Tag: Clive James

The gardening gift

Sunday, 30 June, 2019

What a life! Diplomat, dissident, defector, poet, Nobel Prize winner… Czesław Miłosz did it all, and more. After World War II, he served as Polish cultural attaché in Paris and Washington but, disillusioned with Communism, he defected to the West in 1951. His resulting book, The Captive Mind, exposed the pernicious effects of Marxist orthodoxy on his generation of idealists. “Written before the Berlin Wall went up, The Captive Mind was a key factor in eventually bringing it down,” noted Clive James in Cultural Amnesia.

When the Polish intelligentsia was being “wiped out half by one set of madmen and half by another”, Miłosz found strength in the Bible because it “provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder,” writes James, a confirmed atheist. Of his own position regarding the Good Book, James declares: “But without the scriptures we poor wretches would be lost indeed, because without them, conscience itself would become just another disturbance of the personality to be cured by counselling. We are surrounded by voices telling us that everything will come right if we learn to love ourselves. Imagine the torment of Jesus in his passion, if, on top of the sponge of vinegar and the spear, they had offered him counselling as well.”

From 1961 to 1998, Miłosz was professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, and he punctuated his stay in the USA by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. Fellow Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, described Miłosz as “among those members of humankind who have had the ambiguous privilege of knowing and standing more reality than the rest of us.” Born on this day, 30 June, in 1911, Czesław Miłosz died on 14 August 2004 in Kraków.

Gift

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Czesław Miłosz (1911 – 2004)

Our garden


Clive James on Fitzgerald: the style was the man

Wednesday, 29 August, 2018

It’s always instructive to dip into Cultural Amnesia, Clive James’ magisterial book of biographical essays. For those who have not yet purchased this essential volume, here’s a brief review: James has managed to construct a book that contains gems of brilliance on each of its 856 pages. Here, his commentary on Gatsby (page 219): “Fitzgerald’s prose style can be called ravishing because it brings anguish with its enchantment. He always wrote that way, even when, by his own standards, he could as yet hardly write at all. He could still write that way when death was at his shoulder. He wrote that way because he was that way: the style was the man.”

Fitzgerald style

Tomorrow, here, Haruki Murakami translates The Great Gatsby into Japanese.


Gems of brilliance

Saturday, 26 August, 2017 0 Comments

Although it’s a decade old now, Cultural Amnesia by Clive James remains a magisterial work. Each of its 856 pages is studded with germs. Here’s one about Gatsby:

“Fitzgerald’s prose style can be called ravishing because it brings anguish with its enchantment. He always wrote that way, even when, by his own standards, he could as yet hardly write at all. He could still write that way when death was at his shoulder. He wrote that way because he was that way: the style was the man.” (page 219)

And with that, we end this year’s re-reading of The Great Gatsby, a novel that shines more brilliantly with each passing year. Here’s to August 2018 and the next re-reading.

It would be a pity to leave Cultural Amnesia without adding a few more of those Jamesian gems. Here, then, are three for the road to East Egg:

Russian Marxism: “Bukharin counted as a thinker among the old Bolsheviks because he could make a general statement about the connection of music to economics: nobody would be able to play the piano, he pointed out, if there were no pianos.” (page 355)

Chinese Marxism: “Mao had so organized his colossal abattoir of a state that information rarely travelled further than a scream could be heard. But that was inside China. Outside China, the story went everywhere, and there was never any excuse for not hearing it. The idea that there was is part of the lie — the part fated, it seems, to last longest.” (page 459)

Finally, the great man himself: “It has to be remembered that the typical Polish writer was Bruno Schulz. But for that to be remembered, Bruno Schulz has to be remembered, and the main reason he was so easily forgotten is that a Gestapo officer blew his brains out.” — Clive James


Would you like counselling during your crucifixion?

Tuesday, 29 October, 2013 0 Comments

In 1980, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz, then living in exile in California. Although he served as a post-war cultural attaché of the newly formed People’s Republic of Poland in Paris and Washington DC, Milosz became increasingly disillusioned with Stalinist dogma and in 1953 he wrote The Captive Mind, which exposed the pernicious effects of Marxist orthodoxy on his generation of idealists. “Written before the Berlin Wall went up, The Captive Mind was a key factor in eventually bringing it down,” noted the critic Clive James in Cultural Amnesia.

When the Polish intelligentsia was being “wiped out half by one set of madmen and half by another”, Milosz found strength in the Bible because it “provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder,” writes James, a confirmed atheist. Of his own position regarding the Good Book, he declares: “But without the scriptures we poor wretches would be lost indeed, because without them, conscience itself would become just another disturbance of the personality to be cured by counselling. We are surrounded by voices telling us that everything will come right if we learn to love ourselves. Imagine the torment of Jesus in his passion, if, on top of the sponge of vinegar and the spear, they had offered him counselling as well.”

Dali


Keats forever

Friday, 7 September, 2012

“When John Keats read George Chapman’s translation of Homer he felt, in his elevated, poetical way, like ‘some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken’.” So begins The new world of DNA in the current issue of The Economist. It’s always reassuring when journalists dealing with the most complicated of subjects […]

Continue Reading »

Shame on the Street

Friday, 2 December, 2011 0 Comments

Name that party! Let’s look at this New York Times headline from yesterday: “Ex-Governor Is Said to Be Focal Point of Inquiry“. Why didn’t the paper of record write “Republican Ex-Governor Is Said to Be Focal Point of Inquiry”? Maybe it was keeping it’s firepower for the first paragraph. Here it is: “Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico who ran for president in 2008, is being investigated by a federal grand jury for possible violations of campaign finance laws, according to people with knowledge of the inquiry.”

Still no mention of the “R” word. Actually, Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, was not a Republican; he was a Democrat, and a very good friend of the Bill and Hillary Clinton, too. You see, the beauty of having a free press is that you get to read the all the news that fits the agenda of those who own it.

Let’s quickly jet now from New York to London where Mr McCann spoke of stories “which appear to have no factual basis, or exaggerated, or distorted” from which newspapers profit enormously while damaging their subjects profoundly. Mr McCann is Gerry McCann, whose daughter, Madeline, was abducted in Portugal. He was telling the Leveson Inquiry about how the press accused him and his wife Kate of selling their daughter into slavery or murdering her.

Speaking of the McCanns, the Australian cultural critic, Clive James pointed out something very obvious and very shocking: “As I recall, they have always spoken with transparent nobility in their own defence. Their most telling point is the question they keep asking that gets no answer: how come none of the writers and executives involved in their persecution have ever been docked a day’s pay?” And he adds, “There is a difference between freedom of speech and the freedom to get a kick out of inflicting misery. Is the question really all that difficult?”

Under oath, the actress Siena Miller told the judge of how photographers used to spit at her so she would pull a face and caption writers could then put their own, usually unflattering, interpretation on the image. Another theme at the inquiry is how newspapers take retribution on those who oppose their might, in the form of ad hominem attacks in comment columns, and of the hurdles erected that slow down agreements to run corrections. And on and on and on.

Looks like it’s time to Occupy the Press.