Threnodies for S.H.
Stuart Hall is dead. The world, especially that part of it he directly inhabited with his ideas and his presence, is a much less interesting and hopeful place for his passing. He had become a cultural icon of the Left and a man for all seasons. Something a contemporary wrote about Thomas More, the original bearer of that sobriquet, might well be reiterated by those who mourn S.H. today : ‘a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity’[i].
For many of us on the Left, his work was an intellectual compass by which to get our bearings in the face of the many twists and turns of contemporary capitalism. Even for those who disagreed with some of the positions he took up, his writings provided a central reference point for getting to grips with the slippery identifications of gender, race and class that have come to characterise late modernity. He was a master of the conjunctural analysis and the essay form, who combined an eye for the telling detail with a synoptic grasp of what was at stake; he always remained contemporary with the world he was commenting on – easy enough when you are young, much less so when you reach old age. His radar was constantly scanning the horizon for new ideas, new ways of understanding the intricate dialectics of structure, agency and process in the cultural transformations of everyday life and the possibilities these opened up for reinventing democratic politics[ii].
In reading the many tributes that have flooded in one is struck by the pervasive sense of personal as well as political and intellectual loss. But also in some cases by an ambiguity of address. For those committed to egalitarian principles, there is a certain squeamishness about elevating the achievements of one individual life over others as the object of public admiration; this is often coupled with a commitment to validating the lives and stories of those who have been ignored or marginalised by mainstream institutions; at the same time there is a desperate need to create an alternative pantheon to that of the dominant political culture and affirm the value of our heroes, the people who have made an important contribution to the struggle for social justice.
This dual response speaks to the difficult position now occupied by public intellectuals, who have to operate within a space that is continually being eroded or invaded by the professional experts of the knowledge economy on one side, and the glitterati thrown up by contemporary celebrity culture, on the other[iii]. The implosion of the public realm, the increasing privatisation of its residual functions, coupled with widespread disengagement from organised politics and the ever more intense specialisation of academic knowledge means that the audience for a discourse which encompasses diverse issues and perspectives in a comprehensive critique of our society has shrunk to almost vanishing point; even though the left/liberal intelligentsia has managed to ensconce itself in the new cultural industries, as well as in some of the more traditional elite institutions, the fact remains that its leverage on the political class, let alone on those sections of civil society whose causes and concerns it routinely champions, has never been less.
This situation resonates with the way public recognition and ‘making a name’ is today organised. The rise and rise of celebrity culture, where ’everyone knows your name, and that’s your claim to fame‘ as Amy Whitehouse once put it, has affected even the most elementary structures of human intercourse.[iv] ’You’re a star’ and ‘awesome’ now greet the most modest accomplishments and this inflationary pressure has had its impact on more rarified forms of celebrity. If Seamus Heaney was given his ‘famous’ nickname it had nothing to do with his poetry, his literary reputation, or the exemplary character of his engagement with the issues thrown up by the Irish troubles. It just happened to rhyme.
In fact the mechanisms of enduring fame and ephemeral celebrity, long distance reputation and instant stardom, peer respect and the spectacle of the cult figure driven by the frenzy of renown have become increasingly intertwined, not least through the advent of new social media where ‘popularity’ depends on global circuits of messaging with the capacity to go viral at the drop of a tweet[v]. On this platform to become a follower no longer means to enter the toils of discipleship, or even to adopt the name or attitudes of your hero, but simply to adhere to a virtual community of fans with one click of your mouse. At the same time the democratisation of fame, on a scale that not even Andy Warhol could have envisaged, has been accomplished largely through the medium of do-it- yourself publicity hype so that the scope for reputational identity built on critical evaluation shrinks to that of the peer group and the cognoscenti. The literary pantheon is full of ‘writer’s writers’ whom almost nobody reads.
If the two pathways of fame have converged so too have the strategies of private remembrance and public commemoration implied by them. We can see the impact on obituary writing. The stylistic awkwardness of the genre arises from the way it is poised between homage and homily[vi]. The obituary writer is pulled one way towards hagiography and another to social biography, though in the case of the biop the two can sometimes be artfully combined, as in John Akomfre’s brilliant and moving The Stuart Hall Project. The obituary of S.H. by Bill Schwarz and David Morley in the Guardian managed to steer an exemplary course between the extravagances of panagyric and the cool irony of the praise song, but most of the others simply juxtaposed the pieties of personal tribute and academic appraisal, eulogy and peer review, to greater or lesser effect.
