Notes on Raymond Williams (1977). Ch.9 "Structures
of feeling," in Marxism and Literature
To do with things we think of as currently 'present' in
our lives and as exerting an influence on them, i.e., 'facts' of the moment:
(1950's-70's - the nuclear threat; 1990's - a clear sense that 'swing is
back'; that a new 'style - hip/hop' is emerging; that the campus is not
a safe place at night for women; that Washington is 'peculiar' and not
'parallel' to what goes on the rest of the country)
1) Talk of "Culture" and "Society:"
-Tendency to take what we do as conscious, thinking, deliberately
acting individuals as a model for how we conduct ourselves in our everyday
"In most description and analysis, culture and society are
expressed in an habitual past tense. The strongest barrier to the recognition
of human cultural activity is this immediate and regular conversion of
experience into finished products... relationships, institutions and formations
in which we are still actively involved are converted, by this procedural
mode, into formed wholes rather than forming and formative processes" (p.128).
-Retrospective talk of finished, complete, systems
-Of formed wholes rather than of forming
-Separation: THEN... the social is always past, fixed, explicit,
-HERE, NOW, ALIVE... subjective, individual interpretation
"If the social is always past, in the sense that it is
always formed, we have indeed to find new terms for the undeniable experience
of the present: not only the temporal present, the realization of this
and this instant, but the specificity of the present being, the inalienably
physical, within which we may discern and acknowledge institutions, formations,
positions, but not always as fixed products, defining products" (p.128).
"And then if the social is the fixed and explicit - the
known relationships, institutions, formations, positions - all that is
present and moving, all that escapes from the fixed and explicit and the
known, is grasped and defined as the personal: this, here, now, alive,
active, 'subjective'" (p.128).
2) Talk of "thought:"
"There is another related distinction. As thought is described,
in the same habitual past tense, it is indeed so different, in its explicit
and finished forms, from much or even anything that we can presently recognize
as thinking, that we set against it more active, more flexible, less singular
terms - consciousness, experience, feeling - and then watch even these
drawn towards fixed, finite, receding forms" (pp.128-9).
-Thought in terms of explicit, logical, complete, closed
-So different from THINKING that we talk of thinking in terms
of... consciousness, experience, feeling
3) Works of art
-They are, in one sense, explicit and finished
-But, we make them 'present' in our lives in specifically
"... we have to make them present, in specifically active
'readings'. It is also that the making of art is never itself in the past
tense. It is always a formative process, within a specific present. At
different moments in history, and in significantly different ways, the
reality and even the primacy of such presences and such processes, such
diverse and yet specific actualities, have been powerfully asserted and
reclaimed, as in practice of course they are all the time lived" (p.129).
-They come to play a part in our lives because "they are
all the time lived" (p.129).
"But they are often asserted as forms themselves, in contention
with other known forms: the subjective as distinct from the objective;
experience from belief; feeling from thought; the immediate from the general;
the personal from the social. The undeniable power of two great modern
ideological systems - the 'aesthetic' and the 'psychological' - is, ironically,
systematically derived from these senses of instance and process, where
experience, immediate feeling, and then subjectivity and personality are
newly generalized and assembled" (p.129).
-But there is still the tendency to reduce the practical
sense we make of them to categories, to terms within a system of codes
and decodings, etc...
THE REDUCTION OF THE SOCIAL TO FIXED FORMS: OF 'TERMS
OF ANALYSIS' TO 'TERMS OF SUBSTANCE'
"Yet it is the reduction of the social to fixed forms
that remains the basic error. Marx often said this, and some Marxists quote
him, in fixed ways (!!!), before returning to fixed forms" (p.129).
"The mistake, as so often, is in taking terms of analysis
as terms of substance. Thus we speak of a world-view or of a prevailing
ideology or of a class-outlook, often with adequate evidence, but in this
regular slide towards a past tense and fixed form suppose, or even do not
know that we have to suppose, that these exist and are lived specifically
and definitively in singular and developing forms" (p.129).
-We often talk of 'social classes', of 'world-views', or
'ideologies'... even with adequate evidence... as if such 'things' exist.
"Perhaps the dead can be reduced to fixed forms, though their
surviving records are against it. But the living will not be reduced, at
least in the first person; living third persons may be different. All the
known complexities, the experienced tensions, shifts, uncertainties, the
intricate forms of unevenness and confusion, are against the terms of the
reduction and soon, by extension, against social analysis itself" (pp.129-130).
-And, as if people do their living in terms of such 'entities'
SOCIAL FORMS (as analytic abstractions)
-Such 'social forms' are then admitted in arguments for GENERALITIES,
but debarred, contemptuously, from livid experience
-There is a turn of others abstractions: the 'human imagination',
the 'human psyche', the 'unconscious'... with all their 'functions
"[Social forms] become social consciousness only when they
are lived, actively, in real relationships and moreover in relationships
which are more than systematic exchanges between fixed units. Indeed just
because all consciousness is social, its processes occur not only between
but within the relationship and the related" (p.130).
