Registration and Abstracts for ‘Raymond Williams Now’

Registration is now open for Raymond Williams Now here until 15 May (£30 full, £15 concessions).

RWNreg5

Here are the accepted abstracts. Pleasingly, there is a nice mix of contributions addressing a wide range of Williams’ interests. We also have a keynote by Professor Tony Crowley on ‘Keywords, Then and Now’, and the Artist Ruth Beale will present a film of her 30-minute performance, ‘Performing Keywords’, first performed at the Turner Contemporary, 2013

RWN ABSTRACTS

Raymond Williams Now

Panel One: Structures of Feeling

Stuart Middleton (Cambridge), ‘Raymond Williams’ structure of feeling: an intellectual history, 1947-1961’
Among Raymond Williams’ most distinctive theoretical innovations is the category of the ‘structure of feeling’, a term which has now passed into general usage in the humanities. Its ubiquity, however, frequently obscures the specific meaning that Williams imparted to it, and the particular intellectual and political problems that it was formulated to resolve. This paper will trace an intellectual history of the ‘structure of feeling’ from Williams’ first published essays up to his coining of the category in 1954, and its subsequent deployment in his influential work among the ‘New Left’. It will re-situate Williams’ early work in wartime and post-war debates about the relationship between the economy and ‘culture’, and in closely-related controversies over the role of the State in the arts. Tracing his contribution to those debates in Politics and Letters and in his early writings on drama, the paper will demonstrate the political significance of Williams’ attempt to develop a theory of collective artistic production, and highlight the diverse influences—including sociology, psychology, and cultural anthropology—that he drew upon to do so. This wide-ranging intellectual history will shed new light upon the origins of the ‘structure of feeling’, its deployment in Williams’ own subsequent work, and its adoption and diffusion among other thinkers who followed in his wake from the early 1960s. (sam41@cam.ac.uk)

Jacob Soule (Duke), ‘From structures of feeling to structures of affect’
This paper will reassess the significance of Raymond Williams’ central concept ‘structures of feeling’ in light of the contemporary turn to affect in cultural theory. The relevant chapter in Marxism in Literature is frequently cited as a precursor to this turn in several of its foundational texts. Certainly Williams’ concept provides a key blueprint for recent thinking about affect in his insistence that feeling is distinctly social rather than private. These contemporary theorists, however, make less of Williams’ imagining of feeling’s structures as forming new hegemonic orders – ‘pre-emergent’ cultural formations that would then be capable of transforming the dominant. Where affect theory tends towards an analysis of those temporary sensations that escape the capture of consciousness, Williams’ is more concerned to stress how such sensations and experiences are more than just fleeting: affect must meet its structure in cultural form. It is then the exciting case that literature and other modes of cultural expression are the first signals of an emerging cultural order due to their seemingly privileged capacity to express those affective murmurings that find themselves, to quote Williams, ‘at the very edge of semantic availability.’ The paper will turn to the benefits of revisiting this argument for literary studies. It will contend that a turn to affect, if it is to take Williams’ work seriously, must include an assertion of literature’s unique position in structuring emergent social experience that has yet to find expression. It will conclude by asking how reading contemporary fiction in this way might allow us to see would then be called the ‘structures of affect’ that are transforming cultural and political givens under the pressures of late capitalist life. (jacob.soule@duke.edu)

Toby Manning (Open University), ‘Williams and Orwell’
“Orwell hated what he saw of the consequences of capitalism, but he was never able to see it, fully, as an economic and political system” (Raymond Williams, Orwell, 1971). Ironically, much the same failing was suggested of Williams himself by Terry Eagleton (New Left Review, 1976), while later Paul Thomas (Theory & Society, 1985) explicitly linked Williams’ empiricist attitudes and discourse with that of Orwell. This paper will examine Williams’ literary relationship with Orwell, an increasingly antipathetic attitude, revealed by the progress from Culture and Society (1958), through the more measuredly critial Orwell (1971), to the outright hostility of Politics and Letters: interviews with New Left Review (1981). Williams’ attitude to Orwell has been critiqued by Colin MacCabe and Christopher Hitchens as both inaccurate and mean-spirited. I will argue firstly, that Williams’ attitude needs to be seen in terms of New Left Review’s hostile, post-Eagleton questioning, and I will propose a solution to the Althusserian/Cultural Materialist standoff that both questions and answers represent. I will argue, secondly, that Williams was entirely correct about Orwell. Williams accurately pinpointed Orwell as a conservative force in left-wing thought, offering a veneer of radicalism to an analysis that not only ducked any challenge to the British economic or class system, but also prompted, via Nineteen Eighty-Four, a pervasive anti-communism that has been used primarily to attack the left. Hitchens is a particularly pertinent pro-Orwell figure in this regard. Where, I shall argue, Williams did underestimate Orwell was in in Nineteen Eighty-Four’s imaginative quality: a key facet of the novel’s impact and endurance. (toby.manning@blueyonder.co.uk)

Matthew Chambers (Lodz), ‘The Significance of The Critic: Raymond Williams, Cultural Formations, and Literary Periodicals
This paper proposes to place Raymond Williams’ conceptualization of “cultural formations” in the context of the developing field of periodical studies. In Culture (1981), Raymond Williams conceptualizes “cultural formations” as resulting from the interplay of hegemonic and developing forces. Williams names periodicals as one kind of “collective public manifestation,” or one possible form of a cultural formation’s internal organization. Contrary to periodical studies practitioners’ tendency to value a networks model to explain interrelationships between discreet publications in order to map a field of production, I foreground literary periodicals as “formations” with their own complex social character. By way of example, Williams’ co-edited The Critic’s (1947) disparagement of more metropolitan-minded contemporary literary periodicals such as Horizon (1940-1950) and Poetry (London) (1939-1949) will be analyzed in the context of the parallel developments of British Cultural Studies and the Movement in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The focus on Williams as both method and diagnosis will demonstrate how his understanding of cultural formations arises out of a shifting emphasis in late modernist writing from aesthetics to culture. In Britain, this culturalist emphasis reflected the dominant mode of English particularism rooted in social maturation through education, yet harkened the more progressive politics of today’s cultural studies. This paper concludes by stressing that while the influence of Scrutiny (1932-1953) and F.R. Leavis were clearly formative for Williams, narrow attention on that influence has historically obscured a broader set of engagements of which Williams was a part. (mjc6@buffalo.edu)

