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Clive James on Cultural Amnesia

This article is more than 15 years old.

Novelist, essayist, poet and all-around London super-critic Clive James has been a fixture of Britain's cultural thrust and parry for decades. Now he's out with a warning for the world, at least the Western world.

We are forgetting the sources and champions of the humanism which, says James, is the West's greatest strength. He calls it "cultural amnesia," and he's pushing back, with remembrance of 20th century cultural champs — Proust and Camus, Duke Ellington and ... Tony Curtis?

This hour On Point: critic Clive James on the greats and great stumbles of a century and the threat of "cultural amnesia."

Quotes from the Show:

"What I like about [Bertold] Brecht is that he was a hypocrite at every level, he left nothing out. Picasso spent most of his life being sincere." Clive James

"Humanism, human achievement in the arts and sciences, faced tremendous threats in the 20th century." Clive James

"Communism had a lingering appeal for intellectuals because it was so simplistic." Clive James

"I'm frightened for the power [mass media] has for numbing." Jack Beatty

"America has always been involved with the arts." Clive James

"It's the books about the books that can get between you and the books." Clive James


Clive James, essayist, cultural critic and author of "Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts"

Jack Beatty, Senior Editor at the Atlantic Monthly.

This program aired on May 8, 2007.


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