'Tragic Utopianism' and critique in Raymond Williams.
In a 1992 review essay Fredric Jameson noted that one of the peculiarities of the promotion of the cultural studies project was the neglect of Raymond Williams' sociological and political vision and that leading such revisionism was an Australian-based avant-garde. (1) While this trend has perhaps been recently reversed in the work of such authors, there is a longer history within cultural studies of borrowing the shell of Williams' ideas and investing them with a 'new content', often at odds with his own work. (2) This article is a modest extension of my own efforts to rescue the late sociological project in Williams from such tendencies. (3) It also seeks to draw out a broader set of 'utopian' dimensions in Williams' work than is evident in his more explicit discussions of literary utopias or his related prospective analysis in his late work, Towards 2000.
Early Williams: Past or Future Focused?
There is one view of Williams that, despite his invocations of a long revolution, his work remains somehow focused on the past. This retrospectivity is usually attributed to his reliance on the values of his Welsh working-class background and its apparently remarkable depth of industrial and 'rural' community solidarity. (4) While Williams conceded this influence, it is quite distinct from the Leavises' emphasis on the values of a historically lost 'authentic' organic 'rural' community. Williams' conception of modernity was far less regressive. While for the Leavises only 'Literature' now bore redeemable ethical values, for Williams solidarity, for example, was a very real socially embedded ethic.
Complicating this situation further was Williams' acceptance for much of his career of F. R. Leavis' related but distinct thesis that industrialization had also destroyed an entire folkloric culture. One source of Williams' use of the phrase 'way of life' came from this thesis in the work of Leavis. So While Williams rejected Leavis' 'lost organic community' thesis tout court, he appears to have derived his position about the fate of the 'traditional popular culture of England' directly from him. Accordingly, he set aside the post-industrial (folk) ballads as a cultural form capable of bearing an alternative set of social values. They were 'to be seen as a valuable dissident element rather than as a culture'. (5) In practice this tended to mean that Williams remained focused on contesting 'high culture'.
As Georgina Boyes has argued, the key influence here is that of Cecil Sharp's version of Romantic folkloricism (and its role in the contemporary English Folk Revival of the 1930s) upon Leavis. (6)
Most especially, one crucial collection of notated folk songs published by Sharp, English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, had recounted the remarkable maintenance of the English (and Scottish) folk song tradition amongst the Appalachian communities of the United States. Sharp goes to great lengths in his introduction to stress the uniqueness of the Appalachians' 'way of life', most especially their apparent prioritization of leisure time, especially singing over material comforts. (7) For Leavis, the survival of this folk song tradition demonstrated the necessary integration of 'authentic' folk culture within an organic community, a '"way of life" (in our democratic parlance) that was truly an art of social living'. (8) Its negation was the 'mass civilization' of contemporary England. As Leavis saw salvation in the teaching of literature to a deculturated mass, Sharp saw it in his highly disciplined program of teaching of his approved curriculum of folk song and, especially, folk dance. Williams criticized Sharp explicitly--and so revised his 1958 opinion of 'the post-industrial ballads'--in 1973 in The Country and City.
A pattern is discernible here that continues to repeat itself: how Williams reworks his post-Romantic sources often shapes his conception of modern prospects for alternative politico-cultural practices and possible futures. The Leavis-Sharp legacy is the probable source of Williams' ongoing difficulties with forms of popular culture that do not have direct linkages with literature and drama. We can point to the gain in Williams' reworking of the Leavisite project of cultural renewal by the teaching of appreciation of 'great literature' into, instead, the popular teaching of skills more suited to what Williams would later call cultural production. Yet it seems odd that he showed little apparent interest in parallel musical 'reskilling' projects, such as the contemporary folk revival of the 1950s embodied by Ewan McCall's radio ballads for the BBC, the skiffle movement out of which The Beatles and many others emerged, or the reworking of Sharp's collected ballads within 1960s and later folk-rock. (9) These cultural interventions contested Sharp's pedagogical conservatism as effectively as any of Williams' contestations of selective literary and intellectual traditions. But while literary and intellectual traditions were, for Williams, a 'common inheritance' worthy of participatory contestation, popular musical traditions, at least contingently, were not. The Leavis 'death of traditional popular culture' thesis appears to have prevailed in Williams' thinking until the 1970s and even 1980s. His television criticism perhaps aside, only in his late sociology of culture did Williams find a means of adequately typologizing the potential of popular cultural forms to his own satisfaction.
