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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #60: 15.04.07 at 00:40 »
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It is all Clive for an hour, recorded at NY Library MArch 26th.
 
And he is very, very good
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #61: 15.04.07 at 11:35 »
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It can be watched again tomorrow morning at 5:30am our time.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #62: 15.04.07 at 15:30 »
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High time, I think, that someone thanked Kevin for keeping us so well up with the transatlantic progress of 'Cultural Amnesia'.   I must say I wondered what the advantage might be in releasing the book first in the US, given that Clive has a relatively low profile there, but I now think I understand.   Clive's US lack of other-media baggage -- added to most Americans' comparative lack of suspicion of or prejudice against people who can do more than one thing well -- has meant he's been taken far more seriously, it seems to me, and the book received on its own terms.   I'm sure he'll be steeling himself already for a rather different response when it's published here next month.
 
I've been hopping about through my copy of the American edition (remarkably easy to get hold of through Amazon Markeplace), and I think it's worth underlining Kevin's point that in spite of its size and weight -- physical and metaphorical -- and of the number of unfamiliar names in its list of subjects, it is not in the least bit daunting.   It was always intended in any case to be a book to be consumed piecemeal.   Reading it makes me feel lucky in at least three different ways, none of them to do with knowing Clive personally.
 
I've read only about a quarter of it so far, I suppose, but I have come across a surprising number of typos:  not a lot, but that there are any at all is what's surprising in a book like this.  I bet Clive's furious - as with getting the W.C.Fields quote slightly wrong (I'm afraid I nerdily went and checked the DVD, such a wrong note did it strike).  
 
But don't hesitate.  And don't take any notice of anything negative that anyone may say:  this book will enhance your life.  It may, after all, be Clive's greatest achievement.   It's also possible that he has, improbable as it may seem, invented a wholly new kind of book - but not one that will have many emulators.  The reviewer who described it as a kind of "annotated commonplace book" is as close to summing it up in a phrase as it's possible to get.
 
So thanks again, Kevin.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #63: 16.04.07 at 13:37 »
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There is no thanks necessary, Pete. Keeping tabs on the reception Cultural Amnesia is getting in America was never much of chore, and certainly not one for which I ever expected to be thanked. It has always seemed to me that a good way of reading a book like this - or reading extracts from it, as I am - is to check with other readers, or in this case professional critics and people who publish online,  to see how they are reading or responding to it.
 
 Occasionally it's a method that can raise some bizarre questions and send this reader on some rather odd detours. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was asking myself why Peter G. Klein , who is, among other things Assistant Professor in the Division of Applied Social Sciences at the University of Missouri and Associate Director of the Contracting and Organizations Research Institute (CORI), would find Clive’s piece on Jean-Paul Sartre interesting enough to post to the Organizations and Markets blog he co-writes with Nicolai Foss of Copenhagen Business School.  My initial conclusion was that he mistakenly thought that the piece was written by this man. A little more research, however, revealed that the good the professor and his blogging partner are always on the lookout for pieces postmodern (?) thinking that impact on their shared interests.
 
However, the method, I find, can generally be far more rewarding than that. For example, now that I have some of the American scholar Dale B. Light's hastily posted  recorded thoughts while watching Clive on C-SPAN to hand,  I find myself considering more carefully than I might have what Clive is saying about the relationship between art and life.
 
Monday, April 16, 2007
Clive James on Art and Reality
 
I'm watching Clive James on C-Span talking about his new book Cultural Amnesia. Very entertaining, and even stimulating, but a bit sloppy and enormously self-indulgent.
 
I like the guy. He hates Sartre even more than I do.
 
He just misquoted Auden, saying "art makes nothing happen" Auden actually wrote "poetry makes nothing happen "here, and James seems content to note that quoting poetry does not stop the tank from rolling over you.
 
James is here positing a radical dissociation between art and the material world. He reinforces this point when he quotes Theodor Adorno to the effect that after Auschwitz there was no possibility of lyric poetry, then notes out that obviously lyric poetry is being produced everywhere. He takes satisfaction in noting that Adorno's statement was so wrong it was "not even false."
 
Now, I myself have a strong aversion to Adorno and the whole Frankfurt School, although I respect the integrity of their effort to explain the incomprehensible horror of the Holocaust, but the link between art and existence Adorno intuited was not just a fantasy.
 
