Snakecharmers in Texas
"The Italian poet Eugenio Montale and the racing driver Niki Lauda have a lot in common. Mastery is knowing how to limit yourself, said Montale to a room crowded with academics: twenty years later Niki Lauda told a press conference, in Portugal, that the secret is to win going as slowly as possible. Two men apparently poles apart, but the same voice talking each time.
"With just the right mix of reverence and ribaldry, and armed with unmatched literary agility, Clive James tackles ice-dancing and Labour Party politics, Martin Amis and Barry Manilow, master sleuths from Eugène François Vidocq to Charlie's Angels, liberty and the first Iron Lady. He shows too how Barry Humphries achieves popular accessibility where Mayakovsky failed, and survives an excess of papaya after Terms of Endearment on a DC-10 during a round-the-world trip, all in one gloriously readable repertory.
"For those already addicted to the works of Clive James, Snakecharmers in Texas will be a delight. If you have met him through television but have yet to discover the pleasure of his company in print, then just one question remains. What are you waiting for?"
"Clive James is a brilliant bunch of guys" - New Yorker
First Paragraph from the Introduction
The only unifying priniple I would claim for these articles is that they are written out of real interest in their subjects. Lucky enough, in recent years, to be able to pick and choose, I might not always have chosen wisely, but at least I was never obliged to feign enthusiasm. Keenness is therefore genuine, even if misplaced.
Apart from restoring the odd short passage which was cut for production reasons, the pieces are reproduced pretty much as was - not, I hope, because I have grown lazy now, but because I was reasonably careful then. Here again, I was in a privileged position: even when I had to phone the story in, I had time to think about it first. If the reader asks how I dare presume to take lyric poetry and ice-dancing with seemingly equal seriousness, I have no short answer, beyond pointing out that homo faber and homo ludens are both members of the same species sapiens, and that Mozart played billiards. There is a long answer, but I will probably never get to the end of it. This book is an instalment. The activities it covers are, I believe, all creative. Not even the racing driver has any intention of smashing things up. He least of all. What drives him, while he drives the car, is the impulse to bring order out of the hurly-burly, or at least to draw a clear line.
From the Jonathan Cape hardback edition, 1988.
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Last modified: January 2, 2002.