So, to recast all this in Williams' later theoretical language, for the early Williams there exist embedded social values such as social solidarity that are alternative to those that are hegemonically dominant (for example, individualist meritocracy) but which lack cultural forms capable of more than dissident contestation. Residual cultural forms such as balladry are insufficient. Part of the counter-hegemonic project must be the (re)skilling, by popular education, of those who might become cultural producers of a new culture via more adequate cultural forms, probably located within 'high' culture. There would thus have been little point for Williams in undertaking the form of redemptive critique of many mass cultural forms that Fredric Jameson demonstrates in his 'Utopia and Mass Culture'. (10)
But what of the future? There is Williams' equally ambiguous early theorization of this sense of pre-articulated culture as 'structures of feeling'. The reconstruction of the 'lived experience' and structure of feeling of the 1840s in the 'Analysis of Culture' chapter in The Long Revolution--via mainly literary (in the broad sense) materials--is much lauded by commentators. However, taken by itself, it also tends to suggest a cultural analysis focused on the past (and certainly on the superior redemptive possibilities of autonomous art over popular culture). Yet in the context of the whole book it is only one step towards the concluding analysis of the coming decade, 'Britain in the Sixties'. It is such prospective analysis, as Williams later called it, towards which much of his analytic work builds. As if to confirm this focus on the future, the first edition of Communications, published the following year in 1962, was fore-titled 'Britain in the Sixties'.
Is this then the utopian dimension in Williams' work? Not quite. Indeed, the answer to that question is almost always both yes and no, but even the reasons for the call each time, shift according to the varying contingencies--the socio-political 'balances of forces'--through which Williams lived. Certainly, once he moved beyond his early Communist Party affiliation, there was never any prescriptive vision of a specific socialist future. His judgement in 'Culture Is Ordinary' that such (Stalinist) prescriptivism 'is strictly insane' never seems to have subsequently wavered:
I did some writing while I was, for eighteen months, a member of the Communist Party, and I found out in trivial ways what other writers, here and in Europe, have found out more gravely: the practical consequences of this kind of theoretical error. In this respect, I saw the future, and it didn't work. The Marxist interpretation of culture can never be accepted while it retains, as it need not retain, this directive element, this insistence that if you honestly want socialism you must write, think, learn in certain prescribed ways. A culture is common meanings, the product of a whole people, and offered individual meanings, the product of a man's [sic] whole committed and personal social experience. It is stupid and arrogant to suppose that any of these meanings can in any way be prescribed; they are made by living, made and remade, in ways we cannot know in advance. To try to jump the future, to pretend in some way you are the future, is strictly insane. Prediction is another matter, an offered meaning, but the only thing we can say about culture in an England that has socialized its means of production is that all the channels of expression and communication should be cleared and open, so that the whole actual life, that we cannot know in advance, that we can know only in part even while it is being lived, may be brought to consciousness and meaning. (11)
The same openness is visible in the critique of Leninist vanguardism in Culture and Society, which also deploys the radical demand of the democratization of cultural skills:
if we are to agree with Marx that 'existence determines consciousness', we shall not find it easy to prescribe any particular consciousness in advance, unless, of course (this is how in theory it is usually done), the prescribers can somehow identify themselves with 'existence'. My own view is that if, in a socialist society, the basic cultural skills are made widely available, and the channels of communication cleared, as much as possible has been done in the way of preparation, and what then emerges will be an actual response to the whole reality, and so valuable. (12)
This position later evolved into a classic 'Western Marxist' one. But in his rejection of prescriptive utopianism Williams anticipates Cohen and Arato's distillation of a different experience of post-communist politics of some central European formations, the virtues of a self-limiting utopianism that values a democratizing civil society over an overly predictive and so potentially authoritarian--imagining of the future. (13)
I have laboured these details about the early Williams because they seem quite essential in foregrounding the relationship between his conceptions of critique and utopia. For, as is relatively well known, what he valorized instead of 'everyday' cultural forms was a working-class culture that was decidedly not the 'whole way of life' of a class in any 'anthropological' sense (as commonly claimed in cultural studies). In direct opposition to such an anthropological conception--as was evident for the early Williams in the work of Richard Hoggart--he restricted his definition of working-class culture to those institutions that embodied an ethic of solidarity and, crucially, expansive democratization. However, as we shall see, this set of expectations altered from the mid-1960s.
'Extra-Literary' Utopianism in Williams
In his excellent reconstruction and analysis of Williams' writings on science fiction and literary utopias, Andrew Milner demonstrates that the early Williams showed equal disinterest in literary utopias and dystopias but that this changed in his later work. Milner presents Williams' shifting assessments in the context of three major phases of political rupture: 1956, 1968, and the more visibly emergent global corporate capitalism of the 1980s. (14)
Without disagreeing with Milner, nor denying that forms of imagining the future are amongst those 'resources of hope' least discussed by commentators on Williams, it is also useful to 'reverse' Milner's priorities in order to foreground a broader sense of the utopian in Williams' work. I offer here an ideal-typological sketch of its forms that often, in practice, overlap. (15)
'Practical' Utopianism of Prospective Analysis
As is evident even from the citations above, the early Williams also held hopes of imminent transitions towards practical social utopias of some form of socialism. For all the resources of hope provided in the key 1950s and 1960s texts, his focus was more often with the moral dilemmas associated with problems of social transition to the expected new society, an issue that had been raised explicitly in the conclusion to Culture and Society. (16) To this extent his early extra-literary writing had a utopian dimension, of which The Long Revolution is the most obvious example. As we have seen, however, this motif tends to avoid prescription and, in terms of his later typology of the literary utopian, it arguably remains in an affective heuristic sub-mode that seeks to 'educate desire'. In Towards 2000, Williams applies his reflections on literary utopianism to his own non-literary prospective analyses in a far less optimistic conjuncture than his earlier writings. He consciously tries to conjoin this affective mode with its systematic counterpart in his autocritique and extension of the The Long Revolution's prospective analysis.
