Study Guide

Raymond Williams Influences

Karl Marx

To say that Marxism "influenced" me would be like saying that Catholicism has influenced with Pope. Well, not exactly, but you get the point. There's no denying that when I picked up The Communist Manifesto at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937, my life was forever changed. I was a communist for part of my life, but when my official membership lapsed, I became a socialist instead. I definitely did not toe the Communist Party line.

I've never been one for dogma, so you won't find me throwing around phrases like "means of production" and stuff like that. Still, my take on cultural materialism is based on Marxist thinking: I'm concerned with how culture is produced and how that production reflects issues of class, politics, and power. No matter how much my Marxist opinions have changed, I always identify with the working class.

Stalinism

As a response to all of the crazy fascism (Nazis, Mussolini's men, Franco's fascists) circulating around Europe during the 1930s, I became a communist. It just seemed like the right thing to do. But let's face it: communism isn't exactly peaches and cream. I mean, have you ever heard of Stalin? Total maniac. So, even though I am down with the people big time, I am not down with Stalin. He was almost as bad as Hitler. I wouldn't know where to start with Stalin: he ruined artistic expression, he was crude and cruel, and he turned me off with his oppressive terror.

Antonio Gramsci

This Italian cultural theorist and I were really simpatico on the idea that culture is as important as economy when it comes to understanding history. This means we were opposed to an "economistic" interpretation of society. In my own words, history is understood and produced through a "complex interlocking of political, social, and cultural forces"—that's from Marxism and Literature (source). Reading Gramsci's work taught me a lot about issues of dominance and subordination. I just loved his work—so original.

George Steiner

My book Modern Tragedy (1966) was a response to Steiner's The Death of Tragedy (1961). See, we were colleagues at Cambridge, and we were both interested in theory before theory was Theory. Steiner basically argued that tragedy had been dying a long, slow death since its great era in Ancient Greece. Steiner argued that religious belief was a central part of tragedy (it could be about a Christian God or Zeus himself—as long as it was religious), so that when religious faith took a nosedive, tragedy did, too.

Well, I came along and argued that there's plenty of tragedy in daily life; we just need to redefine what we mean by tragedy. Sure, Oedipus may not walk around killing his father and poking his eyes out next door, but we do have tragedy in our culture.

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