Title: Cultural Amnesia - a late entry
Post by Kevin Cryan on Today at 06:54
John Naughton's online diary
Tuesday 13 September, 2022
Posted on September 13, 2022 by jjn1
This is one of my favourite books — the result of a lifetime’s reading and note-taking by a great cultural critic. Clive was my predecessor-but-one as the Observer’s TV critic, and indeed was the writer who made television criticism into something that could be both insightful and readable. Like me — but with much more energy — he was an autodidact and this book represents a really touching attempt to read everyone worth reading before one dies, and then trying to communicate something of the essence of each. It consists of 106 short essays on writers, artists and thinkers — from Anna Akhmatova to Stefan Zweig, taking in Walter Benjamin, Camus, Miles Davis, Fellini, Freud, de Gaulle, Hazlitt, Hegel, the Manns (Thomas, Heinrich, Michael and Golo), Proust, Sartre, Trotsky, Waugh and Wittgenstein. There are some inclusions that initially raise eyebrows — for example Hitler. Why him? Because “one of the drawbacks of liberal democracy… is the freedom to forget what once threatened its existence”.
If I had a bookshelf in my bathroom, then this would be on it. Instead it sits in the study. And over the years, dipping in to it has been one of the joys of life. The first time I saw Wes Anderson’s film, The Grand Hotel Budapest, for example, I learned that it was partly inspired by the work of Stefan Zweig, about whom I had known precisely nothing. But Clive understood his significance. And now I do too.
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