One 20th century writer whom James omits from his list of obscure and famous personalities is, significantly, Georges Bernanos; he is a magnificent counterweight to the kind of secular humanism that Zweig espoused.Clive James is perhaps best known in Australia in his TV persona as a pop culture wise guy and celebrity aficionado, but he has a fine reputation as a literary critic, a novelist and a satirical poet.
Thanks to a suggestion from a post following my recent blog about Stefan Zweig, I have been dipping into Clive James’s book, Cultural Amnesia.
James says that it took him 40 years to write this distillation of his reflections on the personalities encountered during his life through their books or, more occasionally, through their politics, their films or their music.
Clive James: Yes I made sure of that, in fact it's one of the main reasons I took the degree actually because I knew exactly what would happen.
They gave me a cape and a velvet cap and I came marching down the aisle, there was my mum sitting there in her wheelchair and she had a look on her face, and I know exactly what that look meant - it was relief!
Nobody's ever seen a mass audience, not even Hitler saw the whole of the mass audience really, yet he saw a few hundred thousand people. Clive James: Well she's back in New York doing very well, she's back selling men's underwear at Sacks 5th Avenue, actually, which is where we found her. The hazard is that once she's flown the Atlantic, the airline crew always recognises her and invites her to the flight deck and she sings 'Hello' over the PA system.
They're all sitting at home alone or in families, and I think it's a mistake to do too much thinking about what they might know or what they mightn't know. Can you imagine paying for a first class ticket and hearing Margherita coming down your earphones?
You look just the way you look on the television - it's quite uncanny!
Clive James: That's what Margherita said the last time I talked to her.
Clive James: Well I wasn't actually requested to leave, I just faded away. The idea is you sign on and then gradually you don't do the degree, right? Clive James: But it's the way into the media in my experience.
Usually the reason you don't finish your degree is you've found something better to do, which is what we did didn't we?!