That is something Nelson Mandela affirmed when he wrote:
Poetry cannot block a bullet or still a sjambok, but it can bear witness to brutality -- thereby cultivating a flower in a graveyard.
 
here
 
And here is where I lose patience with Clive James. He is far too dismissive in his judgments. I can sit and nod in agreement as he savages Sartre or Coltrane, but at the back of my mind a small voice is saying, "but there's more to it than that."
 
You can check out selections from James' latest book at Slate magazine  
 
here.

 
"># posted by D. B. Light : 1:23 AM

 
Light's online jottings - and really that's all they are-  are a little confused and confusing, but that very confusion is enough make make me all the more alert to to the nuances of what Clive is actually saying, and that, to my mind, can be no bad thing.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #64: 17.04.07 at 07:14 »
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Cultural Amnesia has been chosen by Micheal H.Cognato for the What We're Reading section of the current edition of the bi-monthly Foreign Policy.
 
•      Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. Clive James has put together a showcase of the most consequential thinkers of the 20th century, from Duke Ellington to Adolph Hitler. The era's totalitarianisms loom large, but are overshadowed by those who saw through their lies. Reading it is a great substitute for actually being well-read oneself, and reading the many selected excerpts at Slate is even better.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #65: 17.04.07 at 14:50 »
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I caught part of the C-SPAN2 Book TV show on Saturday and, as Bogus reports, Clive was in fine fettle, obviously enjoying himself. In contrast, the rather ponderous host (director of public programs for the New York Public Library, whose name escapes me) refused to crack a smile while Clive was chortling away. But he had done his homework and did challenge Clive on various points, in particular his apparent dislike of Walter Benjamin.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #66: 17.04.07 at 15:05 »
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Not that it makes a lot of difference, but his name is Paul Holdengräber.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #67: 17.04.07 at 15:21 »
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Now this is good! Archive now available -- I'm watching it now, here.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #68: 18.04.07 at 07:10 »
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Clive's essay on Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Harvard educated Japanese commander who planned and executed the attack on Pearl Harbour and who was leading the Japanese navy when it suffered a what turned out to be a decisive defeat in the the battle of Midway is now available on the Slade site.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #69: 19.04.07 at 21:25 »
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A few things that Clive says in his Slate essay on Wittgenstein have been puzzling me. This, for instance.

He received credit for giving away the large amount of money he had inherited, and thus detaching himself from his social privileges and from the involvements and distractions of everyday life. But he also detached himself from everyday life by ignoring what was going on in Europe.

 
It’s true that in 1913 Wittgenstein donated a large fortune he’d  inherited when his father died to Austrian artists and writers, including Rainer Maria Rilke and Georg Trakl, and for that he deservedly got some credit.  
 
However the credit he got later, and the credit I think Clive has in mind, - the cerdit he got  for “giving away a large amout of  and detaching himself from his social priveleges and from  the distractions of everyday life” - was probably not as well deserved, since he gave it to members of his family, whom he believed, because they were rich already, were less likely to be corrupted by it than the poor. He certainly deserves credit for the detachment he longed for, but its difficult to say that his giving the money away was an altogether creditworthy act.
 
And anyway later, when some  of his family wished to continue living in Austria under the Nazis, he showed that he’d not altogether forgotten that the family had the money to buy it self the greatest “privilege” the Nazis could offer Jews – life. It he who played a pivotal role in persuading his brother Paul to agree part with a large part of the family fortune (gold which, it is said, would fetch somwhere around £13 million pounds today) the get  the family classified as Mischling, a group of, as the Nazis saw it, Aryan/Jewish mongrels, whose treatment would be less brutal than that reserved for Jews.

 
This brings me to the second thing that I find puzzling about Clives piece. He says:
 
During World War II, he voluntarily served as a hospital porter in London and a lab assistant in Newcastle, but he never said anything in print about the Nazis. Apart from the Tractatus, all his books, collected from notes made from his lectures, were published posthumously. No student should miss the key work of his second phase, Philosophical Investigations (1953), but not even in that otherwise electrifying book is there any sense of current events. His silence might not have been an act of will. It could have been that words failed him. There is evidence, however, that when he finally saw photographs of the hideous aftermath in the concentration camps, he forgot his famous rule about being silent on issues of which one cannot speak and broke down in tears. But in the few years left to him before his death from cancer, he still resolutely declined to say anything specific about the era he had lived through. He had helped to shape it, but only by ignoring it.
 
