A counter-Leavisite snack

Some quotables in Hitchens’s review of Clive James’s memoir.

James’s strenuous test of the De Vriesian proposition was to try to demonstrate that one could be simultaneously cerebral and on television…I can only say, as someone who doesn’t watch much television, that when Clive James invited me on to one of his shows…I did actually feel that I wasn’t under orders to be stupider than I really am.

It’s irksome, being under such orders. There’s always (or often) that lurking dread when writing books, that some faceless publisher or editor or agent will swear that no no a thousand times no, this book will never make it past your poxy little computer unless you make it readily understandable to the pearly-cheeked virginal four-year-old. (There is also of course the corresponding but rather different dread that one will be under orders to be cleverer than one in fact is. Happily those orders are impossible to fulfill, so there is no conflict; one simply falls on one’s sword. So I imagine, at any rate.)

Of a certain Friday lunchtime group, which now threatens to become a pseudo-legend on an almost Bloomsbury-like scale…, James makes the correct observation that it started out as a self-consciously counter-Leavisite snack, where little if any career-smoothing or back-scratching could even have been attempted. One of the “stars” of that snack, Martin Amis, once rebuked someone for being in want of a sense of humour, and added that by saying this he meant very deliberately to impugn the man’s seriousness.

There – if I’m not mistaken, there is the ‘no truly intelligent’ thing again. To ruin an epigram by explaining it, I would suggest that Amis meant something like what I’ve been claiming: that the want of a sense of humour constitutes such a serious and disabling blind spot that it really is incompatible with (proper, full, complete) intelligence.

Anyway, it’s a great line.

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