Reflections on Clive James “Cultural Amnesia” 4

I posted this little piece to The Pete Atkin Web Forum (see blogroll), Midnight Voices early this morning. As it deals with another aspect of Clive James’s writing that seems to me to be important, and as it looks at a review of his Cultural Amnesia written by someone who is thought to be one of America’s toughest literary critics, I think that it should also be posted this online diary.  

Re: Clive’s Cultural Amnesia.
« Reply #19: Today at 07:20 »

Michiko Kakutani, in her  New York Times review of Clive’s Cultural Amnesia, published today, spots in this volume something that has been one of the great strengths of all Clive’s writing.  
In the end, one of the most valuable things about this volume is that Mr. James not only sends the reader in search of original texts written by or about his subjects, but also provides lots of other useful reading suggestions. On Vienna, there is Carl E. Schorske’s classic “Fin-de-Siècle Vienna” and Stefan Zweig’s “World of Yesterday,” as well as lesser-known works like Friedrich Torberg’s memoir “Die Tante Jolesch” and George Clare’s “Last Waltz in Vienna.” On Ludwig Wittgenstein, he recommends both Ray Monk’s first-rate biography, “The Duty of Genius,” and David Pears’s short book “Wittgenstein.”
“Given thirty seconds to recommend a single book that might start a serious young student on the hard road to understanding the political tragedies of the twentieth century,” Mr. James singles out Heda Margolius Kovaly’s  “Prague Farewell.” And pressed to name “one of the great books of the modern world,” he cites Arthur Schnitzler’s little 200-page odd collection, “Book of Sayings and Thoughts.”
“Cultural Amnesia,” of course, is itself a book of Sayings and Thoughts, though on a wildly more inflated scale. It’s not the sort of volume most people will want to read straight through, but rather one to dip into here and there — a volume to be treasured less for its own sake than for all the other books it will make the reader want to read
(my italics).

Much of Clive’s critical effort has been focused on making his “reader want to read”. So it comes as no surprise to me – and I’m sure to others – that Cultural Amnesia has that effect on Ms. Kakutani. Many of us would say that she has just learned from reading Cultural Amnesia  what quite a few of us have known for a long time.

Kevin Cryan



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