Raymond Williams was “by common consent” one of the “two most commanding intellectual figures in the New Left that emerged in Britain at the turn of the sixties,” the other being Edward Thompson. Williams published in 1961 a text entitled “The Future of Marxism.” In that essay, Williams has some remarkable things to say about imperialism, the successes of actually existing socialism, balanced against its failures, and the continued relevance of socialism as the horizon of human liberation. He also makes a characteristic methodological point: “the relation between systems of thought and actual history is both complex and surprising.” The future of Marxism, that is to say, will not depend on dogma, but will instead rest on historical developments, on how well are able to actualize Marx’s ideals in our own unique conjuncture. This volume takes up the challenge of reading and extending Williams’s thought in light of the actual history that has occurred since his passing but with the same ideal of socialism as its guiding horizon. If there is one thread visible throughout all of Williams’s work, it is the felt presence of a living, thinking individual, of a person continually testing ideas in experience in order to see whether they fit the world they are meant to describe. The aim of this volume, timed to coincide with what would have been Williams’s 100th birthday, is to test his ideas in our own experience and to engage Williams’s work in ways that move past the familiar terrain that has grown around it. We now know that “experience” is a dangerous category, that “community” can be hijacked by the right as much as the left, and that “tradition” contains as much conflict as commonality. Those committed to Williams’s work can easily find textual arguments or developments across his career to answer these charges, and they have. What our volume offers is a set of arguments by younger scholars influenced by Williams’s writings that moves past some of these debates, extending Williams’s work into the 21st century, testing and weighing his ideas in light of recent developments and contemporary intellectual culture. In doing so, we treat Williams’s thought as one of those “resources of hope,” which he famously suggested would sustain us.At a time of deepening inequality and austerity and growing rightward reaction, and yet simultaneously, and with seeming dialectical necessity, a renewed investment in socialism, Williams might be exactly the kind of figure we need.
Paul Stasi teaches 20th century Anglophone literature at the University at Albany where he is an associate professor. He is the author of Modernism, Imperialism and the Historical Sense, the co-editor (with Jennifer Greiman) of The Last Western: Deadwood and the End of American Empire and the co-editor (with Josephine Park) of Ezra Pound in the Present: New Essays on Pound’s Contemporaneity.
The Meaning of Solidarity: Raymond Williams at 100
Part I: Keywords
2Experience, Culture, Utopia: The Long Politics of Raymond Williams
3Un-learning and Re-learning the Future: Raymond Williams’s Timely Utopia
4 Structures of Feeling: Raymond Williams’s Progressive Problemshift
Thomas A. Laughlin
Part II: Knowable Communities
5Anti-Imperial Literacy, the Humanities, and Universality in Raymond Williams’s Late
Work Daniel Hartley
6Inexplicable goodness: Raymond Williams, Charles Dickens and The Ministry of Utmost HappinessPaul Stasi
7Structures of Feeling, Late Capitalism and the Making of African Literature in the Global Literary MarketplaceMadhu Krishnan
8 Television and Other Popular Media from the 1960s to Now
Every generation needs to reread Raymond Williams, both to rescue the work from conservative attempts to limit its radicalism and as still one of our most dependable guides to a left critical knowledge movement. Raymond Williams at 100 delivers a moveable feast of today’s best critics making Williams newly relevant for familiar and new readers of Williams.
A fascinating collection of essays affirming the massive achievement of Raymond Williams whilst also challenging us to think harder about his legacy. These lucid essays are respectful yet critical of Williams’s influence across many fields and disciplines and, appropriately, take very seriously Williams’s indefeasible relation to Marxist thinking. Indispensable reading for anyone interested in Williams’s unique and uniquely important work.