Friday, January 8, 2016

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

"The history of the idea of culture," writes Raymond Williams at the beginning of the concluding chapter of his Culture and Society 1780-1950, "is a record of our reactions, in thought and feeling, to the changed conditions of our common life."

In the margin beside it, in my twenty-something handwriting:

"Even before getting to culture we must consider the idea of Culture as something akin to the minute hand of history."

An inch or so later:

"Not Culture unto itself, reified and timeless, but something forever changing, through conflict."

The dialectical Williams, the Marxist Williams...

Who did I think I was? Who was I? Am I still a participant in that pattern of thought?

As I look over my thirty-year-old undergraduate transcript (the abbreviated course names windows into the classrooms that housed them) it occurs to me that my university education was an unintended blend of grand theory and post-structuralism, material conflict and political economic signification, Marx and Foucault.

I appreciated the knife-edge that is Marxism, its language and its methodology; but anytime it became too rigid, too exclusive, too deterministic, I would think to myself, It is just another discourse -- one amongst many.

From that, a kind of pluralism, or a cultural relativism, as it came to be called by its critics -- and then the Berlin Wall came down and globalism turned from a positive word (for example, how Jeff Wall uses it in his "Four Essays on Ken Lum", in Ken Lum [Winnipeg/Rotterdam: WAG/Witte de With, 1990]) to a negative (globalization), a force that all cultures are subject to -- under a single mode of production.

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