It is conventional for obituaries to be written by close friends or colleagues in the role of an amensuensis, though not by members of the family, and to concentrate on positive achievements and the public persona, not the failures or the private life. So we usually get a fairly whiggish interpretation of the life history, sometimes spiced with moments of triumph over adversity; we are rarely given any sense of the inner struggles that are often the counterpoint to public success. Only when the subject is infamous – and their life, far from being celebrated, is told as a cautionary tale of what befalls when the values and norms of society are flouted, do we sometimes get a glimpse of an interior life albeit one marked by psycho-pathology. That is why memoirs can be such an important corrective device, though only if they manage to avoid the trap of becoming do- it- yourself obituaries written with one eye on posterity.
Feminists have challenged the split between the public and private self in their autobiographies and memoirs, while post-structuralists insist that any kind of narrative identity is problematic and merely papers over the cracks of the ‘decentred subject’[vii]; neither has come up with a way of summing up a life or a body of work that does not depend on the tacit assumption that a) there is an intimate connection, however mediated or hidden, between the two, and b) that the name being evoked is embedded in a web of associations which makes that linkage possible, however entangled it may be in the many histories it intersects[viii]. The claim on posterity continues to encounter its principle of counter-finality in the form of posthumous revision precisely because, however respectful public remembrance, reputation remain anchored to this fragile matrix of identity. That is why, at the level of interpellation, neither the presumed intimacy of first name address with its implication of fictive kinship nor the ubiquity of the surname with its indeterminate genealogy can carry the burden of representing a legacy which belongs to no-one in general, and everyone in particular. That is why the use of initials, in so far as they compose an acronym at once familiar and impersonal, may better preserve the aura of fame.
The long aftermath of a famous death, in which the presence of the past is defined by a large absence, by a void without agency, becomes all the more poignant when it occurs in a political landscape littered with last posts – marxism and modernity, the industrial working class, the socialist utopia, the revolutionary movement- so many ghosts in the machinery of history whose materialism has migrated elsewhere. Under these circumstances we can only try to unearth the common ground of all the yesternows that cluster around the missing figure, knowing that we have to build from it new principles of hope.
2.Dancing in the dark
Dialectics has been called the dance of the mind. But its not just a question of mental gymnastics, of being able to perform feats of agility on the high wire of theory. The grounding of dialectics in concrete analysis, as a way of thinking about the roller coaster of events while staying on your feet and dispelling the clouds of common sense is the real name of the game. As Brecht constantly reminded us subtle dialectics are no use without ‘crude thoughts’, by which he did not mean the slogans or reductionism of vulgar Marxism , but a down to earth analysis which unraveled the true complexities of a situation and hence demystified it. Which indeed was S.H’s forte.
Dialectical thought creates its own epistemological guarantees, the mistake is to seek a basis for its knowledge claims in teleological laws of history or nature. To proclaim the possibility of a Marxism without guarantees, where economic determinism, even in the last instance, becomes a matter of empirical research, not an a priori given, was a bold, some might say a foolhardy move.[ix] Yes, social being determines consciousness but the Unconscious over- determines social being. It was the entry of psychoanalysis and the question of desire into the field of ideology critique, hitherto dominated by notions of false consciousness, that set the cat among the orthodox Marxist pigeons. The human subject now had to carry a double burden of misrecognition, and in some accounts sank without trace of intentionality or agency. Neutron bomb Marxism ( all structures and no people) found its mirror image in deconstructive technology (all inter-textuality and no author ). The move to re-embody and re-territorialise the subject took place on quite a different dance floor, and at night when history’s moles come out to play and the sleep of reason produces not monsters but the dream of another possible world in which the power of the imagination is at last freed from the imagination of power.
To be properly dialectical in one’s perceptions, in other words to change one’s mind because the world has changed, it is necessary to gain sufficient distance from any investment in one’s own ideas and so see clearly the gap which is always opening up between territory and map, the society and our understanding of it. This certainly creates a space for intellectual opportunism, but it is also what makes it possible to transcend orthodoxies and dogmatisms of every kind. As he did.
