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This article is taken from PN Review 65, Volume 15 Number 3, January - February 1989.

Uncancelled Challenge: The Work of Raymond Williams Nicolas Tredell

'Death, and the fatigue and bewilderment that precede it, is a general biological limit which can cancel any project' (PL, 281). The words of Raymond Williams's interviewers in Politics and Letters (1979) have a dark, particular resonance now. Williams's end came quickly: sudden death spares - this is the conventional verb - its victim prolonged fatigue and bewilderment, the breakdown of meanings as the mind slacks out loosely or is stretched out tight upon tracts of pain. But it brings home abruptly to others, those who live on, the force of that cancelling closure. The sense of a personal project blocked, a specific consciousness blacked out, brings a necessary sadness. But it was a defining characteristic of Williams's project that it was never solely an individual one: it was, rather, an attempt, in deeply unpropitious circumstances, to contribute to the creation of a common project, that could be shared, shaped, changed, carried forward by others. The finality of personal closure is immitigable; but, in Williams's case, it opens on to the world and on to the future.

It was, no doubt, a bad time for a socialist to die. In the 1980s, the triumph of reaction in the West has been loud and continuing. If that triumph now seems, increasingly, destructive and meretricious, it is unclear how it might be displaced, or whether and in what ways any replacement would be an improvement. In England, in particular, the decade has been marked by the dominance, both political ...


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