As of This Writing: The Essential Essays, 1968-2002


"Clive James is in the tradition of Hazlitt, Bagehot, and Edmund Wilson, with a gusto to succeed theirs."—John Bayley
It is impossible not to be awed by the remarkable range and massive erudition of Clive James, one of the greatest literary critics of our age. In the tradition of Edmund Wilson, James is a brilliant stylist so perceptive (and funny) that he renders the twisted literary terrain of the twentieth century remarkably accessible. In As of This Writing James has assembled his most ambitious and expansive...

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"Clive James is in the tradition of Hazlitt, Bagehot, and Edmund Wilson, with a gusto to succeed theirs."—John Bayley
It is impossible not to be awed by the remarkable range and massive erudition of Clive James, one of the greatest literary critics of our age. In the tradition of Edmund Wilson, James is a brilliant stylist so perceptive (and funny) that he renders the twisted literary terrain of the twentieth century remarkably accessible. In As of This Writing James has assembled his most ambitious and expansive collection to date, a book that features forty-nine essays on poetry, film, culture, and fiction written between 1967 and 2001. Whether commenting on poets like Auden or Jarrell, novelists like D. H. Lawrence and James Agee (not to mention Judith Krantz), or filmmakers like Fellini or Bogdanovich, James delights his readers with his manic energy and critical aplomb. This volume is a literary education that few recent books can rival.

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Editorial Reviews

Anthony Burgess
“Clive James is the funniest man we have.”
The Washington Post
Literary criticism has repeatedly been declared defunct. Yet the appearance of this hefty collection affirms that, even if it is not always "essential," it continues to matter. — James Campbell
The Los Angeles Times
James has nothing to be anxious or defensive about, which becomes clear in As of This Writing, a far-flung collection of his works. So acute is his aesthetic and intellectual accuracy that even when you feel his opinions are "wrong," you feel that his sensibility is right. — Lee Siegel
The New York Times
At his best [James] combines the most potent attributes of what Philip Rahv called redskin and paleface writers, managing to be street smart and scholarly, swaggering and cerebral, all at the same time. Like John Updike he's adept at using his gift for metaphor and pictorial language to delineate the work of others. And like Martin Amis he's equally at home with the high and the low, a cultural magpie eloquent on the arcane and the vernacular, on the allusive poetry of Galway Kinnell and the sexual drivel of Judith Krantz. — Michiku Kakutani
John Bayley
Clive James is in the tradition of Hazlitt,Bagehot,and Edmund Wilson,with a gusto to succeed theirs.
Anthony Burgess
Clive James is the funniest man we have.
Publishers Weekly
Over the course of almost 50 essays, cultural pundit James only occasionally wears out his welcome, and very infrequently misses his mark. Four essays on Philip Larkin cover much the same ground, a piece on Twain, when it tries to rope in Vietnam and Kissinger, seems dated. Most often, however, James is either insightful (a study of Orwell) or else entertaining (a dismantling of Judith Krantz), and quite often he's both. Essays dealing with poetry and literature feature pieces on Robert Lowell, D.H. Lawrence, and Solzhenitsyn, while a section on culture and criticism comments on the life and works of Lillian Hellman, Evelyn Waugh and Betrand Russell. An additional pleasure are the postscripts where James comments on and provides explanations of (and sometimes excuses for) the ideas contained in these previously published essays. Through these illuminating and entertaining notes, the reader is given a kind of bifocal view, first through the myopic range of the original topic and then the wider view of James's critical hindsight. For instance, commenting on an essay on Auden, James writes, "The word `immediately' is used twice, which is twice too often...." It would be wrong to say that these afterthoughts are more enjoyable than the essays they comment on, but in many places, James's thoughts on his own thoughts are as penetrating as the thesis that sent his critical imagination wandering in the first place. A broad companion to Even as We Speak: New Essays 1993-2000 (which came out in paper last September), this latest collection acts as a prism through which to view James's entire career. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This collection of essays spanning 30-plus years reestablishes literary authority James's status as a major voice in cultural criticism. James, who has authored more than 20 books and who has frequently contributed to The New Yorker, is quick to establish the difference between literary journalism and literary criticism, rightfully pleading himself in the category of the former. His essays-sorted into the categories of "Poetry," "Fiction and Literature," "Culture and Criticism," and "Visual Images"-tackle a variety of issues, from Auden's consideration of identifying homosexuality with a new political order to the careerism of Theodore Roethke and on to whether Norman Mailer got Marilyn Monroe's artistry. There are illuminating discussions of Heaney, Larkin, Jarrell, Casanova, Sontag, Pasolini, and Fellini, to name just a few. The postscripts are quite entertaining and often bring a note of proportion or perspective not achieved by the original piece. As James notes in the introduction, literary journalism is a branch of humanism, and humanism is not utilitarian. Still, many readers will find these essays quite handy and well worth the gleaning. Time and again, James's criticism retains its acute qualities without ever being fluffy. Recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/03.]-Scott Hightower, Fordham Univ., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Superb collection of criticism at once deeply serious and deliberately accessible, more than justifying its author’s claim that "readability is intelligence." Born and raised in Australia, a London resident for four decades, James (The Man from Japan, 1993, etc.) possesses all the strengths of the best British literary journalists--wide-ranging erudition, a knack for the perfectly turned sentence, a seemingly effortless wit--without the besetting weakness many of his peers display for gratuitous nastiness designed to demonstrate how much smarter they are than their subjects. James, by contrast, always lives up to his declared principle that "a limiting judgment of an artist should be offered only after full submission to whatever quality made him remarkable in the first place." (That comment occurs in one of the valuable "Postscripts," which allow him to admit second thoughts or clarify intent without rewriting the original article.) Seamus Heaney, D.H. Lawrence, James Agee, and George Orwell are among the writers to whom he applies exacting yet appreciative scrutiny. Even when he more or less trashes John le Carré’s pompous later novels or Norman Mailer’s embarrassing Marilyn, he voices respect for previous achievements and shows no glee over his thumbs-down judgment. James can nail a work’s essence in a phrase (the "garrulous pseudotaciturnity" of Lillian Hellman’s memoirs, for example), but the generosity and perceptiveness of his full-length appraisals are even more impressive. Poetry arouses his particular passion, as vividly demonstrated in the essays on W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin, and he’s just as good on Primo Levi and Mark Twain. Like his idol, Edmund Wilson (subject of anotherexcellent piece), James roams with assurance through world literature past and present, acknowledging no distinctions except those of quality. He couples a democratic belief that art must illuminate common human experience with an unabashed insistence on high standards; though he has written for and about television and does not disdain mass appeal, his assumed audience here is the serious general reader. Criticism is not indispensable to art," James writes. "It is indispensable to civilization--a more inclusive thing." His stimulating and thrilling work forcefully makes a case for that bold declaration.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393051803
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/1/2003
  • Pages: 615
  • Sales rank: 921,523
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Australia, Clive James lives in Cambridge, England. He is the author of Unreliable Memoirs; a volume of selected poems, Opal Sunset; the best-selling Cultural Amnesia; and the translator of The Divine Comedy by Dante. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