Immanent Critique of Utopian 'Potential'
I allude here to the senses of 'utopia' and 'immanent critique' employed by Seyla Benhabib in her magisterial Critique, Norm and Utopia. Perhaps this perspective is best summed up by Benhabib's account of this practice in the early Marx. The establishment of the distinction between 'mere criticism' and 'critique' was a key task for him during 1843-1844. The former for Marx--exemplified by the Young Hegelians--refers to the application of arbitrary external standards to the object of criticism, so risking a decline into a prioristic dogmatism. Critique, by contrast, recognizes a contradictory tension of actual and possible such that the 'object' is not considered merely an inert object at all. As Benhabib puts it:
Marxian critique ... is not a mode of criteriological inquiry. The criteria it presupposes in its inquiry are not different from the ones by which the object or phenomenon judges itself. The Marxian method of critique presupposes that its object of inquiry is reflexive; it presupposes that what is investigated is already a social reality which has its own self-interpretation. (17)
In particular, the bourgeois revolutions are seen to contain, in Habermas' famous phrase, an 'unfulfilled project' of completion of Enlightenment ideals. Immanent critique then is an internal critique--not only in the hermeneutic-textual sense but in the elucidation of the unfulfilled and unresolved hopes and possibilities that certain art and normative ideologies recognize and/or 'promise' in a less explicit mode than the 'declared' literary utopias. This possibility manifests chiefly in the form of internal contradictions within the text subjected to critique.
Immanent critique for Williams then, was primarily tied to the task of 'completion' of his long revolution. Such critique was directed mainly at elements of 'high culture' because it, unlike most popular culture, was deemed susceptible to such redemptive analysis. This susceptibility derived from the unfulfilled promise of many of the figures Williams examined in Culture and Society and Modern Tragedy. Matthew Arnold was the classic instance as it was his conception of culture that was pitted so completely against expansive democratization in his Culture and Anarchy. Moreover, it was Arnold's intervention that set a template for the later rejections of social progress in the name of culture that culminated in T. S. Eliot's Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948), the text Williams cited as his major inspiration for composing the 'countertradition' of Culture and Society. The critique of Arnold in Culture and Society pits Arnold's self-styled 'best self' against that which was alarmed by the Chartist gatherings in London's Hyde Park. Arnold is so assessed immanently against the criterion of truth to his own 'best self'. (18)
Williams' revolution was 'long' not only because its resolution was not guaranteed but because it would represent a completion of the struggles for political and cultural democratization begun at least two centuries before. (Cultural democratization thus meant anything but the mere delivery of greater choice of cultural commodities.) This was the basis of the educated and participatory democracy that formed a goal of his long revolution. But prospects for such a transformation changed.
Historical/Prospective Criticism of the 'Emergent'
Continuing this heuristic typology, the clearest cases of immanent critique in Williams' work would be those mentioned above that address non-fictional works. However, the 'Analysis of Culture' chapter in The Long Revolution mentioned above also points to a related form of immanent analysis, if not utopianism, concerning literary works. Like much of his later similar work, this analysis points towards a comparative 'social formalism'. Not coincidentally, the chapter's case study is focused on the 1840s, the period in which Marx developed his practice of immanent critique. Williams conducts what would today be more commonly called a formal narrative analysis of 1840s' literary works which unreflectively celebrated a legitimating ideology--that reward follows effort-and those that registered its contradictory features. He concludes from this analysis:
But also art creates, by new perceptions and responses, elements which the society, as such, is not able to realize. If we compare art with its society, we find a series of real relationships showing its deep and central connexions with the rest of the general life.... We find also, in certain characteristic forms and devices, evidences of the deadlocks and unsolved problems of the society: often admitted to consciousness for the first time in this way. (19)
Such autonomous artistic forms remained for Williams a key indicator of emergent counter-hegemonic tendencies. For Williams these suggest broader social 'resources of hope' beyond those usually envisaged by advocates of the immanent critique of 'grand narratives'. What also links this social formalist method to immanent critique is its similar rejection of external 'criteriological' criticism against literary 'standards' as they were understood in what is now commonly called 'Cambridge literary criticism'.
Williams famously abandoned literary criticism 'as an intellectual discipline' but what replaced it for him, I would suggest, are these two complementary modes of critique. (20) His own analyses of the work of Goldmann, and especially Marcuse, suggest that as he refined these positions he was conscious they had much in common with 'Western Marxism', and Frankfurt School Critical Theory in particular. This was most evident in the maintenance of a normative dimension in his modes of critique.
