Clive James Watch #13

Reviews of The Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays 2005-2008

Adam Mars-Jones in "The Observer": "The arguments in Cultural Amnesia had been enriched by a long process of fermentation and filtering. The Revolt of the Pendulum is a much more ordinary book, a standard collection of reviews and oddments, though it recycles from the magnum opus in the opening essay about Karl Kraus. It's also more revealing about the civil war between cultivation and blokeishness inside Clive James, the inner aesthete and the inner mocker. Down-to-earth intellectual is not the easiest role to take on."

Lynn Barber in "The Telegraph": "Not all the essays in this book are about Clive James, though a surprisingly high proportion of them are. But the meatier offerings are book reviews written for The New York Times, the TLS, or an Australian periodical called The Monthly. (Nowadays he largely avoids "the second-rank literary editors of London" and their proclivity for 'lively copy'.) There is an excellent essay on "Kingsley and the Women" which draws on personal knowledge of the Amis family, and an affectionate portrait of Robert Hughes, again using personal knowledge. (Though James claims to despise literary gossip, he is very good at it.) But most of the time his criticism is devoted to showing off."

Sam Leith in "The Spectator": "Pendulum, eh? Well, there's certainly something swing- ing back and forth here. Two years ago, lest we forget, Cultural Amnesia came out -- all 900-odd pages of it. Now here's Clive with another fat wedge of 'essays', some of which are essays, and some of which are more recognisable as old book reviews and feature pieces for newspapers. In the section marked 'Handbills' he reproduces pieces he's written to promote his stage shows; in 'Absent Friends', addenda to obituaries...It seems rather a monumental way of presenting ephemera, but it emerges piecemeal in this book that James is starting to hear the guy with the scythe and the persistent cough. He's thinking about how he'll be remembered. He's building monuments to himself. "

James Mitchell on the "Independent News and Media" website: "Most essayists and columnists are used to their work being considered ephemeral: their timely pieces, briefly entertaining and informative, froth and disappear, deservedly...Clive James is an exception. The variety is amazing; the wit is sharp but seldom painful; the sheer enjoyment of learning something new - and communicating that knowledge and pleasure - all mark him apart."

Essay by James

"The Necessary Minimum" - James on poet Dunstan Thompson for "Poetry" magazine July/August 2009.

One-Man Show

James is taking his current one-man show to Edinburgh in mid-August and then to other parts of the UK up till November.  The full schedule is on his website.


The August issue of the "Australian Literary Review" included James's poem "Aldeburgh Dawn", and in reply, Guy Rundle proceeded to tear it to bits on Crickey:

Why do people keep publishing this stuff? It's not as if James doesn't give us a clue -- in his unentertaining novel The Remake, he has a stocky character named 'CJ' jogging around a track. Who's that guy someone asks? Writer, someone replies, "his poetry sounds like reproduction furniture looks."

The fact that this line is exact and telling suggests James's tragedy: he's a gag writer and whatever lightning-strike gave him that skill simultaneously foreclosed the capacity to do something else. The more he strains to take the world seriously (witness his 900 page Cultural Amnesia, a self-serving book of drive-by essays, dedicated to Aung Sung Suu Kyi, among others) the more awful the result.

Stephen Romei, editor of the "Australian Literary Review" discusses it all on his weblog, "A Pair of Ragged Claws".


As James begins his one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival, he is interviewed for "The Independent" by Christina Patterson:

The problem with interviews, however, is that you don't get to write them. Well, I do, obviously, but he doesn't. "If you'll forgive me," he says, in the tone of a politician preceding a blistering attack with the phrase "with all due respect", "it's a very approximate form of getting at what someone means. And, in my case, I like to think I do it for myself. To that," he adds, "the argument is 'you're just asking to construct your own image' and the answer is, 'well, yes'." Clive James is also, clearly, a brilliant bunch of arguments. He's a brilliant bunch of questions, a brilliant bunch of answers, and soliloquies and theories and counter-theories. No need for an interviewer, really, except that I'm here and I'd quite like to do it.

So why, I ask, desperate to chip in, does he submit himself to a process he describes as "agonising"? "When I'm on the road doing a stage show," he says, "I owe something to the impresario. And I want to fill the house. And a one-man show doesn't fill itself automatically. But left to myself, I probably wouldn't do it. I find that I can write it better." Gee, thanks. Actually, I've no doubt that Clive James could write it better. This, after all, is the man whose TV reviews for The Observer were read even by people who didn't watch TV, the man whose hilarious memoirs have all been bestsellers, the man whose book of essays, Cultural Amnesia, was hailed by J M Coetzee as "a crash-course in civilization". But an interview, to state the absolute bleeding obvious, is a different thing. It's not a monologue, it's an encounter, written by somebody else. And of course it's "approximate". Isn't all journalism approximate?


 James didn't actually want to be the next Oxford professor of poetry.


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 7, 2009 11:08 AM.

Reprint: "Cobbers" and Correctness: The Need for Idiom by Nettie Palmer (Part 2) was the previous entry in this blog.

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