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Table of Contents

A Note on the Text
Pt. I Poetry
1 On Auden's Death 3
2 On Seamus Heaney 19
3 Robert Lowell's Marble Chips 25
4 Four Essays on Philip Larkin 38
5 Poetry's Ideal Critic: Randall Jarrell 84
6 Two Essays on Theodore Roethke 90
7 Charles Johnston's Catacomb Graffiti 102
8 Nabokov's Grand Folly 117
9 Stevie Smith: Not Drowning but Waving 123
10 Galway Kinnell's Great Poem 129
11 Les Murray and His Master Spirits 136
12 The Great Generation of Australian Poetry 149
Pt. II Fiction and Literature
13 D. H. Lawrence in Transit 165
14 The Perpetual Promise of James Agee 179
15 The Sherlockologists 190
16 Raymond Chandler 201
17 Bitter Seeds: Solzhenitsyn 214
18 Go Back to the Cold! 227
19 A Blizzard of Tiny Kisses 236
20 A Death in Life 245
21 Primo Levi's Last Will and Testament 259
22 Primo Levi and the Painted Veil 274
23 The All of Orwell 284
24 Mark Twain, Journalist 305
25 Casanova Comes Again 328
26 Hamlet in Perspective 340
Pt. III Culture and Criticism
27 F. R. Leavis in America 349
28 A Whole Gang of Noise: Susan Sontag 358
29 Germaine Greer: Getting Married Later 362
30 The Metropolitan Critic 370
31 It is of a Windiness: Lillian Hellman 387
32 Mailer's Marilyn 394
33 From Log Cabin to Log Cabin 409
34 Hard-Core Gore 421
35 Evelyn Waugh's Last Stand 427
36 As a Matter of Tact 436
37 These Staggering Questions 443
38 How Montale Earned His Living 456
39 N. V. Rampant Meets Martin Amis 466
40 Hitler's Unwitting Exculpator 470
41 He That Played the Fool 497
42 Bertrand Russell Struggles after Heaven 502
Pt. IV Visual Images
43 The New Diaghilev 521
44 Pier Paolo Pain in the Neck 525
45 Mondo Fellini 539
46 Who Was That Masked Man? 561
47 The Gentle Slope to Castalia 568
48 Pictures in Silver 585
Index 605
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