Reading Raymond Williams, after Reading Edward Said Subhi HadidiThe title of this paper (*) is indebted to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak''s seminal essay "Speculation on Reading Marx: After Reading Derrida," in which she attempts to trace what it means, in the life of an academic, to turn to a cherished set of texts after having read a new set. That, in a sense, is one of the aims of my paper, though for reasons other than, as well as different from, what Jacques Derrida''s deconstruction normally entails. In the Derridean project, a text is a terrain where the elimination of all extratextual factors are reduced, and where autonomy apart from all historical and social forms of reference is ascribed to language. That is why Spivak says that to go via Derrida toward Marx is a ''literary'' or ''rhetorical'' reading of a ''philosophical'' text, which consequently converts it into an "ultimately self-reflexive verbal text that irreducibly narrates its own constitution."(1)
Thus, her after commemorates a type of reading that finally minimally emphasizes what she calls the "dialectical tradition," to which both Marx and Derrida belong. In contrast, the ''after'' in my title makes the case for the belief that Raymond Williams (1921-1988) and Edward Said (1935-2003) tend to have in common what is far more complex and fundamental than the so-called ''outside'' of the verbal text, articulated for that matter in a socio-cultural or politico-economic web or network. My after connects and separates, but it also makes room for asking whether, to what extent, and how far their works overlap, co-exist, and interact across the very negotiated frontiers of a critique of culture and imperialism, where the central interest is not in ''knowable man'' but ''knowable communities'' in which "the connections between persons, collectivities, and underlying patterns of history are shown."(2)
Reading Raymond Williams after reading Edward Said is, then, not only a telescoping exercise in the sense that a certain degree of linkage could lead to a certain perception of a closely reasoned third field of compatibility, but there is also that amazing shared strategy arising from a rediscovery of the complex situation(s) of writing and discourses in a community.(3) It is perhaps even more remarkable that both men acted like detectives, looking for clues of cultural hegemony, cultural resistance, counter-narratives and the projection of Otherness in a self-defining Western civilization, as well as in the histories of empire, imperialism and capitalist societies. One is here reminded of Williams'' article, "The Knowable Community in George Eliot''s Novels," in which he first used the phrase ''knowable community'', and Said''s article "Labyrinth of Incarnations: The Essays of Maurice Merleau-Ponty," in which he discussed ''concrete situations.'' This was a key phrase of the thought of the period from about 1963 onward, when human society was seen as a "web of inner bonds",(4) and the semantic thickness of a fully-fledged, fully-situated culture was put on the agenda of scrutinizing a society, which was a true labyrinth of incarnations. Williams published his article in 1969, while Said''s article was published in 1976. We had to wait almost a decade before anthropologists acknowledged this serious emphasis on written form as a written knowable community where the necessary connections with historical patterns of economy and culture are convincingly made.(5) One such anthropologist was George Marcus, who agreed that such definition of text construction is a "crucible for integrating the macro into the micro, combining accounts of impersonal systems into representations of local life as cultural forms both autonomous and constituted by the larger order."(6)
The central challenge of any social theory of culture is that literary theory cannot be separated from cultural theory, though it may be distinguished within it as Williams argues in "The Multiplicity of Writing."(7) But a critique of ''culture'' itself is formulated by a critique of the subject as a key to cultural studies. Williams and Said read the discourses and texts of contemporary culture to expose crucial oppositions and contradictions that govern the exercise of power, to expose what Homi Bhabha calls the ''political rationality'' of the nation as a form of narrative-textual strategies, metaphoric displacements, sub-texts, and figurative strategems. Indeed, when he was writing in 1982 at a time when conceptual boundaries of the West were being busily "reinscribed in a clamour of counter texts-transgressive, semiotic, sem-analytic, deconstructionist," Bhabha admitted that none of these pushed those boundaries to that limit (the colonial periphery in this case) where the West must "face a peculiarly displaced and de-centred image of itself in "double duty bound", at once a civilizing mission and a violent subjugation force.(8) In fact, Said''s work focused on the need to quicken the half-light of Western history with the disturbing memory of its colonial texts that bear witness to the trauma that accompanies the triumphal art of the Empire, dramatically shifting the locus of contemporary theory from the Left bank to the West Bank, so to speak.
