Anarchism, Modernism and Cultural Theory: the Ousting of Raymond Williams


Alan Munton


Published in Key Words 4 (2003).



John Higgins, Raymond Williams: Literature, Marxism and cultural materialism.  Routledge: London and New York, 1999.  ix, 229pp.

ISBN 0-415-02344-0 (hbk)  0-415-02345-9 (pbk)  $75.00 and £50.00 (hbk)  pbk prices not known

David Kadlec, Mosaic Modernism: Anarchism, Pragmatism, Culture.  Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore and London, 2000.  331pp.  $42.50 and £33.00

ISBN 0-8018-6438-0 (hbk)

Michael North, Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern.  New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.  vii, 269pp.  $35.00 and £22.50

ISBN 0-19-512720-X


Raymond Williams went to the United States only once.  After refusing invitations for years because of the Vietnam War, he suddenly visited Stanford in the early months of 1973, hiding away to write his book on television.  With his wife he took part in an anti-Nixon march, but that was all.  Why did Williams regard the essence of the country as lying more in the actions of its government than in the massive protest movement against the war, which was generating a radical culture of great interest? 

            One reason may have been that the politics and culture of the United States caused difficulties for his theory.  When Williams’s concept of ‘a whole way of life’ as the motive and object of cultural enquiry has to confront the claims of internationalism, dislocation and small communities, the United States gets invoked, and not in welcoming ways.  In ‘Language and the Avant-Garde’ of 1986 he refers to the way the ‘experience of small minorities’ could in some (false) interpretations define modernity itself. This was undesirable and occurred ‘most notably in the United States’.  A troubling moment occurs when Christopher Prendergast identifies this sentence from Williams’s late lecture ‘When Was Modernism?’ as prejudiced: ‘The whole commotion is finally and crucially interpreted and ratified by the City of Emigrés and Exiles itself, New York’.  That may indeed make us ‘think of other, deeply uncongenial forms of the attack on the “cosmopolitan”’, as Prendergast remarks.  There is distress, and perhaps anger, in Williams’s late work on modernity, which is collected in The Politics of Modernism (1989).   America, the site of a multiplicity of viable cultures and creative groupings was a living challenge to Williams’s need for wholeness and for deeply-rooted movements that capitalism could not degrade.

Williams’s direct intellectual influence in North America appears now to be over, but it persists in the interests and emphases and procedures of writers who look to Fredric Jameson and those few others who make up the American academic left.  But it is unlikely that the group around Rethinking Marxism, which emphasises economics, is rethinking Williams, because economics was one of his blind spots.  There is an ironic appropriateness that Williams, so often unwilling to specify his sources, should himself be dispersed, unnamed, across a multitude of critical texts.

            John Higgins’s account of Williams’s relationship with Cambridge English could scarcely be better done.  That relationship was combative from the outset.  The battle began with Williams’s arrival at Cambridge as an undergraduate in 1939, continued with his brief return to get a First in 1945-46, and was institutionalised by his lectureship in 1961.  After his repudiation of literary criticism he attempted in 1983 a decisive distancing from Cambridge English in his two retirement lectures as Professor of Drama.  In one, he questioned whether there ever was such a thing as Cambridge English.  Momentarily open to possibilities at its inception in the 1920s, it had never been a distinctive or coherent method of study, he argued.  Above all it was flawed from the outset by its refusal to study language as a social practice.  Why, then, spend so many years struggling with an historically flawed set-up that was by his time a deformation beyond reform?  Yet he never freed himself from Cambridge’s clinging attachment.  At the same time, his constant complaints about being in Cambridge did not endear him to those who had to work in less privileged parts of the British educational system (most of it, in other words).

By 1974, when he became professor, it was all too clear that little of importance was going on at Cambridge, apart from his own work and that of Stephen Heath.  This was my view, and that of numerous others, in the 1970s.  By the 1980s it was possible to describe the place as a backwater, with the MacCabe affair of 1980-81 representing a symbolic expulsion followed by a closing of minds.  And a backwater it remains.  Important work is now diffused throughout the system, in Europe, North America, southern Africa (Higgins’s own work an example), Australia.  The power of the Cambridge name continues to fascinate—can we imagine ‘Warwick English’ or ‘Duke English’ achieving the same mesmeric power?  It was Williams who became mesmerised.  Listening to his inaugural professorial lecture in 1974, it was possible to wonder why he should be so constrained, so cautious.  Where was the radical effort?  Was it cleverly concealed, to be dug out later, or not there at all?  Were his final doubts about the coherence of Cambridge English a rejection formulated to conceal his personal distress at the inhibitions it had imposed upon him?

