BH150 Part 2: Standing On the Shoulders of Clive James
I bought Clive James's Cultural Amnesia, his book of thoughtful bits and jotted bobs and profile-lets, expecting to learn something about many a great writer and thinker I had never heard of before, and I certainly did. The man reads mountains of material. He must be another of those rare beings, who live in several room-lined books and munch heartily on the walls every day. I envy his never flagging, lifelong devotion to this honourable task.
Sure, there is a certain amount of predictable showboating with the old intellectual tangents and 'I picked this book up in Buenos Aires' airs as if it was the most natural thing in the world, like picking up a Cornetto and a bag of Frazzles from the corner shop (he boasts of once being able to read Japanese thanks to his awesome autodidactic habits, which is as good as saying he can right now at this very moment, if truth be told). In a number of the hundred or more analyses of his own cultural titans and intellectual powerhouses, whether great, wrong-headed or downright evil, he starts to talk about something seemingly unrelated to the subject for the vast majority of the wordage, which is fine, up to a point. And there is a weird worship-the-Madonna syndrome undercurrent (that's the Virgin, not the musical musclewoman), with the dedication to his female heroes and slightly sickly paean to WW2 martyr Sophie Scholl, going on to suggest Natalie Portman could play the role in what could only be a Hollywood crime against humanity, since the German version was smalltime and aimed at Germans. Nevertheless, James shows us how much we still have to learn about the world in all its infinite and terrifying variety, and how much the two major cataclysms of the 20th century have shaped modern thought, as well of course, as world history. You may disagree with some of his conclusions, but he never fails to pique your interest about dozens of subjects you might never have considered before.
It's a brilliant beast of a book brimming with enough sharp splinters of insight to make you wonder why he bothered with all that mainsteam television malarkey (though I do miss his genial presence, whether commentating on the inane insanity of the Crystal Bucket, presiding over another of his slyly sardonic chatshows or wandering through foreign city after city looking like a man lost beyond all hope (I say 'looking like'; once you become familiar with the written James you will come to know he's far too sly to ever be that way)). And rammed, soaked, bristling with factage too. Hey! Look I've written a quiz down below compiled with information mentally sucked from its pages. Well, transferred with short term memory, eye and typing fingers actually. Components of the mental hoover, as it were. Also, I paired its construction with BH150 Part 1 in the fashion of The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. I hope the end product does not fall somewhere between flat and shit, as in the case of the cited filmic examples.
So I advise you to buy it and give yourself a hopelessly inadequate precis of James's own eternal quest to attain self-knowledge and knowledge of all hues through the works and deeds of others. It will have you out on the streets or raiding the interweb, searching for the books he refers to. Because the way he uncovers the obscure figure and writes about them so very tantalisingly will make you think you've been wasting nearly ever minute of your reading time with our foul Anglo-centricity. There is no need to shut ourselves off from a whole world of literature that is but an Amazon order or Abebooks recon mission away. Even if there is the small trifle of having to learn a few thousand words of German, Spanish, Russian and French to help you along the way. The world may be too much with us, but there is always time to salvage our cultural selves before life runs out, as long as we know and realise it is. I think I just have, but then again they say those who attain such self-awareness understand only the immensity of their ignorance. Yet there is nothing wrong with fighting it. We should never fail to do this, no matter how futile the act. We can only become better people as a result.
BH150 Part II: Bonus section!
1 Which German writer, who went into exile in Paris in 1831 and produced such poems as Die Sklavenschiff/The Slave Ship, was kept in bed for the last seven years of his life due to spinal paralysis?
2 Previously the darling of the Maryinsky company in St Petersburg, which woman wrote the memoir Theatre Street and danced the very first Firebird in Paris in 1910?
3 Known for such works as Cuba Si! (1961), which avant-garde filmmaker was born in 1921 with the name Christian Francois Bouche-Villeneuve?
4 Described as "one of [Juan] Peron's gifts to the world , along with a good role for a soprano in Evita", what name was given to the electric torture invented in Argentina and carried out by so-called tecnicos?
5 After the successful premiere of which Tom Stoppard play did its author say "It's about to make me a lot of money" when asked what it was about?
6 Born with the maiden name Khazina, which widow of a much esteemed Russian poet and victim of Stalin wrote in her book Hope Abandoned: "We all belonged to the same category marked down for absolute destruction. The astonishing thing is not that so many of us went to concentration camps or died there, but that some of us survived. Caution did not help. Only chance could save you"?
7 Which Galicia-born psychologist, philosopher and epic novelist (1903-1984) called Nazism an extension of capitalism and wrote the fictional trilogy Like a Tear in the Ocean, as well as three books of autobiography collectively called All das Vergangene ("All Our Yesterdays"): Die Wassertrager Gottes/God's Water-Carriers, Die vergebliche warnung/The Unheeded Warning and Bis man mir Scherben auf die Augen legt/Until My Eyes Are Closed with Shards?
8 Which Australian "cultural export" attracted a wide US and UK following with such non-fiction books as The Blue Nile and wrote the "hefty but unputdownable" African Trilogy, described by James as "perhaps the best example of [his] characteristic virtue as a war correspondent: he could widen the local story to include its global implications"?
9 To whom is Charlie Chaplin reported to have said at the 1931 premiere of City Lights: "They cheer me because they all understand me, and they cheer you because no-one understands you"?
