Paddy Maguire: Politics, Literature And History
For a whole generation, or generations, of English intellectuals, Literature was central to politics. It was not only that self-consciously political novels, like Man’s Estate, Darkness At Noon, The Case Of Comrade Tulayev and a host of others provided a running commentary on the epic ideological conflicts of the first half of the century, as did, to some extent, drama (on stage or screen, from A Taste Of Honey through Cathy Come Home to Boys From The Blackstuff provided one on the second half) it was also the firm belief that writing, in whatever form or genre, was an essentially political activity. It is no accident that many of the leading Marxist British historians and cultural critics of the twentieth century developed their historical from their literary interests, E. P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, Raymond Williams and Eric Hobsbawm. It is equally no accident that it would be in the decade following the rupturing of Soviet Marxist ideological hegemony, from the mid fifties to the late sixties, that such culturalist / historicist understandings and intellectual and academic initiatives became embedded in wider academic and intellectual circles. Williams’ Culture And Society was published in 1958, the year after Richard Hoggart’s celebration of working class culture, The Uses Of Literacy. Hoggart would, of course, be instrumental in the founding of the Centre For Contemporary Cultural Studies, as a subset of the Department of English, at Birmingham University in 1964 and his leading protégé, Stuart Hall, would, in turn be a founding editor of New Left Review in 1960. Literature, politics, history, culture were not separate spheres for this generation but the pressing realities of social being.
Paddy Maguire is Head of the School of Humanities at the University of Brighton.