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Kevin Cryan
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #20: 21.03.07 at 07:37 »
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What a wonderful thing keeping an online diary (or blogging, if you like)  is? Here are Professor Joseph Duemer* thoughts on the NYT review of Clive's Cultural Amnesia, posted hours before (jd | 19 Mar 2007 05:40 pm) the actual review came online. How about that?
___________________________________________________________________
Clive James
 
I’ve only read a few pieces here & there by Clive James, but if this is a accurate review, Cultural Amnesia looks to be worth both the price & the heft:
 
"In many cases the portrait of the individual in question is simply a launching pad for the author’s free-associative musings, which tend to spiral around several recurrent themes: the shattering legacy of Nazism and Communism, the two totalitarian movements that overshadowed the 20th century; the dangers posed by ideologies that try to reduce the world’s dazzling complexity to simplistic formulas; and the preciousness and fragility of humanism as a cultural ideal".
 
Humanism has gotten a good & sometimes deserved drubbing from post-modernism & from scientism, but what the hell else have we got? I aspire to a capacious & generous humanism — I’ll do without the capital H.
____________________________________________________________________
 
Kevin Cryan
 
*Joseph Duemer is Professor of Humanities at Clarkson University in northern New York. He is a poet and the poetry editor of The Wallace Stevens Journal. His own most recent book is Magical Thinking (2001). He has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2000 – 2001 he was a Fulbright Research Fellow in Hanoi, Vietnam. He blogs at sharpsand.net.
« Last Edit: 21.03.07 at 07:44 by Kevin Cryan » IP logged
Kevin Cryan
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #21: 23.03.07 at 07:46 »
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There is profile of sorts of Clive on the Bloomberg.com site. The only thing interesting about it is that it spells out - horror of horrors - a Cultural Amnnesia "mission statement".  
 
I can just see this  turning up on a Cultural Studies exam paper.
 
Quote:

"If the humanism that makes civilization civilized is to be preserved into the new century, it will need advocates. These advocates will need a memory,'' Clive James writes in the introduction to his book Cultural Amnesia.  
 
Discuss.
 

 
Kevin Cryan
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #22: 23.03.07 at 20:34 »
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Whatever the critical response, the book is a monument to James's belief that there is always a market for complex ideas, elegantly expressed, and that everybody has a right to be able to learn whatever they want. Whether his book is admired or not, it is impossible not to respect the author for writing it.”
 
This is the concluding  paragraph of Stephen Matchett’s essay about Clive in in today’s edition of The Australian. I say that is about Clive because, although Matchett is ostensibly writing a review of the of Cultural Amnesia, which is being published in Australia in April, what he is in point of fact doing is taking stock of Clive’s life’s work, and arguing that the book is the ultimate product of that life’s work.  
 
Occasionally in the course of the review, Matchett begins to sound like someone who doing a terrific piece promotional work for the man he obviously believes to be the real deal. No, on second thoughts, I suggest that he sounds more like a fan who can't stop himself talking about his hero.  
 
"Because James is a fine writer and broadcaster, he has always made his achievements either appear a great deal easier to accomplish than they had been or, even more impressive, as if they were no achievement at all. But what he has done is quite extraordinary. His memoir of growing up in suburban Sydney, Unreliable Memoirs, was published 30 years ago but it has kept on selling across the years and is now at the million-copy mark. He may have spent most of his life working in television and publishing in the posher parts of the popular press, rather than writing specialist scholarly monographs, but his new book will keep alive the ideas of dozens of 20th-century thinkers who would otherwise disappear into academic obscurity. "
 
It's doubtful that he does either Clive or the book any favours by writing in this manner, or, to put it more precicely, it's doubtful he's doing either either the favours he thinks he’s doing them.  
 
Elsewhere Martchett, when he is actually gets down to looking at how Clive has achieved the things he has, he adopts a more measured tone and, in dong so, gets to the heart of things:  
 
It is this desire to spread ideas, independent of the castes of academic life or the culture of self-appointed arbiters of popular culture, that is at the heart of James's work. He believes in a republic of letters where everybody has access to ideas and ideals, clearly expressed. As he puts it in North Face of Soho, "elites are death for the popular arts. Indeed elites are death for the arts in general. Everything created should be composed on the assumption that it can be enjoyed by anybody, if not by everybody."  
 
