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Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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Zweig was one of the foremost proponents of the liberal humanism, the internationalism, the commitment to freedom through culture, that James strongly advocates.

Too often used for ill, it is now asked about its use for good, and usually on the assumption that any goodwill be measurable on a market, like a commodity.The full facts about Nazi Germany came out quite quickly, and were more than enough to induce despair. For that, science is one of the culprits: not the actual achievement of science, but the language of science, which, clumsily imitated by the proponents of Cultural Studies, has helped to make real culture unapproachable for exactly those students who might otherwise have been most attracted to it, and has simultaneously furthered the emergence and consolidation of an international cargo cult whose witch doctors have nothing in mind beyond their own advancement. 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? Clive, me old dingo, some of it does, some of it isn't really meant to, and some of it is just a lot of freeform fun! In the job we can have a profile written about us, and be summed up: all the profiles will be the same, and all the summaries add up to the same thing.

One of the most famous cabaret artists of his day, Friedell in the 1920s combined his career in show business with a monkish dedication to his library, in which he produced a book of his own that must count as one of the strangest and most wonderful of the twentieth century: Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit (The Cultural History of the Modern Age).

a towering figure like Brecht “had given aid and comfort to totalitarian power”) Science comes under attack, despite the common notion that “humanism” implies a reliance on scientific method and is most generally felt to be allied with it. S. Eliot on his favorite French poets, I get this real feeling of missing out on something great, and never once does Eliot beard me for being a clodhopper.

To read him is to bask in phrases and sentences which flow without a single dud line, exemplifying the "art that conceals art". I loved his essay on Duke Ellington, for instance, because I've danced to his music for years and knew only a small amount of the peripheral knowledge of the time that James has to offer. And the amount of reader’s time devoted to this lame material is inexcusable within the context of the rest of the book and James’ stated goal of rescuing us from “cultural amnesia. The first instance of this came for me at the Louis Armstrong section, which turned out to be, rather, a quote by Armstrong about how good Bix Biederbecke was, followed by James’ agreement that Biederbecke could really blow that horn.

Containing over a hundred essays, this is a definitive guide to twentieth century culture, cataloguing and exploring the careers of many of its greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists and philosophers. Certainly this would be one defence of Miles Davis (whose abstruseness James dislikes) or of Thomas Pynchon (he doesn't get a mention, but I suspect James would disapprove). If I have done my job properly, themes will emerge from the apparent randomness and make this work intelligible.

Chamfort’s “Maximes” took their place in literature “for those connoisseurs of the aphorism who positively liked the idea that there was a wasted lifetime behind the wisdom. It would have been nice to believe that comedy, one of my fields of employment, was of its nature opposed to political horror, but there were too many well-attested instances of Stalin and Molotov cracking each other up while they signed death warrants, and there was all too much evidence that Hitler told quite good jokes. Akhmatova’s friend and rival Nadezhda Mandelstam, on the other hand, seems delighted to have met Albert Camus: she distrusts the way he turns on the automatic charm even for an old lady, but she approves of his opinions. It is mostly among these that I appreciate my own lack of education as well as James’s superb erudition and taste.

James seems overjoyed that English is now the universal language, owing to “the American international cultural hegemony”, which he apparently feels much at ease with. English is this new world’s lingua franca, not because it was once spoken in the British Empire but because it is spoken now in the American international cultural hegemony. What is a “perfectly managed autocracy” and when has said entity even existed, let alone prevented the decline of language? The 103 third parties who use cookies on this service do so for their purposes of displaying and measuring personalized ads, generating audience insights, and developing and improving products.

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