Stuart Hall’s Legacy (Part Two)

Part two of an essay that began here.

Stuart Hall let on in his posthumously published memoir, Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands, he wasn’t up for writing a conventional memoir centered on details of his own life, which he doubted were of “much intrinsic interest.” His idea was to offer up reflections on “interesting times…from the vantage point of someone who lived them, as it were, from the margins.” I’ve taken his approach as a license to wander a bit in the first part of this essay and there are more asides in what follows…

I

Hall heard African drumming and singing all through the night during his childhood and his memories of those sounds probably amped up his clarity about how aural/oral cultures shaped his intellectual fathers under the skin. In Cultural Studies 1983, he delved into Raymond Williams’ Welsh background and the enigma of this scholarship boy’s arrival:

When Raymond Williams arrived at Cambridge, he found that the culture which formed him, with which Williams has a deep and serious relationship, was simply unknown. Cambridge didn’t know it existed and, if it had known, it wouldn’t have known how to talk about it because it had no language for it. How could it?…[T]he Welsh valleys have no books. They have an oral culture; they have a traditional culture; they have a political culture; but they don’t write their culture…That personal experience not only shaped Williams’s interests but also the ways in which he formulated the questions and approached their answers.

Hall began as an outsider in Oxbridge like Williams and Richard Hoggart. He traveled from Jamaica to Oxford in 1951 and he lived out the bulk of his life in England (where he “never really stopped being cold”). His own feelings of estrangement helped him grasp Williams’ and Hoggart’s ways in the world:

The shock of moving from a Welsh border town or, in Hoggart’s case, from a working-class neighborhood in a northern industrial city (Leeds) to the environs of Oxbridge could only have been experienced as a kind of subjective rupture. The contrast between these two cultural experiences and their inevitable impact on one another is not unlike the experience of migration—from one class to another, from one town to another, from the country to the city, or from the periphery to the center. It makes you instantly alive to the forms and patterns which have shaped you and which you have left behind, intellectually at the very least, for good. I say “intellectually at the very least” for it is almost as inevitable that you will try, symbolically at least, to return to it.

Hall knew from within the sensations of such segues:

I identify emotionally with Jamaica at a depth of intimacy which England can never match…Whenever I am flying back to England after spending time in the Caribbean, and look through the aircraft window at the island below slowly receding into the distance, I’m assailed by a wave of melancholia which always arises in me in relation to Jamaica as the lost object of desire. I find that these unreliable half-memories are best captured in terms of places, landscapes and tastes rather than of people: the perilous, potholed roads, the roast-corn and shrimp sellers on the road from Sav-la-Mar, the piled-up-high triangles of oranges, grapefruit and tangerines on the stalls on the Junction Road, the taste of fresh coconut water drunk straight from the husk, eating mangoes in the sea…

Familiar Stranger caught the sweetness of life in Hall’s lost paradise:

The wind has a balmy softness in the early morning before the sun sets fire to everything. The body unfolds from inside as the day warms up…The sea has a powerful, enticing presence in my memory: swimming before breakfast, the water still as glass; or at midday, sliding through the ever-changing green depths at Discovery Bay; or in the afternoon, riding the surging, spume-tipped – and scary – ocean waves at Boston Beach, followed by jerk-pork and festival barbeques.

Hall’s body and appetites may have been formed by Jamaica but that doesn’t mean he came up entirely at ease on that island. Hall’s father was an accountant who was one of the United Fruit Company’s first “colored” employees and his professional position placed his family on an island of their own, in between “the wealthy white elite and the mass of poor and unemployed Jamaicans.” Hall heard those drums in the night but he and his siblings were taught to “avert their eyes from the plight, needs, aspirations and demands of black people around them.” Instead, his parents’ “subaltern” hopes and fantasies focused on the mother country, which further alienated Hall, and not just because he was the darkest sibling in the family.

I came to feel, even as a youth, at odds with the given circumstances of my birth. So in effect my identity was formed more by resistance to those circumstances I had inherited than by adaptation to what they had tried to make me. You could more accurately say, then, that I was framed by and against ‘the colonial.’

