Cultural Amnesia

Cultural Amnesia

Necessary Memories From History and the Arts

Book - 2007
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Echoing Edward Said's belief that "Western humanism is not enough, we need a universal humanism," the renowned critic Clive James presents here his life's work. Containing over one hundred original essays, organized by quotations from A to Z, Cultural Amnesia illuminates, rescues, or occasionally destroys the careers of many of the greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists, and philosophers of the twentieth century. In discussing, among others, Louis Armstrong, Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, James writes, "If the humanism that makes civilization civilized is to be preserved into the new century, it will need advocates. These advocates will need a memory, and part of that memory will need to be of an age in which they were not yet alive." Soaring to Montaigne-like heights, Cultural Amnesia is precisely the book to burnish these memories of a Western civilization that James fears is nearly lost.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c2007
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780393061161
Characteristics: xxxii, 876 p. : ports. ; 25 cm


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Apr 22, 2018

The subtitle of this book, "Notes in the Margin of My Time" should have been more than a hint that the book would be Clive James' opinion about whatever he choses to write about. There was too much "I was there" and "I saw that" sort of context, with plenty of "I know more than you do." Many people probably do not have a supercilious opinion on the people James writes about, and could put them in a much more interesting light. James also tends to go off on tangents as sort of proof on how much he's thought about whatever he is writing about. It feels judgmental, overblown and irrelevant.

Jun 13, 2013

The erudite Mr. James confuses fatalism with realism, a mistake drawn across more than 800 pages. He writes well; he has a firm grasp of sentence structure. Yet this is a self-indulgently gloomy book. James goes well beyond fashionable pessimism as he stockpiles one atrocity after another. He likes to point out, to revel in, what he considers to be the failure of successful persons. His essay on Chris Marker mires into a lengthy anti-immigration diatribe, then spins back to the filmmaker in the final paragraph to rebuke the director for his supposed totalitarianism. Hello??? James uses his Duke Ellington profile as an excuse to bash John Coltrane, yet never mentions the fact that the two musicians collaborated. The author claims that bebop took all the joy out of jazz, although he grants amnesty to Thelonious Monk because the pianist-composer had a sense of swing. Clive James ultimately comes across like a racist, moldy fig in overdrive. His obsession with the Holocaust gradually appears to be thin gruel coating the critic's underlying POV: life sucks, so let's all roll over & die.


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