[Blackstudies-l] Stuart Hall and intersectionality (before there was a name for it)
lima at geneseo.edu
Tue May 9 08:18:33 EDT 2017
lisaparavisini posted: " Stuart Hall analysed power, whether in
conservative ideology or structural racism--a review by Suzanne Moore for
The New Statesman. Familiar Stranger: a Life Between Two Islands, by Stuart
Hall with Bill Schwarz Allen Lane, 302pp, £25 "
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<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> Suzanne Moore: why
Stuart Hall felt he was the “last colonial”
Stuart Hall analysed power, whether in conservative ideology or structural
racism--a review by Suzanne Moore for *The New Statesman*
*Familiar Stranger: a Life Between Two Islands*, by Stuart Hall with Bill
*Allen Lane, 302pp, £25*
“Sometimes I feel I was the last colonial.” This is the first line of
Stuart Hall’s memoir. Or not-quite-memoir. In one passage Hall, then ill
and in his eighties, discusses his ambivalence about taking on the project.
He never wanted to write a memoir. His memories are present to him as “a
generalised absence” and loss runs deep throughout this book, which has
been put together through a serious of conversations with the academic Bill
Schwarz. As the introduction tells us, the publisher later decided to
recast the conversations as a first-person narrative that Hall, who died in
2014, never saw.
Hall is a key thinker. His analysis remains profound. In these days of
Brexit we need his nuanced view of identity more than ever. When his voice
comes through in this book it is rich with longing and the constant
stretching of asking how we think about who we are and where we come from.
Hall in full flow was quite something. He remains one of the best speakers
I have heard.
The insights are often found in what he calls the in-between spaces, in the
gap between the colonial and post-colonial worlds. His craving for ackee
and plantain, his horror of white food (literally so: white fish with
boiled potatoes and cauliflower) when he first gets to Oxford, resonate
alongside passages about his childhood. His intellectual formation is
outlined here but scholars of Hall and cultural studies will want much
more. The book stops when he is 30.
Nevertheless, his locating of himself in place and in history is crucial to
understanding the way he thinks of identity, as a constantly shifting
position. Calling on anthropology and psychoanalysis helps him move to what
we would now call “intersectionality”, which he describes as always awkward
and always unsettled.
Hall’s interventions as a thinker – his writing on Thatcherism (he coined
the term), or his work on law and order in 1978’s *Policing the Crisis* –
depend on an extraordinary understanding of how multiple identifications
are played out through existing power structures. This is much more
sophisticated, and more real, than the simplistic “false consciousness”
that Marxism allows.
*Familiar Stranger* charts his childhood and youth in British-ruled Jamaica
in the 1930s to 1940s with a benign but absent father and a socially
climbing mother who, he comments sardonically, disastrously turns her
family into a project, because working outside the home would be low class.
There is a sadness around his sister, who has a breakdown from which she
never recovers. He pinpoints the gradations of melanin. He is part of a
brown elite, not the black masses, but still he is too dark; he feels
himself often to be in “internal exile” in his mixed family. Even as
independence approaches he would not describe himself as black. Black
consciousness comes much later.
His school valorises the British imagination. It is almost as if the empire
has been acquired accidentally. Jamaica is a diaspora in itself, with a
history of violence, bloodshed, trauma. So Hall begins to assemble another
life. In 1951 he leaves, with a scholarship to read English at Oxford
University. There he finds an Englishness that is both dreary and exalted.
The shock of seeing the poor black people who arrived on the *Empire
Windrush* stays with him. A huge part of his consciousness, though, comes
through modernism: poetry, art and particularly jazz, whose tension between
structure and freedom without sentimentality speaks to him. As he said,
Miles put a finger on his soul. In this music, he finds what Frantz Fanon
calls “the fact of blackness”.
In England he understands what C L R James said about Caribbean migrants
being “in, but not of, Europe”. At Oxford, V S Naipaul is hostile to
“Negroes”. Hall feels tense much of the time but starts to pour his energy
into the New Left and cultural theory. He gives us fascinating glimpses of
his contemporaries. Raphael Samuel is chaotic but charismatic. E P Thompson
is really quite snotty – he disapproves of cultural studies and doesn’t see
why Hall has to bang on so much about race. Raymond Williams is gentle.
Brian Walden at one point tells him he has no place in the Labour Party.
*Familiar Stranger* functions best as a memoir of diasporic thinking. Hall
is not of England. He cannot return to Jamaica. A deep sense of melancholy
pervades the book. Yet life was brimming with possibility. He skewered
dogmatic Marxism and was alert and joyful about visual art. The purpose of
“decoding” culture was also to produce it and he inspired and worked with
many black artists. *The Stuart Hall Project*, a gorgeous film about him by
John Akomfrah, is evidence of that.
Hall’s thinking is never about just race or class or gender, but all of
these things all the time. This is why he analysed power, whether in
conservative ideology or structural racism. Ideology matters. Language
matters. How do people identify with what may work against them? What do
they aspire to? Who controls the discourse? Who counters it? How do we
transform politics through our lived culture?
The dynamic of history interests him more than personal reflection. His
life was a conversation, not a monologue. “Theory,” Hall once said, “is a
detour to somewhere more important.” The route of his detour still guides
us, even though “home” for him was never simply in one place. And never
could be. That is what colonialism means.
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* | May
8, 2017 at 11:08 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: http://wp.me/psnTa-vg0
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