The Pendulum is Revolting

Just back from my holidays, but not quite back at work yet, so uploading various bits and pieces on to the blog and facebook. Got through a pleasing number of books during my stay in Brittany, most of which you can see in my "recent reads in the side bar." Most of them were pieces of undemanding pap, and deserve no more thought than a line or two on a side bar, but one or two deserve a bit more attention. One of these is "The Revolt of the Pendulum" by Clive James, an anthology of his essays from 2005-2008.

I've always enjoyed his writing, whether it be his newspaper columns about TV, collected in previous anthologies, or his memoires (whether or not they were unreliable), as well as his Radio 4 "thoughts" which fit, from time to time, into the yawning gap left by Alastair Cooke's demise. I never really enjoyed his "On TV" shows however, as I thought they tended to be slightly xenophobic and low rent (a tendency which unsurprisingly increased when Chris Tarrant took over the slot), whilst James seemed to be constantly shouting unecessarily (actually in one essay in this anthology he explains why that was).

Throughout this collection, however, there is a recurrent wistfulness (if not slight bitterness) with regard to the demise of his mainstream television career, together with repeated plugging of his website and newly-rediscovered role as Pete Atkin's lyricist. However, James was always a shameless self-publicist, and does it in such a self-aware fashion that it doesn't grate too much. Being a devotee of what one of his teachers referred to as 'sludge fiction' (indeed, as I wrote earlier, I read this book whilst on holiday, and the rest of my reading was drawn from the very bottom of the sludge tank), his essays and reviews regarding high literary fiction and theory may as well have been written in Swahili (and, given that despite my 'A' in O-level French I am that person he describes as someone likely to order 'pamplemousse' thinking it to be a dessert, it could equally have had as much effect on me in the Gallic tongue).

Equally impenetrable to someone whose knowledge of things Australian is limited to what was divulged in Skippy and the 'Kylie and Jason' years of Neighbours, were his pieces concerning his homeland. However even where I didn't understand his initial points of reference, I always came away better informed.

In his analyses of popular culture he is, as ever, bang on the money, but his sharpest pieces, for me anyway were his critiques of current trends in the English language, particularly with regard to grammar and style. Coming from someone else who is not so well-versed in the blogosphere this may have degenerated into an anti-internet rant by an aging intellectual snob, but in James' hands it is a succinct and humourous dissection of the decay of English intellectual life.
I doubt that he would be impressed by the form or content of this review... But having read this book I promise I will try harder in future.


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