The Peculiarities of English Culture

A Review of Figures of Catastrophe: The Condition of Culture Novel by Francis Mulhern

In: Historical Materialism
Benjamin Noys University of Chichester

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Francis Mulhern’s Figures of Catastrophe argues for the existence of a hitherto-unnoticed generic form: the condition of culture novel, which offers a metacultural reflection on the conditions for the existence of culture and for access to culture. Mulhern’s analysis is located within the framework of Marxist reflections on culture, the history of British cultural Marxism, and Mulhern’s own project of the critique and analysis of ‘metaculture’ in Britain. In particular, this review focuses on Mulhern’s contention that the ‘condition of culture novel’ offers a catastrophic or even nihilistic vision of the access to culture by the working class. Mulhern’s argument is that the ‘condition of culture’ novel accompanies the emergence, solidification and collapse of the British culture of ‘labourism’. This review explores the consequences of this argument for the assessment of ‘culture’ and the future of the novel as a site of reflection on the condition of culture.

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