Welsh writer and thinker Raymond Williams, whose centenary is marked with enthusiasm by a plethora of books and scholarly debates, could be extraordinarily prescient about the future, be it that of communication, democracy or the country that fed him. It is therefore fitting that his thought is presented again now, especially in a week when the Conservative Party conference included the publication of Strength in the Union
Something Williams wrote fifty years ago seems oddly apt:
Perhaps the focal point of Scottish and Welsh nationalism is this: in Scotland and Wales we are starting to find ways to express two kinds of impulses which are in fact very widely represented throughout British society. . First, we try to declare an identity, to actually find out what we really have in common, in a world that is full of false identities … And second, but related to that, we try to discover political processes by which people can actually govern themselves – that is, determine the use of their own energy and resources – as opposed to being governed by a system that is increasingly centralized, more and more distant, and also more and more in addition to penetrating: the system that those who run it, for their own interests, have decided to call ‘Unity.’
Raymond Williams was the antithesis of stupid thinking and slogan analysis, and this new book of essays traces his evolution from a working class education to Pandy on the Wales-England border to his academic tenure at Cambridge until his last productive years when he returned to his beloved Black Mountains. They try to work their way through the thicket of labels that have been applied to him – “Cambridge literary critic”, “founder of cultural studies” and “European intellectual” to “Welsh European”: he describes himself simply as ” writer â. ‘
The essays, edited by Stephen Woodham, rightly recognize that the fulcrum of this activity was a memory of the Black Mountains and place Wales at the heart of Williams’ production, whose life and work formed a all. Woodham’s opening essay describes the great convulsions that created South Wales, huge migrations and rapid industrial expansion, including the 1926 general strike, which shattered the company when Williams was five. . It was a story that Williams tried to understand in the 1950s, but when he started to do it it was without the benefit of the great flowering of historiography that gave us John Davies, Dai Smith and Gwyn Alf Williams to name a few, and so he has to depend in part on historian fictional writers such as Lewis Jones.
The memory of the Black Mountains, where memories feed the first published novel by Raymond Williams, Border country which turns on the axis of the relationship between Matthew Price, an academic trained in Cambridge returning home to see his father railwayman. As I myself am the son of a railway worker who left Wales, went to Cambridge and studied Drama as an undergraduate student with Raymond Williams, I appreciate ‘how the movement caused anxiety, âas Woodham puts it. Elizabeth Allen’s essay “Crossing the Border” pays close attention to Williams ‘fiction, emphasizing his concern for realism and showing how suspicious he was of a Welsh style that worked, in Williams’ opinion, as “a form of cultural subordination, the only – slightly degraded if subtle – way the Welsh could present themselves to an English audience.”
Allen also elegantly explores the axis between Cambridge and Wales in Williams’ work, recognizing “the simple binary of hostility and loyalty that marks the relationship.” Some of the essays shed light on aspects of his life that have been little explored. David Tatton in ‘The Purposes of Adult Education’ describes a somewhat forgotten aspect of Williams’ life.
When Williams earned a first-class degree, he was quickly offered a scholarship from Trinity College, but instead opted for a contrarian path, starting work with the Oxford Extra-Mural Delegacy in collaboration. with the Workers Educational Association, a decision made by other well-known contemporaries such as Richard Hoggart and Edward Thompson. It was a professional journey that was not without pitfalls and indeed the adult education movement itself was torn apart by dissent at one point, so it’s a fascinating subject, especially when one looks at it. considers the deep and nourishing roots of EAJ in Wales.
Hywel Dix, meanwhile, provides two essays in the collection, situating Williams on the map of European intellectual life and profitably tracing the “double movement between individual innovation and critical engagement that precisely describes Williams the Welsh European. and participating in a critical theory exchange. ‘Dix also explores what he sees as two key elements in the genesis of Williams’ critical thinking, namely his Welsh nationality and “his constant concern to bring sociological and political ideas to matters of culture” and does so in putting Williams’ writing next to it. – alongside his fellow European thinker Rudolf Bahro. It includes another of those dreamlike or prophetic quotes from Williams, who warned, in 1982, that a decentralized system of government (both in minority nations and in regions) “could easily go in the direction of a bureaucratic government as in the sense of a socialist democracy.
The quartet of essayists who wrote Raymond Williams: from Wales to the world clearly displayed a spirit of proselytizing, wanting people to know and appreciate his work more fully and widely, and the final chapter, âResources for a Journey of Hopeâ is a succinct account of the resources available for a further study and exploration. The Raymond Williams Society has helped a lot in this regard, of course, so if you want to start your own hopeful journey, you can usefully start with this beautiful film, The Country and the City by Mike Dibbs, rescued from Williams’ own VHS copy, which explores the terrain of the 1973 book of the same name.
From Wales to the World is published by Parthian and you can purchase a copy here.