Stuart Hall’s Legacy (Part One)

Cultural Studies 1983 (2016) Stuart Hall; Duke University Press
Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands (2017), Stuart Hall, (Editor, Bill Schwarz); Duke University Press

Resistance Through Rituals (1976) S. Hall and T. Jefferson; Hutchinson & Co.
“Subcultural Conflict and Working Class Community” Phil Cohen in Culture, Media, Language (1981) edt. by S. Hall, D. Hobson, H. Lowe, P. Willis; Hutchinson & Co.
Meantime (1984) Directed by Mike Leigh
A Running Jump (2012) Directed by Mike Leigh
“Handsworth Revolution” on the lp Handsworth Revolution (1978) Steel Pulse
“Sonny’s Lettah” on the lp Making History (1983) Linton Kwesi Johnson
“Riots, Rhymes and Reason” Linton Kwesi Johnson at www.lintonkwesijohnson.com

 
Back in the mid-60s, on a visit to the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, my dad ran into a Judge Dread who pronounced this sentence on one of the Centre’s main men: “Stuart Hall is the smartest black man in England.” It might be better to forget such gross gossip. OTOH, Hall’s posthumously published memoir, Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands, covers an era when meritocracy wasn’t multicultural. And it suggests Hall’s movement of mind may have been shaped in part by his impulse to slip being singled out as The One. Hall was certainly more committed than most almost famous academics to collective work. (Even his memoir was a sort of co-production with Hall collaborating with an interlocutor, Bill Schwartz, who completed the book after Hall’s death.)

Hall was a charismatic orator with a mellifluous voice who helped spark England’s New Left in the mid-50s and remained an engaged intellect to the left of the Labor Party for over fifty years. He was a radical academic with a BBC profile, but he was never a showboat. To put it in homey terms for Americans who don’t know much about Hall, his self-effacing faith in careful thought and the “hard work of renewal” made him the antithesis of a figure like Cornel West.

Though Hall would’ve nixed such a comparison. He tended to go out of his way not to underscore differences that might undermine a defense of Difference. That principle probably informed his choice to go gentle on Obama in this YouTube video from 2012, which I’m going to zero in on at the risk of starting off with an aside (though Hall’s late, 55 minutes past 11, reflection isn’t at odds with the body of his thought).  Hall distanced himself from West and other kvetchniks on the left by giving it up to Obama. He acknowledged the election of the first black president was a landmark in the struggle against racism–an event that “changed the terrain.” (Not that Hall was beamish about the coming backlash.) He had no doubt the president’s “heart was in the right place.” He cited inertial qualities of the American system to explain Obama’s failures and compromises, though he also blamed candidate Obama for cultivating an irreal sense of possibility. Given Hall’s own Marxism—and clarity Obama was never a socialist—his refusal to hate on Obama was striking. It’s also true, though, Hall hit an uncharacteristic patronizing note when he called Obama a “good community organizer”—a phrase that took on a negative valence since Hall seemed to imply Obama was a sort of local talent who was less than farsighted. Two things here. First: the notion Obama needed lessons about the vision thing or how to play a long game seems way wrong now. (Hall was holding forth before the Supreme Court’s decisions on the ACA and Gay Marriage, the Iran deal and other big news that made Obama’s tenure “consequential.”)  Second: Hall’s slightly dismissive spin on the term “community organizer” hinted he lacked clarity about how Obama’s rise was grounded in the American organizing tradition. I think Hall could’ve learned something from (the late) Lawrence Goodwyn on this score.[1] Goodwyn, who stuck with Obama back in the day when the Left was so over him, saw how Obama grasped “recruitment” wasn’t a process ancillary to radical politics—a step that came after a program had been hashed out. Recruitment was foundational to the project of any party of hope. Goodwyn summed up his wisdom once at an academic conference on Third Parties. In a short speech, he noted his fellow panelists assumed what mattered in that moment was what positions they staked out on the platform.  What really counted, though, was “who was in the room.”

I like to think Hall would’ve twigged to Goodwyn’s thesis. Church of Left pieties didn’t speak to Hall. And he was put off by platform styles of immodest mandarins whom he encountered in the Academy. In a passage from his memoir, Hall sympathized with a comrade suffering through a “clever, teasing, patronizing Oxford-style conversation [with Stuart Hampshire and Isaiah Berlin] in the All Souls Common Room.” His distaste for superior profs set him apart not only from liberal/conservative Sirs like Berlin but also from abstracted leftists like those who took over The New Left Review after Hall gave up the editorship in 1964. (Notice how he damns the next editor, Perry Anderson, with high praise in the following recollection: “[Anderson] was obviously an incredibly intellectual, high-academic kind of man. He is the only person who still uses half a dozen words in his essays which I have never even seen before! If you have the kind of Eton education he did, you just know things that ordinary human beings don’t know. He is very, very clever. He was committed, though, to a very different conception of what NLR should become. The group he formed around the new editorship was not interested, practically, in British politics.”)