            Higgins’s study is strategic.  In order to preserve cultural materialism as a force for the future he concedes enormous failures on Williams’s part.  The account of nineteenth-century culture and tradition in Culture and Society is inadequate, Higgins says.  He alleges, without giving much evidence, that in his best book, The Country and the City, Williams’s historical scholarship is weak.  The concept ‘structure of feeling’ is theoretically lame, and Williams’s Marxism is without class, state or economics.  His ‘historical semantics’, Higgins says, is amateurish (which will dismay those of us who still find Keywords useful).  Williams’s reading of Saussure is tendentious, his out-of-date view of psychoanalysis inadequate to the challenge of Lacan, whilst he does not engage adequately with his structuralist and post-structuralist antagonists. 

Williams’s positive notions (identity, social rootedness, and community) are compromised by their conservative origins.  There is nothing in his work about race, gender or imperialism.  (Feminism doesn’t even make it into the index of Higgins’s book.)  Others doubt if he understood Vološinov properly, and on Chomsky (another failure, I would add: the page in Marxism and Literature falls into several traps) he obediently follows Timpanaro.  Throughout, Williams fails because he accepts the limits of Cambridge as the limits of his world.  In my view Higgins’s wide condemnation seriously underestimates the thoroughgoing influence that Williams has had upon the way questions are asked, today, in literary and cultural studies.  There are a multitude of things that critics do, and properly refuse to do, as a result of his persuasion and his example. 

            The claims to Williams’s legacy have been ‘guarded and defensive’, Higgins writes; ‘the whole dynamic one in which Williams is remembered in such a way that his work seems better off forgotten’.  From this low point he attempts to recover cultural materialism as a resource and as the ground for future research.  Even this is argued cautiously:  ‘At the very least’ the question of agency persists, so that culture is not now read as dependent upon social reality (the crude 1930s view).  Althusser’s argument for the wholesale dominance of ideology has been largely rejected, and the base and superstructure argument disposed of.  Language in Williams performs in a truly dialectical way, enabling self-consciousness as much as determining it. 

            This is pessimistic because it shows Williams as most successful in his rejections.  Higgins interprets this ‘historical’ account (as he calls it) as a challenge to our current positions, rather than a confirmation of them, but he leaves the impression that little enough of the legacy is workable as a resource, whether for political hope or for the writing of oppositional books.  Then, in an unexpected final emphasis, Higgins turns to literacy as embodying the continuity in Williams’s work, so that education marks the link between adult education (in which Williams began), Cambridge, and cultural materialism as a project.  Education, itself politicised, means empowerment and emancipation.  This requires (in Williams’s own words, cited twice for emphasis), a questioning of ‘any and every pronunciation of a singular or assembled authority’.  In this reading Williams—so much an authority himself—becomes important because he was anti-authoritarian.  Was he, then, a decentralist?  To put an end to the hierarchical base and superstructure concept in favour of a field of activity in which the critic may choose where to engage is decentralist.  Williams’s demand for the democratisation of communications media—for ‘very flexible and complex multi-way interactive modes’—is again decentralist.  ‘Community’, as it originates in the 1968 claim that ‘we begin to think where we live’, shows a valuable preference for the local over the metropolitan.  But this last example raises problems: is it possible to think the world out of Cambridge English or from rural Wales, and from those two places alone?  Evidently not; and so we return to the question of Williams’s insufficient interest in America.

America is a ‘whole way of life’ of such multitudinous variety (and, yes, ‘complexity’—Williams always discovered complexity) that Cambridge and Wales appear, in that perspective, to offer insufficient experience from which to argue for change.  Williams lived out of historically authenticated forms of socialist opposition, sharply different from the spontaneous and untheorised American political radicalism of the 1960s and early 1970s.  America’ provokes exactly the questions of complexity, variable experience, and difference-in-relation that Williams liked to pose; but an interrogation of ‘America’ risked very different answers from those provided by Cambridge and Wales.  Higgins’s emphasis on Cambridge English as a major determinant of Williams’s thought simply draws attention to the limits of his experience.  This matters because Williams gambled so much on who is speaking in criticism, and from where.  Two places, let alone one, are not enough.

