I almost forgot that Terry Eagleton had a semi-autobiographical piece on the major Marxist thinker Raymond Williams, whose work was first...

A Note on Terry Eagleton and Raymond Williams

12:16 PM Editor 0 Comments

I almost forgot that Terry Eagleton had a semi-autobiographical piece on the major Marxist thinker Raymond Williams, whose work was first introduced to me in my early twenties in Dhaka by my teacher Serajul Islam Choudhury. One may not concur with many things Eagleton says in his work, but I find the piece he wrote on Williams not only moving but also revealing at more levels than one. The piece is called "Resources for a Journey of Hope: Raymond Williams."

Of course, Williams was an odd ball out at Cambridge, as Eagleton tells us, for Williams came from "a rural working-class community in Wales to [teach at] a college which seemed to judge people by how often they dined at High Table." Eagleton continues: "He looked and spoke more like a countryman than a don, and had a warmth and simplicity of manner which contrasted sharply with the suave, off-hand style of the upper-middle-class establishment." Hearing his extraordinary lectures at Cambridge was a "personal liberation" for Eagleton, who was a direct student of Williams.
Guess what? At Cambridge, as Eagleton further tells us, Williams used to wear relatively routinely the flat cap and the farmer's boots he loved so much, while of course there were "the predictable friendly-malicious comments" about his "odd" boots and cap, the kind of talk Williams himself "saw as sickness." Mark what Williams had to say about Cambridge at one point (in a fine obituary of F.R.Leavis): "[Cambridge] was one of the rudest places on earth...shot through with cold, nasty and bloody-minded talk."

But Williams remained Williams. Never wavered. As Eagleton puts it: "I think everyone who met Williams was struck by what I can only call his deep inward ease of being, the sense of man somehow centred and rooted and secure in himself at a level far beyond simple egoism." He never forgot that his father was a railway signalman. And, for Williams, tragedy didn't have to do with the death of kings and princes but with the death of the "ordinary" people like his own father.

Of course, because of the rigor, richness, and unsettling character of his work--work that at one point decisively radicalized and transformed what's called "Cultural Studies"--Williams was not really ignored yet not fully accepted by his colleagues at Cambridge. He was an insider yet an outsider. "That he he was at once ordinary and exceptional was one of the many paradoxes about him," maintains Eagleton.

Finally, Eagleton on Williams thus: "Though Williams was personally the most generous and humble of men, with a warmth so radiant as to be almost tangible, it was perhaps [this] 'historicity which helped more than anything to divide him from his colleagues. They were individual dons, working on this or that; his work was an historic project, of an intensely personal yet strangely impersonal kind. He had a quite extraordinary sense of the overall consistency of that work, and of the life in which he was rooted. He lived his life deliberately, vigilantly, as a committed act or coherent task. Others may write a book or two or even twenty, but Williams was engaged on a different sort of enterprise altogether." That enterprise was deeply informed by his unwavering commitment to common, ordinary people and to our hope for building a better, new world. And it was Williams who could say, as he did: ""To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing."


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