It is this aspect of radical geography that draws Said''s attention in his Raymond Williams Memorial Lecture, delivered in London, October 1989. Geography is understood here as the science of earth, "its physical, political, historical, social and ideological features contributing each in its own way to the culture of which Williams was so distinguished, a critic and participant."(9) Faithful to what Bhabha aptly calls "fixation/fetishization of stereotypical knowledge as power," Said brilliantly rereads Williams through the following paradox: "Because Williams'' Anglocentrism is so pronounced and stubborn a theme in his work, because of that we can distinguish and differentiate the other ethnocentrisms with which his work in geographical and historical terms interacts contrapuntally."(10)
To read Raymond Williams contrapuntally, that is to read him after reading Edward Said, is to look deeply at imperialism''s geography: how and why one crucial achievement was to bring the world closer together and to redistribute the historical experience of empire as a common one. The task, Said argues in Culture and Imperialism, is to describe that experience as pertaining "to Indians and Britishers, Algerians and French, Westerners and Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, and Australians despite the horrors, the bloodshed, and the vengeful bitterness."(11) Hence the rather wide geographical and historical range attempted in Said''s latest work. For the first time, he argues "the history of imperialism and its culture can now be studied as neither monolithic nor reductively compartmentalized, separate, distinct."(12) The idea of a ''structure of feeling'' is often discussed as the major invention of Williams in the sociology of culture. As a concept it refers to something more organized than its structure."(13) The term, however, is dynamically varied in function and perspective: in The Long Revolution where Williams used it to determine the structure of feeling of Britain in the 1960s. In his work on drama he used it to describe the structure of feeling of a single dramatist (Sean O''Casey for instance), and to uncover patterns of drama that go well beyond one more generation, while in Marxism and Literature the phrase acquires a specialized meaning of a pre-empted cultural phenomena. In Preface to Film the structure of feeling is used to make a link between dramatic conventions and written notations.(14)
Said powerfully observed how this range of interpretations allows for "the emergence of various structures of feelings, involving these places, structures fashioned from within Britain as the imperial, metropolitan centre." We now have the themes of emigration and banishment in the colonies, the relationship between the novel''s narrative form as realized in Robinson Crusoe and the colonial expansion of Britain, the whole idea of imperial domination, and with it the specific issues of subject races, racial types, indirect rule and national destiny as intrinsic to the late nineteenth and twentieth century cultural archive of Britain: these new major topics surely emerge from the reconsiderations of English literature, begun by Williams and continued by many of his able students. Yet, Said continues:
there is also the vast and burgeoning literature of the former colonies, in which a sustained reaction and response to the metropolitan literature of British centre plays a very important decolonizing role. Think of the importance of The Tempest to Caribbean writers, or of Kipling to Indian writers, of Conrad to Africans. What used to be a citadel of an English literature composed of great stone-like slabs, the masterpieces that constitute the canon of great tradition, has been transformed into sites of intersection, where class, racial and gender interests form not only the actual texts but the reading of texts in highly determinate ways, many of which we are only just beginning to understand.(15)
The example of Williams provoked the task of doing more than scratch the surface of the related aesthetic, political and cultural problematics in places and texts far less English and European than Williams''. Before carrying out this considerably difficult and complex task, Said makes a personal confession, the "power of Williams'' work is intrinsically at one with its rootedness and even its insularity, qualities that stimulate in the variously unhoused and rootless energies of people like myself-by origin un-English, un-European, un-Western-a combination of admiring regard and puzzled envy."(16)
What, he argues, is there in it for us, given that we can emulate neither his belongingness nor his native vision? How does Williams'' work, in and about England, help us to address various problems of other texts?
