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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Persistent hectoring about languages, yet more bragging: Nobody will ever accuse Clive James of wearing his learning lightly. English is this new world’s lingua franca, not because it was once spoken in the British Empire but because it is spoken now in the American international cultural hegemony. Chamfort’s “Maximes” took their place in literature “for those connoisseurs of the aphorism who positively liked the idea that there was a wasted lifetime behind the wisdom. I would never have taken a note in the first place except out of the fear that what I was reading would soon slip away: a fear all too well founded.

You can change your choices at any time by visiting Cookie preferences, as described in the Cookie notice.Of course these moments are rendered in the usual 21st century aw-shucks self-deprecatory way, but this doesn’t really fool anybody anymore, does it? It is refreshing to discover some unusual figures in history that have escaped broader attention yet still had a measurable impact, for good or ill.

I gave up 500 pages into War and Peace, but I was able to understand James' references to it later on in the text. James, on the contrary, laments that “humanism is hard to find” in the modern world, and charges that “science is one of the culprits” for this.

James, it would seem, is just enough of a celebrity to be asked for autographs – not Beatlemania level, but a steady drizzle.

Or rather, far too many of these pieces are ruined by key observations being made in an ego-laden style, attempting to say something rather commonplace, but in such a high-minded and convoluted way, attempting thereby to pass the observation off as a keenly stated, and profound, aphorism.Humanism was a particularized but unconfined concern with all the high-quality products of the creative impulse, which could be distinguished from the destructive one by its propensity to increase the variety of the created world rather than reduce it. bogged into the theme mentioned above over and over, but I at least began having questions about the relation between culture, ideology, science – and whether many of the issues James brought up are not, nowadays, major downsides of his beloved American hegemony. Older but even more ambitious, I had the temerity to define prose in the same way: a prose work of whatever length should be dependent, in each part, on every other part of what was included, and so respect the importance even of what had been left out. 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. I hope to get Russian back, but the written version of Japanese is the kind of language that you can study hard for five years and yet can’t neglect for a week without its leaving you like a flock of birds.



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