And against his “fair-skinned” mother Jessie, in particular. This formidable woman was all up in a color/caste-bound, colonial mindset. When her daughter fell for a dark-skinned man from a highly respectable family of black professionals (“which later far out-distanced [Hall’s] family in public achievement and social position”) Hall’s mother “simply put a stop to it.”  Hall’s sister had a breakdown from which she never really recovered. Hall was pretty circumspect about that private family trauma but in Familiar Stranger he told how skin games tore him up too. He recalled one of a number of incidents that stuck with him, “condensing all that I found troubling and inexplicable about the life I was obliged to live.” Hall was called Mas (for Master) Stuart by his family’s servants and “retinue of odd-job handymen” so when he ran into a white kid at a gathering he wondered if he should call him “Mas Peter.” Hall’s parents were drinking together with Peter’s at a hotel bar, yet Hall sensed the white boy “belonged to a superior class or race…”

Uncertain what to do, I consulted my mother. She told me in withering terms what a social faux pas this would be. ‘Of course not,’ she said with exasperation, ‘they’re just like us!’ But I knew they weren’t. I can only remember wanting the ground to open and devour me.

Moments like that amount to the back story for a climactic scene that took place years later when Hall returned in the mid-60s with his new wife Catherine on her first trip to Jamaica:

The whole collective family project of ‘keeping up’ in the class/colour game was the occasion of an angry but splendid exchange of fire between Catherine and my mother. We were having supper, served as usual by a maid dressed, as ‘Miss Jessie’ always insisted, in white-starched cap and apron, standing silently behind her chair. As usual they behaved as though she didn’t exist. My mother was complaining (again) about the ‘servant problem’, and (again) about how ‘the younger ones, these days, don’t want to work’ and were inclined to be ‘uppity’. Catherine exploded. ‘You can’t talk like that about people who are standing right there serving you and listening to what you’re saying about them!’ My mother had never been spoken to like that in our house, especially by a nineteen-year-old woman, the daughter of a white Baptist minister, who’d just married her precious son! Relations between them subsequently improved but were never really restored.

Hall had to get out of Jamaica for his own mental and moral health. While he never felt at home in the UK, his self-exile ended up offering him a way of being in solidarity with the class of black people who’d stood behind Ms. Jessie’s chair (and in church pews Africanizing hymns in the evening after their working day). He had an epiphany on that score a few days after arriving in the UK when he was struck by the sight of black West Indians getting out of a train in London’s Paddington Station

They hesitated in front of ticket windows, trying to figure out how to take another train to some equally unfamiliar place, to find people they knew who had preceded them. Their minds seemed fixed, not on some mythic ‘romance of travel’ or on the equally unpersuasive notion of an ‘unfolding adventure’, but on the immediate practicalities: a place to sleep, a room to rent, work. For them and for me, this was a fateful moment of transition, frozen in time. The sight of all these black people in the centre of London was astonishing. What I thought I had left behind as an unresolved dilemma – the difficulties my family background had bequeathed to me of neither wanting any identification with my own social stratum, nor being able to feel present in my own homeland, conscious of the chasm that separated me from the multitude – had turned up to meet me on the other side of the Atlantic. This made me feel like I was travelling forwards towards the past!

Hall returned to the recognition scene where he first bumped up against that cohort who would blow up racist claims “there ain’t no black in the Union Jack” in Familiar Stranger. [You can read his second thoughts on it here.] What he witnessed in the station—“the sight of difference being played out”—turned out to be “formative.” It was an experience that launched him on a healing trip even if it wasn’t a journey to a fixed destination or some final locus of self-realization: “Standing at the juncture between a Jamaica to which I wasn’t sure how to belong and an England to which I knew I didn’t belong, the diasporic scene and its lived incongruities provided me with a space in which to think, a place on which to stand.”

