Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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But unless they were born as saints, they had to find out they were not infallible by listening to the words of others. When young and cocky, I had defined a poem as any piece of writing that could not be quoted from except out of context. I think it is fitting, given James's central themes, that his final sketch before his conclusion is one of Stefan Zweig, whose memoir The World of Yesterday I just reviewed. Throw her in the bag with Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Sarte, Goebbels, and several others, who only appear in their own essays to be pilloried and condemned.

Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems. He starts from a position of their purpose, their intention and works back to his own criteria of the aesthetic, which he then frequently modifies based on his quite remarkable empathy. I am showing them the way to a necessary failure: the grim but edifying realization that a complete picture of reality is not to be had.

Even when I was rather enjoying a few pages of one of these essays, a feeling kept lurking in the background that James expected me to be taking notes - both so I wouldn’t forget the pearls of wisdom he was scattering, and so I wouldn’t forget who gifted them to me. We take pride in offering a wide selection of used books, from classics to hidden gems, ensuring there is something for every literary palate.

But really, I am not so sure James should have taken a more holistic approach to his belief in knowing other languages – when I read T. The usual division is to treat our daily job as the adventure and our cultural diversions as a mere mechanism of renewal and repose. The future of science, Renan’s cherished avenir de la science, can be assessed from our past, in which it flattened cities and gassed innocent children: whatever we don’t yet know about it, one thing we already know is that it is not necessarily benevolent. While he stays focused on the life of the individual being profiled in some cases, in others his thoughts take him to other cultural and political figures. Thinking otherwise, we doom ourselves to spinning fantasies, which might well be fluent, but could equally be lethal.For me this is precisely the job of a critic - not to praise or condemn but to refine his own sensibilities by understanding those of others. Just because he has an incurable knack of making himself sound arrogant shouldn't deafen us to the truth of his humility. Soaring to Montaigne-like heights, it is the work of a man who, even after a lifetime of reading in several languages, can accuse himself of never knowing enough but still feels bound to hand down what he knows to a new generation already facing the same hard questions about whether humanism can survive the threat of the forces ranged against it. It might seem a pity to break pieces off their finished work, but I think the integrity of their concentrated effort can only stand revealed more clearly. Staying on topic, bragging: James allows himself a great deal of freedom in his discussions, which is fine so long as he holds a reader’s interest.

This much, however, I do know: it would not be a mind at all if its owner had allowed his multiplicity of interests to be restricted by a formula.

Russian while seated at a café, usually the Copper Kettle (which is at Cambridge – as he’s quick to remind you) or some exotic locale during his extensive travels and TV documentary shoots.



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