Tuesday, 30 March 2021

William Morris at Verso

William Morris for the Corbynistas?  That is the way in which, in his general Introduction, Owen Hatherley pitches Owen Holland’s new collection of Morris’s political writings, which (as far as I can recall) is the first sustained attention the leftwing publisher Verso has paid to Morris since Perry Anderson’s fine chapter on ‘Utopias’ in his Arguments within English Marxism (1980).

Hatherley evokes ‘our current moment, when the first attempt in many decades to crash Socialism into Parliament has comprehensively failed, leaving a generation of young socialists bitterly angry and disorientated’.  They could, accordingly, ‘do much worse than turn to these serene, wise and humane essays, and they may find a vision of socialism that appeals to them in particular’.

 Yet it’s noteworthy that Hatherley, as a self-declared ‘modernist’, has some significant problems with Morris’s socialism.  ‘There are certain ideas of “nature” and “manliness” that are sometimes now hard to take”, and he feels more tempted by the realm of culture and media – ‘a Victorian theatre or a 1930s cinema’ – than Morris’s vision of nature and ‘fields in general’.  Hence he prefers Oscar Wilde’s inflection of Morris’s ideas to Morris tout court (since ‘socialism should have space for perverts’), and he refers rather dismissively to News from Nowhere as a ‘retro-utopia’.

Still, there is also much here to be grateful for: the emphasis on Morris’s vision of the social totality, on his clear-sighted diagnosis of reformism, and the unashamed and celebratory use of the term ‘communism’ for Morris’s overall political vision (this last is true of both editors, incidentally).  So we should all be glad to have this volume, which will replace our ancient, increasingly tattered copies of A.L. Morton’s Political Writings of William Morris (1973).  About time too!


1 comment:

Owlfarmer said...

I'm glad you pointed this out, since I'm always looking for collections of Morrisiana that aren't mothy and musty, as they tend to be in my library. Americans' notions about socialism are so cartoonish as to be laughable, only not all that funny. And in Texas, one tends to simply avoid conversing with anyone on any topic vaguely political. When I first moved to McKinney, where I will no doubt end my days, a woman saw my two bumper stickers ("Save Texas Rivers" and "WBEZ Chicago Matters"--my car had been purchased in Chicago) and asked bluntly, "Are y'all a ?" Which is, of course, the next best thing to being a socialist. So I will be looking into this new edition to help me through the next political season.

Thank you for dropping by The Farm recently. I appreciate your kind words.