The way to that “third space” beyond Jamaica, in but not of the UK, was “via a detour, by means of a knight’s move. ‘By indirections find directions out.’” Hall noted his life as a “diasporic subject” was more about routes than roots—a conceit that may have been informed by Paul Gilroy’s moves in The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1992). (An influential text by a younger black British intellectual that, in turn, owed much to Hall et al.’s analyses of race matters in the 70s and 80s.)  It occurs to me Hall’s distinction between routes and roots may explain his tendency to overlook certain black artists and thinkers who became known for their homier stances. The works of African artists like Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ousmane Sembene don’t seem to have impinged much on Hall’s world-view. (Nor does he seem to have seen Charles Burnett’s classic bluesy film, Killer of Sheep, about the dailiness of black working class life in Watts.) His instinct to talk up the diasporic over the need for roots may be behind one obvious error in Familiar Stranger. Hall credited Gilroy with coining the phrase “the changing same,” but of course it was Amiri Baraka who came up with that locution to evoke the mix of continuity and novelty that defined black musical traditions. Baraka took some bad turns toward anti-Semitism and black supremacism in the course of his life, which may account for Hall’s memory lapse. His repression of Baraka’s voice wasn’t a one-off. Hall was a jazz-lover but he never referenced Baraka on the music, and thus deprived himself (and Cultural Studies?) of a large resource. Bless Hall for his principled refusals of intolerance (if that was in the equation) but I think it’s also likely he was put off by Baraka’s tighter connections with drylongso brothers and sisters. Baraka, after all, found a direction home. (He even titled one of his 60s essay collections, Home.)  Baraka’s rootsy life in Newark (where he grew up originally and raised a second family, including one son who is now Mayor of the city) might’ve shaken Hall’s faith in his own righteous lack of a race-based comfort zone.[1]

II

While Hall didn’t hang as tight with homies as Baraka, he was a close reader of the culture made by the progeny of his own generation of emigres from J.A. In Cultural Studies 1983, he caught fire as he attested to the dignity of black “kids today” in the UK:

Young black people in Britain today are actually worse off economically and politically than their parents were when they first emigrated. But they are better off in at least one respect: They have a sense of themselves in the world; they have a pride of their place; they have a capacity to resist; they know when they are being abused by the dominant culture; and they have begun to know how to hold it at bay. But above all, they have a sense of some other person that they really are. They have become visible to themselves. One of the manifestations of this is that they speak a deeper patois than their fathers and mothers ever did. Jamaican patois has deepened in England in the fourth generation. That has become possible only because of the music and music shops…[O]ut of the exploitation of black culture and the music business back home, and out of some very politically tainted sources, has come the possibility of a black subjective identity for these young people in the new world; they are going to make their own that which emerged in the old world to which they no longer have real connections. They have transformed the language from something that refers to the Kingston yard to that which refers to Handsworth or Brixton. They use a language which grew out of and resists one form of oppression to translate and to begin to articulate another form…There are limits imposed on them by the fact that their language, and the identity it constructs for them, take a religious form. Yet without that form, no black political movement would be possible today. Are those limits the product of some essential irrationality at the heart of religious cultural forms? No. But what other cultural practice do you offer black kids who are not satisfied with definitions of identity and politics which, built on their relations with the police, construct them as criminals who are either beaten up or fight back?

Hall’s shout-out to the next gen sent me back to Steel Pulse’s 1978 anthem “Handsworth Revolution” (which you can hear here).

Hall’s vision of the diasporic space where he and those young dreads made a place to stand seems to have been a gendered one. Which is one reason why the sound system Soul II Soul—”…a happy face…a thumpin’ bass…for a loving race”— was crucial in the late 80s. They helped put black British sisters on the map when their divas went pop with international hits like “Back to Life” and “Keep on Moving.” The voices of Caron Wheeler, Kim Myzelle, et al. set the stage for Mike Leigh’s mid-90s Secrets and Lies, which moved a black heroine, played by the great Marianne Jean Baptiste, from margin to center of a British family drama. I’m reminded just now when Leigh was commissioned to make a short film, A Running Jump, around the time of the 2012 London Olympics, black women were a running presence in that East End story. A Running Jump which implicitly hints at further shifts in working class neighborhoods since the time of Meantime, brings home the now undeniable truth of London’s multiculturalism. Leigh’s short film never cultivates beamishness about neo-liberal England’s hustle and grind, but A Running Jump implies (in passing) the country has made large strides when it comes to race matters. Things done changed since Hall’s 1983 commentary on the condition of UK’s black youth. Yet bobbies remain a massive problem and “Ingland is [still] a bitch” per Linton Kwesi Johnson (AKA LKJ)—the dub poet who schooled the pre-Soul II Soul generation on tracks like Sonny’s Lettah (from his 1983 album Making History). LKJ noted after the 2011 riots in Tottenham: “police have done little or nothing to eradicate racism in the way they carry out their duties”:

