Culture and Society – still very relevant today!

I’m revisiting Raymond Williams’ classic text Culture and Society, first published in 1958, as part of background research for my next project. It’s a very useful source on the context in which our contemporary notions of ‘art’, ‘creativity’, ‘genius’ and the like were established. Lots that’s hugely relevant today to discourses around indie film – and ‘art’ cinema more generally – and the ways in which these are distinguished from mainstream Hollywood. I particularly liked one part where he’s writing about notions of the Romantic artist, in which he cites one source from 1759 who distinguishes between the ‘original work’ (characterised as of a ‘vegetable’ nature, rising spontaneous from the root of genius) and imitations that are ‘manufactured’ out of ‘pre-existent materials’. This (part of a broader contemporary discourse of oppositions between the ‘organic’ and the ‘mechanical’) applies very neatly to something I’m working on about distinctions between mainstream Hollywood and ‘quality’ films – the latter tending often to be associated with notions of originality, creativity and (sometimes) genius, while the concept of its opposite being denigrated on the basis of being made out of ‘pre-existent’ materials seems to apply so well to the cultural standing of the typical contemporary pre-sold blockbuster franchise. Plus ça change, as they say…

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