That about hits the nail on the head.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #23: 24.03.07 at 12:11 »
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There is a rather good interview with Clive in today’s edition of The Sydney Morning Herald.
 
Quote:
Cultural Amnesia, he says, "teaches people things they ought to know" in order to remain alert to any threat to intellectual freedom. It is not supposed to be a canon of prescribed reading or a survey of European thought, although its alphabetical arrangement means that it is, inevitably, being misapprehended as both those things. What it is, really, is just a book of the stuff James finds arresting. It's a bit like his old chat shows in that there is at least as much of him in it as there is of his intellectual celebrity guests.

 
Kevin Cryan
 
PS
 
The Australian edition of Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the margin of my time, by Clive James (Picador, $49.95) is published next month
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #24: 24.03.07 at 12:55 »
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Clive said:
 
<<The moral is clear. "You've got to be ready to be forgotten; it's unrealistic to expect anything else," he says.>>
 
Now, where did I hear this before (expressed in a slightly different way?)
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #25: 24.03.07 at 21:09 »
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on 24.03.07 at 12:55, Ian Chippett wrote:
Clive said:
 
<<The moral is clear. "You've got to be ready to be forgotten; it's unrealistic to expect anything else," he says.>>
 
Now, where did I hear this before (expressed in a slightly different way?)
 
Ian C

 
That sounds awfully familiar, but you can't really expect me to remember, can you?   Wink
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #26: 25.03.07 at 11:11 »
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Matthew Price’s querelous LA Times review Clive’s Cultural Amnesia is reprinted in  the book review section of today’s edition of The Baltimore Sun under the somewhat surprising headline: Clive James: a brilliant critic on, well, you name it.  
 
It makes you wonder whether the Sun’s literary editor actually read the piece before it was cleared for publication.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #27: 25.03.07 at 12:50 »
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As I think I may have said before, the habit of keeping an online diary, or blogging, can have amazing results. One of them is that a reader can immediately register his or her reactions to a published piece minutes after he or she reads it. And, what's more, there is a reasonable chance that what he or she writes will be read by others who are reading the same piece. Here, for instance, we have veteran diarist, or blogger, John Shaw sounding off, under the blog name uTopian TurtleTop, about Clive’s essay on Rainer Maria Rilke, which was published in Slate on Friday the 23rd March.
 
Quote:
Clive James on Rilke gets things wrong
 
Who is Clive James? I don’t know. He writes for Slate; or, rather, Slate is paying him to adapt chapters from his book Cultural Amnesia, which I haven’t read; nor have I read the excerpts before, but I’m interested in Rilke and Brecht -- this week’s topic.
 
What James gets wrong may not be a big deal, but it’s so lazy, it’s embarrassing.
 
He says that Rilke wrote the Duino Elegies in Schloss Duino in 1923.
 
No.
 
Rilke began the Duino Elegies in Schloss Duino in 1912. And he worked on them intermittently for 10 years and finished them elsewhere, in 1922.
 
If you know Clive James, would you tell him, please?
 
He mentions owning a 5-foot shelf of Rilke books. I almost said he “boasts” of it, but it’s not a literary boast; he brags about how they look, not about their wonderfulness:
 
By now I have a 5-foot shelf of books just by Rilke himself, let alone of books about  him; and still there is no end in sight. I could never throw the stuff away. It looks too good.
 
Culture as acquisition: bragging about the books he owns but doesn’t necessarily read. It seems to me that such a vision of culture is not unrelated to amnesia -- or maybe his title should be Cultural Sleepwalking.
 
This quote is straight out of the dumb-assiest American political blah blah blah circa Y2K:
Rilke had too much civilization, just as Brecht had too little:  
 
Their matching deviations from normality make both of them toxic company. Take the two together and you barely end up with one man you would want to have a drink with.
 
Now, I wouldn’t trust Brecht, and I’m not sure I would trust Rilke either, but they were both brilliant minds and extremely accomplished artists. But Clive James wouldn’t want to talk with them. They’re too deviant. Conversation is not a cite for intellectual challenge or play. Evidently it is a place to have one’s prejudices confirmed. Artists are valuable for marking the limits of the norm; they’re exotic, toxic specimens, to be kept at a distance.  
 
His view of what he is obviously touting as “high culture” is: It’s that stuff they taught at college that you should know just well enough to banter condescendingly about over a drink; nothing to try to engage with on its own terms, nothing to pay the respect of trying to understand or remember, nothing to wrestle with, nothing to worry about.  
 
