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Cultural Materialism

Cultural Materialism: On Raymond Williams

Edited by Christopher Prendergast
Volume: 9
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Materialism
    Book Description:

    Widely regarded as one of the founding figures of international cultural studies, Raymond Williams is of seminal importance in rethinking the idea of culture. In tribute to his legacy, this edited volume is devoted to his theories of cultural materialism and is the most substantial and wide-ranging collection of essays on his work to be offered since his death in 1988. "Raymond Williams was the last of the great European male revolutionary socialist intellectuals born before the end of the age of Europe (1492-1945)." --Cornel West Contributors include Stanley Aronowitz, John Brenkman, Peter de Bolla, Catherine Gallagher, Stephen Heath, John Higgins, Peter Hitchcock, Cora Kaplan, David Lloyd, Robert Miklitsch, Michael Moriarty, Morag Shiach, David Simpson, Gillian Skirrow, Kenneth Surin, Paul Thomas, Gauri Viswanathan, and Cornel West.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8521-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. In Memoriam: The Legacy of Raymond Williams
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Cornel West
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Groundings and Emergings
    (pp. 1-26)
    Christopher Prendergast

    Raymond Williams’s death, in January 1988, has naturally occasioned many retrospective assessments, but, for a combination of brevity, sweep, and finality, perhaps none quite matches the opening remark of the memorial address delivered by Cornel West at the National Film Institute in 1988: “Raymond Williams was the last of the great European male revolutionary socialist intellectuals born before the end of the age of Europe (1492-1945).” This remarkable sentencesubsequently elaborated by West in a deeply sympathetic engagement with the spirit of Williams’s work—arguably veers between the bold and the rash. At one end of the spectrum, it stands as...

  6. Part I Theory

    • Raymond Williams: Feeling for Structures, Voicing “History”
      (pp. 29-50)
      David Simpson

      How else could we entitle that word “history,” now, except in speech marks, under the sign of vocative instability, outside any assumed consensus? As perhaps the most overemployed item in the vocabulary of literary-critical and cultural analysis, “history” may well also be the least decisive. We return to history, work toward history, and espouse a historical method, but few of us can say exactly what we mean by history, except in the most gestural way. Those of us who worry about it at all find ourselves necessarily mired in complex theoretical retractions and modifications, bewildering enough to sponsor some fairly...

    • A Gendered History of Cultural Categories
      (pp. 51-70)
      Morag Shiach

      Feminists can find much of use to them in the work of Raymond Williams; they cannot, however, find many women. Williams’s methodology of historical semantics, his insistence on complexity in the analysis of social forces and developments, his refusal to be placed by the texts and definitions of the dominant culture all speak to women who are trying to reformulate historical categories and to resist the obviousness of textual meanings, but they do not speakaboutwomen. This sort of division leaves feminist critics in an uncomfortable, although familiar, position: terms and arguments that have been blind to gender and...

    • News from Somewhere: Reading Williams’s Readers
      (pp. 71-90)
      Robert Miklitsch

      The Thatcher government installed itself in December 1979, and if “the crisis of socialism in Britain did not come in one day,”¹ 1979 still seems, in retrospect, a watershed in the postwar political history of the United Kingdom. The force of this proposition is even more apparent when one considers that thirty years before, to the month,New Left Reviewwas launched and, with it, the journal of a generation—not, however, the first but the second generation (not, in other words, the Old Left but the New Left).

      In Williams’s second novel,Second Generation(1964), Peter Owen typifies this...

    • “The Longest Cultural Journey”: Raymond Williams and French Theory
      (pp. 91-116)
      Michael Moriarty

      I want to consider here the problematic relationship between the thought of Raymond Williams and the tendencies in French literary theory since the 1950s.¹ It was Williams himself who remarked that the crossing of the Channel must be one of the longest cultural journeys in existence by comparison with the physical distance.² In considering Williams’s engagement with French thought of, broadly speaking, the structuralist and poststructuralist variety, we shall find an acute sense of that distance: a certain sympathy that is partly an antipathy to the enemies in Britain of that kind of thought, and partly perhaps a solidarity with...

    • Forgetting Williams
      (pp. 117-140)
      John Higgins

      Since his sudden and unexpected death in January 1988, progressive intellectuals throughout the world have mourned the passing of Raymond Williams, perhaps the foremost British socialist thinker, intellectual, and cultural activist of the past fifty years. In the obituary columns of leading newspapers, at conferences and on television, and in the pages of special issues of academic journals, we have seen the public mourning of a figure who was, in Patrick Parrinder’s words, “father-figure to thousands,” who was, for Juliet Mitchell, “an intellectual and moral touchstone.”¹

      We need to remind ourselves of the function that Freud ascribed to mourning. The...

  7. Part II History, Politics, Literature

    • Raymond Williams on Tragedy and Revolution
      (pp. 143-172)
      Kenneth Surin

      It is difficult to deny thatModern Tragedy(1966) was a work of signal importance in the development of Raymond Williams’s thought.¹ Issues both practical and theoretical regarding history, politics, culture, literature, socialism, and so forth were treated in this book with a commitment to a version of revolutionary socialist struggle that was to become palpably evident in such later works asMarxism and Literature(1977) andTowards 2000(1983)–a commitment that, prior toModern Tragedy, had been displayed in a much more qualified way inThe Long Revolution(1963) and was merely nascent inCulture and Society(1958). Even...

