Introduction - Reading Raymond Williams in Aotearoa

Shintaro Kono, Dougal McNeill, Alistair Murray
2018 The Journal of New Zealand Studies  
"Culture is ordinary: that is the first fact."[i]Williams's famous phrase may, in the hands of his latter-day epigones in a depoliticised institutional Cultural Studies, have been turned towards justifications for the study of and accommodation to what is, but, in its originating New Left moment, this was always an assertion of what might be. Ordinary culture, and the cultures of ordinary people, were conceived, by Williams and his collaborators, as part of "a genuine revolution, transforming
more » ... eople] and institutions; continually extended and deepened by the actions of millions, continually and variously opposed by explicit reaction and by the pressure of habitual forms and ideas."[ii] Williams wrote, thought, and organised across his varied career as a socialist intellectual and activist, offering resources of hope and strategic reflections on how cultural work might contribute to the anti-capitalist project of working-class self-organisation and social transformation. That project, difficult enough in the post-war period of his own life and all the more urgent and complex in its conception in our own, the era of Trumpian reaction and ecological collapse, demanded that committed intellectuals parse the "dominant" culture—the culture of capital—for signs of the "emergent," the collectivity to come, and traces of the "residual," habits, products and processes from previous class societies carried over into, and deployed, in capitalist cultures.[iii] Dominant, residual and emergent were terms Williams used to map the complex and internally contradictory work of culture in class society, and to trace some of its tears, cracks and openings. The vocabulary he bequeathed us, from "structures of feeling" to "long revolution," has a rich relevance for the rickety and crisis-prone world we find ourselves in now, after the holograms of post-modernism have ceased to be projected but before newly-coherent ruling-class images and narratives have formed. There are signs, in everything from Social Reproduction Theory to the so-called Affective Turn, of a Williams revival amongst committed intellectuals today.[iv] Materialist criticism has returned for our bad new days. [i] Raymond Williams, "Culture is Ordinary," in Conviction, ed. Norman MacKenzie (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1958), 75. [ii] Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (London: Penguin, 1961), 10. [iii] See Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 121–28. [iv] See, inter alia, Tithi Bhattacharya, ed., Social Reproduction Theory (London: Pluto, 2016), an exhilaratingly revisionist socialist-feminist text studded with Williams references and asides; Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), chapter two; Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), and Jennifer Lawn, Neoliberalism and Cultural Transition in New Zealand 1984–2008: Market Fictions (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). An extended review of Lawn's text by Shintaro Kono will appear in the next issue of this journal.
doi:10.26686/jnzs.v0ins26.4835 fatcat:ihjzr2t4f5gltoejvnbnud26tm