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Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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What I propose is a sum of appreciations that includes an appreciation of their interdependence: a new humanism. This inheritance is something which can be ignored from time to time, or only partially appreciated, but it cannot be lost as long as it is talked about. The tales are legion of him sweating over some beautifully-printed tome in the original German, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese (!

The idea that humanism has no immediately ascertainable use at all, and is invaluable for precisely that reason, is a hard sell in an age when the word “invaluable,” simply by the way it looks, is begging to be construed as “valueless” even by the sophisticated. If the eighteenth century had meant to usher in the age of reason, the nineteenth century, with the cold snick of the guillotine ringing in its ears, meant to supply some of the regrettable deficiencies of reason by the addition of science.I loved poetry, but such towering figures as Brecht and Neruda were only two of the gifted poets who had given aid and comfort to totalitarian power. If I could put it into a sentence, I would say that it relies on the conviction that nothing creative should be excluded for the sake of any other conviction. There is nothing inherently wrong with erudition: it’s not as if we’re drowning in it, and anyway Proust himself wrote the most erudite book in the whole of French literature.

e., the Nazi occupation of France) a few too many times, and sometimes it feels like he is intentionally dredging up obscure figures merely to show that he can -- but perhaps his "necessary memories" are a little different than i would choose. He condenses his thoughts into linguistic firework displays, arresting, crackling, beautiful and provocative. Alternatively if it's just going to be a random collection of biographies, a different quarter should be cut, namely some of those which do concern totalitarianism.But devorante gives it savour, because the consuming energy of the deafness to art that goes into a critical system is always one of its distinguishing features – distinguishing it, that is, from the decently reticent poise of a sensitive response. Kafka tells Puccini that he would have approached him at the Brescia flying display in 1909, but he was too shy. I moved from Louis Armstrong to Raymond Aron, from Albert Camus to Dick Cavett, from Coco Chanel to Charlie Chaplin.

The second thing, though an adjunct of the first, is even more important: there is a lot at stake here. Clive James, a man who laments the loss of learning and reason, hopes that this unorthodox volume will be embraced by readers everywhere and will serve as an antidote to the political ideologies and the cultural decay that has eradicated much of our history and learning. Heine and Wagner are getting on better than Nietzsche expected: neither has yet strangled the other. Still, there is sometimes a sense that his veneration of clarity, while refreshing, can be misleading.As they never were in life, we can imagine the speakers all gathered in some vast room, wearing name tags in case they don’t recognize each other (although some recognize each other all too well, and avoid contact).

James catalogues and explores the careers of many of the century's greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists and philosophers, with illuminating excursions into the minds of those historical figures – from Sir Thomas Browne to Montesquieu – who paved the way. Typical BS quote, “Luxury is a necessity that starts where necessity stops”, is used to document (for the nth time) the miserable conditions of the workers’ paradise that the Soviet Union wasn’t. For a more detailed critique of the Introduction: James tells us that throughout his reading and writing career, he made “annotations” which seemed to be beyond a narrow subject, belonging to a “scheme” which could perhaps be approached far in the future, perhaps near the end of his life. With barely concealed impatience, Freud mutters that Hitler spends very little time imagining he is Robert Lowell. 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.

He often talks about his experiences teaching himself to read a host of languages, including Spanish, German, and Russian by having a dictionary in one hand and one of the classics he discusses in his essays in the other. What this book then proposes—what it embodies, I hope—is something difficult enough to be satisfactory for an age in which to be presented with nothing except reassurance is ceasing to be tolerable. I have been in that apartment, and admired the Picasso, and envied its owner: I especially envied him his third wife, who had the same eyes as Picasso’s second mistress, although they were on different sides of her nose. What they hate is the bewildering complexity of civilized life, which we will find hard to defend if we share the same aversion.

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