Panel 2: Prefigurations

Andrew Milner (Monash), ‘Williams and Science Fiction’
Raymond Williams had an enduring interest in science fiction, an interest attested to: first, by two articles specifically addressed to the genre, both of which were eventually published in the journal Science Fiction Studies; second, by a wide range of reference in more familiar texts, such as Culture and Society, The Long Revolution, George Orwell and The Country and the City; and third, by his two ‘future novels’, The Volunteers and The Fight for Manod, the first clearly science fictional in character, the latter arguably so. The paper will summarise this work, but will also explore how some of Williams’s more general key theoretical concepts – especially structure of feeling and selective tradition – might be applied to the genre. Finally, it will argue that the ‘sociological’ turn, by which Williams sought to substitute description and explanation for judgement and canonisation as the central purposes of analysis, represents a more productively ‘neo-Marxist’ approach to science fiction studies than the kind of prescriptive criticism deployed by other avowedly ‘Marxist’ works, such as Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction and Fredric Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future. (Andrew.Milner@monash.edu)

David Wilkinson (Reading), Hipsters Explained With Cultural Materialism
This paper aims to achieve two things: a cultural materialist analysis of the ‘hipster’, and, through this analysis, an indication of the way in which Williams’ theoretical tools can address some limitations of dominant intellectual trends in present-day Cultural Studies. The title is a play on recent viral online comic strips with names such as ‘Foucault Explained With Hipsters’ and ‘Post-Structuralism Explained With Beards’.Via a Keywords-style etymology of the term ‘hipster’, a formational analysis of hipster class composition and social formalist close readings of hipster cultural production, I show that this contemporary phenomenon not only teaches historical lessons concerning higher education policy, New Labour’s investment in the culture industries and the fate of post-war youth countercultures in an era of neoliberal hegemony. It also condenses sharp and growing tensions of class, educational inequality and cultural capital. This helps account for the scorn, wariness and controversy that often greet mention of the hipster. Such volatility, however, alongside recent developments like the appeal to educated youth behind the election of left coalition Syriza in Greece, also allows for more hopeful speculation on the possible future direction of hipster culture. This reading contrasts with what the broadly postmodernist bent of contemporary Cultural Studies is capable of offering on the theme of the hipster. There are numerous reasons for this. Chief among them is the fact that, as I contend, postmodernist approaches are too closely bound to the structure of feeling associated with hipster culture to gain the necessary critical distance on it. (d.b.wilkinson@reading.ac.uk)

Christian Fuchs (Westminster), ‘Raymond Williams and Digital Labour’
The task of this presentation is to explore the feasibility of Rayomond Williams’ thought to critically understand digital labour. It presents parts of my 2015 book “Culture and economy in the age of social media” that is an application of Williams’ approach of cultural materialism to social media.
I first point out foundations of cultural materialism and why it matters today. Second, I discuss the notion of cultural work and argue against narrow idealist notions that reduce cultural work to content production. Third, I discuss based on cultural materialism aspects of digital labour: I give attention to the international division of digital labour that is based on agricultural, industrial and informational labour and labour organised by different modes of production (including e.g. slavery, patriarchy, and capitalism) as well as to the notion of productive labour that is understood based on Marx and Williams in such a way that it does not separate advertising from commodity production, but sees it as an inherent part of it. Advertising is the key capital accumulation model of contemporary social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Weibo.
I conclude by pointing out why Raymond Williams’ commitment to socialism matters in the struggle for alternative media, an alternative Internet, and an alternative society.(c.fuchs@westminster.ac.uk)

Ben Ware (Institute of English Studies, SAS), ‘Back to the Bad Old Things: Living Wrong Life Rightly’
Raymond Williams never wrote explicitly about ethics, though we might say that questions of value are in many respects the unspoken fourth dimension in his work as it criss-crosses back and forth between culture, language and politics. This paper foregrounds the ethical, but at the same time loops back to Williams’s trio of concerns, casting them in a new light. In Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, Theodor Adorno writes: ‘Es gibt kein richtiges Leben im falschen’ (‘Wrong life cannot be lived rightly’). Whilst this statement should certainly be read as a piece of exaggerated late-Adornian rhetoric, designed to provoke contemplation of reality in ‘its estranged form’, it also leaves us with a pressing contemporary question: How does one lead a right life – a good life – in a wrong world? When thinking about this question the first set of problems we run up against are linguistic and political. On the one hand, ideas of the good life would appear to have been reduced to a set of consumer slogans embodying the superegoic injunction to ‘enjoy’ (‘just do it’. ‘because you’re worth it’, ‘live better’ and so on); on the other hand, the prevailing discourse of neoliberalism seems to all but preclude talk of the good life, presenting it as a kind of naïve and inefficient fantasy tied to a now outmoded economic and social form of life. In the present paper, I thus begin by looking at two different attempts to think through the good life, construed as both an individual and collective concern: first, Kant’s notion of the good which, in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, he says consists in the good will doing its duty for duty’s sake; and second, contemporary late-capitalist duty, which entails a reconstruction of reason and various forms of working on the self. Demonstrating some of the philosophical, ethical and political limits of these approaches, as well as what might usefully be retrieved from them, I then move on to provide an alternative thesis. If we accept the premise of the original question – namely that the present world is a ‘wrong’ world — then perhaps our aim should not be to live a fully good life (conceived in the traditional or contemporary sense), or indeed to live a happy life, but rather to live a life which attempts to reclaim those ‘bad old things’ which the present now seeks to consign to the trashcan of history. Among these bad old things is, I want to claim, Kant’s Formula of Humanity: ‘Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.’ However, taken by itself Kant’s formula is overly formalistic and therefore vacuous. It thus needs to be supplemented by another (and perhaps more scandalous) bad old thing: namely, what I will here call militant political love.
Benjamin Ware Benjamin.Ware@sas.ac.uk