3.Thinkin one thing, doin another
Once upon a time and not so long ago the Academy’s chief claim to fame was that it was a powerhouse of Ideas, where the cross fertilisation of disciplines was led and fed by ferment in the wider society. Today the intellectual fashion houses of the Western world are fully integrated into the global knowledge economy[x]. The stars of this new firmament spin around at the centre of their various webs of thought, trapping passing butterflies in the hope that they will enable their BIG IDEA to materialise and spread its wings. The widespread sublimation of political ambitions in academic ones has given added impetus to this whirligig…..
As a consequence it is easier than ever to justify the disconnect between theory and practice. On one side we have the elaboration of a space of ‘pure critique’ which claims to be uncorrupted by either metaphysical speculation, political ideology or governmental /commercial interests. On the other the insistent pragmatism of evidence based policy analysis. Meanwhile over on the Left bank, the scholar activist is re-cast as a nerdy Clark Kent who is prompted to leave his study, don his superman outfit and fly to the rescue of the oppressed whenever the occasion calls.
Leading a double life, thinking one thing and doing another, is no longer a question of hypocrisy or bad faith, it has become a necessary survival strategy for a whole generation who have grown up under heavy manners and know that they are not going to be freed from the publish or perish ethos of the neo-liberal university any time soon.
Under these circumstances it is tempting to separate the work and the life, not only to keep them in different compartments, one marked public and the other private, but to apply different criteria of judgement and evaluation to each. Yet this splitting only fuels public curiosity about private lives: the quest for behind-the -scenes accounts which will prise open the secret of creativity or genius and make it into a skill set or conceptual toolkit that anyone can buy into. This takes us back to the conundrum of contemporary fame : it celebrates the unique but demands that it be replicable.
Against this there is a need to stitch the life and the work back together again in a way that makes sense of both for the light each sheds on the unfolding circumstances of their co-production. Bringing the two sides of the story together can be a tricky task.
4.Thriving on a riff
The essay, as a literary genre, is, or should be, the cry of its occasion. It is an intervention in public debate which is both calculated and improvisatory, drawing threads of argument, narrative and evidence together to take a line of thought for a walk, with a hop, skip and jump across its chosen mindfield. The true essayist is by inclination an inter-disciplinarian and by metier something of a prose stylist, but in any case the approach is always exploratory[xi].
If the essay was S.H.’s chosen literary form, that choice cannot be entirely separated from his personal style. He often wrote the way he spoke and his oratorical style of delivery was part of his charisma. The performance of thought has undergone a rapid evolution in the last few years, not only as a result of the proliferation of platforms, so that it is much easier to move between the lecture hall, the TV studio, and the on line debate, but because the performative medium has been amplified and transformed through its intimate relation with charismatic authority
Charisma is a much misused term, applied today to anyone whose personality or mode of expression exercises some kind of seductive power or spell over an audience: musicians, poets, cult leaders and mystagogues are the usual suspects[xii]. Charisma evokes a metaphysics of presence and is a phenomenon of modernity and its technologies of public impression management where acting and being have become fused. For Weber the issue was how individuals gain power or influence simply by the force of their personality, rather than from any inherited or acquired form of social, cultural or political capital. He concluded that charismatic authority arose in circumstances of extreme crisis, where the people turned to leaders who seemed to have special insight and understanding of the chaotic conditions afflicting them, could articulate their fears and hopes and offer some kind of plausible way out. Weber’s analysis might have anticipated the rise of Hitler, but he did not foresee the democratisation – which is also the banalisation – of charisma through popular culture. What he called its routinisation did not arise through subsumption under more stable forms of bureaucratic governance, but rather through popular dissemination via the operatic medium of the Spectacle with its capacity to recuperate even the most subversive voices. The dialectician becomes a performance artist, viz the Slavov Zizek phenomenon[xiii].
It is in and against this tendency, that we have to situate the attempt to construct a different theatre of intellectual operations in which liminality is put to work as a principle of engagement with the real. Cue the intellectual- as- trickster working both sides of the line, at once inside and outside the dominant culture, using the cunning of dialectical reason to outwit more powerful adversaries or trap them in their own traps. To pull this off requires an ability to detect the fault lines in an argument, as well as in a society, a profound strategic sense coupled with a vivid cartographic imagination. S.H. had both.
