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New Left Review I/182, July-August 1990


Perry Anderson

A Culture in Contraflow—II

4. Aesthetics

A movement from modes of production to those of communication, which marks the historical anthropology of Jack Goody was, of course, also one of the central themes of the work of Raymond Williams. The parallels in the development of an original cultural materialism in the two bodies of writing are not a mere coincidence. For both thinkers started out under the joint influence of Leavis and the Marxism of the anti-fascist moment. Politically, it was perhaps the tension of this background which kept them from rejoining the ranks of British Communism after the war. Intellectually, it seems likely that it provided much of the impulse behind the eventual syntheses at which each arrived—whose affinities can be seen in their collaboration in a collective project on human communication. [58] Raymond Willams, ed., Contact: Human Communication and Its History, London 1981, pp. 7–20, 105–26. Logically enough, literary criticism had been the other refuge of the idea of a social totality within English culture, at a time when it was virtually everywhere else repressed. By 1968 it was already clear that this was the area from which had emerged—with The Long Revolution—a socialist theory able to measure itself against the overall forms of life in capitalist Britain. The next twenty years saw Raymond Williams become not only the most distinctive political thinker of the British Left, but the central figure in literary studies in the country at large. There is a paradox in any such description, because the whole force of Williams’s work in this period was eventually to undo the very notion of ‘literature’ as a separate kind of writing. Literary criticism itself, in the traditional sense, formed in many ways the smallest part of his output: of his books after Drama from Ibsen to Brecht (1968), only The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence (1970) really fits the term, though particular essays approximate it.

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