Panel 3: Fiction, Space, Place

Amy Rushton (Manchester), ‘The ‘tragic continent’ towards 2000: using Williams to re-read contemporary “Africa”’
This presentation provides an account of Raymond Williams’ impact on my research concerning how narratives of tragedy are explored and contested in recent African fiction. Originally published on 1966, Williams’s Modern Tragedy offers an underused political understanding of tragedy. Whereas postcolonial criticism has a tendency to read tragedy as defeatist, Williams contends that such a rejection undermines the socially interrogative potential offered by ‘tragic ideas’. Thus it is vital to reengage with the form and narrative function of tragedy in the contemporary era: ‘Before, we could not recognise tragedy as social crisis; now, commonly, we cannot recognise social crisis as tragedy.’ (Williams 1966, p. 63)
Although a seemingly incongruous fit — an Oxbridge educated white man from working-class Wales — Williams’s work on tragedy has nonetheless proved pivotal in my discussion of the representation of sub-Saharan Africa within literary fiction and neoliberal global discourse. Throughout the 2000s, talk of development in sub-Saharan African was entrenched in notions of external over-dependency and political failure. Such discourse coincided with the publication of fiction concerned with ‘tragic’ subject matter suggested by events of late twentieth-century Africa. Consequently, novels such as GraceLand by Chris Abani (2004) and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006) were swiftly accused of reinforcing stereotypical assumptions about ‘Africa’. Yet by paying attention to their formally nuanced exploration of tragedy, as guided by Williams, the narrative strategies of such texts gesture toward alternative readings of sub-Saharan Africa as the supposed ‘tragic continent’. (amy.rushton@manchester.ac.uk)

Clare Davis (Swansea), ‘“The haunting was perpetual”: Raymond Williams’s Border Country and the Crisis of the Welsh Intellectual’
The Welshness of Raymond Williams’s writings has become increasingly appreciated in the last ten years, and he is frequently quoted by Welsh politicians as the nation’s leading Left wing intellectual. Williams did return to Wales in his writings of the 1970s and 80s. But his views on Wales were fraught with ambiguity. Indeed, in many ways he does not easily occupy the role of ‘Welsh intellectual’. His first novel Border Country can be seen to dramatize the tenuous position of the Welsh intellectual. Matthew Price, protagonist of Border Country, is a man haunted; by his background, his unfinished research and, by the end of the novel, by the ghost of his father. His work on population movements in Wales is being done in England. Matthew, as a ‘Welsh intellectual’ is doubly alienated; by his class background and nationality in England, and by his status as an academic in Wales. Border Country presents us with the ‘crisis’ of the haunted intellectual returning home to a tragedy. But if Matthew, like Hamlet, is haunted by his father, his is a tragedy in the ‘ordinary’ sense; it is not ‘the death of princes’ that Border Country revolves around but the death of the signalman Harry Price. This paper will explore the crisis the Welsh intellectual faces in returning home to the community he has left. It explores the ways in which Matthew’s connection with the border country is articulated in relation to the novel’s rarely noticed themes of adultery and incest. This paper will also argue that Border Country is itself ‘haunted’ by its earlier versions, housed in the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea, in which these themes are more pronounced. By looking back at these, we might be able to take our understanding of one of Wales’s most significant intellectuals forward to the twenty-first century. (c.davies.632589@swansea.ac.uk)

Alex Fyfe (Pennsylvania State), ‘Raymond Williams and African Literature: Cultural Materialism and Animism’
Scholars of modern African literature have often had to tackle the problem of how to locate texts that are written from an non-materialist perspective on the world. Given that animist cultures (which vary greatly, but can broadly be described as involving a worldview in which material objects have a spiritual essence) persist on the African continent, any materialist perspective on African literature must take into account the differing valence of the ‘material’. In an influential article Harry Garuba (2001) coins the term ‘animist materialism’ and advocates a mode of reading which takes animism into account. However, despite the similarity of his terminology, Garuba’s approach is far from a cultural materialist one — indeed, it tends towards a celebration of the animist worldview that obscures the role of other material forces in literary production, thus making it hard to establish the specificity of the interaction between the ‘animist unconscious’ and literary form.
This paper argues for a return to Williams in African literary studies. Despite the common critique of eurocentrism, Williams’s writings on the materialist method do not define the material world in a way that precludes sensitivity to an animist worldview. Rather, I suggest, Williams’s discussion of the potential pitfalls of materialism, his understanding of the role of nature in literature, and his sketching of the dynamics of dominant, emergent and residual cultures all demonstrate the kind of openness to the non-material and its potential interaction with modern capitalism that can be highly productive for African literary studies. Furthermore, I argue that the return to Williams is also a politically expedient move for African Literary studies at this juncture.
acf198@psu.edu

Robert Spencer (Manchester), ‘Africa’s Long Revolution’
Revolutions aren’t revolutions for Raymond Williams unless they are thoroughgoing and unless they therefore succeed in disseminating rather than simply taking political power. Williams acknowledges that ‘short revolutionaries’ are right when they argue that the centres of established power need to be combated and overcome. But they are profoundly mistaken, he argues, in overlooking the painstaking work of preparation and then of extension and consolidation, ‘the learning of the skills of popular organization and control’, without which any revolution will simply be a change of masters. The capture of the state does not a revolution make; that has been an especially painful lesson for anti-colonial liberation movements to learn. Those movements too often devoted themselves to the conquest of the state and therefore contented themselves with what could only ever be a provisional and Pyrrhic accomplishment. In Africa the state was not a device that could easily be employed for new purposes. The state in Africa, imposed by violence and by alien powers and possessing therefore scarcely any of the official or unofficial checks and balances that constrain liberal states, was typically a carefully perfected mechanism for dominating the populace and for enriching a ruling class at their expense. Movements for emancipation that sought to capture this device were themselves usually captured by it. This paper asks whether Williams’s The Long Revolution holds the key to understanding the ways in which African writers have explored democratic alternatives to authoritarian state power. (Robert.Spencer@manchester.ac.uk)