4 Song of our century
The official honours list, the erection of statues and other memorials, the naming of streets and buildings, the celebration of anniversaries, so many attempts to render fame permanent and immune from historical revision. Yet the project of official memorialisation is always liable to be contested, to become a focus of conflicting aspirations and loyalties in a deeply divided society. Rival halls of fame proliferate.
There are certainly ways of proofing public reputations against the quasi -oedpial politics of envy, rivalry or revenge but they are not always progressive. The anthems which score the song lines of our century and etch them into the fabric of everyday life have become increasingly disconnected from any concerted principle of societal orchestration; instead they create their own ‘lieux de memoire’ which belong to imagined communities of generation or ethnicity, each supporting its very own fame academy. Under these circumstances the coincidence of context and conjuncture is no longer a matter of cultural negotiation : you just have to download the appropriate soundtrack and keep on playing it to magically appropriate the historical moment as your own. Where you were or what you were doing when X happened becomes less important than who or what you were listening to at the time.
As a result, the milestones of cultural transformation do not have to be plotted on any other map than that of the territory they have created. This is not only because there is now a cultural economy as well as a cultural politics, but a cultural ideology which secures its own reproduction by articulating them through a seamless web of relays. The mash up is its preferred idiom, the soundtrack of a world in which everything has been rendered equivalent and commensurable in its commodified form: neo-liberalism in symbolic action[xiv].
Even so the quest for heroes, for people who embody or enact uncommodified values is unabated, driven by a pervasive desire to re-enchant the public realm. Hence the return to Hegel’s ‘historical individuals’ and Carlisle’s ‘great man’ theory of history as a pedagogical resource. What for Marx were representative figures who dramatised social conflicts have been banalised into ‘role models’ for children and adolescents in their long forced march towards the ever receding horizon of a better world. For them the song of our century has got stuck in a minimalist groove…
S.H. was one of the few voices of his generation who recognised the trend and took a stand against it.
5. It aint necessarily so
In one of his last writings S.H. showed how the neo-liberal agenda has become common sense, and how common sense has become the religion of consensual validation through which hegemony – political, cultural and ideological- is exercised[xv]. Common sense has its high priests (the popular press) and its dissenting sects, its rituals of initiation and its forms of ex-communication, but ever since Gramsci first mapped out its key forms, it has been widely recognised that the battle for hearts and minds has no other terrain. It was in charting and strategising this terrain in Britain since the 1970’s that S.H. made his distinctive contribution to New Left analysis.
So, yes, the need is still to find ways of shifting ‘common sense’ away from its anchorage in conservative logics (‘there is no alternative’), to enable people to see and to say, against the authoritative discourses which legitimate and naturalise the oppressive circumstances of their lives, that ‘ it aint necessarily so’. This requires a triple intervention : to consolidate and focus shared experiences of injustice, and help build political coalitions through specific campaigns; to defend the commons against further encroachment, to strengthen the cultures of mutuality and generosity which inform everyday life in neighbourhoods and workplaces, and which hold in abeyance the divisive, anomic and atomising pressures of late capitalism. Finally It means encouraging and enlarging the exercise of sociological imagination through a variety of pegagogic and creative resources in schools and communities so that the uncommonplace, the utopian, the idea that alternative and more equitable social arrangements are possible, can take root in popular culture as principles of hope.
So far so commonsensical. But, of course, it raises the hoary old question of agency. All these educational, cultural and organisational tasks, which Gramsci assigned to the communist party, Trotsky to the ‘vanguard party’, in the British context have been variously assigned to the labour and co-operative movement, socialist sects, community activists, environmental and urban social movements and, most recently and implausibly to a cultural and artistic avant garde. None of which today have the means to concert these initiatives. This vacuum has been filled by a vacuous post modern model of instant mobilisation through dispersed networks, with multitudes or ‘tribes’ conducting a new kind of guerrilla warfare by digital means against massive corporate emplacements of wealth and power.
Yet one of the lessons learnt by and from the Occupy movement, and in a different context from the Stephen Lawrence and the Hillsborough campaigns is that the capacity to sustain protracted struggles and to succeed is not the sole prerogative of formal organisations. Provided groups are sufficiently embedded in their constituencies of support, and sufficiently determined they can take on major institutions and win. S.H. was always alert to these springs of popular action as a baseline from which to reinvent democratic politics, but he never confused them with the need to create and sustain new organisational structures.