Hall was always interested in British politics’ next turn. In the 70s, for example, he collaborated with students at the Birmingham Centre to produce Policing the Crisis, a study of the moral panic over “mugging” in the UK (and the emergence of a potent “Lumpen Bourgeois” itching for a fight with liberal cosmopolitans) that presaged the rise of Thatcher’s racially coded authoritarian populism. But it wasn’t just Hall’s readiness to sweat the details of history in the making that separates him from the uncommon Anderson and his kind. What jumped out most at me when I read that graph above was Hall’s invocation of “ordinary human beings.” His identification with them (versus that “high-academic” leftist) is on point when it comes to Hall’s largest contribution to mind in the last century. He was there at the creation of “cultural studies.” Along with Richard Hoggart—who became the first director of Birmingham’s CSCC in 1964 (to be succeeded by Hall in 1969)—Hall invented a discipline that took in aspects of everyday life (including “profane” fun) that hadn’t been deemed worthy of study in the Academy.

Hall died in 2014 (as did Hoggart) but two books under his name have been published posthumously over the past year—that memoir Familiar Stranger and Cultural Studies 1983—transcripts of talks in which Hall introduced a North American audience to a new mode of thought that would take off in universities all over the world. It seems like an apt time to revisit Hall’s life and legacy, starting with the origin story of the Centre as told in Cultural Studies 1983.

II

Early on in Hall’s lectures, he focused on cultural studies’ root text, Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life With Special Reference to Publications and Entertainments. Hall told how Hoggart had been a working class scholarship boy whose heart was in his Leeds hood even as his mind had been made up by English lit (and Lawrence-lauding critic F.R. Leavis[2]). Hoggart would bring his own capacity for empathy and scrutiny back home, writing The Uses of Literacy which he published in 1957. When the Center was founded in 1963, its remit (per Hall) was “to continue the work of The Uses of Literacy, to do more work like that, to do it in a more organised way, to get graduate students of different kinds to do that sort of work…”

Uses defined patterns of meaning and morality in working class culture that had gone unrecognized in the UK’s higher, dominant culture. [3] Hoggart (as Hall explained) saw how ordinary people made a meaningful life for themselves…

Their lives constituted a pattern of culture…and [Hoggart] tries to “read it” in the same way he would read a piece of prose. He describes the kind of working-class home in which he was raised; he looks at how they arrange their living rooms, at the fact that even if the house is going to rack and ruin, there is always one place in it for visitors. Nobody else in the house ever goes into it. They may be sleeping four in a bed upstairs, but there is always a room to receive someone else. And he says, implicitly perhaps, that that is as much a culture as the culture of the country house or of the bourgeois palace. These are people making a life, giving their life meaning…But this is the culture we never see, the culture we don’t think of as cultivated.

[You may read more of Hall’s felt tribute to Hoggart’s imperatives and achievement in this side-post. B.D.]

Hall was right on about Hoggart’s affirmations of working class people’s instincts for solidarity. But Hoggart wasn’t a booster. He didn’t hide less welcoming patterns of culture. He knew there were Puritanical types among the working class. In the first volume of his autobiography, A Local Habitation, he gives readers a memorable whiff of his “relentlessly genteel” aunts, Ethel and Ida:

The lavatory in each of their homes reeked of one of the more heavily perfumed ‘toilet deodorants’. The blend of that with the smell of an evacuation was more unpleasant than the smell of shit itself, like a rank and fetid growth concocted in a shifty laboratory, a poisonous but ersatz jungle plant. But it too, like the words for the things, and no matter how much they stepped up the deodorants, eventually said to them: ‘Someone’s just had a shit here.’ So they took to leaving a pack of cigarettes in the lavatory and suggesting that their guests might feel like a smoke to reduce the unbecoming smell.

There were then three smells: shit, heavy deodorants and cigs. Aunt Annie, who had a slightly scatological side, told me she would sit there puffing away like mad, and the smell was something awful.

Hoggart’s own nose for a pungent detail could never be confused with snootiness of the entitled. His lens on the world was shaped by abiding images of poverty—”When you have seen a woman standing frozen, while tears start slowly down her cheeks because a sixpence has been lost … you do not easily forget.” That woman was his mother who wasted away from TB when he was eight. (His father had died years before that.)  Hoggart was raised by his loving grandmother and other working class relatives from his father’s side of his family. His mother’s people (who were better off) didn’t offer to help him or his two siblings.

