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Kevin Cryan
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Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« : 02.03.07 at 10:33 »
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Clive's Cultural Amnesia: Notes from the Margin of my Time, to be published here in May by Pan Macmillian seems to be already available in the US under the rather less elegantly resonant title Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts.  
 
Adapted extracts such as this one being published in Slate .
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #1: 02.03.07 at 11:01 »
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Correction: The title Cultural Amnesia: Notes from the Margin of my Time should read Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of my Time.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #2: 02.03.07 at 16:27 »
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I have just noticed that 11 essays can be accessed by clicking the icon marked I have just noticed that 11 essays can be accessed by clicking the icon marked Clive's Lives at the top of any Slate essay page, or by clicking here.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #3: 04.03.07 at 17:56 »
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If anyone is in vicinity of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, New York, before 7PM on Monday the 26th of March, then consider popping along to catch Clive at the New York Public Library where, in the South Court Auditorium, he’ll be talking to the library's Director of Public Programs Paul Holdengräber about Cultural Amnesia.  
 
The $15 entrance fee ($10 to library donors) for an hour and a half of Clive talking about any of the many fascinating subjects his book covers is, I'll suggest, money well spent.  
 
If anybody wants to check that out, then read the 12 Slate essays that are now available. The essay on Duke Ellington is probably a good place to start, if only because it offers the reader some considerable insight into Clive's views on popular music and popular music-making.  
 
Here he his at his very best. After saying that Philip Larkin had said all the funny things that were to be said about John Coltrane, he writes:
 
"There is not a phrase that asks to be remembered except as a lesion to the inner ear, and the only purpose of the repetitions is to prove that what might have been charitably dismissed as an accident was actually meant. Shapelessness and incoherence are treated as ideals. Above all, and beyond all, there is no end to it. There is no reason except imminent death for the cacophonous parade to stop. The impressiveness of the feat depends entirely on the air it conveys that the perpetrator has devoted his life to making this discovery: Supreme mastery of technique has led him to this charmless demonstration of what he can do that nobody else can. The likelihood that nobody else would want to is not considered."  
 
That is Clive at his very best. You may not agree with his judgements - and I myself am not wholly convinced about them here - but you have to admit that, through sheer force of argument, they do make you sit up and pay attention. I especially like the line which says that the only purpose  "of the repetitions is to prove that what might have been charitably dismissed as an accident was actually meant". Sheer class!!!!  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #4: 04.03.07 at 19:48 »
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Did anyone else hear Duke Ellington on Alex Jennings's selection of "Private Passions" on Radio 3 today ?  
( The BBC website gives the following info - Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,  Duke Ellington Orchestra, rec. live at Newport, 1956, CBS 4509862 T.5 )
 
What brilliance, what joy. Those cats could sure swing !!!
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #5: 04.03.07 at 21:24 »
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And, what's more, it's here for the next 7 days.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #6: 05.03.07 at 21:21 »
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Vanity Fair's excellent cultural critic James Wolcott, posted the following to his blog on the 1st of March. As it demonstrates just how highly Clive is regarded by the American literary intelligentsia, I think it should be printed here in its entirety.  
 
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
 
2007: Year of the Clive

 
If your bug antennae are tuned into the higher cultural frequencies, you can't help but be aware that a heavy object has been hurtling toward us from across the Atlantic, its shadow spreading as it nears impact. I speak of Clive James's spring offensive. Poet, critic, memoirist, novelist, talkshow host, travel-show presenter, documentarian (Fame in the 20th Century), eulogist of Princess Diana,   vlog interviewer, tango enthusiast, the Australian expatriate--a charter member of the Fab Four (the others being, of course, Robert Hughes, Germaine "Germs" Greer, and Barry "Dame Edna" Humphries")--has beavering away to beat the band for decades, but over these last twelve-to-twenty four months he has really been aburst, a Renaissance man enjoying an autumnal renaissance. Year before last, he published his latest volume (volley) of criticism, The Meaning of Recognition, last year he brought out volume four of his memoirs, North Face of Soho, featuring floppy-haired swannings by those then-young charismatics Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens, and now, the magnum opus mothership, Cultural Amnesia, of which a fine selection of meaty portions can be found on Slate under the shingle Clive’s Lives.
 
