86 years ago Yuri Lotman was born in Petrograd. Wikipedia writes about Lotman:
Yuri Mikhailovich Lotman (Russian: Юрий Михайлович Лотман, Estonian: Juri Lotman) (28 February 1922 in Petrograd, Russia – 28 October 1993 in Tartu, Estonia) — a prominent Russian formalist critic, semiotician, culturologist. He was the founder of structural semiotics in culturology and is considered as the first Soviet structuralist by writing his book On the Delimitation of Linguistic and Philological Concepts of Structure (1963). The number of his printed works exceeds 800 titles, and the archive of his letters, now kept in the scientific library of the University of Tartu, which includes his correspondence with a number of Russian intellectuals, is immense.
I am not a philosopher, nor a specialist in semiotics or theory of literature, so, for me, Lotman is the author of three unbelievably interesting books on Russian literature and history: Novel "Eugene Onegin" by A.Pushkin. The Commentary, Pushkin. The biography of the writer and The Discussions of Russian Culture. Life and Traditions of Russian Nobility (XVIII-early XIX centuries). Unfortunately, none of them, as far as I know, was translated into English. The full text of these books is available online in Russian: The Commentary, Pushkin and The Discussions of Russian Culture.
What can we expect from the culture? Is the art a goal in and of itself? Do we have the moral right to spend the efforts and resources on art?
May times people replied: the humanity is suffering, it lacks the life necessities, it is undereducated, how can we write verses! The art is of minor importance. In ancient Greece the poets were mostly blind. And the realistically thinking scientists of the last century concluded: a blind man is useless, so he becomes a poet. Take Homer, for example. He cannot fight or trade or sail, so he sings. It seems logical for the man of the XVIII century, a positivist.
But for the ancient man the blind is the man who talks to God. And his human blindness is the higher vision for God. Like God talks through the saints, so he talks through the poets. That Homer is blind, does not mean that he is useless, he is destined for something higher, which will never be entrusted to those who can trade, is a good sailor or brilliantly brandishes his sword.
Let's imagine what would the world look like without art. From this point of view, an ideal example is the great antique philosopher Plato, who described the structure of a perfect society. In this society the art is treated as a dangerous weapon. The ancient Egyptians, says Plato, gathered the most authoritative people who selected the best ancient songs and forbade to write new ones. All their spiritual needs were satisfied with these ancient songs.
This is an attempt to replace the forward movement with the circular one. Plato does not object against movement, he just wants it to repeat itself, as the seasons of the year repeat themselves. There are eternal summer, winter and so on, there are eternal songs, they are always new, but still the same. Plato's heroes live in the circular world. And this cyclic recurrence, in Plato's opinion, would stop the humanity from the reckless movement to nowhere.
In the forward movement, every step is a loss. Once we went in a train and every time we went through a fork, a young boy asked his mother: will we go this way? Will we go that way? We will not take the roads we have crossed. But the escape is not in the cyclic movement. The art gives the experience of following the untraveled roads. Not only the experience of what has happened, but the experience of the unhappened. And the history of the unhappened is a great and important history. Only this history gives us a point of view from which we will be able to see if the humanity is going the wrong way and to steer clear. The humanity is not yet ready for this turn, but, probably, it will have time to do so. Probably.
Sorry for the lame translation :)