Even aside from this confession, we know the answer and can easily expect Said''s "attractive and relatively logical alternative", to cross the Channel in search of something comparable in the narratives of Britain''s historical imperial rival, metropolitan France. Albert Camus seemed to him especially significant, not only because his several narratives are set in (and only occasionally about) Algeria, but simply because his retrospective relationship with George Orwell makes him acutely interesting. Points of comparison and contrast include the following:
1. Both became well-known writers around issues highlighted in the 1930s and the 1940s: fascism, the Spanish Civil War, resistance to the fascist onslaught, issues of poverty and social injustice treated from within the discourse of socialism, the relationship between writers and politics, and the role of the intellectuals.
2. Both were famous for the clarity and plainness of their style, and Said recalls Roland Barthes'' description of Camus'' style as écriture blanche, as well as the unaffected clarity of their political formulations.
3. Both made the transformation from the debates of the thirties and forties to the period of the Cold War with less than happy results.
4. Both are posthumously interesting because they wrote narratives which now seem to be about a situation that on closer inspection seems really to express another and quite different one.
5. Orwell''s fictional examination of British socialism has taken on an almost prophetic quality in the domain of Cold War polemics; Camus'' narratives of resistance and existential confrontation, which had once seemed to typify standing up both to morality and to Nazism during the Occupation, can be read as part of the bitter debate about colonialism.(17)
A contrapuntal reading must take account of both processes of imperialism and resistance to it, which can be done by extending our reading of the texts to include what was once forcibly excluded-in L''Etranger, for example, the whole previous history of France''s colonialism and its destruction of the Algerian state, and the later emergence of an independent Algeria (which Camus opposed). In Culture and Imperialism, Said reminds us that such works as Kipling''s Kim, Gide''s L''Immoraliste, and Camus''s L''Etranger are major works of the imperial period. But to read them contrapuntally, retrospectively and heterophonically with other histories and traditions counterpointed against them, and to read them in the light of decolonization, is "neither to slight their great aesthetic force nor to treat them reductively as imperialist propaganda. Still, it is a much graver mistake to read them stripped of their affiliations with the facts of power which informed and enabled them."(18)
Said draws on Williams to show "the ideological significance of incidental details and even programmed silence,"(19) but he extends Williams'' method to include the semiotic connotation of global geography and attain a series of brilliant historical contextualizations:
? Why was Algeria a setting for narratives whose main reference (especially in the case of L''Etranger and La Peste) has always been construed as being France in general, and more particularly France under the Nazi Occupation? Here, Said quotes Connor Cruise O''Brien who goes further than most in saying that the choice is not innocent, and that it is either a surreptitious or unconscious justification of French rule, or an ideological attempt to prettify it.(20)
? In so far as his work clearly alludes to contemporary Algeria, Camus'' general concern was "the actual state of Franco-Algerian affairs, and not their history or dramatic changes in their long-term destiny."(21) A corrective way of reading Camus'' novels, therefore, would be to see them as interventions in the history of French efforts at being and staying in Algeria, rather than as novels whose chief value is that they tell us something about their author''s state of mind.
? Accordingly, it would be correct to regard Camus'' work as affiliated historically both with the French colonial venture itself (since everything he wrote assumed it as immutably given) and with outright opposition to Algerian independence. It is a question of method, since what an Algerian perspective might afford is a vision necessarily unblocking and releasing things either hidden or denied by Camus.(22)
? Said insists, against the grain as he says, that what is mainly in Camus'' novels is what they appear to have been cleared of-that is, the detail of that very distinctly French conquest which began and continued into the period of Camus'' life, and into the composition of his texts themselves.(23) Readers of Ben Jonson''s poems are likely to say that one ought to read the texts for the richness of what is there, not for what has been excluded. Yet they can hardly keep this attitude after reading Williams'' The Country and the City, for example.
