๐Ÿ“š node [[raymond-williams]]

Raymond Williams

  • [[person]]
  • Raymond Henry Williams was a Welsh Marxist theorist, academic, novelist and critic influential within the New Left and in wider culture. His writings on politics, culture, the media and literature made a marked contribution to the Marxist critique of culture and the arts.
  • [[marxist]]
  • [[cultural materialism]]
  • Flancia: [[Rainbow Williams]]

Raymond Williams


General information

  • Supported the study of literature together with that of culture and society

  • Against immanent approach and the belief that literature has a special cultural value (R. Leavis, Matthew Arnold), he states that it is a product of its time and carries class values within (desacralization of literature).

  • Importance of literature's social uses.

  • Believed in a democratic and permanent education

  • Believed that the definition of literature and criticism shift as they are influenced by sociohistorical conditions.

  • "cultural materialism":

    • Marxist focus on economic means of production
    • role of culture
    • interaction btw culture and society
    • material and historical factor that inform culture (part of society's superstructure)
    • how culture shapes society
  • In the US, William's joining of the literary and the social was shared, but they rejected marxism (Cold War) until 1970's-1980's.

Starting points

  • Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy , which he revises in his Culture and Society.
    • origin of the word "culture": agriculture, "tending the mind"> XIX century: high social value: general classification of arts and literature, linked to the rise of industrial capitalism > Williams definition: not only a body of work, but a way of life.
  • Marxism and Literature
    • the term literature was previously applied to any written work, but with the rise of industrial capitalism came to designate works with a high cultural and social value
    • our contemporary sense does not derive from some intrinsic value in literary works, but from the ongoing capitalist specialization of society.
  • Marxism
    • Williams criticizes Marxist approach to literature for being too conventional and unchallenging. Marxism did not apply propositions that were assumed central in other areas, to literature.


    • style
    • however great influence for cultural studies
    • criticism of his interest for the political significance of literary works, as he was exceeding the scope of literary studies.

Marxism and Literature

Part 1, Chapter 3

  • literature is not usually seen as a concept but as a description of something highly valued.

  • the mistake is then that specific values of specific works are transferred to a concept which is believed to be actual and practical

  • literature is established as a concrete living experience, while other concepts such as society or politics are seen as abstractions

  • naivety of the concept:

    • theoretically: essential abstraction of the personal and the immediate carried too far, process dissolved
    • historically: steps cannot be traced back
  • the concepto of literature becomes ideological

    • processes and circumstances of composition are suppressed
    • instead, in the ideological concepto, these are "forms" of what is defined as an immediate human experience
  • development of the concept, in its modern form

    • emerged in 18th century
    • was not fully developed until the nineteenth century
    • but the conditions of its emergence have been developing since the Renaissance
      • word: started being used in English 14th century
        • from french and latin (littera, letter of the alphabet)
        • at that point, it meant something close to modern "literacy"
        • literacy itself was introduced in the 19th century for lack of the previous word
        • the adjective literary meant reading ability and experience and did not acquire the modern sense until 18th cent
      • Literature as the new category:
        • specialization of the field formerly categorized rhetoric and grammar
          • specialization to reading and to the printed book
          • eventually more general than poetry (so far=imaginative composition) which came to mean metrical composition
          • but literature never got to have the connotation of active composition or making that poetry did.
          • category of use and condition rather than production
          • thus from activity to an achievement of an educational level, which was related to social class and social distinction. (printed books, which it eventually came also to connote, were the means to this end).
      • Three complicated tendencies juxtaposed to the idea that this development has persisted:
        • from learning to taste. taste was a defining feature of the burgoisie
        • criticism, an essentially associated concept, from commentaries on literature, to the conscious exercise of taste. criticism ended up becoming a definition of literary studies, defined by the specializing cartegory of literature
          • forms of a class specializatiom control of a social practice and class limitation of the questions it may rise
        • specialization of literature to creative/imaginative works: response to socially repressive and intellectually mechanical forms of the new social order, industrial capitalism
          • art: from general skill to specialized area defined by imagination and and sensibility
          • aesthetic: from general perception to a specialized category of the artistic and beautufiful
          • fiction and myth: from liers to bearers of imaginative truth
        • were the qualities to be assigned to the imaginative (similar claims of religion: access to a truth higher than objective truth) or the aesthetic dimension.
        • alternative schools made arguments for one or other idea, many for both, but increasingly instead of possitive assertions, assertions instead other modes: science, society, kinds of writing and eventually within itself ("bad"literature)
          • necessary selectivity
          • criticism validated the category
          • development depended on tradition:
            • idea of national literature growing since the renaissance
              • greatness of national language
              • selection which defined the literary values that criticism was asserting
        • this categorization is so powerful that Marxism did not go much against it. Marx was quite conventional when he discussed literature. Hesitation to apply to literature propositions which were central in other areas of Marxist criticism.
        • Later Marxist tradition made the application in three ways:
          • assimilation of literature to ideology: did not work
          • inclusion of popular literature to the literary tradition (much needed, significant)
          • attempt to relate literature to the social and economic history in which it has been produced ("Marxist criticism", also relevant)
          • Marxist criticism has been successful in spit of its lack of radicality in terms of the inherited category of literature. However, some exceptions: Lukรกcs, the Frankfurt school, etc.
      • but the real theoretical break is the recognition of literature as a specializing social and historical category, which does not diminish its importance.
        • new technologies are transforming the cultural and social relationships surrounding literature
        • more than new technologies: they are means of production
        • the origin of the modern concept of literature is also connected to a new technology: that of print, eve though it is now nostalgically evoked.
๐Ÿ“– stoa (open document) at doc.anagora.org/raymond-williams
โฅฑ context
โฅ… related node [[person]]
โฅ… related node [[rainbow williams]]