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News from Nowhere and Other Writings (Penguin Classics)

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Book Overview

This volume illustrates the variety of William Morris's prose, while focusing on one theme: the earthly paradise. The "Nowhere" of News from Nowhere (1890) is England in 2102, an ideal pastoral... This description may be from another edition of this product.

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"News from Nowhere" is a Utopian fantasy in strong reaction against the Industrial (factory) Capitalism of the time (1890s England). It's like a cross between "Rip Van Winkle" and "Gulliver's Travels." William, the hero, goes to sleep in 1890s England (the powerhouse of rapacious Industrialism and Imperialism) and wakes up in a post-2000 England, where Industrialism is gone, and life is like heaven. How has all this happened? Simple. People have given up the Ethic of Scarcity mentality, which says "Let him who does not work not eat"--which turns life into never-ending toil. And they have turned to an Ethic of "Follow Your Bliss." This, naturally, has destroyed Industrial (factory) capitalism. Morris believed that Industrial (factory) Capitalism, with its fierce division of labor and assembly-line techniques--although very efficient--was grotesque and dehumanizing. Like Marx, he believed that such a system turned workers into mere components of the machine--mechanical and highly expendable. For workers, it made life repetitive and soul-killing (and body-killing) drudgery. And for consumers, it turned out floods of shoddy assembly-line trash--"goods" that were hardly good at all but unesthetic, cheap, throwaways. Morris realized that Industrialism had traded quality for quantity, and it had given the wrong answer to Jesus' question, "What profiteth it a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?" (Sound familiar? It is precisely what we have now.) He wanted to change all that. And unlike the Marxian socialists, Morris did not see the factory system as inevitable. He favored a more anarchist type of socialism. In "News from Nowhere"--in the TRULY brave new world he envisions--there is no government (because people are quite capable of governing themselves and reaching mature agreements), there are no schools (because people instinctively learn what is useful and what interests them), and most of all there is no work, in the sense of toil and drudgery (because people do what they like, out of their own artistic gifts and interests). As a result, people like their lives and they like other people. They are happy, and as a consequence healthy. They make things and do things not for profit but because they like doing them--and in the grand scheme of things, all necessary and beautiful things get done. This is a marvelously charming book, and presents the (quite achievable) Anarchist Paradise in simple and concrete terms.

Artist and Socialist

Yes, I mean that with a capital S. The title story, "News from Nowhere", is a Socialist Utopia like Bellamy's "Looking Backward." In fact, Morris wrote an intro to Bellamy's brief book, and criticized it (gently) for not going far enough. Morris' view of that happy future occupies about half of this thick compilation. It is an incredible Eden, where hale, hearty, and lovely people swing into everything with the greatest gusto. Morris' character, the Guest, arrives just when everyone is falling over themselves to row upstream for the privelege of baling hay. Through some Socialist magic, everyone has become beautiful, intelligent, and youthful. In fact Ellen, who takes a shine to the Guest, has such "beauty and cleverness and brightness" (her own words, p.223) that she lives out of town to avoid causing a ruckus among the young bucks there. Outside of everyone's passion for good, hard labor (with the fear of some future shortage of sweaty work to go around), 'Nowhere' is most notable for the changes it has wrought on the English countryside. Since government no longer serves a Socialist need, the old trappings of power have been torn down. The one exception is the old Parliament building, which now serves as the transfer station between the producers of manure and its consumers - with a clear implication that little has changed. Exchange of manure is about the most sophisticated social interaction, since Morris declares that "this is not an age of inventions. The last epoch did all that for us," (p.192) and they let more of the old knowledge slip away every year. Instead, his healthy and pastoral people work for love of work, and infuse some vague sense of art into whatever it was they were going on about. Issues of medical care are waved away under their general shiny health, despite the fact that pastoral, non-technological people filled their graveyards with women dying in childbirth. The other half of this book is divided between a number of essays and lectures, most of which extol the Socialist ethos. About 120 pages of "Lectures" discuss design, and some few - with gritted teeth - acknowledge that science may deserve to exist. Yes, he tolerates those people in whom the desire to know burns most brightly. Mostly, however, "science" is something good for cleaning flue gas so the rural colors may shine more brightly. Morris was a visionary. He was also a brilliant and driven man, a skilled artisan, and eloquent writer. Unfortunately, he was born into a good-sized estate, so never had to pay all that much attention to the fussy bits of how people put the bread on their tables. The disconnect between his plenty and the majority's need is painfully apparent, but not to himself. The best-reasoned essay of the lot was the last, on the founding philosophy of his Kelmscott Press. He explained, in concrete terms, how he decided on the principles of artisanship of printing, and goes into some detail about how well-made text should appear. Much of

William Morris' salutary alternative to industrial dystopia

This edition focuses primarily upon William Morris' influential utopian romance News from Nowhere, and contains some useful notes for the reading of the text together with several other of his pieces relating to the themes of Earthly Paradise, the arts and crafts and the nature of work.If News from Nowhere seems unfamiliar to most people now, it is perhaps not so much due to its age than to the many successful novels written since that warn of the perils of striving blindly toward some Brave New World ideal. Yet News from Nowhere was itself written partly as a reaction to one such industrial utopia, namely Edward Bellamy's `Looking Backward', and is perhaps more relevant today than at any time since its original publication in 1890. William Morris offers here a prophetic anticipation of the concerns of today's growing environmental and `anti-globalisation' movements.Although others have presented Morris' ideas as backward and Luddite, such labelling imparts a misleading picture of his views. Indeed, far from being a 'Luddite' Morris was quick to embrace the innovative Jacquard loom in his own workshops - a programmable punch-card system for automated weaving, and one of the precursors of modern computing. The irony inherent in such a label will not be lost on those familiar with the history of the Luddites.Rather than denouncing technology News from Nowhere sees a world so technologically and socially advanced that it has surpassed any need for the industrial technology of Capital, ably providing for its own happiness and wellbeing without it. Progressive and sustainable technology is woven so seamlessly into its idyllic tapestry that if you were to blink you would easily miss it. And this is exactly the point Morris was making about the appropriate use of technology. Unpolluting, smokeless furnaces and silently powered barges drift by almost unnoticed as a group of friends make their way gently along the Thames by rowing boat - another technology perfectly suited to their own immediate needs and fancies.The power and beauty of Morris' novel does not lie simply in the descriptions of the material environment of its imaginary society. Morris' vision is never so shallow. He is concerned above all with the quality of life of its inhabitants and the forms of social organisation that bequeath them its benefits, and how this contrasts so starkly with the forces of coercion and seduction that govern our own society. The inhabitants that Morris describes with such convincing lucidity are nurtured in a social environment founded upon a resurgence of vernacular values and an abandonment of institutionalised forms of control and exploitation. The fire of Morris' polemic being eloquently voiced through the dialogues of old Hammond in the heart of the novel.If you are interested in a serious and profound analysis of our own society and the development of a saner view of the world then News from Nowhere will provide you with many pertinent insights. A testimon
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