10 Which Viennese polymath and cabaret star wrote Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit, translated into English in 1930 as the three-volume set of Cultural History of the Modern Age, and an unfinished companion piece Kulturgeschichte des Altertums (The Cultural History of the Ancient World), before committing suicide by defenestration during the 1938 Anschluss just as Nazi troops were coming to apprehend him?
11 Not to be confused with his famous scientist cousin, which musicologist was born in Munich before going into exile after 1933, first in Italy and then in London, and is best remembered for the three-volume history The Italian Madrigal, the standard monograph on Mozart and his reworking of Kochel's catalogue on the same composer?
12 Included in his first collection Der Sand aus den Urnen/The Sand from the Urns (1948), which poem by Paul Celan is said to be the single most famous such work about the Nazi death camps?
13 Which German dramatist's best known plays are seen as The Captain of Kopenick (1931) and, written after his immigration to the US, The Devil's General (1946)?
14 Of which composer did Erik Satie say: "[He] refuses the Legion d'Honneur but all his music accepts it"?
15 Born in Buenos Aires in 1911, which man combined science (including work at the Curie Laboratory) with radical left wing politics for the first part of his career before giving himself full-time to writing, painting and education after 1945, publishing the novel The Tunnel (1945), editing Nunca Mas/Never Again, which detailed the atrocities of the Argentine junta and memorably calling the tango 'the strangest popular song that mankind has ever produced' in his work Entre La Letra Y La Sangre?
16 Which poet wrote in volume five of Gesammelte Werke: "Fame is finally only the sum total of all the misunderstandings that can gather around a new name"?
17 The man who defined the Communist world as the first society in history condemned to live behind walls in order to stop people getting out, which French writer (1924-2006) earned international fame with such books as How Democracies Perish and 1970's Without Marx or Jesus in which he guessed that America would not be universally admired for making a totalitarian hegemony impossible?
18 The title subject of JP Stern's 1959 book A Doctrine of Scattered Occasions, which German thinker and professor of physics, astronomy and maths at Gottingen (1742-1799) wrote of the bad writer in his Aphorismen when he said "It was impossible for him not to disturb words in the possession of their meanings" and was known for keeping scores of "Waste-Books" and manuscript notebooks?
19 Who said: "Everyone has a lurking wish to appear considerable in his native place"?
20 Leaving behind many volumes of his Journal, Varia, correspondence and memoirs, which writer became famous in Poland principally due to his 1938 surrealist novel Ferdyduke and went into exile in Argentina from 1939 to 1969?
21 Named after the city of his birth, what was the name of Duke Ellington's first professional band which comprised only half a dozen players when it reached New York in 1923?
22 Described as modern Germany's greatest historian, which man (1909-94) published the monumental 1000-page plus work Deutsche Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, as well as the memoir Erinnerungen und Gedanken/Memories and Thoughts and volume of essays Wir alle sind, was wir gelesen/ We Are All What We Read?
23 Said to be Italy's most famous poet after WW2, which 1975 Nobel winner's first reputation-making collection was called Ossi di seppia/Cuttlefish Bones and is remembered by many of his countrymen for the line of verse "Bring me the sunflower mad with light"?
24 By what name is Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brede et de ___________ (1689-1755) better known?
25 To whom did Sergei Diaghilev give the famous instruction "Astonish me"?
26 A Basque born in Bilbao in 1864(-1936), which professor of Greek at the University of Salamanca from 1891 endured the most important personal event of his life: a spiritual crisis in 1897 in which he lost his faith and influenced all his subsequent work, and was described by Carlos Fuentes as "one of the writers who began to give us our sense of the Spanish world. The essay as an art form" thanks to his volumes of Ensayos?
27 Which author (1903-66) pronounced in A Little Learning that nobody without a classical education could ever write English correctly?
28 Wounded at the Battle of Tshushima in the Russo-Japanese War, which military leader studied at Harvard after WW1 and wrote this poem aboard his flagship Nagato on New Year's Day, 1940: "Today, as chief/Of the sea guardians/Of the land of the dawn,/Awed I gaze up/At the rising sun"?
29 Which Soviet era writer and WW2 pilot, who died in 2006, wrote the short political analysis book The Reality of Communism (1984) and the satirical novel The Yawning Heights?
30 Born in Radom, Poland in 1927, which professor of philosophy at the University of Warsaw was ejected from the Communist Party in 1966 and expelled from academic life in 1968, going into exile and publishing such works as the three-volume treatise Main Currents of Marxism and the slim book Le Village introuvable (1986) where he insisted on the indispensability of an inherited social fabric and the impossibility of achieving a so-called global village?
Answers to BH150 II
1 Heinrich Heine 2 Tamara Karsavina 3 Chris Marker 4 Picana 5 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead 6 Nadezhda Mandelstam (wife of Osip) 7 Manes Sperber 8 Alan Moorehead 9 Albert Einstein 10 Egon Friedell 11 Alfred Einstein 12 Todesfugue (Death Fugue) 13 Carl Zuckmayer 14 Maurice Ravel 15 Ernesto Sabato 16 Rainer Maria Rilke 17 Jean-Francois Revel 18 Georg Cristoph Lichtenberg 19 Dr Johnson 20 Witold Gombrowicz 21 The Washingtonians 22 Golo Mann (third child of Thomas Mann) 23 Eugenio Montale 24 Montesquieu 25 Jean Cocteau 26 Miguel de Unamuno 27 Evelyn Waugh 28 Isoroku Yamamoto 29 Aleksandr Zinoviev 30 Leszek Kolakowski