If Hoggart and Williams applied to SSHRC…

…I don’t know if they would get funded (you never know with SSHRC), but they would certainly be able to draw from The Uses of Literacy and The Long Revolution, respectively, for their plans of study- especially Williams, and especially if he was trying to secure funding for a new, emergent scholarship constituted by the study of “culture.”

In “The Analysis of Culture,” the second chapter in The Long Revolution, Williams writes like a nose-to-the-grindstone cultural studies salesman…before he would have had any actual “Cultural Studies” to sell. He paraphrases every grant application’s concluding plea mid-chapter when he writes:

There is a natural pressure on academic institutions to follow the lines of growth of a society, but a wise society, while ensuring this kind of relevance, will encourage the institutions to give sufficient resources to the ordinary work of preservation, and to resist the criticism, which any particular period may make with great confidence, that much of this activity is irrelevant and useless. It is often an obstacle to the growth of a society that so many academic institutions are, to an important extent, self-perpetuating and resistant to change. The changes have to be made, in new institutions if necessary… (69)

In other words, “Dear SSHRC, I am attempting to sell you innovation, hopefully without biting the hand that feeds and insulting the work of specific members on my panel. If you were smart, like, innovative smart, you would listen to me. In conclusion, please acknowledge/respect/fund my research.” [Note: It was certainly interpreted that Williams was, to some degree, “biting the hand.” Recalling this, I like to imagine him kicking back at some point before his death in 1988, reflecting on this work and its reception, and ever so subtly patting himself on the back. Or did “C/cultural S/studies” as it stood in ’88 – or even as it stands now? – still not exactly measure up? I’m not entirely sure.] What kind of research exactly? Well, Williams probably would have had to include some kind of postscript note justifying his refusal to check any of the provided boxes indicating areas of study. As he writes in the introduction, “there is no academic subject within which the questions I am interested in can be followed through” (10). For this reason alone (though the benefit of the work far surpasses this one component), I understand the use of reading this excerpt for the cultural studies comps. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Williams, and the Word was Williams. And lo, a discipline is born. [Okay, it’s not quite so straightforward (at all), but his writing in this piece does come off with more than a hint of it, especially in retrospect.]

Of course, as mentioned, no “revolution” is without its resistance. As Stuart Hall notes, “humanities departments in England received [The Long Revolution] with total incomprehension. They said he wrote with incredible difficulty about simple questions…For a serious professor of English…to produce a book with the title The Long Revolution was a scandal” (Hall, “Emergence” 15). Apparently Williams’s zany notions and preference for lists of threes (there are THREE kinds/categories of culture and THREE ways of analyzing them, there are THREE levels of culture, there are THREE distinguishable social characters of 1840s England, etc.) caused quite a stir among stodgy literary types. Which brings me (kind of awkwardly) to literariness and the great debate re: Literature v. Cultural Studies, something I imagine I’ll be addressing quite a bit in this blog. As I make my way through the first of my “comprehensive cultural studies” readings and my own transition into the discipline, I seem to be reading…an awful lot about literature. I’m not particularly shocked by this; in fact, I’m not surprised at all. Obviously a significant number of academics identified as (early) “cultural studies theorists” originated in and around The Study of Literature. Williams’s case study of 1840s England that comprises the second half of “The Analysis of Culture” is certainly focused on “the case of literature” (71) and most notably the formation and reformation of The Canon. I – perhaps selfishly – enjoyed Williams’s lit focus, though I do think a contemporary case study might have made more sense and been more effective, especially given his delineation of the “structure of feeling” as that we can only “expect to know, in any substantial way” “in our own time and place” (63). In reading the culture of his own moment, Williams could have theorized (t)his work in relation to the question of dominant v. alternative social character.

Hoggart, too, spends a considerable amount of time with L/literature, perhaps less surprisingly given his choice of subject/title (i.e. The Uses of Literacy). I need to get on with my reading and subsequent blog posts, otherwise I would take more time to discuss the many problems and surprising triumphs (roughly sketched in point-form below) of Hoggart’s sixth chapter, “Unbending the Springs of Action.”  I will highlight only that an interesting comparison might be made between Williams’s ever-changing, ever-disappearing “structure of feeling” and the relationship identified by Hoggart between old and new attitudes (e.g. “Changes in attitudes work their way very slowly through many aspects of social life. They are incorporated into existing attitudes and often seem, at first, to be only freshly presented forms of those ‘older’ attitudes” [142]), a reading that might eventually extend to include Jameson’s writing on nostalgia in Postmodernism (forthcoming).

I haven’t really provided much substance here but I’m okay with that. These two readings were pretty straightforward, their messages fairly easily comprehended. This post will be 1 of 2 for this small unit. A bonus blog will take a close look at Stuart Hall’s “The Emergence of Cultural Studies and the Crisis of the Humanities,” partly because it seems “important” and partly because I couldn’t help but compare it to the other text currently occupying my time: the HBO series, The Wire.

Favourite Hoggart moment(s): The problem with “Just Joe”-type, working-class caricaturing and the suggestion that “he is better simply because he is a little man” (151) (or, “[d]emocratic egalitarianism, paradoxically, requires the continuance of the ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ idea in some of its poorer forms” [151]); questioning “progressivism” (143) and the claim that “any change is a change for the better so long as it is in chronological succession” (159); relatedly, the intriguing qualification that “[t]he strongest argument against mass entertainments is not that they debase taste…but that they over-excite it, and finally kill it” (163) [I don’t necessarily agree but I appreciate the qualification]; critiquing the false promise of “personalisation:” “In a world of limitless freedom, what we do does not matter, so long as we do it with style. Above all, we will not be boring….And in the end success pardons all” (169)

Least favourite Hoggart moment(s): Exoticization of the working class (everything from adopting/appropriating “working class” slang to assuming the working class “more open to [the] worst effects” of mass-production [145], leading to “the monstrous regiment of the most flat-faced” [151]); the desertion of the ‘concern for democracy’ (155) in favour of elitist claims like “good writing cannot be popular today, and popular writing cannot genuinely explore experience” (150)

Favourite Williams moment: “What analysis can do is…make the interpretation conscious….We shall find…we are using the work in a particular way for our own reasons, and it is better to know this…” (69)

Least favourite Williams moment: The continued reliance on the “irresistible authenticity” (85) of art and its criticism.

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~ by pamelaingleton on 5 June 2010.

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