Bill Moyers: You quote Edmund Wilson, who writes:
The knowledge that death is not so far away, that my mind and emotions and vitality will soon disappear like a puff of smoke has the effect of making earthly affairs seem unimportant, and human beings more and more ignoble. It is harder to take human life seriously, including one’s own efforts and achievements and passions.
Clive James: You know, I believe he was a great man, but I think exactly the opposite. As death approaches, I think more and more of the next generation and their importance. And I just — I just don’t think in the way that he thought.
But that was his limitation. He was a bit of a misogynist, and I’m not. I’m continually astonished by the creativity of human beings and their bravery, especially women. I’ve always been impressed by women’s bravery. They’re on the whole tougher than men… They seem anchored in a way that men aren’t; men are quite often fantasists and idealists. I know I am. It’s my bad tendency, which I have to try and control.
The closing exchange in Moyers’s interview with James on Bill Moyers Journal in 2007.
You can pick up a copy of James’s excellent, expansive survey of civilization Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts or check out more posts and interviews with the Aussie polymath.
And you can also read more:
- One of my favorite modern poems “Lessons of Darkness” by CJ
- A passage from Edmond de Goncourt’s journal, which hauntingly twists that ‘puff of smoke’ image
- The girl who wasn’t Anne Frank