I can think of a one good reason why he chose to remain silent during the war. The Nazis could no be trusted, and no amount of money, he was only too aware,  would make them trustworthy. He had family still living in Austria and he  could never be certain that if he were to speak out the Nazi’s wouldn’t  just conveniently forget the deal and take revenge out on them.
 
We can only speculate why he choose to remain silent after the war. Guilt probably. After all, the wealthy Jewish Wittgenstein family had survived the brutalities of the Nazis  by the simple expedient of bribing them while a great many other Austrian Jews perished. Only a small percentage of Austrian Jews survived the war,  and for Wittgenstein to have said anything about what had befallen the Austria, the Austrian Jews or indeed about the whole Nazi era would have probably raised more questions – mostly ones about him and his family – than it would have answered.  Also, I feel that Wittgenstein had a certain loftiness about him which maintained that only those things he thought worth discussing were actually worth discussing. Could it be that to him the rise and fall on Nazism was just another distraction of everyday life?    
 
 
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #70: 20.04.07 at 07:35 »
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This is taken from the online diary of Andrés Hax* who appears to  blog weekly summaries (Sumarios Semanales) of items that appear in magazines published in New York.
 
Hay una linda serie de notas en la revista Slate. Son tomadas del libro de Clive James, Cultural Amnesia, que reevalúa varias figuras culturales del siglo XX (Es en el clásico formato A-Z). Esta semana, Rainer Maria Rilke.
 
It's good to see that it's Clive's book is reaching an audience whose main language is not English. How about Touch Has a Memory for the Argentinean market?
 
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*Andrés Hax, is a journalist who makes frequent contributions to Argentina's main newspaper Clarín.
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #71: 20.04.07 at 22:23 »
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One of the oldest and most respected litblogs (blogs devoted to soley to literature) the complete review has been sampling some of the reviews Cultural Amnesia has been getting and has written a review of its own of the book. It makes an interesting read, and it has the benefit of gathering rather tidily together some of the things that have appeared piecemeal here.  
 
People who come to this litblog for the first time get a little worried that the reviewers in it retain anonymity. Those who are worried about this should remember that when Clive began his contributions Times Literary Supplement reviews there  were normally anonymous. Anonymity does have its benefits for the reader. Generally, it turns the  ‘well, this or that reviewer would say that’ into a question of ‘why would he/she say that?’, a question being, in my experience, always better than a presumption, in that it opens up possibilities rather than closing them down.    
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #72: 22.04.07 at 19:45 »
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William Georgiades has chosen Cultural Amnesia as one of the recommendations to be included in the Required Reading column he wrote for today’s New York Post
 
More or less unqualified praise, and from the Murdoch press too. Whatever next?
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #73: 27.04.07 at 07:47 »
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William Deresiewicz has written a long and perceptive review of Cultural Amnesia in yesterday's issue of The Nation.
 
It's for very good and obvious reasons headed Café Society, but, bearing in mind that it is written for an American readers, many of whom will not be familiar with Clive's writing, I believe it could just as easily and as usefully be called Introducing Clive James.
 
If you consider these remarks, I think you'll see what I mean:
 
His imagined reader is a young intellectual making his or her start in culture the way the author himself did half a century ago, and James offers a steady stream of advice on how to go about the business of self-education: must-reads and how-tos, anecdotes and exemplars. One of his highest terms of praise is "he figured it out for himself."
-------
 
In James's cosmology, the university is the infernal (and infertile) counterpart to the paradise of the cafe. Humanism means interconnection, and the cafe gives that interconnection social form. Academia necessitates specialization and incessantly discourages intellectual breadth (now more than ever, no matter how much lip service is paid to "interdisciplinarity")
-------
 
Cultural Amnesia is an extended defense of literary journalism as occupying not only an honorable place within the hierarchy of cultural discourse but the supreme one. For journalism demands both simplicity and compression, and compression makes language glow. James's stylistic models are writers like Altenberg, who could "pour a whole view of life, a few cupfuls at a time, into the briefest of paragraphs." His highest hero, "the voice behind the [book's] voices" (and one of several exceptions to his rule of writing only about twentieth-century figures), is Tacitus. It was Tacitus who wrote the sentence out of which the entire volume grew: "They make a desert and they call it peace." James heard the line quoted as a young man and "saw straight away that a written sentence could sound like a spoken one, but have much more in it."

