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From The Socialist Registerpp. John Sprigg Christopher Caudwell was killed in action, forty years ago, on February 12th,on the Jarama River, covering with a machine-gun the retreat of physkcs fellows in the British battalion of the International Brigade.
He was then twenty-nine years old. All these works were written in two years,years in which his output included also poems and short stories mainly unpublishedfree-lance journalism, detective novels. He also joined, at the end ofthe Poplar branch of the Communist Party, and took an active physids in branch life.
There was also, throughout this period, a voracious ingestion of new reading. Caudwell defies the usual stereotypes of the literary Left of the Thirties. These stereotypes are, in any case, of questionable validity. Even so, Caudwell does not vrisis to the ambience of Left Reviewthe Left Book Clubs or Unity Theatre; and he had avoided public school and university altogether.
He disliked, and avoided the company of physsics circles, even perhaps especially of the Left. He appears to have had few friends, and to have developed his thought in isolation.
And there can be no doubt that Caudwell wrote too much and physucs too fast; some parts of Illusion and Reality were written in the summer of in Cornwall at the rate of 5, words a day. This book, at least, he was able to prepare for the press. All the remainder was left in manuscript sometimes corrected, sometimes requiring further revision when he left for Spain. All this is unpromising. But we would physiics foolish to expect much more of such a brief, intense and isolated intellectual episode.
The image which comes to mind, involuntarily, is that of fire: That being said and tribute having been paid it is easy to tidy Caudwell away, as an episode in the pre-history of British Marxism. I cannot accept this conclusion. Studies in a Dying Culture played a significant part in the intellectual biography of my own generation. It is no longer possible to suppose a Marxist orthodoxy against which Caudwell can be judged, confirmed or found wanting.
Phhsics changes cisis whole character of the necessary investigation. The question seems to call for two quite easy answers. First, Caudwell was centrally pgysics with problems of aesthetics and of literary criticism. The arguments remain as assertions, insecurely grounded upon unexamined evidence.
So that we are now forced back upon the second, and easier, answer to our question. He moved eloquently among problems of physics, philosophy, literary criticism, anthropology, neurology, psycho-analysis, and so on.
He said, perhaps, nothing definitive about any of these. But we have — as Professor J. With singular unanimity, commentators on Caudwell have grasped at this conclusion.
It is a conclusion also of Mulhern: But here the difficulties enlarge. One quality in Caudwell which attracted, and sometimes bemused, his contemporaries was the extraordinary width of his intellectual range. But what if this width went along with error and shallowness in each field which he touched? Eagleton has expressed it with eloquence:. His work bears all the scars of phgsics self-contradictory enterprise: This passage might usefully be examined. But how far can that other assumption now widely accepted as a revealed truth as to the utter poverty and provincialism of the thought available to caydwell British Marxist in the Thirties be sustained?
In the bibliography to Illusion and Reality over titles one is struck by the preeminence of anthropology an attention appropriate in a work which was sub-titled, A Study in the Sources of Poetry. Allowance must be made for changing fashions and for the slow establishment of certain reputations. The bibliography suggests that the territories which Caudwell inhabited most securely while writing Illusion and Reality were anthropology and psychology with neurology and that, if anything, the forrays were into literature and linguistics.
But what is that word alien doing there? Must genetics, anthropology, mathematics, neurology and physiology be alien to literary pursuits, irrelevant to an investigation into the sources of poetry?
The Crisis in Physics
One fears that this is, indeed, the implication. Indeed, he argued that this culture could be seen to be dying because of its inability to hold together in any one philosophic place a unitary world-view. His argument here was strenuous, even obsessive, and we can scarcely meet him, in his own chosen terms, if we disregard it. But yet, how far did Caudwell himself really succeed in straddling the two halves of our culture, and how are we, who fall within one or the other, to decide?
Whatever virtue exists in The Crisis in Physics and in two of the Further Studies rests upon their general competence in areas which are normally terra incognita to poets, critics, historians and sociologists. I am certainly unable to judge this virtue. To sit in judgement on these copious insights we are forced to convene an inter-disciplinary committee.