My grandson has lost count of the number of times he has been stopped and searched by the police and he’s not a gang member. As far as policing and young black people are concerned, nothing has changed since I was a youth, nothing has changed since the uprisings of 1981.

LKJ has kept it real without diminishing the reality of racial progress in the UK.

[B]lack people as a whole have made significant advances… We are no longer as marginalised as we were in ’81. We had to resort to insurrection to integrate ourselves into British society. As the late John La Rose observed nearly a decade ago, black people are now very much inside British society; we are no longer on the periphery. Yet, after the progress of the nineties and early noughties, there is a perception amongst some black people that we have reached the glass ceiling …Professor Gus John, for example, rightly continues to critique the educational system for failing black working class children… Just as black Christians had to start their own churches many years ago, so black police officers have had to form their own staff association as the police force is still pathologically racist.

It would be interesting to know if Hall and LKJ thought of themselves as allies. I haven’t found testimonies to ties between them.[2] It may be LKJ’s faith in literature—even as his own dub poetry was rooted in oral culture—made him seem too old school when Hall was presiding over the creation of cultural studies. And yet LKJ was also more pop as he made reggae records that reached black Brits who wouldn’t have been in a position to pick up on Hall’s analytic riffs.[3]

There also may have been some daylight between them when it came to thinking through Jamaicans’ self-conceptions. A few years back, LKJ nailed post-millennial mystifications of the island’s history.

My sister gave me a Scotia Bank calendar for 2010, with a nice picture on the cover of a handsome blonde-haired, blue-eyed white boy and a pretty black girl with their arms around each other. The calendar is beautifully presented with lovely photographs which attempt to visually portray Jamaica’s national motto: ‘out of many one people’. The English, Irish, German, Jew, Portuguese, Taino, African, Syrian, Lebanese, Indian, Chinese and Spanish are all represented. But the Welsh are not. After leafing through the calendar, the thought crossed my mind that if I was an outsider who knew nothing of Jamaica I would not have guessed that the country is over 90 percent black…

Notwithstanding useful sociological concepts like pluralism with notions of compartmentalisation, concepts like creolisation and hybridity, the fact is that race is an important dimension of Jamaican society and culture. It could be argued that our national motto is but a fig-leaf masking unpalatable truths – what Rex Nettleford would probably dub ‘obscenities’ – about the nature of social relations in this country. It seems to me that official society is in denial about the politics of race in Jamaica…Moreover, it seems to me that although Jamaica has come a long way in coming to terms with the multi-faceted nature of our historical heritage, we still have a long way to go in the decolonisation of the mind.

Hall wouldn’t have chafed at LKJ’s lucid lines but I doubt he’d’ve been as quick to hook up that Jamaican bank calendar’s b.s. with academic trends.

III

Hall’s groundings with his younger brothers in the diaspora were founded on an affirmation of a black identity—albeit an open-ended, hybridized one—that would’ve been unimaginable to him as a child. If his yes to blackness was slightly more muted (and mixed?) than LKJ’s, it was more than enough to distance him from one of his mentors.  Historian E.P. Thompson was never down with Hall’s sense that race matters were…relatively autonomous. Thompson, like certain Marxists today, policed any angle on social life and history that seemed to diminish class. His attitude, in Hall’s view, kept Thompson from sussing the nature of colonialism (and Thatcherism).

