Raymond Williams

By: Franklin Bruno
August 31, 2009

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He began his critical career as a Welsh signalman’s son drawn to English literary tradition, and ended it as a Cambridge don extolling the vitality of rural and working-class life. In between, RAYMOND WILLIAMS (1921-88) wrote copiously, for academic and popular audiences, on topics from Orwell and Ibsen to advertising (which he called “the magic system”) and Monty Python — just about any verbal expression that might be construed as “culture.” In his decades-long struggle to rescue that last word from both its exclusionary association with “the best that has been thought and known,” and from an orthodox Marxism that would dissolve the category entirely, he did as much as any single writer to seed the ground for what we now call “cultural studies.” Notoriously restless in both his theoretical and political affiliations (he stuck with the British Communist Party for less than a year), Williams’ most illuminating concepts — “the long revolution,” “structures of feeling” — shifted in significance over his career, which may also explain why Keywords in Culture and Society, tracing several centuries of semantic drift in the use of terms from “aesthetic“ to “work,” is his most characteristic (and indispensable) book.

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What do you think?

  1. This is an brilliant condensation. Keywords is killer.

    I also really like ‘The Country and the City’. I think that’s where he traces back the first guy in literature to say “kids today etc etc, it was much better in the old days etc etc” to around 750BC.

    And his short piece on Sesame Street is very cool too. He was a very lovely chap. I was lucky enough to meet him once, albeit very briefly.

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