            Compare Williams with another public intellectual, Noam Chomsky.  Chomsky originated from New York in the late 1930s, his anarchism unimpeded by the youthful Stalinism that Williams engaged in at the same moment.  Chomsky has been a consistent decentralist, but his lack of attachment to place makes him quite different from Williams.  Politically, Chomsky communicates directly and without fuss; Williams privileges communication in an educative effort generously intended for others yet self-regarding in its laborious formulations.  Chomsky is known to write thousands of letters every year in an international communicative effort embracing politics and linguistics.  Williams, by contrast, was inaccessible by phone, avoided his students when he could, and mostly wrote terse postcards.  His interpretation of politics was shrewd and often profound, given in interviews in which he would, very typically, adjudicate upon the propositions put to him.  How much more exhilarating, and consequently more politically empowering and effective, are Chomsky’s books, pamphlets and articles—recently, his recategorisation of the United States as a rogue state has been telling—which are offered with an involving irony rather than with a distancing authority.

Chomsky’s attention to the state’s misuse of language for political purposes is something that Williams recognised in his 1971 essay ‘Literature and Sociology’, but the argument of that piece typically returns upon English thinkers.  Chomsky’s clear speech has been excluded as far as is practicable by the North American media; but Williams’s mode of expression, ‘a language and a manner of the monograph and the rostrum’, as he put it in words not intended as self-criticism, has tended to exclude itself. 

            Can he be rescued from this situation?  John Higgins argues cautiously for the future of cultural materialism in the Williams mode and implies that some kind of movement is possible.  This runs against his tendency to explain later developments in Williams’s thought in terms of what happened earlier.  For example, the real focus of Modern Tragedy (1966) is, unsurprisingly, its opposition to Cambridge English.  Later, cultural materialism is said to have emerged against the same opponent.  When Williams develops a critique of modernism, Cambridge English turns out to have been an interfering modernist formation all along. 

The fault of the New Conformist intellectuals—most of them from Cambridge, naturally—was to repeat the ‘bourgeois dissidence’ that Williams attributed to Orwell back in 1971, and which he would later interpret, very strangely, as lending a strand to the right-wing politics of a rampant Thatcherism.  ‘It is clear enough’, writes Higgins, ‘that the new conformism only repeated the main tenets of the old conformism that Williams had spent his life refuting’.  In this account, Williams is engaged in a repetition compulsion whose target—Cambridge English—is always the same and yet always changing.  By 1983 this entity is said scarcely to exist at all—although until that date it had the uncanny ability to metamorphose itself into every enemy required for the development of Williams’s thinking. 

            Raymond Williams needed Cambridge in order to be a critic.  This is not Higgins’s conclusion, but it is inescapable.  It is because he needed Cambridge that he did not need America, least of all a complex America that might explode the Welsh legacy of ‘a whole way of life’, and finally demonstrate the impossibility of a common culture.  I make these points despite Williams’s claim in Marxism and Literature (1977) that he had at last found a home in an international context.  If that were so, why so late?  Why, after himself fighting in a war against fascism that was won by the Soviet Union and the United States, did he turn so quickly and so fully towards English culture (drama excepted)?  Why was Europe so difficult to reach again, and America beyond reach altogether?  And why, for so long, suffer Cambridge, that place and those people?  No wonder the arguments of the last essays are distorted by anger. 

Dissatisfaction with Williams's formulations now extends into recent accounts of modernism by American critics.  The most significant of these is David Kadlec's attempt to recover anarchist thought for modernism, but before confronting that argument, I want to show that a displacement of Williams's Politics of Modernism precedes another important discussion, Michael North's close reading of the cultural work of the year 1922.  Reading 1922 (1999) has the subtitle A Return to the Scene of the Modern, which suggests that such a return is necessary because the primary (if not primal) scene has yet to be adequately accounted for.  In practice this means that Williams did not get it right.  North quotes Williams from ‘Language and the Avant-Garde’: ‘It is a very striking feature of many Modernist and avant-garde movements that they were not only located in the large metropolitan centres, but that so many of their members were immigrants into these centres, where in some new ways all were stranger’.  North's strategy is to take this ponderous generalisation at face value, and to attach to it examples of a kind that Williams never quite intended.  He selects three ‘strangers’.  During 1922, the Londoner Charlie Chaplin was in Los Angeles, the Jamaican writer Claude McKay was in New York, and D.H. Lawrence moved through Italy, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Australia, and on to New Mexico.  As Lawrence's itinerary suggests, not all the places sought out were metropolitan centres; if one declines to regard 1920s Los Angeles as a cultural centre of the kind Williams evidently had in mind, only New York fulfils the criteria.  Since we can doubt that Joyce's Dublin, Trieste or Zürich were metropolitan centres, and can ask whether Pound's Rapallo was anything more than a place to set up a typewriter, we are left with T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound in London, Wittgenstein in Cambridge, and—later in Paris—Joyce enjoying his prominence among a community of admiring American expatriates for whom French culture meant little, as indeed it meant little to Joyce himself.  If this amounts to a social formation, it is one that lacks confirmatory bulk. Only in New York was there an essential and mediated relationship between the culture and the newcomer—and we have already observed that Williams’s view of New York conveys a certain animus. 

