Who Speaks for Wales? Nation, Culture, Identity

By Raymond Williams; Daniel Williams | Go to book overview

The Arts in Wales
(1979)

Introduction to Meic Stephens (ed.), The Arts in Wales
1950–1975 (Cardiff: Welsh Arts Council, 1979)

W e learn to see by distinguishing shapes, and this is as true of a culture as of the physical world. What we see and hear every day is part of our culture, but just as important are the invisible, intangible shapes we carry around and bring to bear. Thus we see Wales as a small country, but even standing on the Brecon Beacons, looking south to the valleys and the seaboard where most of us live, looking west and north to the pastoral uplands, remembering beyond the far mountains another crowded coast, it is not smallness we see; it is land and distance, familiarity and strangeness. We are, we say, a small people, but in immediate human terms what is small, what is knowable, about twenty-five hundred thousand people: more than we can ever talk to or know? Smallness, then, is a shape we are carrying. Walk across the land and it is not what you feel, but learn a shape in another practice–take the shape of a small country because you have seen and heard of large ones–and it is there as a shaping idea in what you still, at life size, see and hear.

It is necessary to learn some shapes of this kind, yet we should never, by habit, suppose them to be natural. They are conventional ways of seeing and knowing and defining ourselves: some chosen, some inherited, some imposed. It can be said at times that the certainty of these shapes, their undoubtable currency, is a strength in everyday living. But at other times this may not at all be so: some shapes confine us, confuse us, indulging and magnifying or degrading and belittling. All significant shapes move, even if it is only a move to a new confirmation. The shape of Wales, more than most, is in constant movement, and this is of course unsettling. But our experiences have been so dynamic and so shifting that if the shapes had not changed we should now be

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