Thompson was apparently dim about another distinguished thing dear to Hall: “‘How can you be interested in Henry James?’ Edward Thompson once admonished me, with exasperation.” Hall was a devotee of James.[4]  A line (of Madame Merle’s) from Portrait of a Lady provided one of Familiar Stranger’s epigrams: “What do you call one’s self? Where does it begin? Where does it end?” Hall saw James as one of his own traveling kind and wrote penetratingly about the novelist’s “sensitivity to the little deceptions and evasions of the English which one finds in his works, and the complex dialectic he weaves between innocence and experience, for which America and Europe came to be rich and interchangeable signifiers.” Hall’s responsiveness to James stands out in his memoir because he tended to scant the aesthetic[5]. Though he did reminisce over his first reading of Marx’s “captivating” prose and his first listens to jazzmen who’d stay in his ear for a lifetime:

I can still remember the first time I heard Bird play ‘I Can’t Get Started’ and ‘Lover Man’ and Monk’s rendition of ‘Round Midnight’. I thought the way Parker disassembled the standard melody lines and reassembled them in a wonderfully lyrical flight of audacious improvisation simply startling…But I was also gripped…by the almost unbearable emotional depths the music seemed able to plumb without yielding an inch to sentimentality. Take, for example, Miles Davis’s ‘I Waited For You’. I relished the hard, polished surfaces and the ‘soul’. People today who find this music too cerebral would be surprised to know that it was, in large part, its emotional intensity which appealed to my reserved, rather repressed, bottled-up self.

IV

While Hall recalled how Miles put “his finger on my soul,” there’s one artist he’d’ve liked to flip off.  In Familiar Stranger, he anathematized V.S. Naipaul whom he met when they were both at Oxford. Hall found the young Naipaul was a snob and took his standoffishness as a sign of the writer’s “genteel abhorrence of Negroes.”[6] Hall probably wasn’t shocked by Naipaul’s devolution to the gross racism that marked his last novel, Magic Seeds. But he seems to have stopped reading Naipaul closely long before that fall, which means he missed much. Not that Hall—believer in hope against hope—would’ve ever gone for Naipaul’s unillusioned fictions about a world that is what it is. But in Familiar Stranger, Hall wasn’t content to note Naipaul’s later novels weren’t his cup of meat. He held forth blankly on “self-hating” turns in Naipaul’s journalism without facing up to the prophetic side of Naipaul’s reportage on the state of Islam. Against Hall’s obliviousness to warnings in Naipaul’s Among the Believers and Beyond Belief, I know of no countervailing evidence he ever prepped anyone for threats posed by Islamists. Nor does he seem to have done much to lift the resolve of populations targeted by terrorists or uphold liberal values in the wake of murderous attacks.[7] His repeated nods to Edward Said in Familiar Stranger are a tell here since Said was a tribune of the sort of academic Leftists who averred after 9/11 that America-had-it-coming.

Hall offered concessionary praise of Naipaul’s early fiction in Familiar Stranger, but even there his take was trivializing. He lumped Naipaul’s first comic novels with the masterwork, A House for Mr. Biswas. By contrast, C.L.R. James—the West Indian radical whom Hall rightly revered—once spoke to the singularity of A House for Mr. Biswas:  “In literature the finest study ever published in the West Indies (or anywhere that I know) of a minority and the herculean obstacles in the way of its achieving a room in the national building.”

Hall never forgot being enraged when Naipaul condescended to James at a public forum. Yet his own readings of the West Indies’ other universal writer are marked by his musing on his distance from James’s sensibility. Hall allowed, for example, he didn’t share James’s deep love for Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (which James once said contributed more to his moral development than Marx’s texts). And when Hall touched on James’s classic work on sports, race and class, Beyond a Boundary, he noted how he was confounded by James’s attraction to eminent Victorians’ high culture:

One needs to think through [James’s] recommendation that the West Indies, in their symbolic task of beating the imperial masters at their own game through self-discipline, should learn from – of all institutions – the English public school, the playing field of Imperial Man. James’s respect for Thomas Arnold’s Rugby and the English public school provides an unexpected twist.  But the side of James which made him, as well as everything else, a sort of black Victorian gentleman never fails to catch me off guard.

