Cultural Production and the Redundancy of Work – Keynotes

On the April Raymond Williams Society blog we are delighted to share the abstracts for two of the four plenary lectures to be given as part of the Raymond Williams Society Conference. Here Mike Wayne and Esther Leslie give a preview of what they will discuss in Manchester on April 26-27. Helen Hester and Pablo Mukherjee complete our line-up of keynotes, speaking on ‘Work/Space: Architectures of Refusal from the Bachelor Pad to the Commune’ and ‘Laboratory Lives: Caste, Work and Indian Science Fiction’, respectively. 

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Pearls before swine: Raymond Williams and ‘The Future of Marxism’

On the Raymond Williams Society blog for March, we are delighted to publish Daniel Gerke’s response to a recently rediscovered essay by Williams which is back in print after 58 years. Daniel, who has a forthcoming article in the next issue of Key Words, will be speaking at the RWS Conference in April. Here he offers an illuminating account of what is identified as the consistency of Williams’s internationalism.

Daniel writes…

No sooner had the ink dried on my PhD thesis, ‘Raymond Williams and European Marxism: Lukács, Sartre, Gramsci’, than New Left Review published ‘The Future of Marxism’,[1] a relatively unknown  1961 essay of Williams’s that represents perhaps his most sustained analysis of international Marxism. In it, Williams assesses the progress of Soviet society, Leninism, authoritarianism, the problems of socialist development in agrarian societies, the necessity of anti-imperialism for Western socialists and the continuing relevance of Marxism in the era of the welfare state.

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Keywords for Today

On the Raymond Williams Society blog for February we have a piece by Elinor Taylor on Keywords, both Williams’s landmark study and a new book published last year by Oxford University Press. Elinor, along with Tony Crowley, Sharon Clancy, and Nick Mahony, will be leading a Raymond Williams Reading Group on ‘Key Words’ at the RWS Conference in April.

Elinor writes…

On 10 November 2018, the University of East Anglia hosted a symposium to celebrate the history, influence and recent relaunch of the literary and cultural magazine Critical Quarterly, organised by Matthew Taunton, CQ’s current deputy editor. Founded in 1958, the journal fostered a public-facing post-war literary and cultural criticism, bringing together academics and school teachers at its annual confidence, as well as acting as a key vector for the transmission of continental critical theory in Britain. Raymond Williams made a number of important contributions to CQ in its first decade, including ‘The Achievement of Brecht’ (1961) and ‘Pastoral and Counter-Pastoral’ (1968). The journal has also published significant responses to and engagements with Williams’s work through its history, and continues to do so. The journal’s editor, Colin MacCabe, has been working for over a decade on the collaborative Keywords Project, supported by the University of Pittsburgh, Jesus College, Cambridge, and Critical Quarterly, to produce an updated version of Williams’s 1976 Keywords. The project has now concluded with the publication of Keywords for Today, edited by MacCabe and Holly Yanacek, by OUP. The book updates 40 of the original entries and adds 85 new words. Tony Crowley and I were invited to represent RWS on a discussion panel about the book at the symposium.

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Obituary: Angela Kershaw (1971-2018)

On this month’s Raymond Williams Society blog, the first of 2019, we have an obituary of our much-missed colleague Angela Kershaw. Written by Jennifer Birkett, it will appear in this year’s issue of Key Words, a journal which Angela contributed so much to during her decade on the Editorial Board.

Jennifer writes…

Angela Margaret Kershaw Snape, born in Bolton in 1971, sadly passed away on 6 June 2018. She was a friend and colleague loved and admired by all who had the privilege of working with her. Just to meet her, and to be greeted by her unfailing smile, was a privilege. Her husband John remembers how, towards the end of her life, when her bed was wheeled onto a new hospital ward-bay, she looked round at the other patients, smiling: ‘Hi, I’m Angela .’

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May Day Manifesto: The Legacies of 1968

The Raymond Williams Society is delighted to republish Owen Jones’s new introduction to the reissue of May Day Manifesto 1968. Originally edited by Williams, Stuart Hall, and E.P. Thompson, the manifesto was the work of a wide range of teachers, writers, and researchers who formed a ‘self-organizing, self-financed socialist intellectual organization’, as Williams explains in the 1968 preface. The group, which also included the likes of Iris Murdoch, Terry Eagleton, Dorothy Wedderburn, and Ralph Miliband, collaborated on what was a counter-statement, or challenge, to the policies and direction of Harold Wilson’s Labour Government. Here, Owen Jones, in a different context, renews the call for an ambitious socialist programme, one which would aim to lay the foundations for radical, social transformation.

Owen Jones writes…

It was a time of rebellion, revolution, struggle, occupations, strikes – and of living, breathing hope that the old order was in collapse, and that a new society was possible. Nineteen sixty-eight is perhaps best remembered for les évenements of May and June in France: the tidal wave of street demonstrations, factory and university occupations, and barricades. The red flag was hoisted over factories, protestors sang The Internationale, and revolutionary slogans adorned posters and banners and were daubed on walls, like: ‘Humanity will not be happy until the last capitalist is hanged with the entrails of the last bureaucrat’.

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Alan Sinfield: A Committed Intellectual Life

This month on the Raymond Williams Society blog we have David Alderson’s obituary of Alan Sinfield which first appeared earlier this year in issue number 16 of Key Words. David will join Andy Medhurst, Madhavi Menon, and Lynne Segal at King’s College, London on Tuesday 11th December to discuss the life and work of a remarkable intellectual.