Panel 4: Materialism, Method

Roman Horak (University of Applied Arts, Vienna), ‘Raymond Williams: From a literary critique of culture to cultural materialism’
This paper shall focus on Williams as a cultural theoretician in the stricter sense. On the one hand, I will discuss his role as a precursor and pioneer of Cultural Studies (which means concentrating on the relevant writings from the 1950s and early 1960s), while on the other hand looking more closely at his concept of ‘cultural materialism’ (developed above all in publications of the 1970s). Several studies (e.g. Milner, Jones) have divined a continuity in Williams’s work on the concept of culture that they consider more or less unbroken, and interpret as ‘Marxist’. In contrast, although I agree with this interpretation of Raymond Williams’s basic stance, I will take as my point of departure the idea that his approach to and methods of theorising underwent several shifts in the late 1960s/early 1970s, conditioned by the changing political context and the growing importance of ‘European’ thinkers. In the early 1970s Williams held the Lukacs of History and Class Consciousness, alongside Antonio Gramsci and the Sartre of the 1950s and 60s, to be the most important representative of an ‘alternative Marxist’ tradition.
Rather than seeking to establish a fixed category of ‘Western’ or ‘alternative’ Marxism that underlies all his work, however this may be defined, my thesis is that, as he grew older, Williams’s theoretical work (and not just that which deals specifically with ‘culture’) can be seen to move closer to Marxist thought and to resist the tide of post-structuralism that was rising to dominance in the 1970s and 80s.(roman.horak@uni-ak.ac.at)

Daniel Hartley (Giessen), ‘The principle of immanence in Raymond Williams’ methodology’
Whilst Raymond Williams remains a revered figure on the Left, his work has not always been treated with the systematic rigour it deserves. It is instead more often than not merely wheeled out as part of the décor to connote gravitas and moral integrity. In this paper I want to begin to undo this implicit condescension by setting out the key philosophical principle informing Williams’s methodology. Williams’s entire project is characterised by what I call a principle of immanence. This principle informs his work at all levels: at the level of ‘keywords’ it takes the form of an insistence that these words are immanent and constitutive factors of the very historical realities they purport merely to ‘denote’. At the level of literary form, it results in the claim that forms are not merely ‘reflections’ or ‘symbolic resolutions’ of specific historical contexts, but are in fact informing elements of them. Finally, at the level of politics, it is the insistence that there is no ‘outside’ from which to look at world events; the outside is already a constitutive element of the inside. By tracing in detail the philosophical premises of Williams’s work, I hope to show that he has just as much to offer contemporary thought and politics as currently more fashionable figures such as Badiou, Rancière, or Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. His thought is not residual; it is still emergent.Daniel Hartley djh.uva@gmail.com

Mary Fairclough (York), ‘Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall and Cultural Studies’
Stuart Hall declared of Raymond Williams that ‘he was the most formative intellectual influence on my life’. In this paper I plan to interrogate the nature of this ‘influence’ and to explore the intellectual and professional relationship between Williams and Hall. I want to think about how Hall describes his personal debt to Williams, but also the way in which Williams’s work informed the institutional practices of cultural studies, particularly at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham in the 1970s. Hall also offers searching critiques of Williams’s work, pointing out the limitations of certain forms of materialism, especially in the light of structuralist and linguistic approaches to culture. But I want to argue in this paper that Hall never simply moves beyond Williams’s work. Rather, Williams and Hall continue to influence and modify each other’s individual and disciplinary practice. I’ll end by suggesting the continued importance of a material approach to culture for Hall, by thinking about the institutionalization of cultural studies in the 1980s and 1990s, and both men’s critique of the way in which cultural studies as a discipline seemed to move away from its extramural origins and the interdisciplinary and material practices that their work sought to develop. (mary.fairclough@york.ac.uk)

Panel 5: Raymond Williams and Performance

Katharine Cockin (University of Hull), ‘Clubs, Cliques and Pioneers: Problems in Materialism and The ‘Free Theatre’ 1891-1919’
This paper will reconsider Raymond Williams’s essay, ‘The Bloomsbury Fraction’ in Problems in Materialism and Culture in relation to the ‘free theatre’ movement in London inspired by Ibsen, the New Woman and the ‘play of ideas’ and leading to women’s suffrage theatre and the little theatre movement. The members-only theatre societies played an important role in promoting debate about politics as well as engaging in political activism by staging plays that were effectively censored and gathering together audiences with shared values. In the period from 1891, when J. T. Grein’s Independent Theatre Society produced Ibsen’s Ghosts, to 1919, when the British Drama League was founded to promote amateur theatre nationwide, the theatre societies occupied an ambiguous position. Often developing from cultural formations, they became institutions. This paper will examine the problems this raised and the ambiguous relationships this generated between theatrical entrepreneurs, dramatists, translators, actors, audiences, patrons, theatre managers and reviewers. The costs of the ‘free theatre’ movement often fell invisibly on those who could least afford it, although the wealthy were the widely publicized patrons under whose auspices such experiments in drama were encouraged to flourish.

Dr Claire Warden (University of Lincoln), ‘“Wide margins of history”: finding performance in the borders and borders in performance
If performance exists in the borders of modernism, then particular performance traditions reside in what Raymond Williams terms the ‘wide margins of history’, spaces overshadowed by dominant cultural narratives and agenda. This paper focuses on a collection of performance interventions from the British Workers’ Theatre Movement, events and happenings often overlooked even in narratives of modernist performance. Williams’ own admiration for these performances in Politics of Modernism: against the new conformists provides a way in to the discussion. Understanding these varied performances (namely Meerut, The First of May and Their Theatre and Our’s amongst others) as, borrowing Williams’ term, ‘emergent’ despite their age enables us to resurrect them from the margins and discover what they have to say about context and how they might engender new performances in the future. These performance events do not simply reside on theoretical and generic borders but, in fact, investigate the border as a theatrical concept both scripturally (scripts constantly promote an overcoming of national borders in favour of transnational solidarity) and spatially, sets and performance spaces set up to consider, challenge, overcome or celebrate the border. Adapting and augmenting Williams’ concept of the border enables a rereading of modernist performance and, particularly, performances often disregarded by the canon. It also initiates a re-examination of these performances as important artistic responses to the shifting, troublesome borders (in terms of class and nation) of the 1930s.
cwarden@lincoln.ac.uk

Janelle Reinelt (University of Warwick)
This paper will explore the ideas associated with the field of Performance Studies as it came to be understood during the 1980s and 90s. Richard Schechner posited performance as a ‘broad spectrum’ of human behaviours that are relational and self-conscious, and that are ‘framed, presented, highlighted, or displayed’. This definition provided the foundation for a newly formed field entailing theatre, everyday life, ceremony and ritual, sport, and many other cultural practices. Although Raymond Williams died before these ideas circulated widely across the Atlantic, as early as his inaugural lecture as Cambridge Professor of Drama (1975), Williams demonstrated that his own thinking was moving along compatible lines. In ‘Drama in a Dramatized Society’, he writes: ‘I have learned something from analyzing drama which seemed to me effective not only as a way of seeing certain aspects of society but as a way of getting through to some of the fundamental conventions which we group as society itself’. This is the germ of the possible linkage of Williams’ sociology of culture to the nascent form of ‘performance studies’. I will explore some of the affinities and tensions between William’s work and what has come to be Performance Studies.