Such a project has a good deal in common with Jameson's characterization of Marxian (dialectical) genre criticism: 'the mediatory function of the notion of genre ... allows the coordination of immanent formal analysis of the individual text with the twin diachronic perspective of the history of forms and the evolution of social life'. (21) The risk with such a perspective, as Markus has noted, is a 'new' determinism of an evolutionary conception of forms. (22) Williams saw a related but distinct risk in a Marxian legacy of attempts to categorize cultural forms epochally, rather than contingently. In his later work, he developed a sociology of genres which avoids this risk by specifically typologizing genre-forms according to their contingent susceptibility to historicization. Note how in Table 1 utopian narrative is granted the privileged status of the 'deepest' form of the mode.
Tragedy or Farce?
Of course the question by now begged by this reconstructive sketch might be: what of the historical failure of the bourgeois revolutions and their related grand narratives? We might still wish to consign Williams to another category of nostalgism if all he provided was a British version of a highly formalistic hermeneutic that celebrated the Enlightenment. (24)
This criticism was anticipated very early in commentaries on Williams by Perry Anderson. In the only contemporary recognition of Williams' practice of immanent critique that I have found, Anderson pinpointed the technique's limits as a mode of politico-conjunctural analysis--that the 'positivity' Williams attributed in his institutional definition of working-class culture lacks 'a distinction between corporate and hegemonic institutional forms'. (25) That is, as Williams would later put it, these institutions could become incorporated into the existing social order and so contingently lose their role as exemplary alternatives. Anderson's early (for English language writers) invocation of Gramsci so set the agenda very precisely for Williams' 1973 'Base and Superstructure' essay and his own adoption of the concept of hegemony.
On Williams' own account, the 'end of the road' for his own pre-Gramscian 'positivity' came with the failings of the first and especially second Wilson Labour governments (1964-1966; 1966-1970)--in industrial relations, but also in respect of the Vietnam war and their lack of initiative in cultural policy. (26) Williams co-authored The May Day Manifesto with E. P. Thompson and Stuart Hall in 1967-8, and by 1969 was drawing explicit parallels between contemporary opposition to anti-Vietnam demonstrations in London's Grosvenor Square and Arnold's criticisms of the 1866 Hyde Park demonstrations for the suffrage. (27)
Sitting behind this 'Gramscian turn' in Williams, Stuart Hall and, for a period, the whole cultural studies project, is the more 'basic' text upon which Gramsci had relied heavily, Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. This of course was the pivotal analysis by Marx of the failure of the fulfillment of the bourgeois ideals and the reversal of anticipated social progress of the 1848 revolutions. One could equally place Williams' developing mode of prospective sociopolitical analysis within the broader Brumaire-like analyses developed from the mid-1960s by figures such as Anderson, Hall and, indeed, the related intellectual battles involving E. P. Thompson over the relevance of Althusser and Poulantzas to such 'conjunctural analysis'.
Williams was an active participant in such modes of writing and his loyalty to the more sophisticated 'Brumaire model' of 'base and superstructure' for political and literary sociological analysis--despite impressions to the contrary--was consistent and only reached its fullest articulation in 1983. (28) His work on the sociology of intellectual and artistic self-organized formations such as the Bloomsbury group is heavily indebted to Brumaire's classfractional analysis, for example. Indeed, Bloomsbury's bourgeois dissident conscience provides an historical and normative counterpoint to 'the tragic self' (described below). That dissidence is summarized in The Sociology of Culture as 'expressing at once the highest values of the bourgeois tradition and the necessary next phase of a bourgeois social and cultural order'. (29) Williams thus reverses the famous determinant role granted in Brumaire to signifying traditions: the 'conjuring up of the spirits of the past' and their costumes as the preferred mode of representation of new social forces. (30) The tension between (emergent) normative potential and hegemonic incorporation within Williams' version is thus more palpable than Brumaire's.
A fuller account of Williams' much-lauded conception of hegemony needs, then, to link his social formalist historicization of cultural forms in Table 1 with the more familiar typology of 'dominant, residual and emergent', as Table 2 begins to sketch. (31)
Nor did Williams adopt Marx's famous employment of a comedic narrative in his account of the rise of Louis Bonaparte. While for Marx, the appropriate introduction to Brumaire was the thesis that 'history always repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce', Williams saw any bourgeois 'failure'--whether of grand narrative or formational conscience--as necessarily tragic.
Tragic Selves and 'Critical Will'
Everywhere in the nineteenth century we see men running for cover from the consequences of their own beliefs. (32)
Modern Tragedy is in many ways Culture and Society's shadow. If the latter reconstructs a 19th-century Romantic-Liberal critique of capitalism, the former reveals the 20th-century susceptibility of liberalism to descend into instrumental utilitarianism and Romanticism into nihilism; and, indeed, of marxism into Stalinism. Yet it is also the text where Williams openly entertains the unpredictable and more radical possibility of the long revolution in the West being a peaceful transition: 'total revolution without violence, by a process of argument and consensus'. (33) Utopianism indeed?