6. Kind of Blue
Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will – the Gramscian mantra- has remained the touchstone of much Left analysis, but its inflection has changed along with the times[xvi]. The conservatism of sections of the Old Left, especially those most closely connected with the labour movement stemmed from the fact that since the 1980’s they have been fighting a rearguard battle against the impact of Thatcherism and its New Labour reprise, while their traditional constituency, white working class communities formed by industrialism and the culture of manual labour, have increasingly jumped ship. Leftist melancholia for ‘ the world we have lost’ is not an exclusively English disease, but it did, for a time, put a brake on the triumphalism of those who proclaimed the virtues of the Post fordist, post industrial order in creating ‘ new times’ in which the ideological baggage of Marxism and ‘class struggle’ could finally be jettisoned. Against this background, the world of brass bands, miner’s choirs, industrial ballads, and urban folk, soul, rhythm and blues melted away and was replaced by heavy metal, punk, rap and electro-trance. Skinheads and Chavs explored the harder, Mods and Emo’s the softer ends of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, but however angry and in- your- face the lyrics, or bang -on the beat, there has often been a cadence of regret running through these different soundscapes, a nostalgic evocation of the good old bad old days of 1960’s rocknroll.
Meanwhile back in the universities, the New Left found its historic moment in the aftermath of the revolutionary student movement and the anti Vietnam campaign. Its Mayday manifesto, a totalising critique of an emergent managerial and consumer capitalism was widely influential and set the benchmark for subsequent conjunctural analyses. At this moment too feminism and gay liberation powerfully renewed democratic politics, while the growth of cultural studies provided a conduit for the importation, and translation of seminal theoretical work whose impact continues to resound in the human sciences today.
But by definition moments pass. They leave behind a sedimented memoryscape around which the imagined community of a generation can cohere and set about inventing its own tribal traditions, its own brand of cultural conservatism. The generation of1968, like that of 1989 in Eastern Europe, has not lacked its mythologisers and de-constructors, but the effort at continual re-groupment,both intellectual and political, in the face of a tide of history that has been moving away from it all the time, has taken its toll. In the last decade pessimism of the intellect has been much easier to sustain than optimism of the will, and what began as a prescription against infantile leftism ( over optimism) or reformist defeatism (over pessimism), now reads more like the clinical formula for a chronic manic-depressive condition.
Bi-polar structures of feeling may be all the rage in a political culture dominated by cycles of triumphalism and catastrophism but there is an alternative: the blues. The register of the blues constantly moves between the voicing of grievance to the expression of grief, but it also accomplishes their attenuation, through humour, irony and wit. The blues articulate a spirit of resistance born of hard times, they are where story telling and song writing become united in a single act of poesis, a poetics of everyday life, its ups and down, made by all and for all.[xvii] We do not have to look further to find the keynote for addressing the legacy of S.H.
7. One for daddy-o
The full quotation from Ecclesiasticus from which James Agee and Scott Walker culled the title of their book reads ‘Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that beget us’[xviii]. To bracket the father with the great men of history is a characteristic device of Jewish culture, but not, of course, unique to it; the same sentiment can be found in many kinds of Patriarchal society. It speaks to an experience, whose implications Freud was the first spell out, of the young boy and girl idolising their father as a remote source of authority, firstly as a defence against their interdicted ambivalence ( love and hate) and secondly as the support of an ego ideal which will sooner or later bring them into conflict. The image that is often used to characterise the younger generation as ‘pygmies on the shoulders of giants’ of course evokes the early experience of being carried on the shoulders of our fathers, but at the same time it invokes a projective identification with a position of superiority which cuts the rest of the world down to size.
In 1969 in the heat of the youth revolution, a book was published by an eminent psychoanalyst Alexander Mitscherlich entitled ‘Society without the Father’[xix]. It explored the pycho- social causes and consequences of the decline of patriarchal authority and its implications for forms of oedipal revolt, not only of sons against fathers in families, but of youth against age. Mitcherlich argued that industrial capitalism, by destroying the family unit as an economic enterprise, set in motion a process which both undermined partriarchalism and replaced it with charismatic father figures who manipulated the desire, especially on the part of boys, to identify with ‘strong’ male leaders. Instead of mourning the passing of the ancient regime, the rising generation created self referential youth cultures which disavowed their patrimony and tried to cut all links with the past. The book was met with stony silence on the Left, although a few socialist feminists took up its analysis of the psycho-dynamics of macho peer group culture, but perhaps it has a continuing relevance to debates about the transmission of values, especially radical values, between the generations.