            North shows that a global migration of an opposite kind occurred when colonial administrators, anthropologists and itinerant journalists spread out and away from the European centers to which they owed allegiance. (We might also consider Paul Gauguin and R. L. Stevenson in the nineteenth century—and the direction Ambrose Bierce was travelling when he got lost in Mexico.)  This doubling of cultural movement suggests, as Michael North is surely correct to argue, that there existed a reflexive oscillation between the local and the global, a complexity which Williams's ‘immigration to the metropolis’ argument is unable to accommodate.  North goes on to make the telling point that by 1922 network broadcasting, through the BBC, drew upon sources in Europe for both speech and music, and in doing so established a new community of listeners. Out of this eventually develops that virtual community of the media among which we now live and which (North gently hints) is amenable neither to Williams's terminology nor to that preference for the local through which he attempts to disable cosmopolitan modernism,  ‘Mediation’, North writes, ‘ has become an ordinary, inescapable fact of existence’, and we have learned to mediate between the parochial and the global with ease, and in ways that by no means necessarily admit political complacency.  Nor is the media the whole of what we daily mediate with such skill.  In this analysis the arguments of Williams’s Television: Technology and Cultural Form—the book that he wrote in America—are surpassed by the realization that he has failed to recognize both sides of a two-way relationship.

            My remarks about the relation of center to periphery, or rather about the reflexive action between the local and the global, are intended, at this point as in my discussion of Higgins, to bring Williams within the ambit of the term decentralism.  One judgement upon a desired or actual socialism must be of its capacity to enact a balance between centralized control of the economy and civic freedom.  In another perspective, decentralization may he seen to work as either a component in socialism, or as an intrinsic requirement of anarchism.  When we come to David Kadlec's important discussion of the place occupied by anarchism in both classic American modernism and in its more recent extension towards African American writing, we find that his starting point is, again, a rejection of Raymond Williams.  Kadlec makes a space for anarchism by refusing to accept Williams's version of dominant, residual and emergent forces in politics and culture.  This denial of Williams’s authority in a field that he defined so influentially, is a significant revision of the basis of our understanding of modernity.  Because large scale political anarchism failed, it barely achieved emergent form; but it nevertheless persisted as a force in political thought and cultural activity throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and into the first two decades of the twentieth.  Anarchism may be regarded as a residual formation in that it was not obliterated as a political possibility until the Russian revolution of 1917 and its aftermath, in which anarchists were tried and eliminated.  Williams, however, does not recognize anarchism at all, concerned as he was during the 1970s to locate himself as a world-encompassing Cambridge Marxist who would strategically ‘forget’ his grounding in a local Welsh socialism.  (See the introduction to Marxism and Literature).

            According to Kadlec, it is precisely because political radicalism has been understood to include only socialist and collectivist forms that anarchism has been treated as a variant of individualism, one that is assimilated to bourgeois individualism by poststructuralist thinking.  Anarchism has been, and remains for many, the wrong radicalism.  Kadlec believes it was a strength of anarchism that it could not be appropriated by dominant formations, as (for example) the early British Labour Party was co-opted by Edwardian Liberalism.  Many intellectuals preferred syndicalism, direct action, local organization and an anticollectivist position over the abstracting collectivism of socialism, even though a consequence was the absence of any progressive theory.  Kadlec's discussion of Ezra Pound’s imagism and the Cantos identifies a double descent towards the ideogrammatic method, through Pound's idiosyncratic interest in Major C. H. Douglas’s social credit theories from 1919 onwards, and the earlier influence of Proudhon arising from the radical community in London before the First World War . The second of these fulfills Williams's definition of the metropolitan formation, in that it combined politicians, writers, artists and feminists.  The far from desirable postwar outcome is specified by Kadlec: ‘What this new poetic genesis suggests is that fascism and institutionalized anti-Semitism can be elaborated from an economic approach with roots in both progressive [politics] and radical anarchist politics’. Here, ‘progressive’ means socialist, whilst ‘radical’ attaches to anarchism; and it is the economic content of Pound’s thought that skews his thinking.  Kadlec continues: ‘By fastening rhetorical and monetary hardness too directly to a politics that forbids difference and play’—socialism is meant—‘contemporary critics have managed to overlook one of modem literature's more unsettling narratives'. (p 87)