? This is not to say that Camus hides things about Algeria in his fiction. What Said intends to do is "let Camus'' fiction emerge as an element in the methodically construed French political geography of Algeria that took many generations to complete, the better to see his work as providing for an arresting summary account of the political as well as interpretive contest to represent, inhabit and possess the territory itself."(24) Near the end of "La Femme adultère," a short story, Janine the protagonist, leaves her husband''s bedside during a sleepless night in a small hotel in the Algerian countryside. The climax of the story is an extraordinary encounter between Janine and nature, an almost pantheistic communion between her, the sky, and the desert while the only other human being is the night watchman who speaks to her in Arabic, a language she does not understand. Said brilliantly deconstructs this episode to conclude that Camus'' intention is to present the relationship between woman and geography in sexual terms, that is, as an alternative to her now nearly dead relationship with her husband. The point seems to be that her specific history as a Frenchwoman in Algeria does not matter, for she has achieved immediate and direct access to that particular earth and sky. In "Le Renégat," another short story, a missionary who is captured by an outcaste southern Algerian tribe, has his tongue torn out, and becomes a super-zealous partisan of the tribe, joining in an ambush of French forces. For Said, this is as if to say that going native can only be the result of mutilation, which in turn produces a diseased, ultimately unacceptable loss of identity."(25)
? The later pieces in Camus'' Chroniques algériennes help us to see more clearly why the types of characters such as Janine and Meursault are enacted the way they are. In the last years of his life, Camus publicly and vehemently opposed nationalist demands put forward for Algerian independence, and he did so in the same way he represented Algeria from the beginning of his artistic career. His comments about ''Colonel Nasser'', Arab and Muslim imperialism and the like are familiar, but one severe political statement about Algeria seems to Said as "an unadorned political summary of his image of Algeria for which all his previous writing prepares us"(26):
en ce qui concerne l''Algérie, l''independence nationale est une formule purement passionnelle. Il n''y a jamais eu encore de nation algérienne. Les Juifs, les Turcs, les Grecs, les Italiens, les Berbères, auraient autant de droit à reclamer la direction de cette nation virtuelle. Actuellement, les Arabes ne forment pas a eux seuls toute l''Algérie. L''importance et l''ancienneté du peuplement français, en particulier, suffisent à créer un problème qui ne peut se comparer à rien dans l''histoire. Les Français d''Algérie sont, eux aussie, et au sens fort du terme, des indigènes. Il faut ajouter qu''une Algérie purement arabe ne pourrait accéder a l''independence economique sans laquelle l''independence politique n''est qu''un leurre. Si insuffisant que soit l''effort français, il est d''une telle envergure qu''aucun pays à l''heure actuelle, ne consentirait à le prendre en charge.(27) (As far as Algeria is concerned, national independence is a formula driven by nothing other than passion. There has never yet been an Algerian nation. The Jews, Turks, Greeks, Italians or Berbers would be as entitled to claim the leadership of this potential nation. As things stand, the Arabs alone do not comprise the whole of Algeria. The size and length of the French settlement, in particular, are enough to create a problem that cannot be compared to anything else in history. The French of Algeria are also natives, in the strong sense of the word. Moreover, a purely Arab Algeria could not achieve that economic independence without which political independence is nothing but an illusion. However inadequate the French effort has been, it is of such proportions that no other country would today agree to take over the responsibility.)