III

Hoggart’s faith in the lived “fraternity” of his working class family and neighbors had a retro cast. He was looking backward to the pre-World War II era in the opening section of Uses. When he moved on to consider post-war conditions in Uses’ second part, he worried that working class values might get bent out of all recognition in the new “affluent society.” Hall called this section of the book a “near-disaster” in Cultural Studies 83. He accused Hoggart of recycling American jeremiads against mass culture. He’s too hard on Hoggart’s media crit, yet it’s true Uses’ analysis of tabloids/lad mags/telly/rock ‘n’ roll etc. was pretty doomy. Hall’s ear was more attuned to mod occasions than Hoggart’s. Especially after the annus mirabilis (“Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban/And the Beatles’ first LP”.) [4]  When my dad visited the Centre in 1964, it was Hall, not Hoggart, who steered him to Motown. (Hall wasn’t shy about letting him know a putative critic of contemporary American culture ought to be up on The Supremes, but he gave my pop a pass because the Yank could play “Round Midnight.” Hall loved jazz, though he didn’t write about it until he reached the memoir stage. More on that anon.)

Hall was more responsive than Hoggart to American pop and to those cross-Atlantic currents that shaped boomers’ youth cultures on both sides of the pond. Under Hall’s aegis, the Centre began to study the succession of spectacular styles that took hold among British teenagers once rock ‘n’ roll hit the UK in the 50s. Alive to differences between, say, hippies and skinheads, Centre analysts rejected hype about a classless “youth culture.” Yet they were aware middle class and working class kids were inventing ways of being (and looking and listening) that set them apart from their parent cultures as well as from other “fractions” of youth.

Richard Toon (whose own essay posted here is informed by British cultural studies) has mused on how the transition from Hoggart to Hall enabled the Centre to keep up with changing times. Toon grew up in Hoggart’s world as it was dying…

…in the 50s when the old working class culture of the industrial towns of the north of England came to an end, and then came Hall and the new sociology of the new world we were in. The Birmingham school introduced us to European thought that changed our understandings as the swinging sixties debriefed our psyches.[5]

Hall’s worldliness was a strength but his receptivity to “European thought” wasn’t all good. The downside is apparent in 1983 when his “theoretical history” takes a French turn toward Althusser and Lacan. Decades on, Hall’s susceptibility to the cult of Lacan remains depressing. It’s still unfathomable how Hall—would-be soul mate of ordinary human beings—could fall for “a theory of human development in which a child’s relationship to a mirror is held to be more significant than its relationship to its parents.”[6] (Not to mention that theory came with jargon–and equations!—meant to over-awe innocents.) Clarity that “Generation Theory’s” Francophiles were bound for obloquy is widespread now so I’m wary about hammering on. But just in case “the mirror stage” still needs shattering…

One measure of the value, truth or explanatory power of a theory is its ability to predict novel facts or at least to accommodate facts not taken into account when the theory was originally formulated. If epistemological maturation and the formation of a world picture were dependent upon catching sight of oneself in a mirror then the theory would predict that congenitally blind individuals would lack selfhood and be unable to enter language, society or the world at large. There is no evidence whatsoever that this implausible consequence of the theory is born out in practice.[7]

Hall’s alienating French turn in 83 brings home his earlier easy familiarity with Leavis and the British culturalism of Hoggart, Raymond Williams and E.P. Thompson. When he discussed their work he wasn’t serving as a vector for foreign conceits—he’d been roped together with his English mentors as they climbed down in the 50s and early 60s from high culture. Hall recalled how Raymond Williams began to define culture as “a whole way of life” even as he was still locked on lit in Culture and Society. Williams’ move, in turn, was sublated by Marxist historian E.P. Thompson’s case for culture as “a whole way of struggle,” which Thompson made in the course of arguing that Williams’ version of England’s advance toward social democracy was too…nice.[8] Thompson insisted the history of British culture was the history of class struggles. Hall was right in the middle of this discourse. He was the editor who commissioned and published Thompson’s review of The Long Revolution–Williams’ follow-up to Culture and Society–and in 83 he confessed he was still abashed about losing a page from Thompson’s essay in the rush to print. A screw-up that explains why Thompson’s piece was never reprinted.

IV

I was struck by another omission in 83, though this one was probably intentional. Hall touched on the Centre’s subcultural analyses, but he didn’t bring up Phil Cohen’s “Subcultural Conflict and Working Class Community,” which was generative for that whole body of work. Hall may have assumed Cohen’s essay was too localized for an American audience since it was based on the author’s observation of the emergence of spectacular subcultures in London’s East End. But Cohen’s article was a wonderfully subtle piece of social psychology. (It beats the hell out of Ecrits!) And it deserves a quick exposition.

