The Marxist Aesthetics of Christopher Caudwell
For British intellectuals, the years after the economic catastrophe of 1929 were a devastating experience. Before their incredulous gaze, the old revenants of European history—mass action and the threat of revolution—turned to trouble the serenity of life under the Constitution. The certitudes of liberalism seemed unequal to these new and foreboding realities: the poor, for long the beneficiaries of reforming schemes and the corporal works of mercy, were suddenly the hungry, unappeasable proletariat; political contention, once expressed in the decorous alternation of parliamentary majorities, began to assume the form of a manichean struggle between Communism and Fascism. ‘No one can expect’, commented one of the leading intellectual journals of the period, ‘that even if we now get through without disaster, we can long avoid social disintegration and revolution on the widest scale.’ Others, like John Strachey, attempted to find a new direction: ‘As not only the last vestiges of freedom for the masses, but also the books, and the whole possibility of existence, for any who attempt scientific thought, go up in the new autos da fé, we shall all find that we shall be forced to choose between our own mental and moral suicide, and communism.’
’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’
By the same author:
Francis Mulhern on David Bromwich, The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke. Thought-world of the liberal ideologue of counter-revolution.
Afterlives of the Commune
Francis Mulhern on Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury. Political imaginary and afterlives of the Paris Commune.
A Party of Latecomers
Over the past decade the American political-intellectual scene has undergone a significant change with the emergence of a lively nexus of journals, ideas and activities, constituting a new kind of cultural left. Francis Mulhern etches the portrait of the Brooklyn-based n+1, which has been both forerunner and intellectual flagship of this effervescence.
Francis Mulhern on Rob Colls, George Orwell: English Rebel. The protean cult of Eric Blair finds its latest iteration.
Francis Mulhern on Eric Hobsbawm, Fractured Times. Considerations on the fates of bourgeois high culture, avant-gardes and mass art, in the ‘age of extremes’ and beyond.
Culture and Society, Then and Now
The idea of culture in Raymond Williams’s classic work, and discrepant readings of it, fifty years on. Gestation amid CP debates on the English tradition, hidden affinities with the Frankfurt School, and counterposition to the verities of today’s liberal multiculturalism.
Conrad's Inconceivable History
The fascination of Joseph Conrad’s novels with the transformative pressures of capitalist modernity threatens a revelation so intolerable, Mulhern suggests, that it can only be contained within dense narrative strategies of deferral and disavowal.
What is Cultural Criticism?
Meanings of culture, the place of politics and role of intellectuals in the practice of criticism, as conceived since Arnold. Replying to Stefan Collini in NLR 18, Francis Mulhern asks how far the arts of a conversible portraiture bear on a critical agenda.
Replying to Stefan Collini in NLR 7, Francis Mulhern extends his critique of the pretensions of culture to general social authority, to the Marxist versions of Kulturkritik in the Frankfurt School. What defines the difference between politics and culture as practices?
Britain After Nairn
How far can the path from Thatcher to Blair be written as a dynamic of Ukanian constitutional involution, or devolution? Francis Mulhern questions whether classes can be so quickly bundled off-stage. Is it possible to speak of nations—English, Scottish, Irish or any other—as political communities, without social or ideological dispositions?