Art historian T J Clark discusses ‘The Left’ in this keywords lecture, a series evaluating keywords in art, culture and society.
The Left in advanced capitalist countries has lived for the past two decades looking failure square in the face. The disappearance of a Left alternative from the space of politics, or even from the space of political imagination, remains the great fact of our time. Taking its title from Christopher Hill’s great study of radical writing after the English Civil War, this lecture is concerned with the Left’s sense of progress.
It asks what it could mean to a Left politics for it no longer to consider itself ‘on the side of history’: not to imagine its task, in other words, as the realisation of the baulked potentials of capitalism and/or modernity, not to see its eventual victory written into the DNA of an economic order, not to posit some version of utopia, — not, in a word, to ‘have the future in its bones’. Is a Left with no future a contradiction in terms? If not the future, then what? Is it only the Right that can (imaginatively, politically) dispense with the myth of freedom waiting to be realised – freedom at last in full possession of a technics? What aims and imagery might there be for an ‘un-modernity’ to come?
T. J. Clark was born in Bristol, England in 1943, took a B.A. in Modern History at Cambridge, and a Ph.D. in Art History at the Courtauld Institute, University of London. He has taught at various places in England and the USA, and between 1988 and 2010, at the University of California, Berkeley. He now lives in London.
‘Keywords’ takes its title from Raymond Williams’ seminal book Keywords: a Vocabulary of Culture and Society first published in 1976, which looks at how the meaning of words change as the context in which they are used changes about them.
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