Danes have a saying that education is what is left after we have
forgotten all we ever learned, and, taking that as a standard, we
should say that Mr. Delius is as cosmopolitan in his education as he
is in his domicile and his reputation.

Moderator-topics - Volume 30 - Page 170
1909 - Read - More editions
What warmth is to the atmosphere, what color is to the flower, what
tone- quality is to the symphony, so culture is to the character. It
is the intention of the ... "Education is what is left after we have
forgotten all we know." — Anon. "The true ...

The Nation - Volume 86 - Page 167
1908 - Read - More editions
A definition of culture which I heard recentiy may serve as a text for
the practical sermon I would preach. "Culture," said one, "is what is
left after you have forgotten all you have learned." Training, the
power to read, to think, to express the 1904.

The Unitarian Register - Volume 87 - Page 517
1908 - Read - More editions
Culture, we have been told, is what is left after we have forgotten
what we learned. Then the way to gain this highest essence is to
redeem more, and ever more, of the time we have, and the use of spare
minutes is a truer gauge of power than ...

On Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 5:41 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "culture is what remains when all else is forgotten" -- an
>               original source?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Here is some incremental progress pushing the date back to 1907 for a
> version of he saying.
> Date: December 1907
> Periodical: The Phi Gamma Delta
> Speech title: Indiana, Incubator of Immortals
> Start Page 180
> Quote Page 183 and 184
> [Begin excerpt]
> After all, as a college president said recently, "Culture is what is
> left when what you have learned at college has been forgotten," and we
> must admit that the evidences of true culture are just as many in our
> men from Purdue, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from
> Illinois, and the other schools that are predominantly agricultural
> and engineering, as they are in the men from Indiana, from Yale,
> Columbia, Stanford, or any other that is pre-eminently literary and
> scientific in its curriculum.
> [End excerpt]
> Garson
> On Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 2:09 AM, Geoffrey Nunberg
> <nunberg at ischool.berkeley.edu> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Geoffrey Nunberg <nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU>
>> Subject:      "culture is what remains when all else is forgotten" -- an
>>               original source?
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> Reviewing a paper on Wordsworth submitted to the journal Representations, I ran across this: "As Ezra Pound puts it, “The domain of culture begins when one HAS ‘forgotten-what-book.’” The quote is from Pound's 1938 Guide to Kulcher, in an aphoristic section headed "Rappel A L'Ordre." The full paragraph is "Knowledge is NOT culture.The domain of culture begins when one HAS ‘forgotten-what-book.’”  It's a singularly Poundian remaking of a thought that seems more continental than Anglophone (we were by then diffident about describing people as "cultured," having pressed "literate" into that service instead). But the aphorism has a lot of history elsewhere. It's a Wanderzitat, if i can call that, though I haven't been able to pin down an original source. It's not in YBQ but it deserves a place.
>> I was familiar with the sentiment in a slightly different French version, which I had recalled as being due to Renan, as "La culture est ce qui reste quand on a tout oublié." Searching around, though, I couldn't find any mention of this. But I did find a host of other versions and attributions. For example:
>> Recent American Sources include the 2012 Report of the Culture Committee of the Swiss Benevolent Society of Chicago is headed "Culture is what is left when everything else has been forgotten—Françoise Sagan)" In the American Scholar, Sven Birkerts writes, "I always liked Ortega y Gasset's epigram that “'culture is what remains after we've forgotten everything we've read.”
>> A German site attributes it to Marx: "Die Kultur ist das was bleibt nachdem wir vergessen haben." If that were true, though, you can be sure that everyone would know about it and there wouldn't be so many other subsequent attributions. Another story has it as "Bildung ist das, was übrig bleibt, wenn man alles vergessen hat, was man gelernt hat," which has been falsely attributed to Einstein but is evidently due to Werner Heisenberg in his address on the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Maximillian Gymnasium in Munich in 1949. (Heisenberg had to have have been familiar with the version with "culture," in one or another language; you wonder if his substitution of Bildung was influenced by the Nazi cliche, often wrongly attributed to Goehring, "Wenn ich ‘Kultur’ höre, nehme ich meine Pistole.")
>> Quite a number of French sites attribute the mot to the Third Republic homme politique and académicien  Edouard Herriot, sometimes as  "La culture, c'est ce qui reste dans l'esprit quand on a tout oublié," which one writer describes as having been said "dans les terribles années 1930." It appears in Herriot's Notes et Maximes, published posthumously in 1961 and also available on Google Books, as follows: "La culture, déclare un pédagogue japonais, c'est ce qui demeure dans l'homme lorsqu'il a tout oublié." The mention of the Japanese pedagogue was surely a way of acknowledging that the sentence was effectively proverbial by then, though too particular in its conceit and wording to be really without an author.
>> Several Italians have pointed to a 1908 essay "Che cosa è la cultura" by the philosopher Gaetano Salvemini, The essay is available on Google Books, but in it, Salvemini quotes the line without attributing it: "La cultura vera — come un paradosso profondo è stata definita — è 'ciò che resta in noi dopo che abbiamo dimenticato tutto quello che avevamo imparato.'" The quotation confirms that the aphorism was a commonplace by the early 20th century, so that it couldn't have been originated or popularized by Herriot or Heisenberg. But here again it couldn't have been merely "in the air"—you'd figure there has to be a single influential source for it somewhere.
>> There are variants that take the aphorism in novel directions, which also testify to its status as a commonplace. Nadine de Rothschild writes, " Si la culture est ce qui reste quand on a tout oublié, l'éducation est ce qui demeure quand on a tout perdu." And my favorite, the only one of them all that escapes the charge of sententiousness, is from the director Jean Vilar: "La culture, ce n'est pas ce qui reste quand on a tout oublié, mais au contraire, ce qui reste à connaître quand on ne vous a rien enseigné."  That's the one you want to tell your students. Otherwise they might figure, Really? Hey, I could save myself all that trouble.
>> Geoff
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
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