    • Antipictorialism in the English Landscape Tradition: A Second Look at The Country and the City
      (pp. 173-187)
      Peter de Bolla

      It is now almost twenty years since the first publication of Williams’sThe Country and the City,which makes it almost overdue for some form of reappraisal. I would like to make some first steps toward a reassessment by concentrating on what I take to be the core of Williams’s argument, his account of the changing structures of feeling that accompanied the alterations in land use and ownership throughout the eighteenth century in Britain. Williams, we should recall, moves between high and low literary productions that were simultaneous with this “agrarian revolution” and juxtaposes these writings with good measures of...

    • Raymond Williams and British Colonialism
      (pp. 188-210)
      Gauri Viswanathan

      The failure of the British left to conceptualize cultural practices in relation to imperialism is most pronounced in its unproblematic conflation of the termsnationalandimperial.One would least expect to find this tendency in such works as Brian Doyle’sEnglish and Englishness(1989), Alan Sinfield’sLiterature, Politics, and Culture in Postwar Britain(1989), or Robert Colls and Philip Dodd’sEnglishness(1987), where the “naturalness” of English culture is rejected as a false premise obscuring a history of invented discourses and disciplines. But the ways of reading the invention of “national culture” are as varied as the discourses themselves,...

    • “What We Have Again to Say”: Williams, Feminism, and the 1840s
      (pp. 211-236)
      Cora Kaplan

      No decade has been more associated with Raymond Williams’s developing method of cultural analysis, or is more indelibly stamped for our future understanding with his idiosyncratic focus, than the 1840s in England. Williams’s reading of that troubled historical moment, initiated in his chapter on “The Industrial Novels” inCulture and Society 1780-1950(1958), remained remarkably constant over time, but his exemplary use of it would shift in significant ways between his two major, related treatments of it in “The Analysis of Culture” inThe Long Revolution(1961) and in “Forms of Fiction” (1977).¹ These two essays, together with the chapter...

    • Raymond Williams and Marxism
      (pp. 237-267)
      John Brenkman

      For twenty years Western Marxists looked back to two historic moments to guide our theoretical work on society and culture 1917 and 1968. As symbols, as historic watersheds, as reminder and conscience of political struggle, the Russian Revolution and then the events in Prague, Paris, and Mexico City and in the United States at the Democratic convention in Chicago and at Columbia University stimulated important work in every field of social and cultural theory.

      As each generation of Marxists has faced coming to terms with Stalin, “Soviet Marxism,” or “actually existing socialism,” it has developed various explanations for the fate...

    • Culture and Society or “Culture and the State”
      (pp. 268-304)
      David Lloyd and Paul Thomas

      Few would dispute the assertion that Raymond Williams’sCulture and Society 1780-1950has had and even continues to have a definitive influence on what appears to be the dominant British tradition of thinking on culture in its relation to social and political theory. As Williams himself indicated inPolitics and Letters,the work more or less archaeologically reconstructed an occulted tradition.¹ More importantly, it countered “the appropriation of a long line of thinking about culture to what were by now decisively reactionary positions.”² At the present moment, in the context of a resurgent, militant cultural conservativism, such a venture might...

  8. Part III Cultural Studies

    • Raymond Williams and Cultural Studies
      (pp. 307-319)
      Catherine Gallagher

      There was something decidedly asymmetrical about interdisciplinary literary studies prior to the 1980s. The title of the Modern Language Association division devoted to the study of literature and society, Sociological Approaches to Literature, says a great deal about our recent past. Critics “approached” literature via “sociological” ideas —concepts developed in a discipline that took “society” as its object of inquiry. Obviously, the relationship between literature and society must have been conceived of as intimate for the methods of one discipline to seem applicable to the objects of another: literature was embedded in social practices, was itself a social practice, yielding...

    • Between Criticism and Ethnography: Raymond Williams and the Intervention of Cultural Studies
      (pp. 320-339)
      Stanley Aronowitz

      According to conventional institutional history, the three founding spiritual parents of the intellectual movement known as cultural studies are E.P. Thompson, whose revival of historiography “from below” changed the face of history writing for several generations;¹ Richard Hoggart, who insisted on the continuing salience of a popular, working-class culture in the wake of the pervasive influence of the media and founded the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) to document this culture and directed the center for its first five years;² and Raymond Williams, who, despite his lack of institutional connections to CCCS and its progeny in some twelve British...

    • Information in Formation: Williams/Media/China
      (pp. 340-358)
      Peter Hitchcock

      In 1962 Raymond Williams noted that “all the new means of communication have been abused, for political control (as in propaganda) or for commercial profit (as in advertising). We can protest against such uses, but unless we have a clear alternative version of human society, we are not likely to make our protests effective.”¹ Thirty years later there are, of course, numerous reasons for protest, but the prospects of a “clear alternative” remain radically displaced by the exigencies of the moment. It is as if what appeared to be axiomatic in 1962 (i.e., that the people should own the means...

    • Interview with Raymond Williams
      (pp. 359-376)
      Stephen Heath and Gillian Skirrow

      Transcript of an interview videotaped in Cambridge, England,March 1984.

      HEATH: Raymond Williams’s work over the last twenty years has been very influential for the way in which people have thought about culture and politics. In the course of that work he has had occasion many times to look critically at mass culture and he has written specifically about the media, notably television, in his bookTelevision: Technology and Cultural Form.Gillian Skirrow and I talked to Raymond Williams about issues relating to mass culture. It seemed particularly important to do this as the book of interviews,Politics and Letters,in...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 377-380)
  10. Index
    (pp. 381-387)