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   Author  Thread: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.  (Read 80025 times)
naomi
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #80: 11.05.07 at 23:44 »
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Correction: For "out" world, read "our world" !!
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #81: 12.05.07 at 10:39 »
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And everything Naomi has mentioned can be found by clicking here.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #82: 14.05.07 at 07:45 »
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In his Sunday Times review of  Cultural Amnesia , the novelist and biographer A. N. Wilson who though , like the rest of us,  savours "not only the wit, warmth and polymathy of our hero but also his own vivid awareness of these qualities" still  manages to pose an awkward question:
 
What has had the more devastating effect on the great European cultural tradition – the vile tyrannies that we all, in common with James, deplore, or television and American popular culture as gleefully espoused by James for half his professional life?
 
I'd like to think that this question is seriously intended and not asked simply because Wilson feels that half of Clive's "professional life" to which he refers to is an easy target.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #83: 14.05.07 at 09:34 »
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This is a full transcript of the notes Graham Beattie used when he reviewed Cultural Amnesia  for Radio New Zealand National earlier today. He's entered it into his online diary, Beattie's Book Blog,  because, he says, it contains more than he could say in the time allotted to him by the programme.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #84: 14.05.07 at 11:44 »
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I omitted to point out that you can listen to what Graham Beattie actually did say about Cultural Amnesia  by clicking to the relevant audio section of  Kathryn Ryan's Nine to Noon show. This will be available from the archives for the next seven days.
 
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A.N.Wilson's review
« Reply #85: 14.05.07 at 18:00 »
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I probably shouldn't get involved, but since I know that Clive himself won't, what the hell?   Kevin, you're a gentleman, and too generous to Wilson;  his piece struck me as just the sort of meretricious tosh I've been fearing and expecting from some British critics.  His final question may be a awkward one, but it's a hackneyed and irrelevant one, especially in the context of the book, and was included, it seems to me, only in order to sign off by generating a kneejerk reaction, a pseudo-wise wag of the head -- except that it's nonsense.  
 
As for Clive taking a 'sledgehammer to crack the Nazi nut'......   Hey, easy target or what -- let's cut those poor old Nazis some slack!   Worst of all, though, Wilson criticises the book for being what no one who's flipped through it for even a couple of minutes could possibly mistake it for being, namely a kind of reference book or encyclopedia:  so you won't find out from Cultural Amnesia what's important about, say, Hegel or Proust?   Duh!?   It's as if Wilson saw an alphabetical listing of names in the Index and formed a conclusion from that alone.
 
The whole review read to me as if Wilson had been scanning the book solely on the lookout for the chance of a shiny insult.  In America they took it far more at face value, unencumbered by expectations and preset images of Clive such as those that do nothing but get in the way here.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #86: 15.05.07 at 08:03 »
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Pete, interesting choice of word in 'meretricious'.  Surely part of the problem that some people have with CJ's huge volume of work,  is simply that it is so huge and so wide-ranging - and that in amongst the wonderful stuff there is plenty that could very fairly be described as meretricious!  I previously made the comment that I thought the article on crime novels was a hack piece, because that's the way that it struck me, a bit like a lot of the unwatchable (for me at least) TV stuff.  Of course Cultural Amnesia deserves to be seriously reviewed, but it's unreasonable to expect people to read it in a vacuum...the legacy of the lightweight stuff and the 'too clever by half' label was always bound to come into it.  If a reviewer opts for a glib line in his or her review...well, surely that goes with the territory?
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #87: 15.05.07 at 12:56 »
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There's a difference between 'glib' and just plain wrong.  A.N.Wilson has done you, me,  and all the readers of the Sunday Times an injustice by straightforwardly misreporting Clive's book, in fundamental ways that should have been obvious if he'd spent more than five minutes with it.   Assuming that he did, he must have another agenda.   'Cultural Amnesia' makes no claim whatever, for instance, to being a work of information, nor does it set out anywhere to deplore the state of twentieth century culture, least of all to blame the Nazis for it;  it does deplore the influence of certain individuals, but it celebrates far, far more.   That you could not begin to tell from Wilson's review.
 
