Raymond Williams is an anthropologist, and his book, The Culture Industry, is an attempt to describe how Western societies have separated their bodies, minds, and cultures from each other. Through a detailed analysis of Western history, he attempts to show how the assimilation of immigrants affected both their physical and psychological make-up. At the same time, he also examines how different cultures throughout the ages interact with each other. He uses an intricate method of cultural criticism to make his case. This review of The Culture Industry by Raymond Williams follows a similar line of analysis used by the social scientists E. Llwyd and J. L. Overall. In this review, however, I will focus my attention on a more specific aspect of the book, examining its treatment of women.
Raymond Williams begins this book by claiming that all cultures are derivative, and that each has a corresponding interpretation. However, he then goes on to describe how this derives from theories of linguistics and cultural classification. According to these theories, culture is created through the processes of assimilation and reproduction. Because most people only need to reproduce in order to continue to reproduce, it follows that there is little need for an individual to understand or appreciate his own culture. Because people from the working-class culture do not participate in such reproduction, however, their culture remains largely intangible, and they must be re-discovered and interpreted by those who live in the upper-class society.
Through a detailed analysis of several major works, Raymond Williams claims that the dominant strain of Western culture was the Christian religion. Christianity, he maintains, gave rise to the highly developed sciences, such as mathematics, grammar, and natural history, as well as the more abstract arts, such as painting and music. According to Williams, the key role played by women in this development was as teachers and educators to young men. Through his studies, Williams shows how women from this upper-class culture began to draw on the abstract arts and natural sciences to support the authority of their new status as “God’s child.” Theology, on the other hand, began to play a crucial role in grounding the new values set by the new theology: theonomic.
Religion and science separated during the Middle Ages, and during the Renaissance, when Christians began to reassert their power. As Williams sees it, these two developments–along with the French Revolution and the creation of a French national identity–led to the separation of two “casts” of citizens in the European society. The cast of the masses was the uneducated, poor, and laboring classes, while the intellectual and higher classes, or what we today call the intelligentsia, were removed from public life. In his book, “The Decay of the Roman Empire,” Raymond Williams attempts to demonstrate that such removal was a necessary part of the process, and was necessary in order to create a modern society. Although he presents evidence that intellectual thought was important to the spread of religion, his arguments are not all that scientific, and many have commented that his interpretation of the decline of Rome is too complex to be accepted as fact.
But if we look closely at the preoccupation of the so-called intellectual intelligentsia with religion as a source of both intellectual and social power, then we can see the hand of Raymond Williams there. Williams was a profound critic of twentieth century French social theory, and the way that religion and ideology served as the basis for contemporary politics. For him, politics and social theory were inseparable. And his attack on the so-called intellectuals, his claim that “intellectuals had little to contribute,” are not far from the truth.
The most telling aspect of The Decay of the Roman Empire is its treatment of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. The Faerie Queene was one of Williams’s primary influences, and its rejection by Williams is noteworthy. Though often lauded as the supreme text in terms of aesthetic appreciation, the so-called conservatives, who saw in Spenser’s work a criticism of liberalism and modernity, preferred instead to attack his more pessimistic tendencies. This they did primarily because the optimism that dominates much of what passes for British literary culture belongs to William Wordsworth, not to Edmund Spenser.