Wednesday 27 November 2019

RIP Clive James

Sad to hear of the death of Clive James, though it's wonderful that he managed almost another decade after he was diagnosed with leukaemia – and, of course, he continued writing almost to the very end. If he hadn't been blessed with such a prodigious range of talents, and such a highly developed sense of humour, he could have been his adoptive country's great public intellectual – but who'd want to be that when you could be having fun on (and with) television, being the finest TV critic there ever was, relishing low culture as much as high, meeting and interviewing the stars, living the life? James did the lot, wrote the lot, read the lot, broadcast the lot. He seems to have had the energy, mental and physical, of ten men, and the productive capacity of many more. Of course, being the man he was, he did and wrote too much, but the best of his writings will surely endure.
  Looking back through what I've written about him here over the years, I found a couple of quotations worth repeating. One is a chilling piece of self-analysis from his Cambridge memoir May Week Was in June. Observing himself as his Cambridge days come to a close, he writes, in the third person, 'he sits writing in his journal. He has just told it that he is reasonably satisfied. The insistent suspicion that he has not yet begun, and has nothing to show, is too frightening to record. For someone who has good reason to believe that he doesn't exist apart from what he does, to doubt that he has done anything worthwhile is to gaze into the abyss.'
 The second quotation is from the epilogue to a collection of his brilliant radio talks, A Point of View, in which James ponders the role of the broadcaster in a world undoubtedly going mad

‘The business of the broadcaster isn’t to correct abuses. It is merely to point them out, to those capable of seeing the implications. By definition, that audience is already ahead of the broadcaster, so it doesn’t really need him, except for consolation. But consolation can be important at a time when it feels as if the world is going mad. Probably the world always feels like that. But today it raves in a multiform jargon that sounds all the more demented because of its approximation to common reason: the patois of a Bedlam that confers degrees. This peculiarly modern interlingua of unjustified omniscience, now that it is here, will probably never go away. It will always transfer itself to a new area, because there will always be people with an interest in inflating their own importance by distorting reality. But part of reality, a heartening part, is that there will also always be people who know sense when they hear it. To this valuable audience we must be careful what we say…’

Wise words, and but a few among many.

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