The title of Clive James’s fifth and latest volume of memoirs, The Blaze of Obscurity, is characteristically self-deprecating. Subtitled “The TV Years,” it makes clear that James never had any illusions about the ephemeral format in which he worked for nearly two decades. “It was television that made a civilized life possible for my family, and made it possible for me to write only from inner compulsion, and never to a market imperative,” he explains. “As a clincher, it was television that made it possible for me to go on writing poetry, ever and always at the heart of my desire.” Still, James considers his “Postcard from . . .” television travel series to contain some of his finest writing, and he holds a similarly lofty opinion of Fame in the Twentieth Century, a documentary that never can resurface because of copyright issues. The fate of such projects,...


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