-They do exist
-They become more recognizable when articulate and explicit
-Dominant systems of belief, of education, etc., do influence
systems of explanation and argument
-But: i) not the whole inventory of social consciousness;
ii) 'social forms' only a part of social consciousness when 'lived', 'actively',
in 'real relationships'.
-But: practical consciousness is more than the handling of
fixed forms and units: i) tension between received opinions and actual
practical experience; ii) but often the tension is a felt unease, a sense
of something 'yet-to-come'.
-Experiences to which the fixed forms do not speak at all.
"And this practical consciousness is always more than
a handling of fixed forms and units. There is frequent tension between
the received interpretation and practical experience... the tension is
often an unease, a stress, a displacement, a latency: the moment of conscious
comparison not yet come, often not even coming" (p.130).
"Practical consciousness is almost always different from
official consciousness... For practical consciousness is what is actually
being lived, and not only what is thought is being lived. Yet the actual
alternative to the received and produced fixed forms is not silence: not
the absence, the unconscious, which bourgeois culture has mythicized. It
is a kind of feeling and thinking which is indeed social and material,
but each in an embryonic phase before it can become fully articulate and
defined exchange" (p.131).
-THE ACTUAL ALTERNATIVE TO THE RECEIVED AND PRODUCED FIXED
FORMS IS NOT SILENCE: NOT THE ABSENCE, THE UNCONSCIOUS, WHICH BOURGEOIS
CULTURE HAS MYTHICIZED. IT IS A KIND OF FEELING!!!
CHANGES OF 'STYLE' IN LANGUAGE
"... no generation speaks quite the same language as its
predecessors. The difference can be defined in terms of additions, deletions,
and modifications, but these do not exhaust it. What really changes is
something quite general, over a wide range, and the description that often
fits the change best is the literary term 'style'. It is a general change,
rather than a set of deliberate choices, yet choices can be deduced from
it, as well as effects" (p.131).
QUALITATIVE CHANGES: "They are social in two ways that distinguish
them from reduced sense of the social as institutional and the formal:
first, in that they are changes of presence (while they are being
lived this is obvious; when they have been lived it is still their substantial
characteristic); second, in that they are emergent or pre-emergent, they
do not have to await definition, classification, or rationalization before
they exert palpable pressures and set effective limits on experience and
on action" (pp.131-132).
-Changes are not assumed to be 'epiphenomenal' changes in
institutions, formations, or beliefs, but 'new beginnings'
-Also, from the beginning, taken as 'social' rather than
merely 'personal' experiences.
-They are changes in PRESENCE
-Also, they do not have to await DEFINITION, CLASSIFICATION,
or RATIONALIZATION, before being lived
"STRUCTURES OF FEELING"
Structures of feeling: "It is that we are concerned with
meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt, and the relations..
We are talking about characteristic elements of impulse, restraint, and
tone; specifically affective elements of consciousness and relationships:
not feeling against thought, but thought as felt and feeling as thought:
practical consciousness of a present kind, in a living and inter-relating
-Meanings and values as actively lived and felt
-Matters of impulse, restraint, and tone
"We are then defining these elements as a 'structure':
as a set, with specific internal relations, at once interlocking and in
"We are also defining a social experience still in process,
often indeed not yet recognized as social but taken to be private, idiosyncratic,
and even isolating, but which in analysis (though rarely otherwise) has
its emergent, connecting, and dominant characteristics, indeed its specific
"For structures of feeling can be defined as social experiences
solution, as distinct from other social semantic formations which have
been precipitated and are more evidently and more immediately available"
"It is a structured formation which, because it is at the
very edge of semantic availability, has many characteristics of a pre-formation,
until specific articulations - new semantic figures - are discovered in
material practice: often, as it happens, in relatively isolated ways, which
are only later seen to compose a significant (often in fact minority) generation:
this often, in turn, the generation that substantially connects to its
-We need a way of acknowledging and welcoming the specificity
of these elements - "specific feelings, specific rhythms - and yet to find
ways of recognizing their specific kinds of sociality, thus preventing
that extraction from social experience which is conceivable only when social
experience itself has been categorically (and at root) historically reduced"
-It is not mere flux, but leads to new 'starting-points'
and new 'conclusions'
William's analysis of the changed (hidden) meaning of
four key terms in the 1984-85 miner's strike - management, economic, community,
1) Management: A confusion of the term 'management' with
the older term of 'master' and 'employer'... to subordinate a whole class
of men and women to the will of others... the interests of a technical
elite responsive only to the state (board of trustees)
2) Economic: The nomadic character of multinational capitalism
is reflected in the reduction of the term 'economic' to the isolated (decontextualized)
'accounting of short-term costs'.
3) Community: 'Community' becomes a victim of the 'economic'
under such circumstances...
4) Law-and-Order: The appeal to 'an order'... the technical
elite is responsive only to a short-term costs.