Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Today We Have Naming of Parts

‘What’s in a name?’ asks Dr Robert MacPhail in Aldous Huxley’s utopia Island: ‘Answer, practically everything’ (ch.9). Morris’s own works seem to be in two minds about the issue. On the one hand, Dick Hammond in News from Nowhere blithely asserts, in relation to Trafalgar Square, that ‘the name of a dead folly doesn’t bite’ (ch.VII). But Morris’s early poem ‘King Arthur’s Tomb’ disagrees rather sharply, since Guenevere there claims that ‘The ladies’ names bite verily like steel’.

The question of the effectivity of names came up in the earliest discussions about founding a Society to commemorate the life and work of William Morris, as Michael Crick informs us in his excellent history of the Society: ‘May [Morris] had suggested the Morris Guild or Morris Fellowship, but Emery Walker felt that this would narrow the scope of the organisation. It would, he thought, tie it too closely to the personality of Morris and might therefore lead to a type of antiquarian society, devoted to the past and with no impact on the present’ (p.18).

I think Emery Walker was clairvoyant here, and that though the Morris Society has often attempted to have an 'impact on the present’, there is a momentum about its name which does indeed, slowly but steadily, pull it regularly back towards the Victorian past. Therefore, almost a century after Walker first issued his warning, I wish to make a Swiftian modest proposal: that we re-name the William Morris Society as the News from Nowhere Society. For in that great work all of Morris’s political and aesthetic concerns are intensely active, and yet, as a utopia, it orients us necessarily towards the future rather than the past, towards a collective project rather than an individual personality.

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