Panel 6: Communities, Communication

David JG Barnes, (South Wales), ‘Raymond Williams and contemporary realist art practice’
The imagined identity of Wales bypasses the cultural particularity of regions, communities, and individuals, and often results in representations that use a confusion of language drawn from a complex interplay of histories, memories, and myths. I argue that such forms are implicated in the processes of control and dominance characteristic of a paternalistic colonial experience, and that they are as pervasive as ever in relation to the experience of contemporary, capitalist Wales as they have been in its history.My long-term art practice is centred around my experience of community in the south Wales valleys and Gwent borderlands, and seeks to respond to the true complexity of the lived experience of individual and society through a mode of realist practice that I characterise as ‘dialogical documentary’ (Chesher, 2007) – a discursive and reflexive mode of realism, (Bakhtin, 1973) that consciously embraces the concept of ‘Structures of feeling’ that Raymond Williams developed in throughout his work (Williams, 1961). In this paper I reflect on the possibilities of contemporary modes of storytelling in response to the valleys and borders (Fraser, 2012) with particular attention to Raymond Williams’ ideas on realism, power and nation/ Wales, and his own realist practice, in the form of his defining ‘Welsh trilogy’ novels (Williams, 1960, 1964, 1979) (david.barnes@southwales.ac.uk)

Jen Morgan, ‘Defining a Radical Archive: The Example of the Working Class Movement Library
This paper will attempt to define the ‘radical archive’ as distinct from other forms, especially from its close relative in the ‘community archive’. It takes the Working Class Movement Library in Salford as an example of a radical archive that is also a community archive, but which is also qualitatively different from other community archives in its radical ambitions. Recent literature on the concept of the ‘community archive’ provides us with a necessarily broad (sometimes irreconcilable) set of indicators, and uses the WCML as an example. It becomes clear, however, when thinking about the library and archive established by two activists (Ruth and Eddie Frow), that while a community archive may also be a radical one, this is not necessarily the case. Working-class community, as people like the Frows conceived it, had a local manifestation but was also international in scope; ‘community’, here, means something like ‘solidarity’. The Frows’ hopes for the WCML and its significance also had hegemonic and unashamedly teleological ambitions, which is not true of all community archives, even of all radical ones.
Raymond Williams’ insights in various published works help us to think through such distinctions. They also help us to affirm the past victories and future potential of radicalism in what Williams called the ‘Long Revolution’, in a period and context in which there is no obvious class agent of emancipation or focus of struggle. ‘Community’, as Williams warned us repeatedly, is a curious political term in that everyone lays claim to it and no one presents themselves as being ‘anti’ community as such. To insist on the ‘radical’ aspect of ‘community’ is to embrace opposition as a necessary and fertile aspect of its structure of feeling.
jennifer.morgan@hotmail.co.uk

Derek Tatton (Raymond Williams Foundation), ‘Adult Education – a radical past, present and future…’
When Williams worked for fifteen years full-time in Adult Education, he could still see the ‘adult education movement’ as an important agent in ‘the long revolution’.
A reviewer of the book (1961), however, headed his critique: ‘The Optimistic Revolution’.
Raymond’s prescience was a major strength and this gave him self-critical awareness that The Long Revolution (with his concurrent adult education trajectory) was narrowly English. Engagement with dramatic global changes from the late 1960s led to his ‘Welsh European’ perspective so that in Towards 2000 (1983) he was able to predict the dystopian challenge which ‘Plan X’ (neo-liberalism) presented and which we now know has all but destroyed adult education (along with so much of ‘The Spirit of 1945’ welfare states).
Even so, there remain ‘resources for a journey of hope’ with re-groupings and new alliances
building upon earlier political and social movements and spawning a wide range of educational activities, many informal, sharing ‘the practice that requires the distinction between active teacher and passive student to be broken down’ (Williams and Freire). These, often using the ‘new interactive technologies…from people’s own homes (to achieve) full social and cultural powers by civil society, as opposed to their marginalisation by the corporations and the state’ (RW, 1983).
We will sign-post ways forward from RWF’s residential education experience, developing stronger links with the OU/oD ‘Participation Now’ initiative, helping create that ‘educated and participating democracy’ which was Raymond’s lifelong aim.
derek tatton derektatton@btinternet.com

Panel 7: Raymond Williams Now

Nick Stevenson (University of Nottingham), ‘Raymond Williams, Socialism and the Politics of the Commons’
The market crash of 2008 and the emergence of the alter-globalisation movement have revived ideas of a post-capitalist Left. Many of the ideas of the New Left that became neglected after the assault of neoliberalism and the politics of the third way are again making headway. The global impact of the Occupy movement, anti-austerity politics and environmentalism have all contributed to a changing landscape and new opportunities for radical forms of politics. Here I seek to relate the writing of Raymond Williams to the radical notion of the commons that has received a considerable amount of critical attention. The idea of the commons as a form of resistance to the politics of privatisation and hierarchical control from above readdress socialist concerns around co-operation and democracy. Returning to Williams I hope to demonstrate how ideas such as the long revolution, a culture in common, ecology and democratic forms of self-management were both central to his concerns and have a revived relevance today within academic and activist circles. However there remains a tension between Williams’s ideas and more libertarian anarchist currents which are currently gaining in popularity. Here I seek to point to different tensions within the politics of the commons and the developing radical politics of the 21st century.(Nick.Stevenson@nottingham.ac.uk)