But at the heart of the argument is something else: the motif of tragedy. Until quite late in his career it was tragedy rather than utopianism that provided the appropriate mode for Williams' reflections on the 'incomplete' fate of the 'utopian' promises of emancipatory immanent critique. He proposes a wholly novel critical sub-genre, 'liberal tragedy', to capture this dimension and links it to what he calls in The Long Revolution 'the deadlocks of modern society'. By 'deadlock' Williams means, in part, the incomplete bourgeois revolutions. (34)
But liberal tragedy refers to more than the deadlock resulting from the partial delivery of the emancipatory promises of liberalism as an ideology. In a significant addition to the emphasis on cultural forms and modes that characterizes Williams' immanent textual analyses, a key component of 'liberal tragedy' is a 'liberal self' and 'liberal consciousness' that is 'trapped'. Part of this entrapment is a recognition of the falsity of all or some liberal values within 'the existing compromise order'. (35) Ibsen's plays are seen as the first fully emergent articulation of this recognition. It is in Ibsen that Williams first identifies a fully self-conscious recognition of the contradictions of the private/public divide. The tragic hero is no longer ennobled by suffering, nor dies struggling against this falsity but, crucially for Williams, internalizes the deadlock in the form of an unfulfillable aspiration:
And this is the heart of liberal tragedy, for we have moved from the heroic position of the individual liberator, the aspiring self against society, to a tragic position, of the self against the self. Guilt, that is to say, has become internal and personal, just as aspiration was internal and personal. The internal and personal fact is the only general fact, in the end. Liberalism, in its heroic phase, begins to pass into its twentieth century breakdown: the self-enclosed, guilty and isolated world; the time of man [sic] his own victim. (36)
It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this formulation to the reconstruction I have sketched and, in my view, to any adequate assessment of the whole enterprise of immanent critique. If we regard immanent critique as a 'hermeneutics with an emancipatory intent', it still requires some form of 'structural' analytic complement to account for those moments when ideologies susceptible to redemptive critique are unavailable. Adorno, for example, argued that this was the case with Fascism. (37) Sociologically, Williams' cultural materialism refines this kind of insight to a degree more suitable to micrological analysis. To any societal determinants of the loss of redemptive potential he would add an array of cultural-institutional ones provided by his mature sociology of culture. (38) These are designed to situate the artistic-intellectual formation that might be 'expected' to bear the burden of practising the necessary acts of critique. Emancipatory intent requires critical 'agency' or, as Williams insisted in one of his final essays by a strong endorsement of a citation from John Fekete, 'the moment of emancipatory praxis is prior to that of interpretative praxis'. (39)
The 'tragic self' thesis employs this same logic--it is a search for an inter-subjective basis for a loss of critical agency, principally among artists and intellectuals. We might refer to this capacity as 'critical will', in the sense that the term 'political will' is commonly used today. Crucially, however, for Williams such failure is nonetheless contingent.
Tragic Utopianism and the Critique of 'Projections' and 'Formalism'
By 'tragic utopianism', then, I mean this sense of deeply embedded but contingent constraint Williams places on immanent utopian prospects within bourgeois culture. This tragic figure is a familiar one within Williams' later work. The retreat into such a pessimistic assessment of future prospects, underwritten by an equally pessimistic conception of 'modern' subjectivity, is a major tendency Williams discerns not only in modern cultural formations but also in the writings of particular authors. It is the key thematic link between his critique of formalist linguistic and cultural theories (and technological determinism) and his formational studies. It is perhaps the ultimate 'limit' Williams finds in a 'dissident bourgeois' consciousness.
The opposite of such critical dissidence is a cultural practice that projects a future that--usually inadvertently--endorses a status quo in something like the manner of a conventional 'legitimating' ideology. Clearly, Orwell is a paradigmatic case for Williams. It is not only that Williams goes to some considerable efforts in his monograph on Orwell to reconstruct his biographical development from Eric Blair into the 'bourgeois dissident' George Orwell and onto a 'tragic self'. The hero of Nineteen Eighty-Four is himself an (over)exemplification of the tragic 'trapped' self. Perhaps the most recurrent critical term for such hyperbolic practices that one notices in Williams' critiques of Orwell--even in the final 'reassessment' to which Andrew Milner has drawn our attention--is projection. Projections, for Williams, are a kind of reductivism in reverse, an inductive totalization from an inadequate empirical and/or theoretical base. The critique of projection in Orwell is echoed in Williams' formational critique of the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies in 1977 and of Stuart Hall's 'authoritarian populism' thesis and related 'cultural theory' in 1986. (40) It is also echoed in Williams' virulent 1974 critique of Marshall McLuhan's affirmative projection of a global village. (41)
Beyond the role of projection, what else do these critiques have in common and do they form a useful legacy? First, they are often not immanent critiques, as little redeemable potential is found within those criticized. While the common capacity towards pessimistic projection might suggest their authors are 'tragic selves', there is a stronger common element that is part of Williams' own late shift from tragic reflection towards utopianism. In the 1979 'Afterword to Modern Tragedy' he weighs up whether 'it is time to move from a tragic to a utopian mode' very explicitly. (42) The role of the 'tragic self' is replaced in that analysis by a contemporary tendency towards a more generalized form of 'negative critique' that offers little prospect of an alternative future. By 1983 Williams had applied the lessons of his 1978 essay on utopianism to his own prospective analysis in Towards 2000.
