Saturday, May 31, 2008
Hare, David. "I am of my Tribe." GUARDIAN May 24, 2008.
Smith, Dai. Raymond Williams: a Warrior's Tale. Carmarthen: Parthian, 2008. The author of Culture and Society and The Long Revolution is now the object, it seems, more Google hits than all other New Left writers added together. But a combination of extreme personal privacy in his character and an ill-defined posthumous celebrity have conferred on him something pretty close to complete unknowability. The groups that gather in his name to discuss his ideas invoke his spirit without ever quite managing to identify his cause. A compulsive evader and non-joiner during his life - "Hello, I must be going" would have been as good a biographic title for Williams as for Groucho Marx - he has become, 20 years after his death, a fascinating spectre haunting the decline of the organised left. There is a strong feeling, in the present atmosphere of debauched intellectual panic, that if Raymond were still here, there would be somebody around who could make sense of all this. You may say, of course, that it is in the essence of all the most lasting legacies of influence that the charismatic teacher should be always more than a little evasive. Nothing dilutes influence more quickly than clarity. But Williams's case is particularly acute. With hindsight, it seems quite extraordinary that British radicals of the 1960s should have sought to answer their need for direction and leadership by turning to, of all things, a literary critic - and, what's more, one who made no claim to be notably expert in the more conventional fields of economics or history. Dai Smith's new biography concentrates exclusively on the first 40 years of his subject's life. Its special intention is to prove by the daunting extensiveness of its family research, and by its unique access to Williams's own archive, that Williams never even thought of himself as a critic, least of all one mired in the occupational spite and nastiness of the English faculty at Cambridge University. No, Raymond Williams wanted to be a playwright. He wanted to be a novelist. . . . Read the rest here: http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/politicsphilosophyandsociety/0,,2281946,00.html.