John T. Connor (Colgate), ‘Raymond Williams, the Novel and the Limits of Community’
In this paper I wish to revisit one of Williams’ more difficult and distracting keywords as a problem of form for the novel. That communities police and patrol their limits, that they exist only insofar as they also silence and conform, is the necessary counter to the ‘warmly persuasive word’ Williams knew better than to fully trust. But I am interested also in the limits of community as a problem of knowledge and literary form. For as Williams famously argued, it was a ‘crisis of knowable community’ that produced in the nineteenth-century novel the ‘split between knowable relationships and an unknown, unknowable, overwhelming society’ that in the twentieth century solidified into the competing claims of the novel of interiority and of ‘social analysis.’ Williams attributed this crisis of representation to ‘the very rapidly increasing size and scale and complexity of communities’ in the nineteenth century and the ‘increasing division and complexity of labour’ within an imperial world system. In the Age of Empire, recourse to the Romantic cultural nation or to the dynamics of a national-industrial economy for a secure sense of meaning and identity became unsustainable. For this reason, Williams presents modernism as a literature of ‘metropolitan perception’, or of the meaning loss that follows the final separation of European consumption from its sites of production in the regional and colonial periphery. But if modernist narrative is one articulation of the impulse to plot a hetero-chronic model of world-historical development, one that spans hyper-development in the metropolis and underdevelopment in the colony, what options does the socialist writer have once the chronotope of the nation is no longer true to the form of capitalism? For socialist realism, the solution does in fact lie in a rehabilitation of the nation as a horizon of collective aspiration in the anti-fascist and anti-colonial struggle. But for Williams, writing at the century’s close, the challenge presents differently: how to move beyond ‘the long and bitter impasse of a once liberating modernism’ and the clear limitations of an unrevised realism; how, at the same time, to think and plan community in ways at once larger and smaller than the nation. The question, as posed differently by David Harvey, is how to combine militant particularism with a properly global critical and political ambition. I will offer Williams’ unfinished historical novel trilogy, People of the Black Mountains as an attempt to do just this: to rethink the Long Revolution for our latest phase of globalization.(jconnor@colgate.edu)

Elinor Taylor (Liverpool John Moores), ‘Raymond Williams and the Politics of Criticism Now’
Within a widely cited crisis in higher education, questions of the political significance and possibilities of literary criticism are regularly subsumed by more general discussions of a ‘crisis’ in the arts and humanities that registers at all levels in the education system. Drawing particularly on Raymond Williams’s early work, in which his critical programme is formulated as part of a lifelong project of redefining the relationships between culture, literature and society, as well on a central insight of Politics of Modernism, that diversifying objects of study does not, in itself, diversify sites or modes of struggle, this paper argues for Williams as a central figure in a politically engaged project of criticism today. The paper considers how Williams’s work can help us think through the contradictions in which contemporary critical practice occurs: contradictions emerging in a fraught nexus of institutional, disciplinary, educational, social, economic and political pressures. Williams offers ways to about the contemporary in politically vital ways, and on such a basis a critical project might be envisaged that resists the process of intellectual enclosure that seems to offer literary scholars a constrained choice between either the image of the privileged antiquarian whose work is licensed by other, more ‘economically productive’ disciplines, or that of an entrepreneurial producer fully participating in the logic of contemporary capitalism. To think through these conditions is crucial if a space is to be created in which to resist the deep conformism that existing with these contradictions generates, and the paper reads Williams against this conformism in both its nostalgic and ahistorical guises. (elinor.m.taylor1@gmail.com)

Call for Papers: Raymond Williams Now

We’re pleased to share the call for papers for our conference on Raymond Williams in May.

RWN poster 3b update

The conference organisers are Jen Morgan, Elinor Taylor, Ben Harker and Kristin Ewins. Enquiries can be directed to ben.harker@manchester.ac.uk, or to radicalstudiesnetwork@gmail.com. We’re looking forward to reading proposals and organising a really productive day.

Elinor

Chants for Socialists in 2015

I was a teenage Hefner fan and am looking forward to the release of singer Darren Hayman’s new project: setting the lyrics of William Morris’ pamphlet ‘Chants for Socialists’ to music. The clip above shows how enmeshed this album is with Morris’ legacy: recording vocals at Kelmscott House and Kelmscott Manor, using Morris’ letterpress to print LP sleeves, and recording Morris’ piano at Kelmscott Manor.

It also aims to link to the present, as Hayman explains in the video’s blurb:

I saw these as ‘emergency’ protest songs, something to draw on in times of strife. I think we are in troubled times. I regard these as useful lyrics. Morris grouped these songs under a banner of socialism and I class myself as a socialist, but these songs, to me, are more about simple kindness and hope. I acknowledge the naivety and rhetoric in these words. They offer few practical solutions for today, but I love their simplicity. They make me feel young again. They remind of the hope I had in the Red Wedge movement, and how politicised I was around the 1984 miner’s strike.

He also invited local singers from Walthamstow to contribute vocals.

‘Chants for Socialists’ has a blog here, and will be released 2 Feb by http://www.hefnet.com/chants-for-socialists-darren-hayman/ and http://www.wiaiwya.com/

Jen

Editing Enid 1

Enid_Stacy_(1868-1903)_-_geograph.org.uk_-_450475

I am trying out blogging my experience of co-editing a book for the Working Class Movement Library: the biography They called her ‘our Enid’. Life story of Enid Stacy, socialist, feminist and worker for democratic rights 1868-1903. Enid Stacy was a feminist and socialist, helping to organise strikes in Bristol in the late 19th century. She became a prominent speaker at meetings and was present at the conference founding the Independent Labour Party in 1893.

It’s been a while since I read the manuscript but one of the memorable aspects of the book was Stacy’s struggle to pursue her political work as well as caring for a much wanted child. I imagine that her experiences will speak to many women today. Stacy deserves more attention as a socialist who did not make women’s rights a secondary issue. As June Hannan’s DNB entry states:

Enid Stacy’s most enduring contribution to the revived socialist movement was to bring socialism and women’s rights together. […] Her most systematic attempt to develop a theoretical framework to bring socialist and feminist ideas together was her essay, ‘A Century of Women’s Rights’, published in the influential socialist anthology Forecasts of the Coming Century (1897), edited by Edward Carpenter.

