Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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The clarity and wisdom of this impressed me greatly, even if I wish Sperber’s autobiography hadn’t been so predictably characterized as being “monumental.” This distrust of extremes while maintaining political passion is one of James’ most appealing traits. His take on Margaret Thatcher, while not exactly brilliant, was at least balanced and made some interesting points (her inability, apparently, to ever let anybody around her ever complete a sentence). It is a continual concern of the book to demand what moral responsibilities an intellectual should have when faced with totalitarianism. It's this approach which has led to James's much commented-on demonization of Jean-Paul Sartre, who is ‘a devil's advocate to be despised more than the devil’, ‘the most conspicuous example in the twentieth century of a fully qualified intellectual aiding and abetting the opponents of civilization’. Watching him lay into someone like this is great fun, not least because it gives you a few ideas of what to say to the next Sartre-nut who corners you at a party. Sometimes he seems to hold these people up to some very demanding standards: he's convincing on Sartre's feeble response to Nazism, but surely it's a bit much to question why Wittgenstein never mention the Fascists in Philosophische Untersuchungen, a work of pure linguistic philosophy?

Cultural Amnesia – Necessary Memories from History and the

There are clusters of interest, specifically from Vienna's coffee-house culture (Altenberg, Friedell, Polgar) as well as the larger circle of Viennese intellectuals from the first half of the 20th century (Freud, Kraus, Schnitzler, Wittgenstein, Zweig, etc.) and a variety of French intellectuals. There are some great quotes and quite a few good anecdotes, but it's no surprise that James seems to revel particularly in writers who didn't necessarily collect their thoughts in the neatest way.

Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

With fascinating essays on artists from Louis Armstrong to Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud to Franz Kafka and Beatrix Potter to Marcel Proust, Cultural Amnesia is one of the crowning achievements in Clive James's illustrious career as a critic. An original haiku to commemorate my inability to complete this irritating tome. I had earnestly embarked on the promised 'crash course in civilization' as advised by J.M.Coetzee, or as 'Notes in the margin of my time' as my second edition offers, not 'Necessary Memories....' together with the same lightbulb picture. A major theme of the book is: doing the right thing, and James is pretty hard on several authors who he feels didn't. World History armchair generaling: In contrast to the arts sections of the book, throughout the history bits I too often felt myself under assault by Professor Obvious or puzzled as to why some of these intellectual heroes are really worth bothering with now (especially if I have to bother in the original Polish). As for the obvious, again and again, no doubt in his efforts to thwart “cultural amnesia” James tells us how bad Hitler, Mao, and Stalin were. This is fine, except that nothing particularly original gets brought up and the details are mostly in support of horrors the culture is already pretty aware of. The death camps and the gulag are indeed unspeakably awful. What lesson we need to draw from them is not that they are intrinsically awful (a glance at a photo of Dachau will convince everybody this side of the lunatic fringe), but how the death camps came about in the first place and how those processes of institutional and political erosion and failure apply to our culture today. I’m not saying James never hits on these things, but it is all a scatter, with nothing emerging that is particularly coherent.

Cultural Amnesia by Clive James - Pan Macmillan

But (Sperber) doesn’t say enough about the Social Democrats. There were always more people voting Social Democrat than voting Communist, right to the end. Why did not the Social Democrats see the Party as the only hope? Sperber doesn’t tell us. Once can only conclude that even while he was writing his monumental autobiography, at the end of his life, he still clung to the belief that the people who fell for neither of the political extremes weren’t fully serious about politics. Such is the long-term effect of an ideological burden: when you finally put it down, you save your pride by attributing the real naivety (sic? Is this a British variation of naiveté?) to those who never took it up.” (p. 726)From Lichtenberg's Sudelbücher to Valéry's notebook (with so many volumes to it that James notes that: "Even in French it has been published only in facsimile") and the coffee-house-writers of Vienna, he seems drawn to the attempts that gather in as much as possible, if not always as neatly as possible.

Cultural Amnesia - Clive James - Complete Review Cultural Amnesia - Clive James - Complete Review

James goes on to imply that something flowing out of this ill-defined (on his part) “field” has resulted in humanism being hard to find nowadays, because it has “no immediately ascertainable use” … but again his argument so cluttered with odd constructions and needlessly complex sentences that it almost approached Foucault, though without the latter’s inarticulate words and phrases. With their clothes off and their virile members contractually erect, they are merely competitors in some sort of international caber-tossing competition in which they are not allowed to use their hands. At times like this I was practically dancing around my room with pleasure. Still, there is sometimes a sense that his veneration of clarity, while refreshing, can be misleading. Although it's obviously essential in an essay or in philosophy, there is at least an argument that in the arts a complexity of expression can be a pleasure in itself. Certainly this would be one defence of Miles Davis (whose abstruseness James dislikes) or of Thomas Pynchon (he doesn't get a mention, but I suspect James would disapprove). When I’d given up on the book, I decided to read the essays about women that I hadn’t yet. Here they are. Quoting Joseph Goebbels,January 25, 1944: "Since Stalingrad, even the smallest military success has been denied us. On the other hand, our political chances have hugely increased, as you know."Aphoristic and acutely provocative: a crash course in civilization' – J. M. Coetzee, author of Disgrace James was born in Kogarah, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. His mother, Minora (nee Darke), named her only child Vivian, after the male star of the 1938 Australian Davis cup team. It could have been worse. There was, James noted in Unreliable Memoirs (1979), a famous Australian boy whose father named him after his campaigns across the Western Desert: he was called William Bardia Escarpment Qattara Depression Mersa Matruh El Alamein Benghazi Tripoli Harris.

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