Fog has no memory

Jonathan Meades

  • The Tiger in the Smoke: Art and Culture in Postwar Britain by Lynda Nead
    Yale, 416 pp, £35.00, October 2017, ISBN 978 0 300 21460 4

Lynda Nead’s new study of the ways in which postwar Britain was represented by what was not yet called its media is tirelessly oblique. She contrives to see everything through the reductionist lenses of colour and colourlessness. She leans heavily on Raymond Williams’s notion of a ‘structure of feeling’ which supposedly defines the ‘particular and characteristic colour of a period’. What Williams intended by ‘colour’ was ever-changing mood, constant only in its intangible slipperiness. The idea demands faith in a collective consciousness, evanescent, resistant to analysis and not capable of articulation save by example. Mood is closely related to, if not exactly synonymous with, the received idea or la pensée unique or, heaven help us, the zeitgeist – save that it has not quite arrived. Vagueness is hardly explained by further vagueness. Searching for something tangible to hang on to, Nead takes Williams’s ‘colour’ literally: skin colour, food colour, bombsite colour, housecoat colour (really), Sunday afternoon colour, kitchen sink colour and, most insistently, meteorological colour.

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