Clive James Watch #14

Reviews of Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays 2005-2008

John Gardner in "The New Zealand Herald": "What unites James' approach to the disparate subjects in this collection, drawn from his essays between 2005 and 2008, is a habit of analysis that encourages you to seek out what he is writing about or, if you have already read or seen it, drives you back to the original to re-examine your own conclusions. Inevitably you may not always agree with James who is nothing if not opinionated."

David Free in Quadrant magazine: "For more than forty years now Clive James has been writing criticism in which this sort of trick is routinely worked. The essays -- of which this is the eighth volume, leaving aside a couple of best-of compilations -- have always been the spine of his achievement. And the achievement, now that the distracting matter of his television career is out of the way, is at last starting to be appreciated for its heft as well as its dazzle. The 2007 publication of Cultural Amnesia -- the book that will stand as his critical masterwork, unless in this indecently fruitful late phase of his he favours us with something still better -- has surely put the question of James's literary status beyond a doubt, at least among people capable of reading that book at the level at which it was written. There are still plenty of critics around who aren't capable of that, of course. We will get to them. But among critics who matter, there seems to have been a general coming-around to the proposition that James is one of the great essayists of our time: humane, lively, formidably intelligent, and -- to use a word that the radical like to think they have a monopoly on -- committed."

Gavin McLean in "Otago Daily Times": "Even at second-best, at his most ephemeral, James still excites envy; his wit, breadth of knowledge and his language amaze. He is seldom absent from his work, whether he is discussing old mates, art, poetry or Formula 1 drivers. He's clearly vexed about how the world will view his legacy, complaining about literary editors' reluctance to take a prime time TV performer seriously as a poet. At times Clive James the intellectual and Clive James the blokey social commentator find it difficult to inhabit an ego as big as his."

Essays by James

James's essay, "A Veil of Silence over Murder" published in the September 2009 edition of Standpoint gets stuck in early: "Of all the liberal democracies, Australia is the one where the idea is most firmly entrenched among the local intelligentsia that the culture of the West is the only criminal, all other cultures being victims no matter what atrocities they might condone even within their own families." He accuses Australian feminists and intelligensia (these are not mutually exclusive, nor is one a full sub-set of the other) of a lack of intestinal fortitude, especially when it comes to the treatment of women in non-Western societies and cultures. 

Shakira Hussein takes an opposing view in Crickey, while the "High Windows" weblog is glad that James remembers Pamela Bone in his essay, but finds the exercise a little self-centred.  


James doesn't make it sound easy for Elizabeth Grice to interview him for "The Telegraph":

Clive James issues more warnings than a swine flu directive. He claims to be a terrible interviewee, all over the place, evasive. When he hears the doorbell go, he predicts that the photographer is about to have "the worst half-hour of his life." He is a bad subject: uneasy, and his eyes are too small. Yet he agrees that time's ravages are not as disastrous in his case as they might have been. "The smartest move I ever made in showbusiness," he says, "was to start off looking like the kind of wreck I would end up as. I was already aged in the wood."

But he settles down and becomes more revealing than he usually is:

And talk he certainly can. Thoughtful stuff, inconsequential stuff, funny, opinionated, quotable stuff. He's only once stuck for an answer - to the question: what is it he wants to leave behind? "I honestly don't know," he says, grimacing. If he's lucky, it might be one book. A fistful of poems. A few sentences. That's all a man can expect - though being James, he does hope for better than that. His first tranche of autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs, may survive, he thinks (it should). His poem What Happened to Auden deserves a place in literature's time capsule. And if it's a sentence, he fears it will be the "wrong" one - the one where he describes Arnold Schwarzenegger as "a brown condom full of walnuts". Though his description of Barbara Cartland's eyes as "the corpses of two crows that had flown into a chalk cliff" must be a populist contender.

Clive James Website

On the Clive James website, Series 5 of the "Talking in the Library" video interviews is now available.  James talks to Alexei Sayle, Catherine Tate, Claire Tomalin, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Victoria Wood, Nick Hornby, Professor John Carey and Stephen Fry.

On the audio side, the complete first 2009 series of the BBC Radio 4 "Point of View" program is also available. 


Oliver Kamm warns against accusing James of Illiteracy.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on September 15, 2009 9:44 AM.

Australian Bookcovers #177 - The Velodrome by Liam Davison was the previous entry in this blog.

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