fred inglis

emeritus professor of cultural studies

Summary of my intellectual interests

Throughout the course of my intellectual career I have been preoccupied by the discovery and judgement of those deep evaluations to which we each give our allegiance and which guide the conduct of our lives. This is to speak very abstractly. What I mean is that, across a wide range of social, cultural and political action, I am concerned to identify those practices and objects which we cherish as the source of value and meaning in the passage from birth to death. By this I do not mean that these values are unchanging: you give your life to a set of values as being those most likely to bring out the best in you and to shape a life of which you can be proud; they will not be the same values for past or future generations.

This quest began with the study of literature, which in the discipline of literary criticism as developed in Britain during the twentieth century was at pains to determine the grounds and justification of value judgements. My purpose quickly became to pursue those grounds into the practices of everyday life. As is apparent from two of my books from many years ago, The Name of the Game and The Promise of Happiness, I tried in those respective cases (sport, and fiction written particularly for children) to select and analyse aspects of the cultural life in question in such a way as to discover why men and women gave their energies to these activities, whether playing sport or telling tales to children, and how their efforts conduced to shaping a tradition within which people might live good lives.

During this venture, as was inevitable, I followed the lead of much more powerful thinkers than myself, who became, as one’s favourite authors do, at once masters and friends. Hence the intellectual biographies of Raymond Williams (1995) and Clifford Geertz (2000). Biography, moreover, seems to me the readiest and most domestic way by which we all of us explain the course of history to ourselves. The biography of a significant human being illuminates the history which surrounds it. The book in which I most sought to put this notion into action was my history of the cold war, The Cruel Peace (1992). This represented an effort not only to narrate the many sagas worldwide of the Cold War itself, but also to evaluate its cultural products (films, novels, etc.) in relation to a series of select biographies of compelling figures in the course of its trajectory. My subsequent history of political journalism in the twentieth century, People’s Witness (2002), represented a kind of sequel to The Cruel Peace, extending over the whole of the twentieth century, and searching out in the history of political journalism on each side of the Atlantic (and across towards Eastern Europe) those lives and works which, in the commonplace writing of journalism, may be taken to represent its canonical tradition: that is to say, these lives and these writings constituted the best and most enduring ways of discharging the duties of a political journalist to one’s fellow citizens and to history.

For what it is worth, my favourite among my own books is The Delicious History of the Holiday (2000), a loving rendering of what I take to be a magnificent and, after about 1850, egalitarian and democratic movement of popular culture, in which the people at large excuse themselves from the abominable demands of capitalism in order to create a little space in which to renew the best, the most fulfilling and happiest relations of their lives: with those they love best, in the places they love best, in new and thrilling geographies also, and in the modest luxury life mostly denies them.

I am presently Leverhulme Fellow in order to write another biography, this time of the great English philosopher R G Collingwood, by way of restating the conditions of Englishness, and of a special tradition in that definition, namely its public intellectuals. This study will leave me on the intersection between aesthetics, politics and ethics on which I have spent my life.

Updated October 2009