Hall’s invocation of Thomas Arnold and “the English public school” (a British phrase that means private schools in this instance) has been in my mind since I recently re-read Richard Hoggart’s tribute to Matthew Arnold’s career as a schools inspector—a career that wasn’t nearly as class-bound as his father Thomas’s tenure at Rugby.  [That essay is posted here.] I’m locked on a passage where Hoggart cites and comments on the conclusion of one of Mathew Arnold’s school reports in which the Inspector took the piss out of upper class tones. Arnold juxtaposed “a letter written in schools by an ordinary scholar in a public elementary school in my district, a girl of eleven years old, with one written by a boy in a private middle-class school…”

The girl’s letter I give first:

“DEAR FANNY, —I am afraid I shall not pass in my examination; Miss C says she thinks I shall, I shall be glad when the Serpentine is frozen over, for we shall have such fun. I wish you did not live so far away, then you could come and share in the game. Father cannot spare Willie, so I have as much as I can do to teach him to cipher nicely. I am now sitting by the school fire, so I assure you I am very warm….

From your affectionate friend,

M-”

And now I give the boy’s:

“MY DEAR PARENTS, —The anticipation of our Christmas vacation abounds in peculiar delights. Not only that its “festivities,” its social gatherings, and its lively amusements crown the old year with happiness and mirth, but that I come a guest commended to your hospitable love by the performance of all you bade me remember when I left you in the glad season of sun and flowers. And time has sped fleetly since reluctant my departing step crossed the threshold of that home whose indulgences and endearments their temporary loss has taught to value more and more….

We break up on Thursday, the 11th of December instant, and my impatience of the short delay will assure my dear parents of the filial sentiments of

Theirs very sincerely

N-”

Arnold concludes: To those who ask what is the difference between a public and private school I answer, It is this.

Hall would’ve got the point. (Recall his remarks on Perry Anderson’s aloof discourse quoted in part one of this essay.) OTOH, honesty requires I point out Hall’s “bottled-up self” was made in part during his years as a private school boy in Jamaica. His later adventures in jargon (on offer in more theory-ridden chapters of Cultural Studies 1983) prove he lacked Arnold’s (and Hoggart’s) inward aversion to exclusory lingo.

But I come here in my own conclusion not to bury Hall but to bow to him. And that schoolgirl’s letter helps tell my last tale. I flashed on its democratic charms as I watched video of Hall’s daughter, Becky, eulogize her father at his memorial service in the fall of 2014. (She takes the podium here about an hour and thirty minutes into the tribute.) Becky Hall’s graceful demotic style makes her a spiritual heir of Arnold’s exemplary school girl. Not that Ms. Hall is a child, though she seems always to have been gifted with an exceptional self-awareness. She recalls how she felt impelled to lighten up the familial atmosphere as she was growing up. Her bright wit is intact. She tells how her daddy—defender of subcultures’ resistance through rituals—wasn’t thrilled when reps of subcultures came-a-courting.  She’s funny too when she presents him in full padrone mode—“Not Whilst You’re Under My Roof!”—and goofs on his linguistic tics—”those ‘conjunctures’ he was always on about.” But her teasing is gentle. She knows why students, colleagues, and folks who’d watched her father on the telly adored him for encouraging them to believe in their own right to be seen and heard. And she underscores there was nothing inauthentic about Hall’s life as a public attender.  On the home-front, Becky Hall’s dad conveyed his near-constant delight in her and her brother Jess’s presence. Looking back on her own choice of a vocation, she thinks aloud about how her father’s unrelenting commitment to his own causes taught her labors of love are the point of life.[8] One of those labors was parenting and Ms. Hall’s down-to-earth manners suggest she and her brother were never hostages to fortune. Born of wannabe elitists, Stuart Hall made sure he and wife Catherine raised democrats.

