The introduction complicates the Orwellian orthodoxies we have inherited regarding literary vulnerability and monolithic state power by explaining how Matthew Arnold’s ideas about the state a guardian of culture found full expression in post-war Britain. Moving from examples including Reith’s BBC and Keynes’s Arts Council, it then discusses how institutional beliefs about the identity of literature’s publics and what they needed were gradually disrupted by the increasing ethnic and cultural diversification of Britain after the 1948 Nationality Act. The final sections of the Introduction set out the book’s conceptual challenge to the Manicheanism structuring both Bourdieu’s concept of the literary field, and ideas of the state as either censor or ultimate saviour. It concludes by evaluating the implications of viewing sponsorship as an expressive act for ideas of autonomy, and why archival work has the potential to transform our understanding of literature and its reading publics.
This chapter on the interwar origins of the UK’s premier national cultural agency considers why literature – a form seemingly opposed to the more obvious forms of propaganda – was attractive to state investment. It does so by showing how literary policy was first yoked to foreign policy, amid the growing national rivalries of the 1930s, in ways that posed challenges for the cultural philosophy of the British state. It then turns to Stanley Unwin’s Books and Periodicals Committee to show how the British state deferred to literary experts and industry insiders, including to commission libraries of ‘world literature’ on decidedly English terms. The chapter concludes by discussing the contrasting approaches taken by T.S. Eliot and Stephen Spender to working for the state cultural ‘machine’ via the British Council.
This chapter reflects on the aesthetic commitments of the welfare state through the lens of the Arts Council Literature Department, which emerged belatedly in the mid-1960s. Focusing on the influential scheme of literary ‘first aid’ grants introduced by the poet Cecil Day-Lewis in 1966, it discusses the relatively idealist terms in which the Arts Council envisioned the obligations of writers to a wider public. The third section centres on three emblematic beneficiaries of state funding, the avant-gardists B.S. Johnson and Dambudzo Marechera, which both tended to strain against the ideals of invested institutions, and the Caribbean Artists Movement, which encompassed a more socially inclusive, though no less contested, idea of literature as a collective enterprise.
Keywords: John Maynard Keynes, Arnold Goodman, A Policy for the Arts, Eric W. White, Cecil Day-Lewis, B. S. Johnson, Dambudzo Marechera, James Currey the Caribbean Artists Movement, Kamau Brathwaite, Wilson Harris, John Calder
This chapter examines how the postcolonial diasporas migrating to Britain after 1945 determined the policies, practices and priorities of the state. In the 1980s national arts policy was shaped by two main political realities: the sharp retreat from welfare state-era social entitlement on the one hand, and the emergence of ‘black’ as a shared category of resistance on the other. The two converged in the Arts Council document The Glory of the Garden (1984) which heralded a new era of multicultural recognition even as it attacked the very idea of a state-funded literary culture. The chapter discusses the unexpected consequences and fears of balkanization it unleashed in the literary world, as multiculturalism came to be cast as an enemy of autonomy, focusing on the landmark legal case the Commission for Racial Equality brought against the Arts Council for racial discrimination.
Keywords: Rudyard Kipling, Fiona Pitt-Kethley, William Rees-Mogg, Alastair Niven, David Dabydeen, Commission for Racial Equality, 1976 Race Relations Act, Margaret Drabble, Margaret Busby, James Berry, Margaret Drabble.
This first of two chapters on The Satanic Verses discusses Salman Rushdie’s conflicted status as a critic of state racism and a feted literary celebrity that criticised multiculturalism. Beginning with his quarrel with Stuart Hall over the political and aesthetic commitments of ‘black’ art in 1987, it then shifts to two key sources shaping Rushdie’s early polemical essays and the London sections of The Satanic Verses: racism as an intellectual problem rooted in white society as discussed in Ann Dummett’s A Portrait of English Racism (1973), and the migrant underclass Rushdie encountered through the grassroots Camden Committee for Community Relations. The chapter concludes by tracing the emerging tensions between Rushdie’s idea of an anti-racist critical practice and his evolving commitment to free literary expression.
This second chapter onThe Satanic Verses considers the collision between the novel’s anti-statist energies and Rushdie’s increasing dependency on the Thatcher government after the fatwa, an unlikely custodian of literary freedom at the end of the Cold War. It then turns to the precise ways the state offered Rushdie protection, focusing on the anachronistic stipulations in English common law restricting the crime of blasphemy to the Church of England debated in the legal cases against the novel in the UK and in Europe. The second half revisits the secular foundations of the British legal system, considering the alternative stance on free expression in diverse societies adopted in British India and Bhikhu Parekh’s communitarian alternative to the individualism of British liberalism.
This chapter reflects on the increasingly influential links drawn between literary reading and cultural formation in state education at the end of the century. Building on the implementation of multicultural initiatives under Thatcher, it focuses on the emergence of literary categories distinguishing the ‘English literary heritage’ from ‘other cultures and traditions’. It begins by locating these these ideas in the mind of the cosmopolitan poet and state English advisor C.B. Cox before turning to their codification in the NEAB GCSE Anthology (1996, 1998), a school reader that introduced a new contemporary canon of postcolonial poetry. The chapter concludes with detailed readings of three anthologised poems by Sujata Bhatt, Kamau Brathwaite, Tatamkhulu Afrika, demonstrating how we might reimagine the Anthology’s ideas of organic language, culture and representative ethnic identity.
This final diachronic chapter steps back from the question of literature’s publicly-funded status to consider how cultural diversity became an important site of negotiation in the United Kingdom’s dealings with UNESCO. It suggests that cultural diversity was not only a competency developed through post-war state funding butan expansive discourse appropriated by competing geopolitical alliances within UNESCO. The 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions staged the larger tensions between the national and supra-national debates of cultural diversity. For all its flaws, and the United Kingdom’s ongoing ambivalence about UNESCO, the Convention promised to institute a more equitable public culture in ways that the controversy over the 2017 Jhalak Prize for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic writers suggests were sorely needed.
Keywords: Gavin Jantjes, Arts Council of Great Britain, UNESCO, decibel Penguin Prize, We Are The English, 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour.
The postscript stages many of the ideas explored in this book about state support and literature’s special capacity to represent the full range of voices and experiences comprising modern Britain. It revisits the intersecting pressures shaping literary value and the vacillation between recognition and disavowal characteristic of state’s engagements with literature, in light of two recent reports: Literature in the 21st Century: Understanding Models of Support for Literary Fiction (2017) charting the decline of the literary fiction genre and Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Marketplace (2015).
Banner photo credit Sharon McCutcheon