Like the kids used to say, whatever, dude. As Rilke said . . .  
 
You must change your life.
 

 
NB. The Duineser Elegien (The Duino Elegies) were indeed composed between 1912-1922.
 
Kevin Cryan
« Last Edit: 25.03.07 at 12:58 by Kevin Cryan » IP logged
Keith Busby
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #28: 25.03.07 at 16:04 »
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The mailman delivered my copy of Cultural Amnesia (publication date in US: 19 March) hot from Amazon.com yesterday. As for 1923, I believe this is the publication date of the Duineser Elegien, which I read as an undergraduate (not in 1923), and which left me a gibbering wreck. But what an opening line:
 
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?
 
God bless the subjunctive.
 
Mr Shaw seems to be a little short on irony, not too mention too lazy to Google Clive James. And his music is awful.
 
Grüsse aus der neuen Welt.
 
Keith
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #29: 25.03.07 at 17:49 »
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on 25.03.07 at 16:04, Keith Busby wrote:
As for 1923, I believe this is the publication date of the Duineser Elegien, which I read as an undergraduate

 
There is no record of any UK research library holding an edition published before 1923.
Jan
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #30: 25.03.07 at 18:52 »
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Kevin quotes John Shaw on Clive on Rilke:
 
Quote:
He mentions owning a 5-foot shelf of Rilke books. I almost said he "boasts" of it, but it's not a literary boast; he brags about how they look, not about their wonderfulness:  
 
By now I have a 5-foot shelf of books just by Rilke himself, let alone of books about him; and still there is no end in sight. I could never throw the stuff away. It looks too good.


Perhaps Shaw skimmed the essay, just to be impolite. Clive isn't bragging about his metre-and-a-half, he's remarking on the Rilke industry, the churning out by the Verlag of volumes in a continuation of Rilke's own mannered exquisiteness, that in bulk can't help but look so damned gorgeous on the shelf. Boastful this isn't: he goes on to say that "somewhere in the middle of it all is the relatively thin sheaf of poetry that justifies the bustle."
 
I can't tell whether Shaw's reading of the alleged Brecht+Rilke toxicity is right, but he does seem to be historically correct on the Duino dates. Indeed, Clive stated quite specifically "...in his annus mirabilis of 1922, when he wrote all of The Sonnets to Orpheus and all of The Duino Elegies" [my emphasis], which doesn't seem to refer to publication date.
 
SJB
« Last Edit: 25.03.07 at 20:08 by S J Birkill » IP logged
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #31: 25.03.07 at 18:57 »
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Hi Keith,
 
It was, as Jan has confirmed, 1923 that saw the first publication of the Duino Elegies. But Shaw is correct  in his spotting of Clive's factual error. Clive definitely says Rilke wrote all of the Duino Elegies in 1923, and that factual error to some extent, I feel, damages the point he is making.
 
Quote:

Showing signs of believing that he had arrived at the apotheosis of art, he ascended to the empyrean in his annus mirabilis of 1923, when he wrote all of The Sonnets to Orpheus and all of The Duino Elegies

 

 
By the way, I do not think that every reader, unless they have some knowledge of German, will understand why God should bless the subjunctive.  
 
Let me see if I, whose knowledge of German comes from reading either parallel texts, or reading with the German text and a German to English dictionary in the other. The line "Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?” is usually translated into English as "Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders." The "if I cried out" suggests the the speaker may very well cry out. Put into the  subjunctive mood the "if  I cried out" becomes something like "were I to cry out" which changes the whole tone of what's being said.  
 
If I've got that right, I thank God for the Latin.  
 
Grüße aus der Alten Welt
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #32: 25.03.07 at 19:13 »
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However, in "Unreliable Memoirs" Clive wrote "In many ways Rilke was a prick."
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #33: 25.03.07 at 20:46 »
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Here's a mystery: I thought I'd made a typo in quoting Clive on Rilke's annus mirabilis of "1922" when I saw Kevin quote "1923". So I looked at the Slate version and found that it too says "1923"; as does Shaw.
 
But... going back to my US Norton edition, foot of Page 612, I see "...he ascended to the empyrean in his annus mirabilis of 1922..."!
 