The last planned work, The Politics of Modernism, drew together the theoretical complement of these shifts. At its core is an elaboration of Williams' critique of formalism, his term for the influence of the more technicist components of Saussure's and the Russian Formalists' work upon 'the cultural turn'. Drawing on the work of those Williams regards as early 'social formalists'--Volosinov, Medvedev, Bakhtin, Mukarovsk'y--its key component is a rejection of the quasi-objectivist and instrumentalist dimensions of the formalist legacy which preclude or occlude a normative dimension in the practice of cultural analysis or critique. (43) The linkage of formalism to legitimating projections also emerged as early as the critique of McLuhan. (44) The Politics of Modernism attempts a grander account of the relationship between aesthetic modernism, avant-gardism, metropolitanism and the emergence and endurance of objectivist formalism.
But what of Orwell? How is his work 'formalist'? Williams' hostility seems to have begun as a rejection of Orwell's development of a particular form of writing: a quasi-naturalistic objective mode of (pseudo-)reportage that Williams believed had become much emulated by journalists in particular: 'a reportorial format and a television style'. (45) This lean, 'objective', quasi-naturalism pervades Nineteen Eighty-Four and, in Williams' view, so renders its projections more plausible. It is not difficult to see its commonality with the objectivist formalism Williams rejected.
It is reasonable to question Williams' impatience with the dystopian mode and his apparent refusal to consider its 'shock effect' as a defensible form of embedded normativity. However, the broader thesis that formalist objectivism is an option of first resort among many contemporary cultural avant-gardes is, I would suggest, highly plausible, especially within avant-gardes of the kind questioned by Williams in 1986 and Jameson in 1992. (46)
What Williams finally rejects in Nineteen Eighty-Four (but not in Orwell himself 'outside the fiction') is the suggestion that 'power is the only political reality'. As we have seen, for Williams, as for Adorno, such an instrumentalist conception of power only applied contingently in the societal absence of all prospects of redemptive immanent critique. As Williams says of such a perspective near the end of his final essay on Nineteen Eighty-Four:
There is also a cancellation of an inquiry and argument, and therefore the possibility of truth, since whatever is said can be instantly translated into the base and cruel reality which it is known to cover. It is not necessary to deny the existence, even the frequent occurrence, of persecution and power and torture 'for their own sake' ... to go on resisting the cancellation of all links between power and policy. And this cancellation must be resisted, if only because then it would be pointless to try to distinguish between social systems, or to inquire, discriminatingly, whether this or that system went good or went bad. (47)
Needless to say, this 'truth' is a normative rather than 'objectivist' one. Williams' 'tragic utopianism' insists on a normative dimension to all social and cultural critique and is his most enduring contribution to all imaginings of the future.
(1.) F. Jameson, 'On Cultural Studies', Social Text, no. 34, 1992, pp. 17-51. Jameson refers especially to Tony Bennett's announcement of a 'cultural policy turn' in cultural studies: T. Bennett, 'Putting Policy into Cultural Studies', in L. Grossberg et al. (eds), Cultural Studies, London, Routledge, 1992, pp. 23-33. Bennett's essay was structured very much as a critique of Williams which, as I argued at the time, was quite naive in its neglect of Williams' own 'cultural policy' work; see P. Jones, 'The Myth of "Raymond Hoggart": On "Founding Fathers" and Cultural Policy', Cultural Studies, vol. 8, no. 3, 1994, pp. 394-416.
(2.) The classic instance is Stuart Hall's reduction of the complexity of Williams' conception of culture to the 'whole way of life' sense, so removing much of its embedded normativity in Williams' own work.
(3.) P. Jones, Raymond Williams's Sociology of Culture: A Critical Reconstruction, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
(4.) The most explicit example is perhaps S. Hall, 'Culture, Community, Nation', Cultural Studies, vol. 7, no. 3, 1993, pp. 349-63. For a critique, see A. Milner, Re-Imagining Cultural Studies: The Promise of Cultural Materialism, London, Sage, 2002.
(5.) R. Williams, Culture and Society (1958), London, The Hogarth Press, 1990, p. 320 (emphasis added).
(6.) G. Boyes, The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1993, pp. 125-35. I am indebted to Boyes' discussion of Williams for clarifying the role of Sharp.
(7.) C. Sharp, 'Introduction to the First Edition, 1917', in his English Folk Songs from the Appalachian Mountains, London, Oxford University Press, 1966.