The issue still is whether the ‘death of the father’ was a loss that should be mourned or a liberation to be celebrated. Christopher Lasch argued that it was producing a ‘culture of narcissism’ based on a regression from oedipal to pre-oedipal positions[xx]. Against this, Deleuze and Guettari in Anti-Oedipe criticised the ‘familialism’ of psychoanalysis, and heralded the birth of a libertarian, polymorphously perverse, culture in which, to coin a Situationist phrase, it was possible to take desires for reality or to put it the other way round, to be realistic and demand the impossible[xxi].
In terms of today’s memory politics, the culture of the Left is still split along these lines; on one side the compulsion to mourn is institutionalised in a whole martyrology elaborated around yesterday’s heroes; on the other the injunction ‘don’t mourn, organise’ prevails and young pretenders stake their claim to the zeitgeist by attacking the old guard as ‘yesterday’s people’.
The quest for less authoritarian, if still charismatic, father figures, whether in the guise of the teacher, the mentor or the guru proceeds apace. The holy trinity of Marx,Engels and Lenin may have been dethroned but others have taken their place. The ‘onlie begetters’ of new intellectual fields can be more safely venerated. Ironically those who adhere most rigorously to ‘anti-foundationalist’ epistemologies tends to be the most devoted followers of their founding fathers, like Foucault and Derrida. Intellectual gang formation still centres on issues of legacy and succession, as rival groups of disciples stake their claim to be the true heirs, to have the correct interpretation of now sacred texts. No wonder Marx said he was not a Marxist.
In contrast where there is no system of thought, no entrenched positions to defend, there is no fixed legacy to be jealously guarded ; in this case an altogether richer grid of inheritance opens up, one which allows for multiple points of engagement and encourages everyone to find their own niche within a continuing debate.
8. Bringing it on home
One of the great untold stories of austerity Britain concerns the resourcefulness and resilience of groups who find themselves on the front line of the war against the poor, and who are rediscovering what David Graeber has called somewhat mischievously ‘‘actually existing communism‘.[xxii] ‘Shameless’ turned this into an Ealing comedy, and ‘Benefit Street’ into a soap opera, but there are other ways of bringing home what is happening on the other side of the tracks…
In ‘Let us now praise famous men’ James Agee and Scott Walker told the story of sharecroppers in the USA during the ‘dustbowl’ years of the 1930’s depression. This collaboration between a writer and a photographer produced a document – and, as the title indicates, a praise song -focussed on the everyday lives and struggles of poor whites in the rural deep South. A group widely regarded as ‘white trash’ were given back their humanity in all its complexity. Agee’s language is incantatory, drawing on Biblical imagery and merging it with the rhythms of the Black evangelical church ( though the Black presence itself is marginal to the landscape he depicts). He was not called the ‘Vermeer of deprivation’ for nothing; his word pictures, coupled with Walker Evan’s grainy black and white photographs certainly beautify and even beatify, the poor. No wonder Levi’s seized on this imagery to promote their jeans! Certainly, for all its obsessional inventory of the signs of poverty, this is no dispassionate sociological account; nor is it an advertisement for the New Deal, it is a searing indictment of an oppressive economic system, part prose poem, part howl of anger.
More than half a century later, I switched on the radio one afternoon and heard an account by S.H. of the domestic interior of a West Indian household in the Brixton of the late 1950’s. There was the same ethnographic eye for detail, the same refusal of ‘objective reportage’, the same edge of anger, and also a sense of pride in what ordinary people had managed to achieve in their lives against all the odds.
