George Woodcock on 'The Anarchist Critic'.

Author:Antliff, Allan

The Anarchist Critic first appeared in the Vancouver anarchist journal Open Road in 1982. (1) Robert Graham, who was a member of the collective, recalls Woodcock subscribed to Open Road though he never joined its social circle. (2) He would go on, at Graham's prompting, to contribute an article-length review of Richard Attenborough's film, Gandhi, to a special 'Direct Action' issue [George Woodcock, 'Gandhi: The Price of Glory', Open Road no. 15 (Spring, 1983): 21-22] and a feature on George Orwell for a themed issue, 'Coming to terms with Direct Action' [George Woodcock, 'Orwell was no Cold Warrior,' Open Road 16 (Spring 1984): 19-20]. (3) The fact that the latter two issues of Open Road focus on the bombing campaign, subsequent arrest, and trial of the Vancouverbased anarchist urban guerilla group 'Direct Action' make Woodcock's contributions all the more interesting. (4)

The Anarchist Critic asserts the role of the critic is to identify and encourage emergent anarchist tendencies in the arts and society as a whole, a pragmatic approach which Carissa Honeywell highlights in her invaluable study, A British Anarchist Tradition, as the core strategy adopted by Woodcock's British confreres, Herbert Read, Alex Comfort and Colin Ward, in the post-World War Two period. (5) Along the way Woodcock brings his sometime adversary, George Orwell, into the fold. (6) The article is remarkable as he reveals that in the mid-1950s, while preparing to reinvent himself as a literary critic in Canada, he was reframing his anarchism to suite the new situation. Woodcock closes with an abridged passage from 'A View of Canadian Criticism' (1955) in which he critiques the desirability of a 'Canadian literary tradition', insisting that while 'the peculiar nature of local experience' is undeniable 'the spark that gives life to [a] work' is 'the unique personal intelligence dealing with those problems of thought and morality which are universal'. Echoing the orientation of Derek Savage and others (cf. Antliff, Pacifism, Violence and Aesthetics), Woodcock founds his 'Canadian (anarchist)' literary criticism on the creative individuality of the artist--and by extension--the critic's. (7)


George Woodcock

When it was suggested that I write an article on anarchist criticism, my immediate reaction was to remark that there isn't really any such thing as an anarchist criticism, in the way that there is a corpus of Marxist criticism, though there are critics who are anarchists and whose anarchism inevitably influences the way they write about literature and other arts.

There could only be an anarchist criticism if there were an anarchist orthodoxy, a body of dogma which we all accepted, and which could serve as the basis for establishing critical rules. This is what happens among the Marxists.

But Anarchism has always by its nature been resistant to what George Orwell used to call "the smelly little orthodoxies." It is a way of thinking that rests upon a radical criticism of existing society and a rejection of authority as much as in the artistic as in the political realm. This has always meant that whatever blueprints anarchists may...

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