Virtual Memories Show:
Clive James Bonus Episode

“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!”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

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.

sentencedVirtual Memories Show:
Clive James – Remainder

“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 out being reasonable.”

Clive James was diagnosed with leukemia and emphysema several years ago, but the poet, essayist, memoirist, novelist, TV host, and charter member of the Virtual Memories Show Dream List hasn’t let his ailments silence him. We got together at his home in Cambridge in February for a wide-ranging conversation about poetry, mortality, binge-watching Veronica Mars, writing Cultural Amnesia (one of my favorite books), being Australian despite 50 years in the UK, the impact of his showbiz career — good and bad — on his literary legacy, and a lot more. We talk about his two new books — Poetry Notebook (Liveright) and Sentenced To Life (Picador, UK only) — and the ones he’s working on, and how he faced two choices after his diagnoses: “Lie back on a couch, admire myself for my achievements, and sign off; or go on as if I had forever.” Give it a listen!

“All that poetry comes in handy when you lie there, contemplating the end. The question is why: Why when your body is about to come apart, is there such appeal in reading such highly organized argument and imagery?”

Clive James on the Virtual Memories Show

We get into the role that culture plays in civilization, the future of the Middle East, his first encounter with a Jew, the books he made a priority of when he realized his time was short, why it’s okay for actors to be shallow, and how he wrote a critique of Daniel Goldhagen while dressed as a mariachi singer for a TV show in Mexico.

“It’s possible to say that if I’d just concentrated on my literary activities [instead of working on TV], I’d have had a less complicated reputation. The question never would have arisen: Is he serious enough to write seriously?”

We talked a lot of books in this one. Here’s a list:

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Born in Australia, Clive James lives in Cambridge, England. He is the author of Unreliable Memoirs; a volume of selected poems, Opal Sunset; the best-selling Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts; and the translator of The Divine Comedy by Dante. 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.

Credits: This episode’s music is El Cholulo by Tosca Tango Orchestra. The conversation was recorded at Mr. James’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. James by me.