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News from Nowhere and Other Writings (Penguin Classics)
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am 24. Juni 2000
I suspect that many people who come across this book will be art lovers, specifically admirers of Art Noveau and perhaps even recent visitors to the exhibition of this particular form of turn-of-the-century expression at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. And this is, notwithstanding the prominence of the title story and Clive Wilmer's introduction, which focuses on the political aspects of Morris's writing, a book about the author's vision of beauty, of craftsmanship not for its own sake, but with the aim of producing work of skill and magnificence, and, as a secondary but vital consideration, the satisfaction of the artist. Morris comes across as a brilliant man, devoted to his many crafts (he taught himself thirteen) and passionate about human equality, though the impression from his writing is that the quality of the artist's skill, and particularly in the field of the decorative (what he calls the 'lesser') arts, matters more to him than the egalitarianism he trumpets. The political pieces, such as the title story, which comprises almost half the book and portrays Morris's vision of an ideal society in the year 2102, are the weakest, speculating as they do about a population of uniform mind in its espousal of the superiority of the Mediaeval ideal of art and its fanatical rejection of progress and technology. Genetics, the evolutionary territorial imperative, the diversity of human imagination which has since spawned the Information Age, are all swept aside by the juggernaut of Morris's Luddite, Gothic world-view (and although I accept the context in which he writes, namely late-Victorian London, I can't ignore his failure to mention the benefits of the industrialisation he despises, such as the increased life-expectancy, the majesty of the scientific leaps within his lifetime). Nonetheless, Morris is an inspiring polemicist: his rejection of the State, his fierce and uncompromising belief in his ideas, his utterly convincing support for the rightness of the individual's potential for common-sense and ability to recognise what is good, what is true, in the face of the pronouncements of authority, mark him as a defender of freedom quite apart from many of his orthodox Marxist contemporaries.
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