Common-sense dancing

Howard Jacobson remembers Clive James:

Clive James never failed to get a joke. Or to go on to make a better one. This wasn’t because he was overly competitive: rather, like Dr Johnson, whom he often quoted, he believed that conversation obliged us to keep the ball in the air. People lacking the grace that is a sense of humour also lacked common sense, he once told Martin Amis. “A sense of humour,” he went on, “is nothing but common-sense dancing.”

His practice as a critic, which was to abolish distinctions between high and low (but not between good and bad) was exemplary. The catholicism of his interests made his television columns for the Observer not only the most enjoyable but also the most discussed critical writing of the time, and it diminished his capacity to tackle the tough stuff (as witness the brilliant erudition of Cultural Amnesia) not a jot.

I found a copy of Cultural Amnesia in a Little Free Library a few weeks ago, not having heard of it but having a high opinion of Clive James. It sits on the stack waiting for me.

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