Monday, 12 January 2015

Project for a new Journal

So: the William Morris Society is advertising for a new editor for its journal. My feeling, however, is that matters are actually the other way round: it needs a new journal for its editor. So here is a proposal for a Society journal that would be contemporary rather than historical, political rather than antiquarian – and thus, in my view, much truer to the spirit of Morris himself.

Let’s borrow Morris’s title of his 1888 lecture collection and call the new journal, provisionally, Signs of Change: Journal of Contemporary Culture and Politics, to kick off in 2016. It would then divide up its field of concerns into three, roughly equally weighted sections. So 33% would address the issue of Morris in contemporary culture (currently, e.g., Deller’s Morris-Abramovich image and its political aesthetics, or the Oxford Morris-Warhol exhibition, as a way of posing questions about Morris and postmodernism). The second 33% would focus on contemporary utopianism and dystopianism, both practitioners (in literary, architectural, visual and cinematic arts) and theorists (Jameson, Bloch, Levitas, Moylan).

The third 33% tranche would tackle concerns of the contemporary Left, broadly conceived (i.e. green, feminist and anti-globalisation as well as socialist): analysis of changes in capitalism, exposition of important theorists (return of communist thinking in Badiou and Zizek, say), transformations of working practices, survey of important international political developments, examination of current initiatives in the UK (Left Unity, for instance) – so this section would be doing some of the work that Morris’s socialist newspaper Commonweal used to do.

The reviews section of the new journal would be organised on a similar tripartite model. The only way historical work on Morris would get in is if someone used his writings or activities to draw cultural and/or political lessons for our twenty-first-century present. I’d be inclined to cap essays at 3000 words to ensure both a range of coverage and that they don’t become too academic. A recomposition of the editorial board, with some more overtly political people, would be necessary to make this work. I commend the idea to you!


Unknown said...

Tony you must be the new editor, what you suggest is brilliant, the journal is so dull and antiquarian. In addition to what you suggest it also needs a total re-design. Considering it’s the journal of a great 19th century designer, it’s a design disaster.

It would also be good to get a good critique of Love is Enough. Deller, in his desperation to make Warhol and Morris similar completely ignores the differences, ignoring 100 years of modernism and the cavernous gap in their respective politics and the meanings and implications of their work. So the exhibition makes little sense at all. It’s not that they shouldn’t be compared, but we could learn most from their differences, not their similarities. The trouble is, love isn't enough.

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks for your support, David. I think I might be tempted by an even more radical title for a new journal, actually. How does 'News from Nowhere: Journal of Communism and Culture' sound? Am planning to have a chat with Terry Eagleton about a project of this kind.

John Eley said...

Tony, what a great idea, you describe it brilliantly!

A question - are you thinking of a Society journal (with recomposed editorial board, etc) or actually an independent journal?

The title (taking from both your original post and subsequent comment) - how about "News from Nowhere - Journal of Contemporary Culture & Politics"?

And David is surely right about the need for a redesign - and the new editor!

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks, John. If we could move the Morris Society decisively to the Left (perhaps on a wave of exaltation after the Syriza victory in Greece), then perhaps this could be a Society journal project. If one feels (as I think I increasingly do) that the Society will never budge from a historical (rather than contemporary-political) definition of itself, then it may be time to start thinking about forming an alternative Morris Society, one which takes his communism as its starting point and raison-d'etre. That is after all the Morrisian thing to do! When the SDF proved politically counter-productive, he founded the Socialist League; when the Socialist League eventually proved dysfunctional, he set up the Hammersmith Socialist Society.

Anna said...

That's interesting. Of course Syriza has huge popular support (not particularly for its leftist views but because people are desperate), i wonder whether you anticipate this new journal being a niche product or will try to make it as popular as possible. If the latter, communism in the title will make it a no go for many, being such a toxic word in our society.

Tony Pinkney said...

I can't of course tell where you're writing from, Anna, but if it's from Eastern Europe, then (as I know from my time in Dresden amid memories of the old East Germany) communism may indeed be a politically impossible term at present. But in the West then I think (with Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek) that the political task is to reinvent it and hopefully make it usable again. I certainly do feel that any other term risks beginning a process of accommodation with capitalism rather than keeping open the dream of its abolition. And, on a more scholarly note, 'communism' was, as we know, William Morris's preferred term for his own political position.

Anna said...

Just to make it clear, I’m from the UK and it’s certainly a toxic term with toxic connotations for most ordinary people so whilst anathema to you it would it a wise strategic move to reinvent the term itself or you’ll just be preaching to the converted. And ultimately, the only mechanism by which this could happen is via the democratic process. I also sense that Communism doesn’t sit so well with democracy- in fact it does seem that the only way to achieve Communism is via imposition rather than democratic will. Is it me or is there not much trumpeting of democracy for this reason in the blog?