Clive would, I'm sure, beat everyone to the admission that anything he does is bound to be seen in the context of everything else he has done, but surely one of the responsibilities of a serious critic in a serious newspaper is to separate the history, the myth, the image, the gossip -- not deny it, but separate it -- from the intrinsic qualities of the work under discussion.   We, the readers, will bring all of that to it anyway;  what we need from a review is not to be given our opinion but a basis for making our own judgement.  If the basis given is untruthful, then we are betrayed.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #88: 15.05.07 at 21:52 »
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A.N. Wilson, whose only work I've ever read is the rather, as I recall it, good satirical novel Scandal is, by all reliable accounts, a serious man of letters. I was being the "gentleman" Pete calls me only in that I tried to pay Wilson him the compliment of thinking that he take too much pride in his reputation to stoop to the cheap "point-scoring" employed by your average Grub Street hack, and that when he poses a question, even, as in this case, a rhetorical one, his intention is to be taken seriously and to engage the serious reader.  
 
I called Wilson's question an awkward one simply because it points to the fact that he seems think –and I know he is not the only one - that we all ought to share his, to me, preposterous belief that American popular culture has had a more "devastating effect on the great European cultural tradition" than "the vile tyrannies we all... deplore". What seems to me outlandish about this, in the first place,  is that it presumes that we can somehow measure such effects with a degree of accuracy, that we can know what in culture has been lost either through “vile tyrannies” or through “American popular culture“ being in ascendancy.    
 
 What Wilson seems to be suggesting that the European cultural tradition is an expensive commodity and American popular culture is, it goes without saying, a cheap one, and that somehow we have bought into the one at the expense of the other. In other words, if we did not have the one – American popular culture, say - pressed upon us, we’d be automatically consuming the other, or so he seems to imply. Can’t you just see it? Wilson’s ideal - a world full of people with Chopin, Sibelius and Beethoven in their ipods because the cheap muck they have on them nowadays is no longer available.    
 
I wonder if it has ever occurred to Wilson that by the same token it could be argued that the novels, or biographies or essays of one A.N. Wilson are having a “devastating effect” on the European literary tradition. Why?  Because while we are reading his comparatively lightweight stuff, we are neglecting the more nourishing works of the great masters, Tolstoy, Proust and Dostoevsky, to name but three. The truth, of course, our choice –to which each of us has every right - could very well be between Wilson and nothing.      
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #89: 16.05.07 at 06:57 »
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There is an interesting review of Cultural  Amnesia in the free Detroit newspaper, the Metro Times. Actually it's not that  interesting in itself, but it is interesting  that it should  appear in  a "free of charge" weekly aimed at a mass readership.  
 
I wonder how many of our "free of charge" newspapers will consider it worthwhile discussing the book. Not many, I should think.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #90: 16.05.07 at 21:34 »
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on 14.05.07 at 09:34, Kevin Cryan wrote:
This is a full transcript of the notes Graham Beattie used when he reviewed Cultural Amnesia  for Radio New Zealand National earlier today. He's entered it into his online diary, Beattie's Book Blog,  because, he says, it contains more than he could say in the time allotted to him by the programme.  
 
Kevin Cryan

 
on 14.05.07 at 11:44, Kevin Cryan wrote:
I omitted to point out that you can listen to what Graham Beattie actually did say about Cultural Amnesia  by clicking to the relevant audio section of  Kathryn Ryan's Nine to Noon show. This will be available from the archives for the next seven days.
 
Kevin Cryan

 
Graham Beattie has since been keeping track of how Cultural Amnesia is being reviewed elsewhere. This is today's posting to his online diary, Beattie's Book Blog.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
THE LAST WORD ON CULTURAL AMNESIA
 
Lest anyone thinks I have become obssessed with Clive James' latest book I promise this will be the last review of that title that I shall blog! I have after all reviewed it myself and have carried various other reviews as well.
 
But I have just come across Geoffrey Lehmann's review from The Australian last weekend in which he admires Clive James' "eminently accessible erudition" and I believe this review is worthy of further distribution.
 
Illustration by Igor Saktor from the same newspaper.
 