IV

I’m sure Hall would approve of an ending that looked toward a hopeful future founded on the possibility of a better woman/man. I’ll allow, though, he might be ambivalent about being placed in a British line of succession that went back to Mathew Arnold. Maybe he’d rest easier if he knew that line was now being extended to include LKJ.  Per this verse of the dub poet’s that seems worthy of Arnold’s school-girl correspondent and Becky Hall.

if I woz a top-natch poet
I woodah write a poem
soh beautiful dat it simple
like a plain girl
wid good brains
an nice ways
wid a sexy dispozishan
an plenty compahshan
wid a sweet smile
an a suttle style

 

NOTES

1 I lamented (in a footnote in part one of this essay) my failure to get Hall on the same page with Lawrence Goodwyn. I’m reminded just now I once tried to get Hall together with a son of the black American working class—film critic Armond White. (They both participated in an NYU Conference in the 90s and I recall encouraging Hall to attend to White’s talk, which, if memory serves, was a blistering take-down of Daughters of the Dust—an arty/deadly film that was in fashion for a luke-warm second back in the day though it may also have had a second half-life as an “influence” on the videos for Beyonce’s Lemonade.) But Hall and White had much less in common than I’d assumed.  While Hall had an interest in what’s now known as “media studies” (which was always a component of the discipline he helped found), he didn’t share White’s focus on the art of film or his auteurist bent. More importantly, their very different class backgrounds probably ensured they wouldn’t be natural-born allies. If I’d known where Hall was coming from back in the day, I might not have been surprised at his failure to become comrades with White who was raised in a working class neighborhood in Detroit. White tended to sniff out talented tenthism. (His antenna was always up when he was around African American academics and bohemians.) Hall wouldn’t have rolled with White’s motor-city instincts on this score. Forgive me if I seem to be trying too hard to fit White’s bottom up populist modernism into a Hall-inspired conjuncture. Still, their missed connection is worth noting since it foreshadowed White’s rightward move over the past decade, which has caused his criticism to become more and more suffused with contempt for Obama voters, Black Lives Matter protesters et al.

2 LKJ, btw, definitely stayed in touch with Amiri Baraka over the years. Note his admiring shout-out to Baraka (and T.S. Eliot among others) in “If I Woz a Tap-Natch Poet”, which is posted here.

3 LKJ was probably closer to being an “organic intellectual” (per Gramsci) than Hall.  Not that Hall ever had any illusions on this front. He spoke candidly about his position in an interview with Caryl Phillips:

I was a part-time political activist…I was never involved as a leader, partly because, this may sound odd to you, it’s extremely difficult, as the scholarship son of a middle-class Jamaican, not to be put in that position. If one turned up at a meeting, people would immediately want to nominate you as president … I could help them to articulate what they were trying to say. But I couldn’t speak for them authentically out of the terrible conditions that they were experiencing.

4 First readers may be struck by how Hall’s anecdote flips Eugene Goodheart’s story of his Grad School encounter with a censorious Jamesian who cautioned him against reading Dreiser.

5 Pace Eugene Goodheart.

6 Hall borrowed this phrase from Derek Walcott.

7 Hall once pressed leftists to overcome a priori skepticism of religion in order to appreciate rastas’ faith-based politics of culture. Having stretched himself on this front back in the day, it may have been hard for him to walk back toward the Enlightenment in the wake of Islamist terror-attacks. Though one American academic, Michael Berube, tried to pull Hall into arguments that jumped off on the left after 9/11. In The Left at War (2009)Berube suggested Hall’s critique of the Labor Party/Left’s nada response to Thatcherism amounted to a template for the sort of rethinking that was required in the post-9/11 period. But Hall himself didn’t think anew about threats posed by Islamists in the oughts. He wasn’t with those radicals who countered anti-anti-Islamism (or reflexive anti-Americanism). Berube skipped over them too, which made his Hall-of-mirrors account of post-9/11 argufying on the left a strange meld of dated flattery and timely evasions.

8 She recalls how Hall’s last counsel to her in their final one-on-one rap took in human ambition and home-life: “Bring home the big beast Beckster.”

 

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