 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #74: 29.04.07 at 19:36 »
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Ilan Stavans in his review for the San Francisco Chronicle says that while Clive, “as expected, displays his intellectual virtuosity with gusto …the result is, for the most part, rambling and misconstrued, mainly because he has too much to say and no parameters to measure it against”
 
To prove that this is not another academic who resents Clive’s encroaching on what he sees as his sole preserve, I quote the ending of his review in its entirety:
 
In 2003, a gathering of his essential pieces was published in book form under the title "As of This Writing*." I treasure it dearly. His piece on Galway Kinnell's poem "The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ Into the New World" is terrific, as are his meditations on Raymond Chandler, Susan Sontag, Vladimir Nabokov and Hamlet. But I'm afraid he's become too pompous, too self-aggrandizing for his own good. Does James believe he's a modern Virgil? Come on, do we really need a directory of luminaries such as this when Wikipedia delivers equally idiosyncratic comments at our fingertips?  
 
Ah, the hubris of critics ... Is that the reason why the species is quickly becoming extinct? Whatever happened to intellectual humility?

 
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*Details about As of This Writing will be found here
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #75: 30.04.07 at 11:05 »
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In Cultural Amnesia Clive argues convincingly that there are certain intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida who do not deserve the reputations they have. In tonight's edition of Radio 3's Night Waves (21:45-22:30), Fashionable Intellectuals, Matthew Sweet and guests discuss the not unrelated question why those very same intellectuals "become globally fashionable, inspiring not just scholarly studies but biographical books, hagiographic films and even fashion items?"
 
It will be interesting to see whether Sweet and co (I'm here presuming Clive is not one of the guests) come close to the explanation Clive has been giving for some time, and which did find fairly full expression in a December 2001 interview he gave to ABC Radio National's Michael Cathcart:  
 
Michael Cathcart Now on another issue, Clive, you're very critical of what you call the busy but essentially vacuous theorising that's taken over university departments of English, which you associated with "the obscurantism of the French left". How do you account for this fascination with French theory that's .
 
Clive James: I think it probably began in occupied Paris during the war where the Nazis introduced such a moral confusion into the French intellegentsia, mainly by letting the French intelligentsia continue to write its books and put on its plays - as long as they didn't mention certain facts that the Nazis didn't want mentioned. And bad faith was sown into the French intelligentsia, and the temptation to develop a language where they would be absolved from meaning what they said, and the result was a great growth in critical theory. We didn't go into the finer points of it, we didn't even mention names, names like Lacan and Derrida, I scarcely know how to pronounce, I can't read what they write and can't pronounce their names. But they did have a huge worldwide influence because they offered one big advantage - especially to soft-option faculties in the universities across the world - they removed the element of talent from criticism. You didn't have to be talented to teach this stuff. You barely had to be sensitive to literature.
 
Nobody knows what a literary theoretician sounds like when he's failing. He or she, they all sound the same, if you can't tell when it's bad you're in the ideal position if you want employment. And I think that's the secret of the success of theory, is that anyone can teach it and anyone can pass the exam, all you have to do is memorise it. But the trouble is, it doesn't mean very much and it's dealing in a subject of literature that's dealing with something that means everything, meaning a lot is what literature sets out to do, and a system of study which studies literature and ends up meaning very little is a contradiction in terms.
 
And I've got a satirical attitude towards it, my funny-bone was the first thing to react. People were talking nonsense and getting paid for it, that's always funny.  

 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #76: 07.05.07 at 20:06 »
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The reading of Clive’s Cultural Amnesia has prompted Professor Richard J. Cox, who is Professor in Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Information Sciences, to ponder what he calls the joys of and value in rereading books.  
 
He is writing for and about professional archivists, but what he has to say is, I believe, so relevant to readers in general that I’ll quote it in full.
 
Thursday, May 03, 2007
 
Rereading and Reflecting about Archives
 
Many literary studies scholars have written about the joys of and value in rereading books. Sven Birkerts, in his Reading Life: Books for the Ages (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2007) is a recent example of such writing. Birkerts suggests that the “decision to re-read a book is not usually an amnesiac’s search for clues about what is lost. More likely it is prompted by some kind flaring up of memory, by a longing to be immersed again in a feeling that we know as important, gratifying, or somehow defining. We return, often, out of curiosity, no question, but also in the hope that something will be given back to us, or reawakened” (p. 22).
 
