Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Artsby Clive James
Forty years in the making, a new cultural canon that celebrates truth over hypocrisy, literature over totalitarianism. See more details below
Forty years in the making, a new cultural canon that celebrates truth over hypocrisy, literature over totalitarianism.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
From Anna Akhmatova to Stefan Zweig, Tacitus to Margaret Thatcher, this scintillating compendium of 110 new biographical essays plumbs the responsibilities of artists, intellectuals and political leaders. British critic James (Visions Before Midnight) structures each entry as a brief life sketch followed by quotations that spark an appreciation, a condemnation or a tangent (a piece on filmmaker Terry Gilliam veers into a discussion of torturers' pleasure in their work). Sometimes, as in his salute to Tony Curtis's acting or his savage assault on bebop legend John Coltrane's penchant for "subjecting some helpless standard to ritual murder," James's purpose is just bravura opinionating. But most articles are linked by a defense of liberal humanism against totalitarianisms of the left and right—and ideologues who champion them. He lionizes prewar Vienna's martyred Jewish cafe intellectuals; castigates French apologists for communism—especially Sartre, who "could sound as if he was talking about everything while saying nothing"; and chides Borges for not noticing Argentina's descent into fascism. This theme can grow intrusive; even in an entry on children's author Beatrix Potter, he feels called upon to denounce Soviet children's books. But James's brilliantly aphoristic prose, full of aesthetic insights but careful not to let aesthetics obscure morality, makes for a delightful browse suffused with a potent message. Photos. (Mar.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal winner James, who has published numerous books of criticism, autobiography, and poetry, presents his life's work in this resource guide covering what the author has learned as well as what he has failed to learn in his decades of writing about history and the arts. In more than 107 original essays organized by quotations from A to Z, James discusses some of the great thinkers, artists, humanists, and politicians who have shaped the 20th century, e.g., talk-show host Dick Cavett, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, jazz musician Louis Armstrong, and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. Preceding each essay is a brief biography of the luminary. Throughout, James states that we need a universal humanism and questions how to get it. His finely written, valuable, and comprehensive almanac, illustrated with 110 photographs, is highly recommended for public and academic libraries.
Susan McClellan Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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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 and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
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