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Cultural Materialism: A Summary of Principles

  • H. Gustav Klaus

Abstract

Since Raymond Williams’s initial adoption of the concept ‘cultural materialism’ in Marxism and Literature (1977), the position that goes with it has gained currency among a sizeable number of those active in the humanities. This development would be encouraging, were it not for some rather liberal, if not downright fraudulent, appropriations of the label. While Williams would have been the first to welcome a proliferation of materialisms — late in life he wrote, for example, a political article entitled ‘Towards Many Socialisms’1 in which he attacked the idea of a singular and unilinear movement to Socialism — he was also careful to distinguish certain inalienable properties of a materialism worthy of that name. In some recent claims about the concept, often in the typically British marriage with poststructuralist approaches, it takes a hard look to detect the materialist stance.

Keywords

Cultural Practice Cultural Object Cultural Materialism Technological Determinism Human Assertion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    For an early integrated view of Williams’s critical and fictional work, see my article, ‘Über Raymond Williams’, in Raymond Williams, Innovationen, edited by H. Gustav Klaus (Frankfurt: Syndikat, 1977) pp. 203–26.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    John Cowper Powys, The Meaning of Culture (London: Cape, 1929) pp. 258, 271, 273. I should perhaps point out that the author’s liberal humanist stance has at least the merit of being wholeheartedly antielitist, which was by no means a natural attitude at the time of his writing.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Anatoli Jegorow, Ästhetik und gesellschaftliches Leben (Russian, 1974; Berlin: Dietz, 1976) pp. 167–8 (all translations into English are mine, if not otherwise acknowledged-HGK). There are, of course, more sophisticated and refined versions of reflection-theory, but this is not the point here. Jegorow’s emphasis informed much critical practice.Google Scholar
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    Stuart Hall, ‘Cultural Studies and the Centre: some Problematics and Problems’, in Stuart Hall et al. (eds), Culture, Media, Language (London: Hutchinson, 1980) p. 30.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Georg Lukács, Die Eigenart des Ästhetischen (Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1963).Google Scholar
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    Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983) p. 206. I have changed the verb to the present tense to make it consistent with the preceding sentence.Google Scholar
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    Raymond Williams, ‘The Uses of Cultural Theory’ (1986), in his The Politics of Modernism, edited by Tony Pinkney (London: Verso, 1989) p. 172.Google Scholar
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    John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London and Harmondsworth: BBC and Penguin, 1972) p. 84.Google Scholar
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    Raymond Williams, Writing in Society (London: Verso, n.d. [1984]) p. 4.Google Scholar
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    Lu Mӓrten, Wesen und Verӓnderung der Formen (Künste) (Frankfurt am Main: Taifun, 1924) p. 258.Google Scholar
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    V. N. Vološinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (Leningrad, 1930), translated by Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik (New York: Seminar Press, 1973) p. 81.Google Scholar
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    H. Wyld, ‘The Best English: The Superiority of Received Standard English’, The Society for Pure English (London, 1934) p. 604. Quoted from Tony Crowley, ‘Language in History: That Full Field’, News from Nowhere, 6 (1989) p. 32. This useful essay explores Williams’s concern with language.Google Scholar
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    Raymond Williams, The Fight for Manod (London: Chatto and Windus, 1979) p. 150.Google Scholar
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    Christopher Caudwell, Illusion and Reality (London: Macmillan, 1937) p. 305.Google Scholar
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    Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious (London: Methuen, 1981) p. 18. One could also here have used the Caudwell quotation from section IV again, which continues’... studying poetry as an organic part of society historically-that is in movement’.Google Scholar
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    Peter Weiss, Ästhetik des Widerstands (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1983) pp. 9, 13. Vol. I, from which this passage is taken, was first published in 1975.Google Scholar
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    Raymond Williams, Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review (London: New Left Books, 1979) p. 355.Google Scholar
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    Bertolt Brecht, ‘Der Rundfunk als Kommunikationsapparat’ (1926), in his Gesammelte Werke, vol. 18 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1967) p. 129.Google Scholar
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    Marvin Harris, The Rise of Anthropological Theory (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968) p. 4. See also, the same author’s Cultural Materialism (New York: Random House, 1979).Google Scholar
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    Maurice Godelier, Perspectives in Marxist Anthropology (in French, 1973), translated by Robert Brain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977) p. 42.Google Scholar
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    Marshall McLuhan, ‘The Relation of Environment to Anti-Environment’ (1966), in Bernard Bergonzi (ed.), Innovations (London: Macmillan, 1968) p. 122.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Peter Dahl, Arbeitersender und Volksempfanger (Frankfurt: Syndikat, 1978).Google Scholar
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    Raymond Williams, Towards 2000 (London: Chatto and Windus, 1983) p. 146.Google Scholar
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    Pierre Bourdieu, Le sens pratique (Paris: Minuit, 1980) p. 30.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Jameson, Political Unconscious, p. 45; Michele Barrett, Women’s Oppression Today (London: New Left Books, 1980) p. 95.Google Scholar
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    Raymond Williams, ‘Working-Class, Proletarian, Socialist: Problems in Some Welsh Novels’, in H. Gustav Klaus (ed.), The Socialist Novel in Britain (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1982) p. 111.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Gustav Klaus

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