I just finished “News from Nowhere” by William Morris, and I’m still digesting it. I generally dislike most utopian books these days, though I read many of the standards growing up. The short novel contains a crystallization of Morris’s political views, which helps understanding his version of the “ideal” but there is a pollyannaish quality to it all, a romaticiation of the feudal economy that I find hard to stomach. Of course, everyone is beautiful and the clothes are fine as the people toil in the fields.
There are some interesting aspects, to be sure— a gift economy of sorts, sparser populations, a reversal of the movement into cities and back to the country, etc., but it’s clearly written from the perspective of a fellow who has known privilege his whole life. It’s been said that most of the early twentieth century theories of craft are reactions for/against William Morris and Ruskin, and that makes it important to deal with. There are a lot of finer points in Morris that get lost in the translation.
The aestheticism of of the Arts and Crafts, the connoisseurship that surrounds what it became is all that’s left once the complex social theories are stripped away. It’s a shame. It is clear, reading the pieces that I’ve read so far from Morris, that he really wanted to return to the essential goods that we all need and should take care with. The real enemy in “News from Nowhere” is mass production with it’s attendant spiral of unnecessary and unneeded products. It’s not just a diatribe against capitalism, it’s a position statement regarding the expenditure of energy creating massive market economies. Too many factories churning out too much unnecessary crap: a worthy sentiment, somewhat prophetic for 1891.
Well worth looking at, even with its flaws and alarming veiled sexism.