THE RADICAL AESTHETICS OF WILLIAM MORRIS

 

 

 

Écoute avant lecture :  paragraphes   1   2   3

 

Lecture avant écoute  :  paragraphes   1   2   3

 

 

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1    It must have been a difficult blow for members of the English ruling class when they lost William Morris, so difficult in fact that it induced in them a curious state of denial. When the established press reported his activities as a radical agitator, it referred to him as Mr. W. Morris, as though he were a different person than William Morris, poet, publisher, designer, and owner of Morris & Company. Even more striking, nine years after his conversion to the revolutionary wing of the working-class movement, a member of Gladstone’s cabinet offered him the poet laureateship on Tennyson’s death; it was left up to Morris to point out the absurdity involved in the notion of a socialist court poet. In part, such denial, of course, was elicited by the unshakable reputation that Morris had established in a number of the arts well before his political conversion in 1883. How psychologically incongruous it would have been for a wealthy Englishman to recognize Morris as a social insurgent when his own home might have been decorated with furniture, tapestries, and carpets by Morris & Company.   Sound     Up 

 

 

 

 

2    In a deeper sense, however, this denial indicates the ease with which a considerable segment of the bourgeoisie has always been able to live with, and even embrace, a purely aesthetic radicalism. After all, Morris had been ranting against ‘civilization’ and the ‘spirit of the age’ ever since his arrival as a student at Oxford in 1853, and his identification there with the Romantic poetic tradition as well as the Pre-Raphaelite painters, Burne-Jones and Rossetti. Rejection of the commercialized culture of the Victorian middle-class had served as the central thread of his aesthetic efforts from that time on. But it was not until he fused his program of artistic transformation with that of the radical reconstruction of society that Morris presented a problem to his peers - and left us with the task of understanding the contemporary significance of his revolutionary cultural legacy.   Sound    Up

 

 

 

 

3      If we exclude some underdeveloped propositions by Marx in the 1844 Manuscripts, the Grundrisse, and other writings, as well as similarly scattered passages by Engels, Morris is the first socialist writer to frame a theory which locates art squarely within the general life process of society. [...] [His] deepest theoretical accomplishment undoubtedly lies in the intimacy with which he links aesthetic renovation, the reorganization of work, and a political model of democratic rule, an intimacy unrivalled in the tradition of socialist aesthetics. [...] Just as, according to [him], the medieval communes represented an early, though, alas, unstable form of socialist society, so will the socialism of the future assume the shape of new, more culturally sophisticated communities, democratically controlled by the artist-workers who will constitute their free citizenry.   Sound     Up

 

 

 

 

Gary Zabel, Victorian Art, introduction to : Art and Society,

Lectures and Essays by Milliam Morris, Boston, George’s Hill, 1993, pp. 7, 8, 11, 12.