“Culture makes the world tolerable. It makes it possible to live in a world that would drive you mad if you saw it in an uninterpreted way.”
“I should have led a more balanced life, but that’s easy to say at the end of things. When you’re caught up in what you’re doing, it’s very hard to be reasonable. And art isn’t really made of being reasonable.”
“Facing death, there were two alternative courses: one was to lie back on a couch, admire myself for my achievements, and sign off; the other was to go on as if I had forever. I chose the second.”
After 10 years of illness, Clive James died on November 24, 2019. We recorded a conversation in February 2015, and it stands out as one of the greatest episodes of this podcast. I’ve recorded a new introduction and remastered the audio, so please join me in celebrating Clive’s life and work with our conversation. (The good stuff starts at 13:05.) Give it a listen! And go buy Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts, along with all his other books!
The 50-hour trip to the UK to record with Clive — plus Prue Shaw and Anthea Bell — was made possible by an informal crowdfunding effort. I’d like to thank those 2015 contributors again: Emily Brock, Erika Dreifus, Mark Feltskog, Aaron Finkelstein, Stona Fitch, Paul Giordano, Judith Gurewich and Other Press, Rachel Hadas, Paul Jones, Ian Kelley, Jessica Kelley, Fred Kiesche, Kate Lacour, Roger Langridge, Eric Lyon, Bryan Samuel, Jesse Sheidlower, Bob Sikoryak, Craig Sirkin, Katie Skelly, Ron Slate, Tom Spurgeon, Levi Stahl, Claudia Young, and Garrett Zecker. Thanks again, friends!
About me he said, “I see what you’re up to, and I approve of your activities.”
“The more enjoyable I find a conversation, the more it’ll exhaust me. And I’ll be prostrate after this, because this is very enjoyable.”
“What do you do as you’re getting to the end? Well, above all, you don’t adopt an elegiac tone!”
About our Guest
Born in Australia, Clive James lived in Cambridge, England. He is the author of Unreliable Memoirs; Collected Poems: 1958-2015; the best-selling Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts; and the translator of The Divine Comedy by Dante. Since this 2015 session, he has published Sentenced to Life: Poems; The River in the Sky: A Poem; Play All: A Bingewatcher’s Notebook; Latest Readings; and most recently Somewhere Becoming Rain: Collected Writings on Philip Larkin.
He has written for the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). You can find a longer version of his bio at his site. He died on Nov. 24, 2019.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Clive’s home in Cambridge on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro in 2015 and remastered with some editing in 2019 in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. James by me. It’s on my instagram.