Thankfully, the WCML has a copy of Forecasts; I look forward to consulting it.

We (Maggie Cohen, Rae Street, and I) are editing the biography without being able to consult its author, Angela Tuckett, who is no longer with us. Tuckett was Stacy’s niece, and was so prolific in so many areas that you must really read the WCML website entry on her to get a full biog (short version: communist, journalist, international hockey player).

The manuscript therefore presents us with extra jobs: not just correcting formatting and style (without checking with Tuckett) but also checking all Tuckett’s references (some of which are inaccurate), adding references to the now fully indexed items in the WCML’s Angela Tuckett archive, and finding references to other archives that have been relocated from one institution to another. It’s a difficult task of sleuthing, sometimes, but I hope we have a script before long that honours Enid and Angela’s efforts.

Upcoming

It’s been a while since RSN has organised any events: Ben Harker took up a new post at the University of Manchester, and Elinor and Jen were finishing PhDs. Thanks to the generous support of the Raymond Williams Society we have some funding to put on a day conference in the centre of Manchester on a Saturday in May 2015.

‘Raymond Williams Now’ will ask questions about the continuing relevance of Williams’ work in criticism, politics, and creative projects. (I was going to write ‘creative writing’ but remembered reading this week about Ruth Beale’s ‘Performing Keywords‘. Why always writing? Ruth and Amy Feneck contributed to RSN3 in February 2013 with their talk ‘The Alternative School of Economics: Art Practice, Politics and Education’.)

The conference will aim to provoke genuine assessments on Williams’ legacy, on subjects including but not limited to:

adult education; ecology; feminism; media; Williams and Wales; the May Day Manifesto; post-colonial and global Williams; science fiction; the public intellectual; Williams and the politics of criticism; Williams as novelist and playwright; ‘old’ and ‘new’ lefts.

Recent meditations on British cultural studies have covered Stuart Hall and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. We want to give Williams his due but also to discover the places for new growth. As Williams stated himself in Marxism and Literature (OUP, 1977: p. 116)

much of the most accessible and influential work of the counter-hegemony is historical: the recovery of discarded areas, or the redress of selective and reductive interpretations. But this in turn has little effect unless the lines to the present […] are clearly and actively traced.

Clearly, academia does not have (and is unlikely to develop) a monopoly on creating ‘lines to the present’ — drawing links between what Williams would call ‘residual’ social, political, creative forms and contemporary concerns. Contributions from people with other backgrounds will therefore be extremely welcome. Costs will be kept as low as possible to enable people without generous travel bursaries to attend.

We would also like to break somewhat with the traditional conference format, maybe no keynotes and a more participatory aspect? What would you appreciate: discussion sessions on key texts? Round table discussion instead of keynotes?

It’s early days as we have yet to finalise the date but wanted to give our followers advanced warning. Please email us if you want to join the mailing list: raymondwilliamsnow2015[at]gmail.com

I have enjoyed writing this post and hope to engage with the blog more regularly in the future. A personal blog doesn’t hold much appeal for me but a group one exploring common interests does. I have just finished my PhD and imagine that not having access to a research community would start to bite after a while. Hopefully, RSN events and this forum will provide us and others with stimulation.

Please let us know if you would like to contribute guest posts, as Chris Witter did in the previous post.

by Jen Morgan

Contemporary Fiction and Criticism in the Academy: further towards a manifesto

Following up his talk for us back in October 2013, Chris Witter contributes a discussion of the contemporary in relation to the possibilities open to critical academics. It is a line of thought he is developing from his doctoral work, which he intends to publish as The American Short Story in the 1960s: The Politics of Experiment. 

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I’ve just finished reading Robert Eaglestone’s intervention in Textual Practice, ‘Contemporary fiction in the academy: towards a manifesto’ (Dec, 2013). In it, Eaglestone sets out a series of provocative questions about ‘what it means to research contemporary fiction’. Eaglestone summarises his argument, by way of conclusion:

I suggested that disciplines are shaped by questions, and that they reach maturity when they question their own questions. However, the study of contemporary fiction does not even know what its questions are despite the unique complications it faces in relation to periodisation, the archive, authorship, the ‘business’ of fiction, globalisation, genre, value judgements, and form. The risks of not facing up to these issues in the study of contemporary fiction are that we become ‘modern antiquarians’, picking oddities that pique our interest to display to the public, or ‘generic critics’, showing off our honed senses with no focus on the nature of the contemporary. (Eaglestone, 1100)

These are indeed questions worth pursuing. But there was something missing here, for me, which is worth locating.

1. Criticism

What strikes me first of all about Eaglestone’s sub-manifesto is that it is ordered by the desire to shore up a role for the academic critic as entrepreneurial subject. Eaglestone asks: How do we compete with new formal and informal networks of online debate, publication, education? How do we assert a place for criticism in an economy in which publishers can market directly to audiences, and where reading has not only become decoupled from the educative project of ‘cultivation’ (with its many hierarchies and gatekeepers) but increasingly bound up with that particularly spectacular commodity, the ‘blockbuster’? All of this is coded in his opening gambit: ‘what makes a geek [read fan] different from an academic?’

This problem comes more clearly into focus in relation to Eaglestone’s argument, later in the essay, that academics should make their value judgements explicit. For how futile does the figure of the academic look, trying, like a modern Canute, to pronounce upon the mass trash spectacle of the Twilight series, or its prodigious offspring, Fifty Shades of Grey? This futility indicates a broader malaise within literary studies: its marginalisation within society. Literary studies once had a project — however paternalistic and bourgeois — in encouraging cultivation and the development of sensibility. Now there is no project underpinning literary studies, and no place for it in society. ‘Keeping up with the new’ is not sufficient in itself; to imagine that it is is merely to allow research to be subsumed by commodity production.

Either way, we should ask whether literary studies has a social role. If it does, is it one we are consciously creating, or one we’re  acting out despite ourselves? Already it seems we’re seeing ‘fields’, ‘disciplines’ and ‘specialisms’ becoming ways of framing bids for research grants, or else a strategy of pre-emptive marketing. Disciplines are dissolved into the discipline of the market and specialisms into one’s strategic ability to compete in this ‘weak’ market. In this situation, only monotony is nourished by the new; we are increasingly bored by literary criticism because we do not know what we are writing for.