Posted by Bookman Beattie at 5:19 PM

 
I didn't spot Geoffrey Lehmann's review myself, but that was probably because I thought the the Australian papers had taken as much interest as they were going to take for the time being. How wrong can you be?  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #91: 17.05.07 at 08:00 »
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Are we to admire or deplore the Lehmann review?  Doesn't it too have a hint of criticism about omissions that might prevent 'Cultural Amnesia' being a 'work of information'?  (Having said that, I didn't feel that the Wilson review did that to the extent that is alleged.)
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #92: 18.05.07 at 07:17 »
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D-Day (or should that be P-Day?) for the UK edition of Clive's Cultural Amensia.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #93: 18.05.07 at 07:55 »
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They seemed to be selling quite well in Waterstone's in Winchester yesterday!
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #94: 18.05.07 at 08:04 »
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Official P-Day, then?
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #95: 19.05.07 at 16:01 »
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John Simon, the Serbian-American author and literary, theatre, and film critic, famed for spottting the misuse of the English language in writing, has a go at indentifying some Clive’s errors in what is an otherwise laudatory review Cultural Amnesia to be published in tomorrow’s edition of The Washington Post.
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #96: 19.05.07 at 18:27 »
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I’m beholden to a member of this parish for tipping me off (in an instant message) that the author and journalist Johann Hari has now posted the  “(rather good) review” of Cultural Amnesia he wrote for the 15th of May edition of the  Evening Standard to his online journal, JohnnHari.com.
 
Actually I think this is something more than the “(rather good) review” it's described as; it is, to my mind, a piece written by rising star in appreciation of someone he considers a master. You can see that there is admiration shining through practically every paragraph. Take this one for instance:  
 
This, then, is the autobiography of James' intellect and yes, it is self-indulgent - but what a self to indulge. He speaks nine languages (it feels as though the entire Tower of Babel has been shrunk to fit into his skull) and can unpretentiously cross-reference Argentinian poetry, early Hollywood and his dinners with Margaret Thatcher. Reading 'Cultural Amnesia' is like taking a long, warm bath in Clive James' brain-juices.  
 
and this, the final, paragraph:
 
The only other flaw here is with the book's central metaphor. James is not really battling against cultural amnesia. No: he is fighting against cultural diabetes, the sickness that afflicts a culture when our diet consists of nothing but the sugar-stimulants of television and video games and lads' mags. He is showing his readers that there are far richer rewards in the slower work of "the life of the mind", and he offers one of the best shots of insulin available.  
 
Hari, I feel, very often just stops short of saying outright that Clive is the kind of writer he would like to be. Has Clive, then, found his ideal reader? I believe he has. And I fancy that it'll please him no end to know that what he says in his book is working it's it's way into the mind of someone who has not yet reached thirty.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #97: 20.05.07 at 17:42 »
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I can't help wishing that Clive had stuck with his original and more memorable title - Alone in the Cafe: Notes In the Margin of My Time.
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #98: 20.05.07 at 18:02 »
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William H. Prichard has given Clive’s Cultural Amnesia a fair and sympathetic hearing in a good, though somewhat sloppily proof-read or edited, essay in today’s edition of The Washington Times  
 
Given that the good professor has got a reputation for eschewing the kind of impenetrable writing that some of his academic peers go in for in spades, and that what he himself writes can be easily read by the intelligent reader, it probably comes as no surprise that he rather likes what Clive has written and, more particularly, that he likes Clive's  manner of writing it.
 
Mr. James has always had a sharp ear for high-flown obscurities as pronounced by continental sages and literary theorists. He notes that Walter Benjamin (whisper the name) made it in the realm of theory "where critics rank as philosophers if they are hard enough to read." Benjamin, though "clever enough . . . was clear seldom: a handy combination of talents for attaining oracular status," and he gave credence to "the damaging notion that there is somehow a progressivist humanitarian licence for talking through a high hat.".................
 
..................In my single favorite from the whole book, the style of Miles Davis' trumpet playing is finely judged: "Deliberately parsimonious and oblique, like the sound track of a Noh play that had closed out of town." Parsimonious and oblique would be very good going for most of us, but the Noh play closing out of town is sheer genius.  
 
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Re: Clive's Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #99: 23.05.07 at 07:29 »
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There was a version of Clive's John Keats essay from  Cultural Amnesia  printed in the May the 19th issue of The Times.  
 
I say "a version" simply because I have not read as far as the K section of the book, and therefore do not know whether or not what appears in The Times has been edited.
 
Kevin Cryan
 
PS. It's worth bearing in mind, while reading this essay, that the inspiration for one Clive's cerebral (and, to my mind, haunting) song-lyrics came from a Keats line  - I'm of course talking about Touch Has a Memory.
 
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