What Said does in the case of Camus is a very remarkable attempt at dislodging the very ethos of the system itself, which has reified relationships and stripped them of their social identity. This is reading in a different way, the great lesson of Williams, and one major principle of secular criticism. And were Said to use one word consistently along with criticism (not as modification but as an emphatic), it would be oppositional, as he clearly indicates in The World, the Text, and the Critic. It is the kind of criticism that teaches us, as Williams did, to
"remember that for every poem or novel in the canon, there is a social fact being requisitioned for the page, a human life engaged, a class suppressed or elevated-none of which can be accounted for in the framework rigidly maintained by the processes of representation and affiliation doing above-ground work for the conservation of filiation. And for every critical system grinding on there are events, heterogeneous and unorthodox social configuration, human beings and texts disputing the possibility of a sovereign methodology of systems."(28)
Little wonder that Williams praised this very attitude when he reviewed The World, the Text and the Critic. He eloquently advocated Said''s secular criticism, the linkage of politics and criticism, and the redefinition of ''literature''. To illustrate something of what Said is saying about both the traditional Western humanists and their opponents who rapidly adopt new universalising theoretical systems, Williams extends the same story which Georg Luk?cs used to rebuke some of his fellow-Marxists, who had the habit of looking down on those thinkers outside their own high system: the story of a hare on a high mountain, who was quite certain that he was larger than the elephant in the valley below.(29)
Williams shared Said''s view of the traditional Western humanist who stands confidently on a body of high culture, and thus reduces other peoples to barbarians, pagans, uncivilised and fit only to take up the position of the junior hare. Yet he is more enthusiastic to Said''s method in rattling the confidence of many of those who are now the most explicit opponents of these traditional humanists. What is there as generalized or institutionalized high culture, is often not so much challenged as by-passed, in the rapid adoption of new universalizing theoretical systems, to which the old culture is irrelevant except as symptomatic evidence, and from which the hare can not only look down on those beyond his system but know, theoretically, why there can be no (empirical) appeal to the elephant.
(*) An earlier version of this paper was presented at the conference on THE POLITICS OF IDENTITY, SECULAR CRITICISM, AND THE GRAVITY OF HISTORY: THE WORK OF EDWARD SAID. Centre for Research in Philosophy and Literature, University of Warwick, UK.
1.Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Speculation on Reading Marx: After Reading Derrida," Post-Structuralism and the Question of History. Ed. Derek Altridge et al. Cambridge University Press, 1989. P. 30.
2. Benita Parry, "Overlapping Territories and Interwined Histories: Edward Said''s Postcolonial Cosmopolitanism," Edward Said: A Critical Reader. Ed. Michael Sprinker, Blackwell, 1992. P. 19.
3. Ibid., P. 21.
4. Edward Said, "Labyrinth of Incarnations: The Essays of Maurice Merleau-Ponty," Kenyon Review, 29 (1976), P. 67.
5. Alan O''Connor, Raymond Williams: Writing, Culture, Politics. Basil Blackwell, 1989. P. 68.
6. George E. Marcus, "Contemporary Problems of Ethnography in the Modern World System," Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Ed. James Clifford and George E. Marcus. Berkeley, 1986. P. 170.
7. Raymond Williams, "The Multiplicity of Writing," Debating Texts. Ed. Rick Rylance. University of Toronto Press, 1987. P. 218.
8. Homi K. Bhabha, "The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism," Literature, Politics and Theory. Ed. Francis Barker et al. Methuen, 1986. P. 148.
9. Ibid., P. 150.
10. Edward Said, "Narrative, Geography and Interpretation," The Raymond Williams Memorial Lecture, London, October 1989. New Left Review, 180, 1990. P. 83.
11. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism. Chatto & Windus, 1993. P. xxiv.
12. Ibid., P. xxiii.
13. O''Connor, Raymond Williams. P. 84.
14. Ibid., P. 83.
15. Said, "Narrative, Geography and Interpretation". P. 83.
16. Ibid., P. 84.
17. Ibid., PP. 85-86.
18. Said, Culture and Imperialism. P. 195.
19. Ferial J. Ghazoul, "The Resonance of the Arab-Islamic Heritage in the Work of Edward Said," Edward Said: A Critical Reader. P. 160.
20. Edward Said, "Narrative, Geography and Interpretation." P. 87.
21. Ibid., P. 88.
22. Ibid., P. 89.
23. Ibid., P. 90.
24. Ibid., P. 87.
25. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism. P. 216.
26. Ibid., P. 207.
27. Albert Camus, Actuelles, III: Chroniques algériennes, 1939-1958. Paris, 1958. P. 202.
28. Edward Said, The World, the Text and the Critic. Vintage, 1991. P.23.
29. Raymond Williams, "Ours and Not Ours," The Guardian, 8 March 1984. P. 10.