            It is not primarily difference and play that brings together Kadlec's chosen authors, who are Pound, Joyce, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and Zora Neale Hurston.The pervasive presence of anarchism in these writers, however diluted in particular instances, sets up a strong argument about absent or refused origins, the consequence of anarchist opposition to all beginnings, origins and principles.  This allows Kadlec to argue that these writers share an antifoundationalist impulse, by which is meant a rejection of the view that beliefs require support from other beliefs in order to count as knowledge.  In philosophy this creates the problem of distinguishing between beliefs that are epistemically justified, and those that are not.  In literature, it appears, the modernist text validates itself as an object of knowledge by virtue of its structure as language (an argument whose evident tautology has not prevented its widespread acceptance by literary critics).

            Kadlec explores the two anarchisms most significant for modernism: the individualist, egotistical thought of Max Stirner, and the mutualist, relational and ethical theories of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. From Stirner's The Ego and His Own (1844, trans. 1907) he derives a second important principle, that the adoption of Stirner's nominalism led to the conscious rejection of such abstracting terms as ‘Race’ and ‘Woman’ by his English-reading interpreters after 1907.  Nominalism rejects abstracting universals in favor of discourse about familiar concrete particulars, a discourse which when used outside philosophy may be understood to generate the texts of modernist poetry and fiction (if in forms of language that are far from being familiar.)

            According to Kadlec, and to a number of recent writers presently or formerly attached to the University of Chicago, Stirner's philosophy was mediated by Dora Marsden, through her magazines The Freewoman, The New Freewornan and The Egoist between 1911 and about 1914. It was by this route, and in Marsden’s correspondence, that his ideas reached Pound and Joyce. Kadlec provides better documentation of this possibility than have some critics, but I remain skeptical as to whether Marsden's impact was more than to confirm an already existing interest.It is not known when Joyce read Stirner, and I am not convinced that Joyce needed Marsden to introduce him to The Ego and His Own(Kadlec mentions that Joyce owned Paul Elzbacher's Anarchism, which quotes extensively from Stirner; but Joyce did not buy that book until early in 1914, by which time the story of the egoist Stephen Dedalus was being serialised by the Egoist, which took its name from Stirner. For Joyce's book-buying, see p.779 of Ellman’s biography.)

            Marsden did assist Pound towards relating the question of the condition of the arts to economics before the First World War, and probably influenced his move towards antistatist views of an anarchistic kind.  This is a significant adjustment to our view of Pound’s development, in that it brings his interest in economics forward from what has been thought to be its beginnings in 1919 and 1920, to the Imagist and Vorticist period immediately before the war.  On the other hand, we have to recognize that while Marsden's thinking was influential, her own prose style was diffuse and wearying, so that it is not out of her writing that Imagist precision or Joycean stylistic multiplicity can have emerged.  Further, since the culture/economics axis was to prove fatal for the enterprise of the Cantos, so the heavy responsibility previously attributed to Douglas, and to Pound’s right-wing populism, will now be transferred to Marsden's egoist or individualist theories.  Marsden was already worrying about usury in January 1913, and may have been anti-Semitic (though that is played down here).  She was at first attracted by Proudhon, but had rejected him by late 1913 on the grounds that his key assertion, ‘property is theft’, was moralistic. Marsden, according to Kadlec, instead found empowerment in theft itself! This is a possible reading of Stirner, who wrote: 'Since the State is the lordship of law, its hierarchy, it follows that the egoist, in all cases where his advantage runs against the State’s, can satisfy himself only by crime’.  There is surely a complicating irony here, however; Stirner’s primary meaning is that the concept of crime creates the State: ‘Without crime no State’ (1907 edition, p.314).  This indicates some of the difficulties in applying an idealising philosophy.