(8.) F. Leavis, 'Literature and Society', in his The Common Pursuit, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1966, p. 190.
(9.) As it happens, the BBC is promoting another folk revival (and retrospective) as I write, Folk Brittania, and Sharp has figured prominently in its narratives: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/music/features/folk-britannia.shtml>.
(10.) F. Jameson, 'Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture', Social Text, no. 1, 1979, pp. 130-48.
(11.) R. Williams, 'Culture is Ordinary' (1958), in his Resources of Hope, London, Verso, 1989, pp. 8-9.
(12.) Williams, Culture and Society, p. 274
(13.) J. Cohen and A. Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1992. This is also an important check on Williams' (limited) embrace of Gramsci.
(14.) A. Milner, 'Utopia and Science Fiction in Raymond Williams', Science Fiction Studies, vol. 30, 2003, pp. 199-216.
(15.) The early Williams does seem to insist on a sharp separation between literary and nonliterary forms of writing. While he uses this distinction in some of his later work--such as his final assessment of Orwell--he more commonly regards 'deep' forms--modes--as underlying more specific genre-forms. The utopian is such a mode for Williams and the tragic genre is a cultural form almost as 'deep'. Cf. Jones, Raymond Williams's Sociology of Culture, Chapter 4, and Table 1 of this paper.
(16.) It is not surprising, then, that this issue emerges as a key criterion in his later assessment of literary utopias where he praises Morris' explicit account of the revolution.
(17.) S. Benhabib, Critique, Norm and Utopia: A Study of the Foundations of Critical Theory, New York, Columbia University Press, 1986, p. 33.
(18.) For a more detailed account see Jones, Raymond Williams's Sociology of Culture, Chapter 1.
(19.) R Williams, The Long Revolution (1961), Harmondsworth, Pelican, 1965, p. 86.
(20.) R. Williams, 'My Cambridge' (1977), in his What I Came To Say, London, Hutchinson Radius, 1989, p. 13.
(21.) F. Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1982, p. 105.
(22.) G. Markus, 'Marxism and Theories of Culture', Thesis Eleven, no. 25, 1990, pp. 91-106.
(23.) But it is referred to as a modal alternative to utopianism in the 1979 'Afterword to Modern Tragedy'.
(24.) Cf. Jameson's reminder that the revolutionary 20th century reversed many such bourgeois ideals, in F. Jameson, A Singular Modernity, London, Verso, 2003, p. 2; or indeed the project of neo-liberalism recently charted in D. Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.
(25.) P. Anderson, 'Origins of the Present Crisis', New Left Review, no. 23, 1964, p. 44.
(26.) R. Williams, Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review, London, New Left Books, 1979, pp. 372-3.
(27.) R. Williams, 'A Hundred Years of Culture and Anarchy', The Spokesman, December 1970, p. 8.
(28.) R. Williams, 'Culture', in D. McLellan (ed.), Marx: the First Hundred Years, London, Fontana, 1983, republished as 'Marx on Culture' in his What I Came To Say.
(29.) R. Williams, The Sociology of Culture (1981), Chicago, University of Chicago Press/Shocken Books, 1995, p. 81.
(30.) K. Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1950, p. 225.
(31.) Such a linkage is consistent with Jameson's provocative suggestion that Adorno's work on the culture industry thesis 'does not propose a theory of culture' and would benefit from a concept like Williams' conception of hegemony. See F. Jameson, Late Marxism: Adorno, or the Persistence of the Dialectic, London, Routledge, 1990, p. 143. However, while hostile to all Frankfurt 'manipulation' models, Williams does have much in common with Adorno's use of a production paradigm for culture, including especially a shared conception of cultural forms as 'cultural productive forces'. Cf. Jones, Raymond Williams's Sociology of Culture, pp. 78-9.
(32.) R. Williams, Modern Tragedy, 1st edn, London, Chatto & Windus, 1966, p. 70.
(33.) R. Williams, Modern Tragedy, 2nd edn, London, London, Verso, 1979, p. 78.
(34.) Williams, Modern Tragedy, 2nd edn, p. 68.
(35.) Williams, Modern Tragedy, 2nd edn, p. 96
(36.) Williams, Modern Tragedy, 2nd edn, p. 100.
(37.) Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, Aspects of Sociology (1956), London, Heinemann, 1973, p. 190.
(38.) Jones, Raymond Williams's Sociology of Culture, Chapter 6.
(39.) J. Fekete, cited in R. Williams, 'The Uses of Cultural Theory' (1986), in The Politics of Modernism, London, Verso, 1989, p. 174.
(40.) Respectively, R. Williams, 'The Paths and Pitfalls of Ideology as an Ideology', Times Higher Education Supplement, 10 June 1977, p. 13 and R. Williams, 'The Uses of Cultural Theory'. Hall defended critiques of his authoritarian populism thesis in terms very similar to his assessment of Nineteen Eighty-Four, that it should be read 'less as a prophecy, more as a warning'. S. Hall, 'Unpacking Orwell: The Shape of States to Come?', in S. Hall (ed.), The State and Society: Block 1, Milton Keynes, Open University Press, 1983, p. 5.