Apart from books, James has also been popping up in the more exclusive periodicals, perhaps his splashiest performance being his must-read TLS review of Zachary Leader's sprawling Kingsley Amis biography. He has also been doing a series of podcasts for BBC4, the most recent one I heard a hilarious analysis of the motifs and magical thinking of martial-arts movies, with killer oneliners about Richard Gere ("born with narrowed eyes") and Jean-Claude Van Damme ("his face is a bodybuilder's bicep in worried search of its original arm").*  
 
I can't help but be gladdened by James's juggernaut resurgence. My interest is not impersonal. As a TV critic for the Village Voice, I stole judiciously from his TV column in the London Observer, the most witty, slashing, inspiring, infectious weekly performance since Kenneth Tynan was the chain-smoking king of drama critics.  
 
He and I share a deeper bond. In the Seventies we flew together in a commuter prop plane to visit Pauline Kael in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, hit major storm turbulence, the plane bouncing and rocking so hard in the air that teeth began to hurt, and, as we descended toward the air strip, we could see people sitting on a nearby hillside, as if picnicking. What do you think they're doing? I asked, to which Clive replied, "Waiting to see if we crash."
 
We didn't, of course. We and the world were mercifully spared. Imagine the incalculable loss to criticism--to culture--to humanity--if we had perished in that plucky prop plane. I pale at the thought of it.  
 
I suspect Clive and I won't have much time to reminisce at the book party being thrown for him later this month. He may not even remember his fellow passenger on that near-tragic sortie, the intervening years obscuring the patterns in the sand. Or he may recall that I panned his first memoir in the New York Review of Books and haul off and clobber me one. After all Norman Podhoretz was still huffy about Wilfrid Sheed's review of Making It when their orbits intersected thirty years later; then again, Podhoretz has made a second career out of feeling huffy and inflating his huffiness into proud prophet sourpuss righteousness. Clive isn't like that. He's retained a liberal humanism that rejects the zealous pursuit of grievance and payback, and more importantly he's retained his robust humor, humor being something of which Podhoretz was never notably endowed, even when he was young and frisky. It's hard to enjoy yourself when the world refuses to let you set it aright.  
 
*To listen, click here, scroll down under the letter "P" to "Point of View, A," then click where it says, "Listen." (For some reason, the website link for A Point of View doesn't seem to be working.)

 
March 1, 2007, 7:58 PM | permalink
 
>>>>>>>>>>>>>
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #7: 05.03.07 at 21:42 »
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"It's hard to enjoy yourself when the world refuses to let you set it aright" ...
 
Now that's a really nice description of humourless ideologues of both Left and Right  !!    
 
It also reminds me of one of my favourite lines from the Bard (in Twelfth Night):
 
"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
 
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Kevin Cryan
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #8: 09.03.07 at 17:48 »
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The April edition of The Atlantic (also known as The Atlantic Monthly) contains a Christopher Hitchins penned review of Clive's Cultural Amnesia.  
 
This is available from The Atlantic online now, but only to those who subscribe, or agree to subscribe, to that august journal.
 
Kevin Cryan
 
PS
 
To date Slate has published 14 adapted extracts from Cultural Amnesia, the latest of which deals with the Polish-born historian Lewis Namier (1888–1960) who became a British subject in 1913 and wrote so much about English history that he came to be thought of as an English historian.
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #9: 14.03.07 at 07:02 »
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Cultural Amnesia has got a thoughtful thousand word review from Regina Marler in the February 14th edition of The New York Observer.
 
Kevin Cryan
« Last Edit: 14.03.07 at 07:30 by Kevin Cryan » IP logged
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #10: 14.03.07 at 09:59 »
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"In a time when criticism is dominated by the theory-sick monographs of academics, and when the future seems to belong to amateur and professional blurbists, it is more than entertaining to read Mr. James's lucid, passionate, erudite essays. It is heartening, and seems to promise that the critical role once played by a Samuel Johnson or an Edmund Wilson is still possible in the 21st century" writes Adam Kirsch in the February 13th edition of The New York Sun.  
 
It's good to see that even someone who is modestly described as a "staff writer" by the Sun has recognised exactly who Clive's precursors are. I'm tempted to say that it takes an American reviewer to judge Clive's critical work by standards which, it seems to me, he sets himself, or by standards by which he certainly will not mind being judged. Most of Clive's English reviewers I've read have missed the point. I resist this generalisation simply because I suspect that this American reviewer, Adam Kirsch, may be unusual in that he holds the not very fashionable opinion that work of Samuel Johnson and Edmund Wilson* is still relevant, and, moreover, that their work should still be used as a benchmark. In other words, his approvingly comparing Clive's role with theirs may say more about him as an individual than it does about the American reviewers or reviewing.
 