David writes…

Alan Sinfield was a pioneering figure in the fields of English Literature, Cultural Studies and Queer Studies, and a passionate advocate of the cultural materialist tradition he came to embrace in the 1980s. The sheer range of the work he has left to us is prodigious: ranging chronologically from the Early Modern period to the contemporary, it engages with cultural production in its most expansive sense, and if he took a specific interest in Shakespeare it was very much an iconoclastic one. Indeed, Alan made a point of disavowing conventional modes of cultural valuation, and frequently made it his business to interrogate the institutions, norms and ideological presuppositions of critical analysis itself. In the process, he consciously sought to engage audiences beyond the academy through work that was nonetheless characterised by impeccable scholarship.

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Culture, Criticism, Theory: Raymond Williams in Austria and Germany

This month on the Raymond Williams Society blog we have a review by Harald Pittel of a new book published in Germany on Williams. As Harald explains, Über Raymond Williams examines Williams’s work across a range of disciplines and, by translating and expanding on an earlier English-language study, positions Williams where he belongs, as a leading intellectual of the European Left.

Harald writes…

The reception of Raymond Williams in the humanities, as John Higgins laments in a memorable essay, has often been partial, selective, and distorted. The volume containing Higgins’s essay, About Raymond Williams published by Routledge in 2010, was aimed at correcting this, giving in-depth reconstructions of Williams’s evolving theory and relating his thinking to contemporary critical discourses and cultural phenomena. A new German-language volume, Über Raymond Williams, compiled by a Vienna-based team of editors and released by the renowned Argument Verlag (also the publisher of Stuart Hall’s collected works in German), builds on the 2010 predecessor but adds a significant amount of new material by scholars from Austria and Germany, thus turning this reworked edition into a notable contribution to Williams Studies in its own right. By comparison, the recent version is more structured than its predecessor, organizing its contents into four sections: ‘Cultural Theory’, ‘Lines of Thought’, ‘Raymond Williams and Storytelling’ and ‘Raymond Williams and the Media’.

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Resources of Hope: Cultural Democracy and The World Transformed

On the Raymond Williams Society blog for September we have an article by Nick Mahony of the Raymond Williams Foundation. As Nick explains, he is involved in the Movement for Cultural Democracy which will host a number of events at this year’s The World Transformed in Liverpool (Saturday 22nd to Tuesday 25th September). A four-day festival of politics, art and music, TWT will run alongside the Labour Party Conference in the city. Tom Gann of the New Socialist is hosting an Eco-Corbynism Reading Group which will look at Raymond Williams’s analysis of ‘radically new kinds of politics’ in Towards 2000 (1983) and what Williams identified in ‘Socialism and Ecology’ (1982) as a ‘new kind of social analysis in which ecology and economics will become, as they always should be, a single science’. He adds: ‘We can see the outline of political bearings which can be related to material realities in ways that give us practical hope for a shared future’. Williams goes on to say that the fulfilment of such hope will not be easy but, as Nick details below, a collective approach to the challenges of the present is more necessary than ever.

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Raymond Williams: Socialism, Culture, Revolution

On this month’s Raymond Williams Society blog we have an extract of the Introduction to the forthcoming Key Words 16. This special issue, edited by Ben Harker and published by the society, is out in autumn and takes as its theme ‘Commitment’. It includes essays by Glyn Salton-Cox on Friedrich Engels and Margaret Harkness, Madeleine Davis on E.P. Thompson and 1956, Nick Stevenson on Williams and Marxism, an obituary of Alan Sinfield by David Alderson, and shorter articles by Phil O’Brien on Ethel Carnie Holdsworth and Don Watson on Communist autobiography. The following extract of the essay-length Introduction maps Williams’s developing positions on the relationship between culture, consciousness, class power, and socialist strategy. To receive a copy of Key Words 16, join the society here.

Ben Harker writes…

‘Much of my political belief is a continuation of a very early formation’, Raymond Williams told Terry Eagleton in a 1987 interview. ‘I can’t remember any time when I haven’t felt broadly speaking as I do now’.[1] Like ‘alignment’, ‘formation’ would remain for Williams a key word, but he rejected the charge that his commitment might be an expression of what Terry Eagleton – playing devil’s advocate – called ‘the nostalgic memory’ of ‘an unusually warm and affectionate working-class childhood’.[2]

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Publishing Class: Rediscovering the Lives of the Working Class in Literature

The July instalment of the Raymond Williams Society blog is an article by University of Reading student Jess Brisley who shares recent research conducted in the archives of Chatto & Windus. Intriguingly, Williams had a long relationship with the publishing house, having his novels Border Country (1960), Second Generation (1964), and The Fight for Manod (1979) published by Chatto (alongside other fictional as well as critical work). In Politics and Letters, he discusses both the challenges faced when encountering the ‘economics of commercial publishing’ and the sense in which he was ‘writing right against the grain’. Here, by examining papers from 1890 to 1940, Jess fascinatingly uncovers an earlier generation of working-class writers who faced innumerable difficulties when it came to publishing stories of working-class life in the early twentieth century.

Jess Brisley writes…

Raymond Williams had long-running concerns about the relationship between publishing and class. His work offers a compelling way of analysing the structures of publishing, taking into account the means of communication as part of the means of production as well as the social background of authors and the inherent challenges for working-class writers in adapting to the literary form of the novel. At the University of Reading, we are working in the Archive of British Publishing and Printing to uncover the lost history of working-class writing. Studying the records of publishing house Chatto & Windus – including manuscript entry books, letters, and reader’s reports – and analysing the hefty lists of rejected material between 1890 and 1940, I was able to compile a database of instances where class prejudice seemed to be visible in a rejection.

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