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New Essays by Clive James

  • In one sentence: Sometimes age actually does allow for wisdom to accumulate. At least in word.
  • Number of reads: 2 since 2012.
  • Galef type: Data 3 - highlights patterns in the world
    & Values 1 - an explicit argument about values .
  • To be read when: whenever.


I'm cheating here because these are actually five books: Even As We Speak (2001); The Meaning of Recognition (2005); The Revolt of the Pendulum (2008); A Point of View (2012) and oh what the hell also Cultural Amnesia (2007), his epic performance of marginalia.

I came to liberalism late, after very radical teens. By the time I found James I was sickened by years of people and books raging against the modern world, spending their time reducing absolutely everything in life to its politics. (Larkin is a great poet and was a terrible man, easy as that – but this tension is unbearable to some, who throw out his great work and sneer at those who don't.)

Clive James is the consummate droll liberal railing against both wings of partisans: he’s against celebrity culture, Ostalgie, and anti-American critical-theoretical cuteness, but also ‘clash of civilisation’ nonsense, socially destructive austerity and conservatism in the arts.

His books were a space beyond the culture war, where the personal is not usually political. He is one of the greatest living prose stylists, and would deserve study for that alone.

His long essay on Isaiah Berlin is fantastic and contentious, and his retorts to the professional philosophers who come at him about it, devastating, inspiring.

Unlike say Geoff Dyer, to whom he is very similar, James does not have academic standing. His work at risk of fading away without their dull chronic oxygen.

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