*for more about Wilson see Clive's collection of essays The Metropolitan Critic.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #11: 14.03.07 at 10:41 »
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I think Kevin makes an extraordinarily important point.   It could easily turn out that Clive gets something much more like his due in the US where the ability to do more than one thing well is not regarded with snobbery and suspicion.   Clive's popular, i.e. TV, fame in this country has a lot to do with the frequent ignoring and underrating of his best work, including, dare I say, his lyrics.   In America he doesn't carry that taint, and it will be interesting to see how things develop there.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #12: 14.03.07 at 12:22 »
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Writing in code early in the morning confuses me. The truth is it confuses me any time.  I should have said that both reviews are in the 14th of March editions of the The New York Observer and The New York Sun, but I guess readers figured that out by now.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #13: 14.03.07 at 13:55 »
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Adam Kirsch (and Kevin) might be pleased to hear that there are still some academics, including this one, whose monographs, are not "theory-sick". Au contraire, I am regarded by some as something of a Luddite for having refused to espouse "theory" of any kind. It is a serious problem, however, for young job-seekers in academia, who usually have to show they are following the flavour of the month (currently Zizec, for example) or are otherwise trendoid to the nth degree. I'm reminded of a series of "If . . ." from a few years back, where Steve Bell did a beautiful job on Derrida's visit to Oxford. The kind of intelligent critical work that Clive does unfortunately has no place in academe these days. Stateside MVs will no doubt keep their eyes skinned and report on any US manifestations of interest in Clive.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #14: 15.03.07 at 22:17 »
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I'd just like to put a good word in for "flavour of the month", or at least the "flavour of the month" you singled out as your example.  
 
I have to say at the outset that I’m not very familiar with Žižek's theoritical work, but what I do say is that if is imbued with the playfullness and brio he showed Sophie Finnes's three-part documentry The Perverts Guide to Cinema, then he may have something going for him.  
 
In that film,  he puts forward his theories about how cinema works in a way that challenged rather than intimidated the viewer. One viewer at least - this viewer, I should say - came away from the viewings with a lot more questions that he had when he first sat down to watch, and that can be no bad thing. Žižek, in my view, did not appear to be saying, as many theorists do, that the theoritical framework he was using was altogether better than anyone else's, or that everybody else had got it wrong and he'd got it right, and for that reason alone I don’t think I’d want to dismiss him altogether.
 
And there is another side to him that I like. You have only to read essays like this one to realize he’s a polemicist of considerable power and clarity.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #15: 16.03.07 at 00:59 »
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My point really concerned the mania in academe to have a new prophet every month, and was not to criticize the quality of Žižek's (or Derrida's or Lacan's or Deleuze's) work, which is often bastardized by the obsession with making it applicable to all kinds of specialisms. That said, some good always comes out the trends. We may just have to put up with the attendant noise and fluff in order to reap the rewards. I apologize to Žižek for having omitted his diacritics. There must be a good pun there . . .
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #16: 18.03.07 at 16:29 »
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It seems that it’s not just Clive who thinks that jazz music lost something with the coming of experimentation and bebop. Clive Davis, at the end of a Times review of LPO Regna Ensemble performance of The Birth of The Cool by Miles Davis, commenting on the some of the other material on the programme, mostly composed by the concert supervisor Scott Stroman,  asserted that if you wanted proof  that  “contemporary jazz musicians have all but lost the ability to write pithy, memorable tunes, look no farther”, and he added that “there is still an awful lot we can learn from the era of the 78rpm”  
 
That of course is not quite the same thing as as being unequivocally dismissive of everything that is produced after “the era of the 78rpm” which is pretty much what Clive, if I have understood him correctly, is. What Davis is saying is that modern musicians are incabable of writing in a particular form, the form that could be accomodated by the 78rpm, which to me is very much like saying our poets are incapable of tackling a lyric or a sonnet form. How often do we hear critics complain about poets who have not mastered those forms? Actually, more often than you’d expect.
 
The truth is that the critic cannot legislate for the creator. The creator has, and should have, the final word. If he or she does not feel that “memorable, pithy tunes (or, in the case of poets, the lyric or sonnet)” are what best express his or her intentions, then there very little that anybody, least of all the critic, can do about it. The artist in the end has to be taken on his or her own terms. The artists output must always be judged on what it is, or on what it aspires to be, and not on what it isn’t, or doesn't aspire to be.  
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #17: 19.03.07 at 08:44 »
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The American reviews of Cultural Amnesia are coming so thick and fast that I'm beginning to feel, as the review word-count mounts, that by the time I get to read the book itself I'll have read as many words about it as there are in it.  The following is the rather odd concluding paragraph of  the one the New York journalist and critic  Matthew Price has written for yesterday's Los Angeles Times.
 
