Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cultural Amnesia by Clive James

Next up!
--Chiron, 8/27/07

I am up to the letter "F" -- hard to spend much time on this since school started, but I devote every spare minute to it. More later!
--Chiron, 9/12/07

"R" hang on! Almost finished!
--Chiron, 9/23/2007

Finally! Teaching full time takes up huge chunks of time that I could otherwise spend reading. Those few precious moments must not be wasted. Clive James' newest book is definitely worth the investment of lots of small pieces of reading time.
Cultural Amnesia consists of 106 essays of figures, from the last 100 years or so, who have had a significant impact on culture. James includes a disparate selection of individuals from Beatrix Potter to Adolf Hitler, Louis Armstrong to Franz Kafka, and Charlie Chaplin to Albert Einstein.
Sometimes James examines the writings of his subjects directly, and sometimes he spreads a wider net to include those around the subject of a particular essay. I found the essay on Louis Armstrong to be one of my favorites. I know who he is, and I like his music, but I was not aware of the profound influence he had on jazz and American pop culture.
James has forced me to the bookstore, Amazon, and ABEBooks, or other vendors, dozens of times to fill in gaps in my library. I bought a complete set of the tales of Beatrix Potter, Keats' poetry, and I am going to take another look at F. Scott Fitzgerald. James spends a lot of ink and paper on the French left between the wars, and I skipped some of those essays (so many books, so little time). And he does drop an occasional crazy comment: "[Kafka] has influenced almost everything written since [his death]: not even James Joyce had such an impact" (343). Sorry, have to disagree here. Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man killed the 19th century as T.S. Eliot said. Most stream of consciousness traces itself to Joyce.
On the whole, however, it was a more than worthwhile read. I encountered many interesting people I had never heard of, and a few I wish I still had not heard of. But this buffet has more than enough to satisfy even the most discriminating tastes.
--Chiron, 9/25/07

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