By Clive James
Six years after the much-heralded booklet of Cultural Amnesia, Clive James provides his “prequel”—forty-nine essays that he has chosen because the better of his half-century occupation. initially showing as As of This Writing, Cultural Cohesion examines the twisted cultural terrain of the 20 th century in a single of the main available and cohesive volumes on hand. Divided into 4 sections—“Poetry,” “Fiction and Literature,” “Culture and Criticism,” and “Visual Images”—James reviews on poets like W. H. Auden and Phillip Larkin, novelists like D. H. Lawrence and Raymond Chandler (not to say Judith Krantz!), and filmmakers like Fellini and Bogdanovich. all through, James delights his readers along with his manic strength and important aplomb. This quantity, that includes a brand new creation, is a one-volume cultural schooling that few contemporary books can rival.
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Additional resources for Cultural Cohesion: The Essential Essays
People sleep in broad daylight. Lying in the open air, the bodies of sleepers are like corpses of suicides; lovers are like dogs mating under the sun. Hearts are as dry as scorched fields. So much drought calls for blood. Hatred infects souls; the sun’s rays eat away people’s consciences, but their cancer remains. (37) This ultraviolet realm is arrested by the appearance of Antigone, who alone “withstands these arrows shot by Apollo, as though grief shielded her like sunglasses” (38). Antigone’s mournfulness has an inoculating effect against the rays of the sun, and it is only by dwelling on her private suffering that she can survive: grief is presented as a life-line, and a humanizing, individuating principle.
They may lack classical learning, but it is in fact character, imagination and empathy that are required to understand this tale. Greek stories, she suggests, are “much more moving for ordinary people, who know what it is to struggle and to suffer, than for those who have spent their lives between the four walls of a library” (19). But within Weil’s project of story-telling and pedagogy, we can trace an engagement with classical tradition that goes beyond the Horatian formula of instructing and delighting.
But whereas the plot of Antigone depends on burial, Cocteau “unburies” the text from the dust of centuries. The objectivity attained from the air, Cocteau suggests, “is the means of making this old masterpiece live. The force of habit distracts our contemplation, but because I fly over a famous text I believe I can hear it for the first time” (305). New technology—flight—gives rise to a new perspective. Cocteau augments this reflection in his marginal notes: “Why am I occupying myself with Sophocles?