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Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time Paperback – 14 Feb 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 912 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (14 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330481754
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330481755
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Clive James is the author of more than twenty books, including four previous volumes of autobiography (Unreliable Memoirs, Falling Towards England, May Week was in June and North Face of Soho), collections of literary and television criticism, essays, travel writing, verse and novels. In 1992 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2003 he was awarded the Philip Hodgins memorial medal for literature. His most recent poetry collection, Angels Over Elsinore, was shortlisted for the 2009 Costa Prize for Poetry.

Product Description

Review

For non-fiction, there was one stupedous starburst of wild brilliance: Clive James's Cultural Amnesia. It crackles with epigrammatic mischief and reminded me of Charles Dantzig's great Dictionnair egoiste de la litterature francaise, a book that features a devastating skewering of Sartre and a spirited defence of the adjective, plus essays on ignorance, cliches, therapy (against it) digressions (for) and lettres. Will someone please get this fabulous box of tricks translated? -- Simon Schama

Review

'Crackles with epigrammatic mischief and reminded me of Charles Dantzig's great Dictionnaire egoiste de la literature francaise.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Walton TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 12 July 2007
Format: Hardcover
Following some explicit hints to my daughter, I was delighted to receive this as a Father's Day gift. I consider myself a fairly well-read person, but only in the extremely limited sense of having read just about everything Clive James has ever written, ranging from his TV reviews, literary criticism, autobiography, novels and verse to his lyrics for singer-songwriter Pete Atkin. More broadly, what I've read in his books has introduced me to other writers, and it's always been entertaining to see his opinion (particularly when it's not high) on books which I've already read.

There's more of the same in this book, but its scale and structure dwarfs anything he's produced up until now. Some four years in the writing, it's been viewed as the culmination of his life's work (although he's rumoured to have already started work on a second volume). At first glance, it's a collection of more than a hundred critical essays on selected cultural or historical figures, mostly from 20th century Europe. Digging deeper reveals other things, as he uses his ideas about the person as a jumping-off point for musings on other topics such as plagarism, fame, memory, reading, grammar and bibliophilia.

His range of reference is extraordinary, taking in books written in German, French, Italian and Spanish (all of which he apparently reads fluently). There's a strong didactic element running through this work, as he breaks off to give advice on the most profitable way to learn languages, the best dictionaries and translations, and which books are most easily used as a starting point for breaking into a specific language.
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96 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Fellingham on 19 May 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an amazing book, unlike anything else I’ve ever come across. Don’t be put off by its sheer size, by its odd title, by the unfamiliarity of many of the names in its alphabetical list of subjects (writers, film stars, musicians, politicians, you name it), or by the fact that it looks at first glance like a work of reference. A better title would perhaps have been “Reliable Memoirs”, because what it’s really doing is filling in the gaps in Clive James’s sequence of “Unreliable Memoirs”.

It consists of a hundred or more brief articles based on quotes noted down during a lifetime’s extensive reading, any one of which is liable at any point to go off at a tangent on a hugely entertaining digression. It’s not meant to be read from cover to cover, but you’ll have a great time dotting around in it. Guaranteed you’ll make loads of notes yourself in your own turn – memorable quotes, jokes, revelatory perceptions, writers you’d never heard of whom all of a sudden you really want to read.

If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Clive James’s writing – reviews, memoirs, songs, whatever – don’t hesitate. It’s a book to keep with you always and to keep returning to.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John on 19 Oct 2008
Format: Paperback
How do you define your humanity, your worth and the meaning of the good life? Did the last book you read, the last poem heard, the choir on Classic FM, the last serious piece of reportage in the newspaper make you think, widen the space for thought, help you engage more as a citizen? Did you make a note of the words that hit a spot? Remember to look that book up when next in the library, wonder what that old book of essays would be like you came across in the second hand bookshop. Perhaps as you get older do you see a pattern in what moves you in music, what is good writing and which political ideas increases the possibility of greater freedom of expression and those that close the creative spaces down?

One way to describe this book is to see it as Clive James 40 years exploration to make sense himself, his work and the world around him through works of the well-known, forgotten, cut-short or bogus mainly western intelligentsia. These are over but not confined the past 150 years. He also throws in 20th century film stars, fashion designers, TV broadcasters, jazz musicians and reporters. The format is over 100 individual pen-sketches grouped in alphabetical order of individuals that have aroused his interest with as sentence, comment, or thought and been inked over the years in his journal. From these seeds grows an essay that critically reveals more about the idea or the character or the context but done in his usually witty light foxtrot prose. Knowing that nothing worse then a judgement on writing style not seem here are three extracts.

Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (p.177)

`And above all, I am not interested enough in politics to let them encumber my last days'

On the face of it, Drieu's valedictory testament was absurd.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By John Ferngrove TOP 500 REVIEWER on 11 Aug 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have just completed this superb intellectual auto-biography by Clive James, and I am lost in admiration, not just for the breadth of his erudition, but for the depth of his wisdom and the clear sincerity of his humaniny. Along with this goes a prose style that performs the miracle of being, at the same time, absolutely limpid and superbly readable, whilst being unfailingly eloquent and possessed of a lapidary turn of phrase. Clive frequently extols the mastery of the prose styles of other expository writers, but I can actually think of no one else I would rather read on the topics he makes his subjects.

I consider myself a reasonably well read person, as I would guess does anyone that might have this book in prospect. Why is it though, that for all my reading, my view of the world only seems to become more confused, more filled with questions I don't know how to answer? James, on the other hand has managed to synthesise a world view from all his reading, that, while facing squarely all the worst that humans are capable of, levaes him with no doubt about the concreteness of value of all that is best.

The book is organised as a selection of essays, each of which takes as a starting point a particular individual, for the most part writers, but also including the odd politician, activist or media personality, who's life and work, and all the significant criticism on it, James has totally devoured at some point or other in his book devouring life. The essays are simply arranged in alphabetical order of the subject's surnames. Some of the authors or personalities will be known to all readers. Some will be known only to more specialist readers, the selection being truly global, and many not easily available in English.
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