"Looking through "Cultural Amnesia," you'd think the last century was a huge conspiracy against the values and creativity James cherishes. True, liberalism may be the most detested creed of the modern era, hated by extremes of left and right alike. Stalin hounded Akhmatova. French historian Marc Bloch, another of James' heroes, was tortured and executed by the Nazis. The book's list of persecuted figures is chilling. Small wonder James loves prewar Vienna, where "learning was a voluntary passion, and wit was a form of currency" and intellectual polymaths reigned with the cafes as their campus. But that world was doomed: Many of its free-ranging thinkers were Jewish, and the rest is too sad to contemplate. In "Cultural Amnesia," James tries to capture this Vienna's bickering, zesty, experimental fizz, but it's a high-wire act even the most agile Viennese intellect couldn't pull off."
 
Although I have read the full review twice, I'm still a little confused about what Price is saying.  Is he concluding that liberalism (both Clive's and that of Vienna) is a doomed doctrine, and that no "intellectual polymath" can do anything about that? If that is what he is saying, then it's pretty depressing conclusion.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #18: 19.03.07 at 10:17 »
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As I was saying,  the reviews are coming in thick and fast. This very generous one, which appeared in yesterday's edition of the wonderfully titled The Fair Dealer(a Cleveland newspaper), should warm the cockles of Clive's heart. The reviewer here, Alan Cate, has fully understood exactly what it is Clive is attempting to do in writing Cultural Amnesia, and, what's more, he concludes that the attempts have been successsful.
 
"Cultural Amnesia" is not another of those dreary "cultural literacy" books, which purport to list for us all the things we ought to know. Nor does it assert the superiority of Western civilization. Rather, James wants to rescue and preserve humanism - that universal catalog of ethical beliefs affirming the dignity and worth of all people. As such, this erudite book does not exist, to borrow from the 19th century Swiss cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt, merely "to make us more clever next time, but wise forever."
 
A very different, altogether more optimistic, conclusion from Matthew Price's in the LA Times. It probably carries a little more weight, and will, I suspect, please Clive all the more, because it comes from the pen, wordprocesssor or whatever of a practicing historian.  
 
Kevin Cryan
 
PS. Cate mentions that Clive is a "songwriter"; mind you, he also mentions that he's also an "actor".  Where are all those great lost performances?  
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #19: 20.03.07 at 07:20 »
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Michiko Kakutani, in her  New York Times review of Clive's Cultural Amnesia, published today, spots in this volume something that has been one of the great strengths of all Clive's writing.  
 
In the end, one of the most valuable things about this volume is that Mr. James not only sends the reader in search of original texts written by or about his subjects, but also provides lots of other useful reading suggestions. On Vienna, there is Carl E. Schorske’s classic “Fin-de-Sičcle Vienna” and Stefan Zweig’s “World of Yesterday,” as well as lesser-known works like Friedrich Torberg’s memoir “Die Tante Jolesch” and George Clare’s “Last Waltz in Vienna.” On Ludwig Wittgenstein, he recommends both Ray Monk’s first-rate biography, “The Duty of Genius,” and David Pears’s short book “Wittgenstein.”
 
“Given thirty seconds to recommend a single book that might start a serious young student on the hard road to understanding the political tragedies of the twentieth century,” Mr. James singles out Heda Margolius Kovaly’s  “Prague Farewell.” And pressed to name “one of the great books of the modern world,” he cites Arthur Schnitzler’s little 200-page odd collection, “Book of Sayings and Thoughts.”
 
“Cultural Amnesia,” of course, is itself a book of Sayings and Thoughts, though on a wildly more inflated scale. It’s not the sort of volume most people will want to read straight through, but rather one to dip into here and there — a volume to be treasured less for its own sake than for all the other books it will make the reader want to read
(my italics).

 
Much of Clive's critical effort has been focused on making his "reader want to read". So it comes as no surprise to me - and I'm sure to others - that Cultural Amnesia has that effect on Ms. Kakutani. Many of us would say that she has just learned from reading Cultural Amnesia  what quite a few of us have known for a long time.
 
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