The Art of Reviewing: Clive James

arts-graphics-2008_1130733aClive James and his many books

Every blog needs a large-scale project. The Art of Reviewing will explore reviewing as an art form and as a valuable element to understanding society.  During this project, I will profile specific reviewers of merit.  Several specific cases also explore other facets of reviewing.

Clive James and the Spice Girls.  A fascinating interview.

Clive James has done it all.  He’s a poet, wit, lyricist, TV presenter, cultural commentator, author, and memoirist.  This Australian native represents the Old Guard, sharing a similar background with Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis.  His critical stance may be a little archaic, akin to that fellow Cultural Defender Harold Bloom, but he believes in preserving the good.  His anthology of cultural profiles, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts (2007), stands as a milestone of erudition and passion.

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James made his career as a TV presenter, working in a medium looked down upon by his peers.  His work on television honed his talents as an interviewer.  My first experiences with Clive James came from his documentary series Fame in the 21st Century.  It examined the amorphous and sometimes sinister force we call celebrity.  The documentary remains remarkably prescient, especially given the new mutations of fame and celebrity with the rise of the Internet, “reality” programming, and the blogosphere.

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Before Jon and Kate, Survivor, and the rest of it.

With one foot firmly in television, his other foot remains firmly planted in journalism.  In Cultural Amnesia, he acts as a defender of Western humanism.  He profiles a diverse of performers, authors, philosophers, and filmmakers.  What other book would profile Tacitus and Tony Curtis, Thomas Mann and Michael Mann?  The collection is also a wide-ranging indictment of the totalitarian ideology.

He profiles Robert Brasillach, an Anti-Semitic writer who received execution for his provocative, incendiary prose.  While James remains disgusted at Brasillach’s Anti-Semitism, the precedent for a democracy to execute a writer leaves him conflicted and troubled.  Cultural Amnesia also includes literary martyrs like Anna Akhmatova and Paul Celan.

James has also reviewed everything from Formula 1 racing to literature to poetry to modern art.  He helped me discover poets like WH Auden and Philip Larkin.  Clive James is also important, especially to an American audience, that there are different perspectives fashioned out of a different national experience.  He helps us see beyond the American fishbowl.

clivejames.com (Clive James’s website)

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