But the experts, as always, fail to speak with a united voice. When his work was first presented it was commended by scientists as eminent as Haldane. But there followed, ina devastating judgement from a scientist of unusual breadth of knowledge, J. This would seem to leave us with a negative judgement of finality. If the vocabulary of neurology,  of physics, and of linguistics have been revised since his time, the problems which he pointed towards with an inadequate vocabulary may still remain.
But this leads us into further difficulties again. For it raises at once the question: And, if so, of what kind? Undoubtedly Caudwell supposed himself to be a Marxist. He was also an active Communist, and his commitment led him to that death on Jarama Ridge. That death, in its turn, threw light retrospectively upon his intellectual commitment, authenticating it beyond interrogation.
But, while honourable, his political judgements are not thereby shown to have been always wise or philosophically well-founded. His Studies assume throughout an orthodox antinomy between a dying bourgeois culture, on one hand, and an ascendant and healthy Soviet and Communist culture on the other. The Soviet Union appears, not as a subject for enquiry, but as a rhetorical affirmative antithesis to the maladies of the capitalist world; and these rhetorical flourishes date his work as surely as the rhetorical anti-Jacobinism dates the later work of Burke or much of the work of Coleridge.
Once again, it is Raymond Williams who defines the problem with the most accurate touch. At the time when Culture and Society was written, Williams was mainly concerned with identifying these difficulties and defining these contradictions.
Today we should be more concerned with moving on to resolutions.
Christopher Caudwell & H. Levy, The Crisis in Physics – PhilPapers
As one might expect, in that place and at that time, the argument was initiated by Maurice Cornforth on the grounds of whether Caudwell was or was not a proper and orthodox Marxist, according to an orthodoxy increasingly petrified by Stalinist doctrine. We are in difficulties.
Caudwell it is agreed was a on critic. His credentials as a theorist of aesthetics, as a scientist, and as a Marxist have all been questioned. His political judgement was honourable but naive. But in this train of argument something has been left to him, and this has not to my knowledge been adequately examined. I will not go over my tracks again. This must commence by down-grading Illusion and Reality very severely.
The strengths found here will enable us to retrieve a part, but only a small part, of Physiccs and Reality. Caudwell was an anatomist of ideology.
These preoccupations carry him quite far into significant questions in cultural anthropology, linguistics, psychology, philosophy, and also, possibly, in physics and neurology. Insofar as certain of these same ideological illusions had penetrated deeply into orthodox Marxism also, so that what went by the name of Marxism was standing in its own light, Caudwell was potentially a heretic ccrisis the orthodox Marxist tradition.
He may or may not have known this: His heretic potential was, anyway, sensed subsequently by the caudwel and by fellow heretics alike: For that argument was, at root, a displaced and ill-conducted argument between dogmatic and creative Marxism, for which the structures of the Communist Party offered no other outlet.
Illusion and Reality is in no respect to be seen as his major work. It was written while Caudwell was undergoing a self-conversion to Marxism, from late to the autumn of I do not wish crisls labour its deficiencies, but will assert these as I find them.
Despite crosis impression gained from the chapter-headings, of massive and complex organisation, it is an ill-organised, involuted, and repetitive book.
In the first two chapters, and thereafter in passages in the later chapters, Caudwell draws on occasion to advantage upon the findings of anthropologists as to the function of song and verse in primitive and tribal societies.
This proper junction between anthropology and aesthetics was not original, but Caudwell gave a new emphasis to this physiccs within terms of a Marxist exposition. It is a bad book. Cornforth and Mulhern have correctly indicated certain deforming weaknesses, and in particular the analytic preference for simplistic binary oppositions: The relation between Illusion and Reality and the Studies still needs clarification.
I crosis always supposed that the Studies are the later work; many passages in both works are clearly and closely related, but in every case the statement in the Studies is more lucid and more cogent.
All the studies including Further Studies were part of a single conception. Caudwell had planned to use, as an epigraph to all the studies, a quotation from Lenin: During the summer and autumn of revision and expansion continued: Romance and Cauxwell is another expanded study, and a further study, on biology, remains unpublished.
It is not possible to say how far Caudwell considered any of the cauewell to be completed: So the studies are, not the mature Caudwell, caudwelp as mature as Caudwell became.
For opposing reasons they were deprived of the full light of critical attention when they appeared.