Is this then what is means to be an ‘organic‘ intellectual, not necessarily in the literal sense of having a genealogical link to a particular social constituency but of having one’s ideas formed, informed and transformed by their situation and life experiences, so they become a strategic reference group. Yet S.H was not exactly a roots man; he was always suspicious of the essentialising impulses of identitarian politics, especially around race, even if he understood where those impulses were coming from.[xxiii] Afrocentrism was as alien to his thinking as Eurocentrism. He was always sceptical about knowledge claims founded on some putative access to a superior ‘totalising’ standpoint, whether academic or ideological, from which the meaning of the world fell neatly into place. Rather he was a routes radical who was most at home in diasporic cultures, in the local conjunctural debates that arise in concrete situations of political struggle and in tracing the movement of ideas across disciplinary boundaries. He summed up his philosophical approach in a piece which is as near to an intellectual autobiography as he came to writing, and where he tries to locate his place in the contemporary history of ideas. Its cadenced phrasing carries the rhetorical insistence of his argument in an entirely characteristic and inimitable way:
‘I come back to the deadly seriousness of intellectual work. It is deadly serious business. I come back to the critical distinction between intellectual work and academic work; they overlap, they abut with one another, they feed off one another, the one provides you with the means to do the other. But they are not the same thing. I come back to the difficulty of inscribing a genuine cultural and critical practice which is intended to produce some kind of organic intellectual political work, which does not try to inscribe itself in the overarching meta-narrative of achieved knowledge in the institutions. … I do think there is all the difference in the world between understanding the politics of intellectual work and substituting intellectual work for politics’.[xxiv]
Each of these threnodies addresses an issue implicit in or directly exemplified by Stuart Hall’s work, or raised by published responses to his death. Jazz aficionados will notice that the titles of each piece are taken from tracks or albums by Miles Davis.
[i] See Robert Bolt’s play, which takes this as it’s title. Hilary Mantel in her novel Wolf Hall offers a revisionist and more critical interpretation of his role.
[ii] see Without Guarantees the festschrift volume edited by Paul Gilroy,Lawrence Grossberg and Angela McRobbie Verso 2000. For an appraisal of his work in the field of Cultural Studies see Bill Schwarz’s essay in Cultural Studies Vol 19 Num 2 2005
[iii] See Richard Sennett The Rise of the Public Man , and on intellectuals see Zygmunt Bauman Legislators and Interpreters Polity 1989 , Carl Boggs Intellectuals and the crisis of modernity 1993 and Edward Said Representations of Intellectuals Vintage 1994
[iv] See Leo Braudy The Frenzy of Renown :fame and its history OUP 1986
[v] See Tiziana Terranova Network Culture 2008
[vi] See Bridget Fowler The Obituary as Collective Remembrance Routledge 2007
[vii] On autobiography and narrative identity see Philippe Lejeune The Autobiographical Pact 1993
[viii] See Saul Kripke Naming and Necessity 1980
[ix] See Stuart Hall The Problem of Ideology- Marxism without Guarantees
[x] see George Delanty Challenging Knowledge : the university in the knowledge society 2001
[xi] See John Snyder Prospects of Power: tragedy, satire, the essay and the theory of genre 1991. On the relation between literary and academic writing see the contributions to Maggie Charles et al (eds) Academic Writing: at the interface between corpus and discourse Continuum 2009
[xii] For a discussion of charisma see Richard Sennett (op cit) and also Judith Butler ‘Agencies of Style for a liminal subject’ in Gilroy et al op cit
[xiii] See Slavov Zizek The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
[xiv] I have discussed the mashup in relation to Olympic ceremonies in chapter nine of On the Wrong Side of the Track? 2013
[xv] See Stuart Hall and Alan O’Shea Common Sense NeoLiberalism Soundings manifesto 2013
[xvi] See A Bhaduri Gramsci and the Intellectuals 1995
[xvii] See Francis Davis The History of the Blues 2003. For more graphic accounts of this history try R Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country 2004 and Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo Bluesman 2004
[xviii] James Agee and Scott Walker Let us now praise famous men 2004
[xix] Alexander Mitscherlich Society without the father 1969
[xx] Christopher Lasch Culture of narcissism 1979
[xxi] Gilles Derleuze and Felix Guettari Anti- Oedipus :capitalism and schizophrenia 1977 . For a critique of of this position see Luc Boltanski and Eve Chapiello The New Spirit of capitalism 2005
[xxii] David Graeber Towards an anthropological theory of Value: the false coin of our dreams 2001
[xxiii] For a characteristic discussion of black identity politics see Stuart Hall Aspiration and Attitude :reflections on Black Britain in the 1990’s New Formations 33 1998 For a critical overview of the identity debate in relation to anthropological theories of culture see James Clifford Taking Identity Politics Seriously:’ The contradictory stony ground’ in Gilroy et al op cit
[xxiv] Stuart Hall Cultural Studies and its theoretical Legacies