Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems. All I know is I loved the book, loved it because it was unashamedly intelligent and curious and because even when I violently disagreed with it (on multiculturalism, for example), I was still delighted by how beautifully the arguments were being expressed. Akhmatova’s friend and rival Nadezhda Mandelstam, on the other hand, seems delighted to have met Albert Camus: she distrusts the way he turns on the automatic charm even for an old lady, but she approves of his opinions. George Orwell thought, and said, that the bourgeoisie was the enemy of the proletariat, until the practical evidence persuaded him that anyone who believed the two classes could not be reconciled was the deadly enemy of both.

Containing over a hundred essays, this is a definitive guide to twentieth century culture, cataloguing and exploring the careers of many of its greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists and philosophers. And I take it that this is what he wants us to do with the contents of Cultural Amnesia - talk exuberantly about the wealth which is there for the taking. I would never have taken a note in the first place except out of the fear that what I was reading would soon slip away: a fear all too well founded. Should we wish, we can even savour the tang of alien tongues: a translation will be provided on a separate page, to be dialled up at a touch.From the evidence of this book, he must have done nothing but read for twelve hours a day every day for the past fifty years. In the three years it took to compose the actual text, I was faced more and more, as it moved forward, with the consequences of not having isolated my themes. I find myself starting with those figures I feel I know best (which is never as well as James) and drifting onto the (for me) relatively obscure names. Some thought him a charlatan, but no charlatan is ever remembered for making clever remarks: only for trying to make them.

Anyway, the book: It is a collection of comments on a large number of extraordinary cultural figures, beginning with Anna Ahkmatova and ending with Stefan Zweig. They don’t contribute to “culture” or “humanism” (at least not often), but they frequently promote/elevate the male in his sublime creation of these things - through the romantic aura which the initial sexual attraction somehow softens into. This much, however, I do know: it would not be a mind at all if its owner had allowed his multiplicity of interests to be restricted by a formula. If it can’t be sorted into satisfactory categories, that should make us take heart: it wouldn’t be the work of human beings if it could. The full facts about the Soviet Union were slower to become generally appreciated, but when they at last were, the despair was compounded.An intellectually informative and exhilarating book that surely records the best that James wrote, in a body of work remarkable for its range and depth. Milanov doesn’t appear to have quite the reputation that James implies, and the quote is only “attributed” to her.

James, on the contrary, laments that “humanism is hard to find” in the modern world, and charges that “science is one of the culprits” for this.James has the endearing and all-too-rare quality of assuming the same intellectual curiosity (and capacity) in his readers as he has in himself, and authors are consistently introduced with helpful comments on how amenable their work is to the student of French, German, Italian or whatever. Certainly this would be one defence of Miles Davis (whose abstruseness James dislikes) or of Thomas Pynchon (he doesn't get a mention, but I suspect James would disapprove). For my own part, it made me think hard about all the fields of creativity that I seemed to love equally, whatever their place in a supposed hierarchy.

Although James’ prose style can be engagingly conversational, it loses a lot of traction from cliché and frequent use of the tossed-off clever bit that’s not quite clever enough. Still, although there are a lot of fascinating characters in the book, the overwhelming presence is of Clive James himself, and I don't believe he ever had any other intention. But unless they were born as saints, they had to find out they were not infallible by listening to the words of others. Alternatively if it's just going to be a random collection of biographies, a different quarter should be cut, namely some of those which do concern totalitarianism.Too often used for ill, it is now asked about its use for good, and usually on the assumption that any goodwill be measurable on a market, like a commodity. From Louis Armstrong to Ludwig Wittgenstein, via Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust, this is a a illuminating and fascinating work of remarkable erudition. It all added up to nothing except to reveal the author’s own good opinion of himself and a certain lack of empathy for fellow human beings who happen to be goofier than he is (so goofy they seek Clive James’ autograph). Overture and all the individual essays, may be accessed via the menu column to the left of this page.



  • Fruugo ID: 258392218-563234582
  • EAN: 764486781913
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