By S. Aronowitz
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Extra resources for Against Orthodoxy: Social Theory and Its Discontents
His great innovation, before the Bakhtin Circle enjoyed wide celebrity, is to have transformed the study of literature and other art forms from a conservatory of the “best that has been thought and said,” in Arnold’s terms, into a form of social and cultural knowledge. His tacit assumption, expressed in the concept of “cultural 24 Against Orthodoxy ● materialism,” is that these signifying practices are immanent in the material world; that thought and its object constitute not an unbridgeable gulf or even logically separate spheres, but together comprise a single substance.
Against the Hegelian and Marxist idea that true knowledge emanates from the perspective of the totality, for instance, the logical positivists insisted that only those propositions amenable to empirical tests and replication by competent scientists could be admitted into the kingdom of objective truth. But before Popper cast doubt on the possibility of confirmation, they clung to the idea of positive verification: from 38 Against Orthodoxy ● observation and experiment, one was able to make generalizations that would be indisputable, at least within the current regime of verification.
For if fiction is a form of social knowledge, one may treat literary texts ethnographically, and this is the culmination of Williams’s methodological legacy. To understand the subtlety of Williams’s approach—one that reveals the degree to which his democratic passion is upheld, even as he insists on the importance of retaining elements of the Great Tradition—we may consult his comments on the pedagogical significance of addressing the high/low controversy. Williams reminds us that many of the works included in the canon were themselves considered “low” in terms of the “high” standards of the day.