Friday, July 27, 2007

Speed Reading and Cultural Amnesia

Woody Allan had a quip "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

And in today's Grauniad a correspondent writes:
I "speed read" my daughter's copy [of Harry Potter 7] in 45 minutes. It's about wizards.
Glenn Baron
Leigh on Mendip, Somerset
Green, recycled quips have a safe feeling to them. Like curling up in a saggy armchair with a favourite book and a cup of tea.

I've just bought Clive James's Cultural Amnesia. Slate magazine describes the essays as offering
a compelling alternative history of the last century and of the struggles of liberal humanism against totalitarianism.
You can either read a small selection online at Slate, or buy the book and read it curling up in a saggy armchair with a a cup of tea, or you can do something else, who am I to force you to do anything?

There is a cracking review of Cultural Amnesia by Gordon McLauchlan that mentions that James
writes with warmth and conviction about the brilliant period of four decades in Vienna before World War II when a group of intellectuals, mainly Jewish, flourished in a cafe culture because they were denied the opportunity of wasting their energies on compiling abstruse doctoral theses, because universities discriminated against them. They were driven instead to journalism, plain speech, direct observation and the necessity to entertain [which] could sometimes be the enemy of learning, but not as often as the deadly freedom to write as if nobody would ever read the result except a faculty supervisor.
That ties in to a theme, possibly not mentioned in James's book, that having a group of people with the same interests is important for any artistic movement. Bebop needed a group of people around Charlie Parker for Bird to shine. Abstract expressionism needed a group of people supporting each other in New York in the post WWII period. But that's an aside.

McLauchlan goes on to say "James is a great public intellectual not infected by the hubris of Christopher Hitchens." Some people may argue with that point.

It's a big book, so that's me set up for several weeks.

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