Close Reading: Culture Is Ordinary by Raymond Williams

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Close Reading: Culture is Ordinary by Raymond Williams

The article by Raymond Williams is an attempt to describe and analyse the changing dynamics of culture through its constant shifts in meaning. He begins his essay with a brief account of a visit to his childhood home in Wales, in a few words describing his own personal history. From his anecdote, Williams delves into his main argument, that Culture is ordinary, breaking this idea into two parts, “the known meanings and directions, which its members are trained to; the new observations and meanings, which are offered and tested” (Williams, 1958, p. 6). He then explores this concept further by contesting two common ideas of culture that he has encountered, firstly what Williams labels as “Teacup culture”, where the only culture to exist is high culture such as the arts, literature etc. Secondly, he views the opposite end of the spectrum, the ‘drinking hole’ culture, and rejects the people whom, likewise, recognise culture solely as high culture, and therefore label culture as a product of only highbrow, upper class people. Discussion is then focused on the works of Marx and Leavis, where Williams endeavours to highlight the ways in which their ideas have shaped his own ideas. Williams finally concludes his point that ‘ugliness’ is a price needed to pay in order to stimulate the economic power on one’s society, an economic power that is a result of industrialisation. The opening anecdote of Williams’ trip to his childhood home is used as a strategy to employ within us a notion that a society is forged through the common meanings and directons of its members, with its growth constantly changing under the pressures of experience and discovery. This idea links to his overarching ideas of culture reiterated through this essay, as stated in my first paragraph, that there are two ways of understanding culture “the known meaning and directions...[and] the new observations and meanings” (p. 6). To extend on the...
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