Raymond Williams and André Gorz: Class, Communism, Humanism

The Raymond Williams Society blog this month sees the return of Daniel Gerke who recently published an article on Williams and Antonio Gramsci in Key Words. Here, Daniel turns to the thinking of André Gorz, in relation to Williams, in order to outline the revival and significance of class consciousness in the twenty-first century.

Daniel writes…

In a 1995 essay titled ‘Raymond Williams and Marxism’, John Brenkman diagnosed Williams with a case of over-attachment to the working class. The prescribed tincture was a dose of André Gorz, whose work, Brenkman argued, better grappled with the necessity of decentering class, both in response to the radical challenges of feminism and post-colonialism, and as a way of facing the realities of post-industrial capitalism. In one respect, this was an unusual critique of Williams, who had more often been regarded, even by comrades, as insufficiently attentive to class, at least in its structural dimension. But in the mid-nineties, with the collapse of ‘really existing socialism’ provoking announcements of the end of history, the idea of the revolutionary proletariat as the agent of historical change must have seemed passé.

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Crisis, Which Crisis? Climate Change and Capitalism

On the Raymond Williams Society blog for August we have an extract from the Introduction to this year’s Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism. Robert Spencer and Christopher Vardy are editors of the special issue on ‘Crisis’ and argue below for urgent critical, theoretical, and political questions to be posed to greater understand how crises are understood and narrativized. Key Words 17 is out this autumn; to receive a copy please join the society or renew your membership by 31st August 2019. It includes essays by Daniel Gerke on Raymond Williams and Antonio Gramsci, Robert Spencer on James Kelman and post-work, Christopher Vardy on Colson Whitehead and climate change, Amy Rushton on mental health and the Manic Street Preachers, and former RWS Essay Prize winner Ryan David Furlong on nineteenth-century working-class autobiography and William Dodd.

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Communism, Comics, and Cultural Revolution

On the Raymond Williams Society blog this month, Virginia L. Conn shares some of her fascinating research on lian huan hua. Virginia approaches these Chinese ‘comics’ as works which operate within the ‘parameters of science fiction’ in order to engage with and construct notions of utopia and futurity. Such concepts were also addressed by Williams in his writings on similar subjunctive tendencies, notably in the essay Utopia and Science Fiction, for Science Fiction Studies, and collected in Tenses of Imagination. Here, Virginia, who recently spoke at the RWS Annual Conference, explains how, within the context of the Cultural Revolution in China, a range of fictional and visual practices were deployed as both propaganda and pedagogical tools during attempts at state modernisation and technological development.

Virginia writes…

Labour was a complicated issue in socialist countries, conceptualized both as a necessity of every citizen but also a hardship from which the populace could be freed by further technological progress, allowing them to live a life of unburdened luxury. Before such a post-scarcity future could be achieved, however, states required the mass participation of their citizens, working both individually and together, to physically labour for the benefit of the body politic. In mainland China during the Cultural Revolution, for example, Mao Zedong claimed that to strengthen the nation would require curing ‘the first four illnesses’: ignorance, poverty, selfishness, and weak physiques. Each of these would be addressed and improved through manual labour, thus imposing legitimacy upon the national call for the populace to work at the limits of their physical capacities. To do so, however, required that the people be mobilized in the first place to contribute towards this shared vision of futurity; it was a difficult proposition given the relative isolation of many communities during the years leading up to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) coupled with widespread illiteracy and a lack of access to contemporary mass entertainment culture. Continue reading Communism, Comics, and Cultural Revolution

Raymond Williams Society Essay Prize

The Raymond Williams Society is delighted to announce the launch of the 2019 Simon Dentith Memorial Prize. This postgraduate essay competition, now in its eighth year, is open to anyone studying for a higher degree (masters or doctoral) in the UK or elsewhere, or who graduated no earlier than 31 July 2017. The prize for the winning entry is £100 and a year’s subscription to the Society. The winning essay will also be published in Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism (subject to peer review).

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Cultural Production and the Redundancy of Work – Keynotes

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

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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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