Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Post#130 Reading Clive James
A few weeks ago, while watching part of a poetry season being screened by the BBC in England, I came across Clive James, a writer and a broadcaster, being interviewed on the American poet, E. E. Cummings, while reading some of his own poetry. I was so impressed by what he was saying that I wrote a piece on my Ana the Imp blog, headed Serendipity: Discovering Clive James.
As part of the process of exploration I acquired one of his books, Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of my Time. It’s a series of essays on all sorts of people, artists, poets, musicians, writers, politicians, all sorts of people; some noble, some who have made significant contributions to human understanding; others, well, vile. As I said in Serendipity, I never thought to find Anna Akhmatova and Josef Goebbels between the same covers!
When I say essays I should make it clear that while each piece is headed by the name of the individual involved, with some biographical details by way of introduction, what follows is really subtle, as the author explores thoughts within thoughts and themes within themes, most often on the basis of a preliminary quotation. As much as anything it’s an odyssey through the James’own life, with dissertations on the things and the people that have moved or influenced him in one way or another. It’s impressive; the range of his thought is impressive. His maze-like mind reminded me of my own; of the way I think and the way I deconstruct, disassemble and reassemble ideas!
At one point James describes himself as a product of the Australian educational system. He was born in 1939, so he’s clearly talking about the style of teaching going back, oh, some fifty years. I really hope, without too much exaggeration, that if Clive James is a typical product that the Australian educational system has not changed too much. Sadly, given my cultural pessimism, I suspect that this is not at all the case. :-))