Thursday, 31 December 2020

Routledge Companion to William Morris

The Routledge Companion to William Morris, which will be published in 2021, is a spectacular work.  Handsomely produced and richly illustrated, it encompasses pretty well all facets of Morris’s complex and many-sided life in its five hundred and thirty pages.  Familiar topics like interior design, poetry, Iceland, socialism, the late romances and printing are well represented; but less predictable ones, like Morris biographies, the Culture Industry and the Classical Tradition, feature strongly too. 

I must at once declare an interest in the volume, having a piece in it on News from Nowhere, but I think that I am being objective rather than subjective in declaring the book as a whole a marvellous tribute to its editor Florence Boos.  No one but Florence, surely, could have pulled off the massive feat of organisation and sheer hard work which such a mighty tome represents; and the book is an outstanding monument of her lifelong dedication to William Morris studies.

That being said, there are still areas of Morris’s life that would bear further examination.  One that has always intrigued me is the topic of angling, which comes up here and there in the Routledge Companion, but not in a systematic way.  It would be a mistake, I think, to regard fishing as some minor, private hobby separate from the main public concerns of Morris’s life.  He always aspires, after all, to undo such rigid dualisms as private/public, serious/frivolous, work/pleasure. 

I did once have the notion of writing a fullscale study of Morris and Victorian angling, and indeed, in retirement, may now take it up again.  So I offer the proposed chapter headings of that book as an illustration of how the theme might be approached.

1.      The Mania of Fishing: Boyhood to Bad Ems, 1834-69

2.      The Hook in his Behind: Fishing in Iceland

3.      Study to be Quiet: The Victorian Cult of Izaak Walton

4.      The Brotherhood of the Angle: Fishing at Kelmscott, 1871-1896

5.      The Merton Abbey Fishery and William de Morgan

6.      Cooking the Catch and Catching the Cook

7.      A Literary Piscatory: Fish and Fishing in Morris's Literary Works (a: Early Writings; b: Middle Period Writings; c: Socialism and Angling; d: Late Romances)

For, as T. Westwood and T. Satchell flamboyantly declared in their Bibliotheca Piscatoria of 1883, ‘angling has become a force in literature, greater far than that of its kindred sports’. 



Friday, 18 December 2020

Towards the Proletarocene: New Initiatives for the Left

It’s good, in a variously dark time, to see the new Left initiatives that are under way all around us.  Salvage Magazine announces itself as a ‘journal of revolutionary arts and letters’, and features leading weird fiction writer China MiĆ©ville on its editorial board.  It is devoted to what it enigmatically terms ‘a communism of the ruins’, and its full manifesto (from which I have pinched the title of this post) appears from Verso in July 2021: The Tragedy of the Worker: Towards the Proletarocene, edited by Rosie Warren and others.

Meantime, the Cambridge Marx Reading Group continues its good work and has, like so many other such projects, gone online during the Covid lockdowns.  You can, for example, chase up Cat Moir discussing Ernst Bloch’s utopian mode of Marxism on Youtube, under the aegis of this group.  Ruth Levitas has for a long time tried to make Bloch’s work count in William Morris circles, so the more we learn of it, the better.

And Jeremy Corbyn is launching a new online Peace and Justice movement in January 2021.  This initiative, of course, at once bears upon much wider political questions.  Whether there is any way back for Corbyn to the Labour Party whip, one may doubt.  Keir Starmer’s purge of the Left means that the conditions for a return of the whip to Corbyn are likely to be so onerous and humiliating that he couldn’t possibly accept them, which neatly gets rid of him (from a rightwing Starmeresque viewpoint, that is).

But getting rid of him thus might open opportunities to the rest of us – ‘us’ here being those who, like me, left Labour as the extent of the Starmer purge became clear (his early move against Rebecca Long-Bailey was the flashpoint in my case).  There appear to be something like fifty or sixty thousand of us now.  Corbyn’s leadership qualities are certainly mixed, but he is enough of a national figurehead to be probably the only person who could start a new political party to the left of Labour - an ‘Independent Labour Party’, to borrow Tariq Ali’s phrase here.  If a new formation of this kind could pull some existing leftwing MPs away from Starmer’s Labour and sign up most of the recently lapsed membership, it might well be a viable organisation for Left ideas and values.  As the Covid darkness of 2020 begins to cede to a hopefully brighter 2021, one can only hope, and, if Corbyn makes such a move, pitch in.