So... are Kevin Cryan and John Shaw reading from a prerelease of the Picador (UK) edition, which has had one of Norton's famous typos corrected, or is everyone propagating an error? I could understand Clive mistakenly attributing the creation of the Elegies to their publication date (1923), so where did my edition's "1922" come from?  
 
It does seem that The Sonnets to Orpheus were written in an astonishing two-week period in February 1922, so this fits with Clive's annus mirabilis claim for that year. Given that he seems to have slipped up on dating the Elegies, isn't it strange that we have a further discrepancy?
 
Steve
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #34: 25.03.07 at 21:34 »
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Correct, Kevin. "schriee" (bisyllabic) is the past subjunctive (Konjunktiv II), as is "hörte". The line has posed all kinds of problems for translators, mainly because of this, and because "hören", even without a preposition, can imply "listen" as well as "hear". For me, Rilke was a poet who had to be parsed, pretty much word-for-word, in order to bring out all the richness and ambiguity.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #35: 26.03.07 at 06:13 »
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Hi Steve,  
 
Shaw's an my "1923" came from the Slate printing. In checking into how Clive could have made the mistake, I found that all sources I happened on, including this one said 1923. The Chatto and Windus (translation and introduction J.B. Leishman & Stephen Spender) copy I have got is not helpful in that it used as its source, not original editions, but a variety of Rilke collections.  
 
And, incidentally, I do think that Clive's (or his editor's) getting it wrong does seriously damage the point he is making. Admirers of Rilke would say that if he cannot get the facts right, he cannot possibly make the extravagent claims he does.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #36: 26.03.07 at 06:37 »
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The concluding paragraph of Richard Eder's mostly glowing review in yesterday's Boston Globe
Runs thus:
Quote:

"Cultural Amnesia," with its encyclopedic length and organization and the intense jostle of its ideas, is not to be read at a sitting. It is to be dipped into over weeks and months. If the dipper occasionally brings up exasperation, it brings up astonished delight far more often; and, best of all, exasperated astonished delight.
 

 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #37: 29.03.07 at 08:58 »
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Clive is introduced to guests at a party thrown for him by Slate editor Jacob Weisberg to celebrate the publication of Cultural Amnesia.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #38: 30.03.07 at 12:00 »
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on 09.03.07 at 17:48, Kevin Cryan wrote:
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

 
*One of The Atlantic's associate editors Ross Douthat, who co-writes on newsletter-style online diary called The American Scene, yesterday posted this recommendation in the diary.
_______________________________________________________________
 
Killing Him Softly : Almost everything Clive James writes is excellent, of course, but his assessment of Jean-Paul Sartre simply overflows with near-perfect put-downs. For instance:  
 
In Sartre's style of argument, German metaphysics met French sophistry in a kind of European Coal and Steel Community producing nothing but rhetorical gas.
 
Or again:
 
. . . he was debarred by nature from telling the truth for long about anything that mattered, because telling the truth was something that ordinary men did, and his urge to be extraordinary was, for him, more of a motive force than merely to see the world as it was.
 
Or still again:
 
Sartre was called profound because he sounded as if he was either that or nothing, and few cared to say that they thought him nothing.
 
Read the whole thing. And savor it.  
 
Ross Douthat: 3/29/2007 :: 0 comments
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #39: 30.03.07 at 19:20 »
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Cultural Amnesia gets a not altogether approving review from The Village Voice veteran Gary Indiana - no, not that Gary Indiana
 
Quote:

 
James's potted lives are sincere attempts to convey ideas that shaped this civilization, but perhaps the snap, crackle, and pop approach instilled by a career in television accounts for his habit of miniaturizing figures he disagrees with and hyperinflating his personal heroes. James can expound his subjects' accomplishments without oversimplification; what he can't do, apparently, is interrogate his own broad assumptions and prejudices.  
 
When he wishes to denigrate a writer, artist, philosopher, or what have you, he refuses them any quarter; he writes more positive things about Hitler than he does about Celine. That someone can be a shit in private and one of the world's most formidable writers, concert pianists, philosophers, or anything else in public is one of the many contradictions we have to live with, hold the humanism on that BLT

 
For full review click here
 

 
I wonder what Norman Mailer, one of the founders of The Villiage Voice , thinks. I'd be willing to bet that the old boy - who likes nothing better than a literary punch-up - is giving nods of approval to Clive's "refuse them any quarter" approach.
 
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