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Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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I read this book a few months ago but cannot stop thinking about it -- the very antithesis of Cultural Amnesia. Sometimes, but too rarely, this kind of wit is indeed brought to bear on political issues: he points out how outrageous it is that no one in the West finds the idea of the Kirov Ballet objectionable (though it has long been renamed in Russia), and wonders how people would react to the Himmler Youth Orchestra or the Pol Pot Academy for Creative Writing. What exactly James means by this foolish word is anyone’s guess – what it refers to most usually nowadays is a “hand-job”. Sometimes he seems to hold these people up to some very demanding standards: he's convincing on Sartre's feeble response to Nazism, but surely it's a bit much to question why Wittgenstein never mention the Fascists in Philosophische Untersuchungen, a work of pure linguistic philosophy? He doesn’t define exactly what he means by humanism, hence I must assume he means the most common definition.

He was well aware that he was surrounded by the kind of people whose only ambition was to cut off the electricity. For my own part, it made me think hard about all the fields of creativity that I seemed to love equally, whatever their place in a supposed hierarchy. Discover the joy of reading with us, your trusted source for affordable books that do not compromise on quality. James is a genius - a master of both the low-brow AND the high-brow - and a man who understands what true freedom is. He starts from a position of their purpose, their intention and works back to his own criteria of the aesthetic, which he then frequently modifies based on his quite remarkable empathy.James catalogues and explores the careers of many of the century's greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists and philosophers, with illuminating excursions into the minds of those historical figures – from Sir Thomas Browne to Montesquieu – who paved the way. Overture and all the individual essays, may be accessed via the menu column to the left of this page. Scott Fitzgerald, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, James illuminates, rescues, or occasionally demolishes the careers of many of the greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists, and philosophers of the twentieth century. But even here, James ruins things by making more out of this heroism and idealism than it can carry, and moreover digressing for two plus pages about how, if an American movie were it to made, it would HAVE to star Natalie Portman, then going on about his own infatuation with Portman blah blah … James has no choice but to refer to Scholl as “Sophie”. I hope to get Russian back, but the written version of Japanese is the kind of language that you can study hard for five years and yet can’t neglect for a week without its leaving you like a flock of birds.

In it he records, with a dazzling display not just of his hallmark aphoristic, witty and penetrating style, but, more importantly, the incredible range of his reading over a long, productive life of cultural commentary.After exhausting the haircut topic, James goes on to point how that Burton had a really big head, then speculates how big his hats must’ve been. Said wrote after the attack on the World Trade Center, Western humanism is not enough: we need a universal humanism.

The most obvious sign is when he over and over says something like “the student would do well”, as if we his readers are “students” fawning at the feet of he the master teacher. There is a moment in the Bond film You Only Live Twice where Moneypenny throws Sean Connery a teach-yourself-Japanese book before he leaves for a mission in Tokyo. As for the stuff on Fuentes, I presume James deliberately changed Keat’s quote about poets being legislators from “unacknowledged” to “acknowledged” but the fact that Llosa ran unsuccessfully for President of Peru rather diminishes the effect here since he too, as a failed candidate, must remain in the ranks of the unacknowledged. Each time this scene is set, he then tells the reader that he really should learn the language of the original work.When the doomed Russian poet Osip Mandelstam said that he was nostalgic for a world culture, he didn’t mean that it would be a world culture if everyone could live in Switzerland. Following his connections and seeing how his mind works is part of the fun of reading this collection. I moved from Louis Armstrong to Raymond Aron, from Albert Camus to Dick Cavett, from Coco Chanel to Charlie Chaplin.

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