Funny, you don’t hear or read about archivists re-reading, for nearly any reasons, their archival classics. There are classics, of course, acknowledged by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) re-issuing a number of them in recent years. SAA hopes, for sure, that someone will go back and read these volumes. Archival educators are using them. Students are being required to read them. No one is musing about these kinds of classics as Birkerts does, and that is too bad.
 
Personally, I think this is because few archivists read their professional literature, at least in the same fashion that they may read other essays and volumes. Instead, they consult the archival manuals or surf the World Wide Web or post a question to one of their listservs – always looking for some practical insight or answer to a specific query. Maybe this is because many archivists take seriously that they are practicing some kind of science.
 
Clive James, in his massive Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2007), perhaps gets to the substance of the problem: “Science lives in a perpetual present,” James muses, “and must always discard its own past as it advances. (If a contemporary thermodynamicist refers to the literature on phlogiston, he will do so as a humanist, not as a scientist. Nor did Edwin Hubble need to know about Ptolemy, although he did.) The humanities do not advance in that sense: they accumulate, and the past is always retained. The two forms of knowledge thus have fundamentally different kinds of history. A scientists can revisit the history of the humanities all the time, because it is always alive, and can’t be superseded” (p. 117). I always wince a bit when I hear references to archival science, not because I deny the need for rigor and research, but because I always sense that there is a present-mindedness weakening the kind of reading and re-reading I think is necessary for archivists to do.
 
James, by the way, in bringing together his forty years of ruminations on philosophy, history, politics, and the arts and his reading of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and essays, has this to offer about the nature of reading: “I have not read everything, nor have I remembered everything I have read. What I tried to do was keep some of it with me and draw lessons from it” (p. 848). That pretty much summarizes why and how I read.  
posted by Richard J. Cox @ 9:45 PM

 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #77: 08.05.07 at 17:46 »
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As an (ex-)scientist, I would take issue with Clive's assertion that science lives in a perpetual present. I know what he means, and for some areas of scientific thought it might hold true. But in the most fundamental of the sciences - physics - practitioners have always struggled with multiple models and approximations to describe and explain different natural phenomena. They build on those models as they go along, sometimes knocking old ones down - but often knocking them down only in part. For example, we still use Newton's 300-year-old models for most everyday purposes in science and engineering, despite Einstein having shown that those models were approximations. Science certainly hasn't stopped using Newton's work, and the same goes for the various giants on whose shoulders he said he was standing.
 
Today physicists still have to use different, partly contradictory, theories and models to explain and work with various observations: quantum mechanics and relativity theory provide good examples of the contradictions. Every model has its limits, and finds things that it can't explain. Of course the great minds (most famously Stephen Hawking) are hunting for a unifying theory to underpin everything: if they find it - and that's a big 'if' - then maybe Clive's observation will become true. But until that happens then the accumulation of past thought and ideas is arguably as important in physics as in the humanities.
 
Is there a prize for most off-topic post ever???
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #78: 09.05.07 at 08:59 »
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Clive and Jack Beatty Senior editor of Atlantic Monthly were guests on WBUR's* On Point programme yesterday. I don’t know how long the listen again is available, so if you want to listen in, now's the time to do so.  
 
Quotes from the Show:
 
"What I like about [Bertold] Brecht is that he was a hypocrite at every level, he left nothing out. Picasso spent most of his life being sincere." Clive James
 
"Humanism, human achievement in the arts and sciences, faced tremendous threats in the 20th century." Clive James
 
"Communism had a lingering appeal for intellectuals because it was so simplistic." Clive James
 
"I'm frightened for the power [mass media] has for numbing." Jack Beatty
 
"America has always been involved with the arts." Clive James
 
"It's the books about the books that can get between you and the books." Clive James

 
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*We're Boston University Radio, just in case you are wondering.
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #79: 11.05.07 at 23:37 »
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There's an in-depth interview with Clive by Ginny Dougary in this Saturday's (May 12) edition of "The Times" (in the magazine).
 
Also: from Saturday, the Times Online website will be showing films that Clive has made on figures who have shaped out world.
 
Enjoy !
 
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