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Thursday, September 05, 2013

News from Nowhere by William Morris

William Morris, age 36.

Book Review
News from Nowhere 
by William Morris
p. 1890

  William Morris is best known today for his association with the Craftsman design movement.  For example, the home that I live in here in San Diego was built in 1913 and bears "Craftsman" type design features, like wooden floors and slatted wood walls on the exterior.  When we redid our fireplace, we used Craftsman inspired tiles for the design and at various times we had different kinds of "Craftsman" style furniture.  But Morris was simply a design theoretician- he actually made stuff and he also wrote a bunch, including News from Nowhere, his utopian/sci-fi novel about a Communist future which is nowhere near as interesting as that description just made it sound.

  I don't know what it is about utopian literature that makes it so deathly dull, but it's probably the same principle that lessens the power of films which require a voice over narrator to explain the plot points: exposition is boring/show don't tell.  News from Nowhere is essentially a 150 page dialogue/travelogue between the Rip Van Winkle protagonists and the happy residents of 21st century England, which resembles the kind of Utopia that Mao was shooting for during the Cultural Revolution:  A peasant heavy agricultural society with emptied out cities.

 Woo woo doesn't that sound like a BLAST?  We're not that far removed from the days when Communism was a powerful global force, but even now there is faint smell of ridiculousness to the more intellectual attempts to explain how a successful Communist society would function.  In News from Nowhere Morris describes a world without economy or industry, where everyone is (basically) happy and the Government has withered away (remember how that was supposed to happen after the end of the dictatorship of the proletariat?)

  The England of the imagined Communist future is a mirror of the England of the Medieval past that Morris found so intriguing: minus all the unpleasantness.  If you combine the backward looking novels of Thomas Hardy with Morris' past-is-future Utopia it is clear that at the turn of the 1880s/90s Nostalgia was already an established force in the market for literature.  Perhaps it always was.

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