Ahmad El Malla

Frank Raymond Leavis and Denys Thompson, reading for the introduction of “Culture and environment”

Image  Frank Raymond Leavis and Denys Thompson, in the introduction of their book “Culture and environment” presented mini historical analysis on the people and their surrounding environment and how it is changing constantly. They wrote this book during the inter-war period of early 19 century (1933). They identified something that changed and they also identified the cause of that change and offered an evaluation of it.

In this piece they are marking an episode in time and they try to mark the difference between the old heritage and the new modern ways, reflecting pessimistically on the modern ways of living which are dominated and influenced by mechanism. The tendency is pushing us towards certain ways of life which driving the British society to lose its core and heritage towards the new ways of life, which is much easier. These modern commodities touch on the human desires to get the easy things and not to do much to get and preserve the real cultural values.

They mourn the passing of the old ways of living in remote areas of Britain calling it organic community which has almost vanished according to them. They have considered this loss as loss of English culture that existed hundreds of years before. It was destroyed by the modern ways of mass communications that has replaced the old ways of communications. We are forced to live now in sub urbanism cultures without anything in common or any sense of community (Leavis, 1933 P. 2) but we have nothing in common in the way we used to have. Why do we live like this? Because we are forced to by job opportunities, the transport system and the modern supply of life’s necessities such as gas, water and electricity. They see that as a negative sign despite the improvement this has brought to our lives.

Our old ways of living had shaped our roots and culture. The old ways of life which we lived throughout the seasons and all year round are part of us and our original community. He sees that the organic community where people grow and make their essential life necessities themselves. This is not the case in the suburban communities where people are alienated from their environment and heritage and rely on others to provide for their daily life.

He recognizes that our organic old ways of living still exist in some remote parts of the country, but not for long as well. They are disappearing under the influence of cinema, radio and the developed transport infrastructure. This makes it impossible to preserve the old ways of the art of speech. They consider that Films, newspapers and advertising as more powerful tools which must have a great impact on the organic community and environment that is been patterned throughout the years in the British Society. They noticed the loss of the old ways of the art of life that it was built and practised in the British life throughout the year across the ages. The loss of the power of speech and folk songs, folk dances and the handicrafts are considered a big loss which is marking the loss of the English culture itself.

They consider that films have made the viewer less educated by providing the lowest and easiest ways of getting pleasure and satisfaction, inculcating the masses to be less discerning. They urge for early teaching of the people to be more discriminate and resist what’s offered to them, to encourage more criticism of what is offered through the mass media. They are trying to push the reader to not to accept things as they are offered, but always to ask questions on why and how. They urge us not to accept things as they are but think critically about what is good and what is bad. But he doesn’t provide the tools or standards of how to do this and how people should be trained to think critically. They feel the responsibility for this training. We should make comparison in music between contemporary music to earlier music to find differences and similarities. He emphasises the need to start education at an early age.

The expressions that he uses are very difficult, even for native English speakers to understand. The sentences are very long-winded as is often the case with earlier styles of writing and it is easy to lose concentration when reading it. His writing style is similar in a way to other people of his era, such as Adorno and Walter Benjamin although they wrote in other languages (German) which reflect their particular background. They all share a very pessimist views towards mechanism and its influence on the authentic old traditional ways of art, community and culture. In the beginning there was an organic community and then comes mechanisation and what we get then is what they call “mass culture”. The machine brought us many advantages when he talks about how list that things as agents of destruction.  What solutions does he propose for this problem? What does he argue for in the cultural environment? They fail to identify the fact that the community and culture is not a constant fact, otherwise we would stayed at the Stone Age era. I can see the difference in people’s life and perception every time I travel back home after few years.

The idea of alienation is a key point to keep in mind. And this relates to Adorno and to his colleagues in the Frankfurt school. They are coming at the same topic but from different angles, both from an intellectual’s point of view. Both of them (Leavis and Adorno) see modern life as negative factors affecting people’s lives and so-called organic community and both of them they fail to recognise the good points technology and mechanisation has brought. (Perhaps this indicates their own relative privilege in society because they did not have to earn a living by exhausting physical labour, but by intellectual pursuits). They only see the bad points and they don’t give any guidance or solutions for people on how to discriminate and resist.

They constantly call for critical awareness to be embodied in our communities. They are very explicit about what is been lost, and see “mass culture” as bad and as the opposite of the organic community. They see studying literature as the best alternative for the loss of organic community. Studying literature is not the same as living in an organic culture but it is the best they can suggest and a small compensation for the great loss.






–      Leavis, F.R. and Thompson, Denys (introduction, Culture and Environment) published by Chatto & Windus, (1933).

This entry was published on April 18, 2012 at 4:43 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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