            Stirner advocated a new and disturbing form of possession, disturbing because it was so inclusive and so immoral, or non-moral: ‘And it is only as this unique I that I take everything for my own....I do not develop man, nor as man, but, as I, I develop—myself' (p.483).  Stirner urges the ego’s need to possess the world as its own in an act of mental appropriation.  The interest of such philosophical impossibilism lies in the arguments that precede this outrageous but altogether conceivable proposition.  As for the texts of modernism, such a conception of appropriation suits the writer who wishes to create and possess a world in language. Dublin is that world for Joyce, we must recognize that in Ulysses the egoistic Stephen enters the community of that city, and is inserted into triadic structures that modify the egoism of A Portrait.Ulysses, we recall, was largely written in the non-metropolitan city of Zurich whatever Stoppard’s play may say otherwise.

            In Kadlec's restructuring of modernism, one expects Proudhon to represent community, as against Stirner, who stands for individualism. To a degree, this is what occurs, although it is Proudhon’s critique of money that is foregrounded in the discussion of Pound.  In 1935—late, in terms of this discussion—Pound wrote that ‘Proudhon will be found somewhere in the foundations of all contemporary economic thought that has life in it’, which Kadlec interprets as an acknowledgement of Pound’s ‘fundamentally Proudhonian’ economic leanings, at the same time as he recognises the poet as confused.  My reading would be harsher; that the Pound of the middle and late 1930s was engaged in incoherent justifications of Italian Fascism, sometimes conducted at the borders of sanity, that cannot be safely situated in the main line of anarchist discussion.

            In this respect Pound differs from the other American authors discussed here, whom Kadlec shows, most interestingly, to have derived decentralist and relational thinking from the pragmatism of William James and (to a lesser extent) of John Dewey.  This occurred in Marianne Moore's case through university teaching contacts which preserved a philosophical basis whilst allowing its modification for the purposes of writing poetry.  C. S. Peirce's impersonal and rigorously scientific version of pragmatism does not feature here, but the left-pragmatism of James does, because it permitted the examination of effects upon particular groups or individuals—‘What works for me’—through which subjectivity enters.  Raymond Williams’s entry for ‘Pragmatic’ in Keywords suggests a preference for Peirce, because he emphasises the difficulty of ascertaining facts, ‘and thus on knowledge and language as problematic’, a phrase which neatly encapsulates the tendency of much of Williams's later work. Philosophers describe Peirce's position as ‘right pragmatism’ because it is indifferent to persons.  Williams quotes Peirce as saying ‘Our conception of the effects is the whole of the conception of the object’, and describes this as a method of understanding, whereas James's pragmatism is a method of justification.  This carries the clear implication that the former is preferable to the latter.  Kadlec, working from the latter position, which I understand to mean a justification of the subject, successfully establishes a route from decentralizing politics, into interpersonal structures of relationship, and towards a revaluation of subjectivity in modernist poetry and fiction.  Along this route we encounter an anarcho-feminism which places Moore differently—the specific context is her use of eugenic theory—and which rescues Hurston from the Harlem Renaissance label.  The appearance of American pragmatism alongside European anarchism is not intended to introduce a fresh instance of American dominance of the scene, but to establish a European-American form of cultural pluralism that is neither hierarchical in itself nor advocates hierarchical structures.  If I understand Kadlec's conclusions correctly, the wider purpose of this strategy is to enable modernism to be discussed within postmodern contexts themselves predicated upon cultural pluralism, inclusiveness, relationality, and the dissolution of hierarchies. It would be easy to slip from that relationship to one in which modernism became a sub-category of the postmodern, a move preventable only by vigorously maintaining the ‘mosaic’ of Kadlec’s title against the intrusion of structured definitions.

            Where does this leave Raymond Williams?  Does the anarchist context add anything to the questioning of ‘any and every pronunciation of a singular or assembled authority’ which he asked for?  The anarchist presence in modernism suggests that such a questioning was already going on, that Williams, for all his stress upon context, specificity and formation, did not identify it, and that his account of modernism is consequently incomplete.  A defender of Williams would no doubt point out that that an anarchism which originates in Max Stirner is invalidated by its radical subjectivity and its philosophical idealism, and that there is a great deal to be said for Marx and Engels’s outraged and devastating critique of ‘Saint Max’ in The German Ideology.  Equally decisively, anarchist antifoundationalism repudiates substantial tracts of history and knowledge.  Theoretical objections, however, do not repudiate an actual formation.  From about 1900, the political context of modernism was one in which syndicalism seemed to have as much potential as Marxism, at least until 1917.  We now know that certain modernist texts generated new subjectivities by explicit reference to Proudhon and to Stirner.  This conjunction means that the question of modernism is again open.

Alan Munton

Senior Research Fellow in English

University of Plymouth

Douglas Avenue


Devon, England