(41.) R. Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form, Fontana, 1974, p. 127 and the fuller elaboration of an alternative in R. Williams, 'Means of Communication as Means of Production', in Problems in Materialism and Culture, London, Verso, 1978. The critique of McLuhan's formalism and technological determinism is especially significant as it is closely tied to Williams' high hopes for the counter-hegemonic potential of a different social configuration of means of communication. The role he occasionally attributes to 'extended communication' in The Long Revolution is indeed so optimistic that it is itself vulnerable to the charge of technological determinism. His later break with McLuhan is thus a significant indicator of his increasing theoretical sophistication. The remarkably detailed typologies of means of communication he developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s are rare examples of his reflections on the details of an alternative social utopian 'policy' of the kind he regularly demanded of others (as in the final citation in this essay; cf. Jones, Raymond Williams's Sociology of Culture, pp. 163-80). They are also perhaps the best elaborated examples of an achievement with which Jameson credits Williams: the overcoming of the binary opposition between urban and pastoral utopia (and dystopia) with 'the prescient comment that socialism, if it is possible, will not be simpler than all this but far more complicated'. See F. Jameson, The Cultural Turn, London, Verso, 1998, p. 69.
(42.) Williams, Modern Tragedy, 2nd edn, p. 218.
(43.) Jameson's use of the same metaphor in his account of the 'structuralist projection' is a very likely influence on Williams here; cf. F. Jameson, The Prison House of Language, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1974.
(44.) 'What began as pure formalism ... ends as operative social theory and practice', Williams, Television, p. 128.
(45.) Williams, Politics and Letters, p. 385.
(46.) Cf. footnote 1. Two examples would be John Frow's recent curiously 'retro' account of formalism in this journal: J. Frow, 'Genre Worlds: the Discursive Shaping of Knowledge', Arena Journal, no. 23, 2005, pp. 129-46; and the increasing interest in the work of Bruno Latour within cultural theory. Much of Latour's influential formulations has impeccable formalist credentials highly prone to 'projection' in his own practice; cf. P. Jones, 'Raymond Williams and Bruno Latour: '"Formalism" in the sociology of culture and technology', Sociologie de l'Art--OPuS 11, forthcoming 2007.
(47.) R. Williams, 'Afterword: Nineteen Eighty-Four, in 1984' (1984), in his Orwell, 3rd edn, London, Fontana, 1991, pp. 124-5.
Table 1 Williams' Typology of Cultural Forms Form Immanent Formal Correspondence Properties (if any) Mode 'Properly collective forms' Relatively independent constituted by highly of specific social orders complex external and internal signals capable of elaboration into contemporary genres Genre Specific activations Have some definite (Kind) and elaborations of dependence on changes modes' within definite in epochal orders social orders Type Radical distributions, Correspondence with redistributions and 'specific and changed innovations operating social character of over relatively long an epoch' periods within an epoch Form Radical distributions, Subject to forms of redistributions and organization of innovations linked to the cultural producers/ smaller-scale social formation, cultural contradictions within an institutions and level of epoch; often tied to development of means alterations of the typical of cultural production; major formal innovations have a further set of determinants Immanent Formal Examples Properties 'Properly collective forms' drama constituted by highly lyric complex external and narrative internal signals capable of utopia elaboration into 'new mode' contemporary genres of cinema Specific activations tragedy (23) and elaborations of comedy modes' within definite epic social orders romance 'fiction' Radical distributions, 'bourgeois' redistributions and drama innovations operating realist over relatively long novel periods within an epoch landscape painting Radical distributions, breaks to redistributions and naturalist innovations linked to the drama and smaller-scale social subjective contradictions within an expressionism epoch; often tied to in television; alterations of the typical soliloquy Table 2 Key Features of Williams' Account of Hegemony Position of Socio-cultural Definition/Role in Hegemony Example Practice/Form Dominant Central system of meanings and British hegemony values which is dependent for in a given renewal on process of period. incorporation of elements of residual and emergent forms. Agencies of incorporation are primarily 'socializing' institutions, selective traditions and formations (informal artistic--intellectual groupings). Residual Formerly dominant forms which Idea of rural have survived to play a reduced community; but active role in the present organized (unlike the fully incorporated (Christian) archaic). May assume religion incorporated, alternative or oppositional role towards the dominant. Emergent New forms whose most likely (Mentioned in sources are a rising class, new, this article) often 'dissident' cultural emergent formations or new social critical forms movements. May assume in 1840s English incorporated, alternative or literature in oppositional role towards the Long Revolution dominant. analysis; Ibsen's 'liberal tragedy' Pre-emergent/ Pre-articulated 'social That which is structure of experiences in solution' at a (later) rendered feeling stage prior to their achieving in historical an objectivated form semantic shifts in 'keywords'
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|Title Annotation:||Part IV: Utopian Theory|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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