Sunday, September 07, 2008

Clive James

It was the adaptation Clive’s Lives on Slate which first fomented my interest in the text. Biding my time I maintained my vigil at Half Price and was determined to wait for paperback otherwise. i capitalized on the latter course last Tuesday at Carmichael’s. Maintaining two other bountiful nonfiction books I tossed caution to the ether and made bold progress.

I was struck immediately by James’ qualifications as to the both the method and purpose of his endeavor Initially it is a question of:

“a single line of argument moving through selected perceptions to a neat conclusion.”


“I had begun live with the possibility that there could be no scheme.”

until, it became:

“a trail of clarities variously, illuminating a dark sea of unrelenting turbulence, like the phosphorescent wake of a phantom ship.”

and then, resignedly:

“So this is a book about how not to reach one.”

“I am showing them the way to a necessary failure: the grim but edifying realization that a complete picture of reality is not to be had.”

The aegis of the book begins in Vienna. Cafe wit is delineated as the acme of civilization, especially in contrast to the shroud which extinguished it. (the fact that it was insitutional anti-Semetism, the establishment of quotas at the universities and most proferessions which enegendered this inucbation of intellect outside the academy) and yet is a French source for the books first bon mot:

"that long flight from our own lives that we call erudition>" -- Proust.

It is the moral climate of the Nazi Occupation of France that gives the book its vertebrae. While I find that Tony Judt's Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 is an exceptional (and superior) resource for this particular dilemma, James does devote himself to a more motley selection: Aron, Bloch, Brasillach, Camus, Chanel and Cocteau. This is only the beginning. Amongst other details snagged from the next are that Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz; Duke Ellington preferred threesomes, and Charles de Gaulle had a disabled daughter who died in his arms at the age of twenty.


Blogger the feral professor said...

After charging through this, I am compelled to return James to the bedside.

11:13 PM  
Blogger the feral professor said...

So . . . Duke . . . MFM or FMF?

11:15 PM  

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