2. Commitment

In a different conjuncture, literary critics and scholars furiously debated the relation of literature to the proletariat, and wrote out prescriptions for ‘revolutionary literature’. At other moments, the relation of literature to emancipation has been at the forefront of writing and its criticism, leading to politically committed magazines and journals, and courses designed to tell histories of struggle in and through literature. In many ways, it was these struggles that opened the way for a more ‘critical’ and ‘open’ form of literary studies.

Yet politics is peculiarly absent from Eaglestone’s provocation. The ‘established categories’ of ‘sex/class/race/empire’ are said to be ‘vital’, but they are by no means placed at the heart of Eaglestone’s discussion, despite weak gestures towards criticality, such as framing the discussion in terms of Rancière’s concept of ‘dissensus’ (Eaglestone, 1093). Instead, the essay considers substitutive political struggles — for example, as to whether ‘open/closed’ operates as a better descriptive binary than ‘literary/genre’.

This is not simply a fault of Eaglestone’s piece. It is a broader symptom of the destruction of left-wing institutions in the UK, and the consequent weakness and marginalisation of a fragmented and disorganised Left. As much as one wishes to be a ‘good soldier’, the possibility of constituting and participating in a left-wing ‘critical’ project looks shaky — if not impossible. It becomes more tenuous as higher education takes on an increasingly reactionary character; the conditions of production of academic work increasingly limit the possibilities of research and teaching being underpinned by a radical project.

3. Contemporaneity

The above points have a bearing on the problem Eaglestone raises of defining the ‘contemporary’. For Eaglestone this has several dimensions. On the one hand it is a temporal problem: when is the ‘contemporary’ period? On the other it is spatial: in a globalised world, how do we address the problem of differing temporalities and multiple modernities? Eaglestone then moves from these temporal-spatial dimensions to discuss the contemporary in relation to production and consumption. On the one hand, the subject is swamped by the flood of the contemporary:

We have in our sub-field not only an open archive but also an archive that is continually proliferating and expanding. […] The issue here is not simply the size of the archive: most disciplines, and most sub-fields within disciplines, have archives too enormous to be processed in a life time. The issue here is that the archive of contemporary fiction is, by definition, continually growing at a phenomenal rate. (Eaglestone, 1091)

Here, history and commodity production become identical, whilst the contemporary becomes a mere ‘snapchat’ shot of this endless flow of commodities, obsolete even as it is produced. Against the flood of history-as-production, the academic appears powerless, their critical gestures becoming as provisional as their critical objects are disposable.

In a not unfamiliar manoeuver, Eaglestone then reverses this, to move from the macro totality of production to the micro level of the dividuated subject:

Put very crudely: what seems ‘of the past’ for a graduate student of 25 seems oddly ‘contemporary’ for an academic of 50 (a question of ‘duration’, perhaps, or of the difference between ‘academic’ and ‘living’ history). (Eaglestone, 1095)

As such, the ‘contemporary’ is understood not in terms of a canon, nor as a specific historical formation, but as a pluralistic modulation of commodity preferences, which is the inverse of the contemporary as the endless flow of production. [1]

If Eaglestone accedes too much to the logic of late capitalism, a more productive discussion of contemporaneity is to be found in Claire Bishop’s Radical Museology (2013). In this short but thought-provoking pamphlet, Bishop offers a resonant critique of ‘presentism’, as:

The conditions of taking our current moment as the horizon and destination of our thinking. This is the dominant usage of the term ‘contemporary’ in art today; it is underpinned by an inability to grasp our moment in its global entirety, and an acceptance of this incomprehension as a constitutive condition of the present historical era. (Bishop, 6)

Against this ‘presentism’, Bishop draws on Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of history [2] to sketch out a dialectical approach to contemporaneity, which interrogates how the present relates to the past and the future, explicitly politicising these temporal relations:

What I call a dialectical contemporary seeks to navigate multiple temporalities within a more political horizon. Rather than simply claim that many or all times are present in each historical object, we need to ask why certain temporalities appear in particular works of art at specific historical moments. Furthermore, this analysis is motivated by a desire to understand our present condition and how to change it. Lest this method be interpreted as yet another form of presentism with the now masquerading as historical inquiry, it should be stressed that sightlines are always focused on the future: the ultimate aim is to disrupt the relativist pluralism of the current moment, in which all styles and beliefs are considered equally valid, and to move towards a more sharply politicized understanding of where we can and should be heading. (Bishop, 23)

Temporality, rather than being a ‘mundane’ technical problem (Eaglestone, 1093), becomes a vital source of political energy. For temporality is a social relation — a way of organising past, present, and future. As such, the contemporary is a site of struggle.

Following Bishop’s arguments about contemporary visual art, an alternative conception of contemporary literary criticism emerges to that of the entrepreneur or antiquarian, who offers up fashionable categories and concepts in order to corner emerging markets. Rather than conceding our power to shape the present to the market, we might articulate conceptions of the contemporary that search out and construct explicitly politicised constellations of textual and critical practices, in order to explode the ‘eternal present’ of neoliberal capitalism.

Chris Witter

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1. See: Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, October, 59 (Winter, 1992), pp. 3-7.

2. Benjamin’s dialectical conception of history critiques the bourgeois concept of ‘progress’, but remains oriented by a conception of authentic historical progress (emancipation). In the ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1940) and the Arcades Project (1927-1940; 1982; 1999) he thus constructs a dialectical conception of history and social progress.

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Chris Witter is an Associate Lecturer in the Department of English & Creative Writing, at Lancaster University. His research focuses on postwar US culture and society, particularly experimental literature. In 2012 he won the Raymond Williams Society Postgraduate Essay Prize, with an article titled ‘Grace Paley and the Tenement Pastoral’. This was subsequently published in Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism, 11 (2013). He is currently working on a monograph titled, The American Short Story in the 1960s: The Politics of Experiment, and a book chapter titled ‘Tillie Olsen: Subaltern Modernism in the Postwar US’, for the forthcoming Edinburgh Companion to Experimental Women Writers (1900 – Present). He can be contacted via email: c.witter1 at lancaster.ac.uk