Wednesday 24 February 2021

David Attenborough, Communist

I’m glad to see that David Attenborough’s powerful speech to the United Nations Security Council ends up with a communist vision for our shared human future.  He may begin with the statement that ‘I am not a politician’, but his searching account of the dangers we face globally as a result of rising temperatures, the despoiling of the oceans and changing weather patterns, is rich with a social concern that necessarily in the end tips over into political and economic critique.

Now that we are ‘perilously close to tipping points’, he argues, we can already, in the present, see ‘the impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people’.  Though Attenborough does not use the term capitalism in his eight-minute speech, there is no doubt that his is an anti-capitalist discourse, as when he notes that we will be ‘compelled to question our economic models and where we place value’.  And his longer-term utopian vision is that, if we can come together in ‘global cooperation’ to deal with the climate crisis, ‘we may finally create a stable healthy world where resources are equally shared’.

 A ‘world where resources are equally shared’ is a trenchant definition of communism, and I’m therefore glad that Attenborough has lent his immense moral authority to this Morrisian social vision. 


Sunday 14 February 2021

Medieval Ructions at Leicester

The Morris Society online talks in March and April to celebrate the achievements of the Kelmscott Press look good, and since the ultimate artefact produced by that Press was the Kelmscott Chaucer, the Society might also pay some heed to developments in English Studies currently going on at the University of Leicester.  For the English Department there is planning to close down provision of courses in medieval literature and English language in the quest for a curriculum devoted to ‘diversity’ and ‘decolonisation’.  Hackles have been mightily raised by this plan: the MA external examiner Catherine Clark has resigned, and lit-crit luminary Professor Isobel Armstrong has handed back her honorary degree from Leicester in protest.



Current medievalists have pointed out that much good work is being done in that field under the very labels of ‘diversity’ and ‘decolonisation’, a fact which thoroughly undercuts the Leicester rationale for these cuts.  Recalling my own undergraduate enthusiasms for the medieval side of my Bristol English curriculum, I would point to the remarkable sense of linguistic expansion and gusto early-period literature can offer – Basil Cottle, John Burrow and Myra Stokes, a belated but deep thank-you for all that!  But then, perhaps I was an unusual student, with A-levels in French and German testifying to a pre-existing passion for language work.  That is something I didn’t see so much of in my own recent undergraduates, but that’s all the more reason why they need it as a curriculum possibility.



But for Morrisians, the crucial defence of medieval studies must surely involve ‘diversity’ too, but not quite in its current sense, of gender, racial, class and other identities.  Medieval study has the capacity has to lift us bodily out of the capitalist-individualist categories that have dominated Western thinking since, say, the sixteenth century, to turn our minds inside out and open us to the possibility of other modes of social organisation, other ways of collective being.  And from ‘diversity’ of that kind – reculer pour mieux sauter – a utopianism of the future might arise too.  Did not Morris try to show exactly how this could be so in News from Nowhere, after all, where so much of his twenty-second-century socialist future has a faint fourteenth-century resonance to it too?  So, Leicester University English Department, back down!


Sunday 7 February 2021

Stories in Verse

The image I have attached to this post gives a sense of Morris's commanding position - for one poetry editor at least - in the tradition of narrative verse.  It is taken from George G. Loane's little volume Stories in English Verse (1925), from the 'King's Treasuries of Literature' series general-edited by Sir Arthur Quiller Couch.



The actual Morris texts in Loane's collection are 'The Writing on the Image' and an extract from 'The Doom of King Acrisius', both from The Earthly Paradise, of course.  But those particular choices are less important for us than the rousing visual image with which the book opens.  It should surely serve as a clarion call to the William Morris Society to make more of Morris's poetry than it currently does.  I intend to see that it achieves precisely that!