Cohen proposed the primary function of youth subcultures in the East End was to defuse new kinds of familial tension that had arisen there as a result of postwar redevelopment and rehousing. He described how new “tower blocks” undermined the ecological setting of the working class community by destroying the function of the street, the local pub and the corner shop as “articulations of communal space:” “Instead there was only the privatized space of family units, stacked one on top of the other, in total isolation, juxtaposed with the totally public space which surrounded them.”

There was little provision for large low-income families in this kind of high-density, high-rise housing, and Cohen noted the East End’s traditional kinship patterns suffered further disruption because the actual process of distributing apartments tended to separate newly married couples from their families of origin. He pointed out that since parents and children could no longer call upon resources of wider kinship networks or the neighborhood, the isolated family itself became “the sole focus of solidarity.” This meant family relationships were invested with a new intensity to compensate for the diversity of relationships previously generated through neighbors and wider kin.

Cohen argued youth subcultures “decanted” new kinds of familial tension—oedipal anxieties, in particular—which arose in redeveloped working class communities. He suggested the groups served to ease personal relations between parents and children by providing a “generational specific symbolic system so that tension is taken out of the interpersonal context, placed in a collective context and mediated through various stereotypes.” Spectacular subcultures provided kids with a compromise solution to contradictory needs: “the need to create and express autonomy and difference from parents and, by extension, their culture, and the need to maintain the security of existing ego defenses.”

In his study, Cohen proposed youth subcultures had a “latent function” as well. These groups allowed kids to express and negotiate “contradictions which were hidden or unresolved in the parent culture.” He noted that during the post-war period the population of the East End was caught and polled apart by the pressure of two opposing types of social mobility—upwards into the “affluent,” suburbanized sector of the working class and downward into the “lumpen.” Those alternatives were shadowed by two opposing ideologies—the ideology of consumerism promoted by the mass media and “the so-called work ethic which centered on the idea that a man’s dignity was measured by the quality of his effort in production.” Cohen argued subcultures allowed adolescents to resolve—“albeit magically”—this class “problematic.” He explained these groups attempted to “retrieve some of the socially cohesive elements destroyed in the parent culture and to combine them with elements selected from other class fractions symbolizing one or another of the options confronting it.” He interpreted the original mod style, for instance, as an attempt to realize in an “imaginary relation” the condition of a white collar worker:  “while their argot and rituals stressed many of the traditional values of their parent culture, their dress and music reflected the hedonistic image of the affluent consumer.” The life-style of skinheads, OTOH, amounted to a systematic inversion of the mods. Where the mods explored the ”upward option,” the skins with their prison-crops cultivated a lumpen, poor-boy image.

If that all seems a little dry, you might try Mike Leigh’s Meantime (1984), which dramatizes Cohen’s insights in a movie for the ages. (It’s available now in 11 swatches on Youtube.) Set in the East End, where a middle-aged couple and their two sons on the dole pass their days in a claustrophobic tower block, Leigh’s amazing cast act out tensions (oedipal and other) delineated in Cohen’s essay. Meantime‘s fraught nuclear family gets snubbed by in-laws who’ve managed to land in the suburbs. One of the brothers–a wired Brit wit played by the late Phil Daniels—nurses class-based rage, aiming hard words at those “posh” relatives, a dole-queue clerk etc. This is a working class guy whose springs of resistance remain coiled. And there’s another permanent outlier—a skinhead named Coxey played by Gary Oldham (whose extreme charisma makes his mad lad an English cousin of Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy).  Meantime isn’t mushy about The Resistance. Oldham’s dick-brained Coxey is a stone racist. Phil Daniels’ character not only disses his querulous dad but also teases his younger, slower brother (played by Tim Roth), who seems defenseless (until he gets his change near the end of the movie). There’s a meanness in Leigh’s East End. Yet the movie finishes with episodes that body forth a narrowed-down but still potent sense of fraternity. The brotherly actors livingly evince Phil Cohen’s truth that in redeveloped working class neighborhoods the family becomes “the sole focus of solidarity.” In the final scene, fast Phil Daniels is brought up short by the revelation his younger brother has become a skinhead. An existential choice that in this inst’ isn’t about racism. (Tim Roth’s slow-boy character had been wowed by Gary Oldham’s Coxey, but he’s no longer locked on his original skin-inspiration.) His choice to try on the “downward option” was sparked by his encounter with one of the brothers’ relatives who’d tried to coax the younger boy into being her factotum—his new prison crop is his way of saying No-in-subcultural-thunder to moeurs of the bossy burbs. Daniels’ character had been in the habit of mocking his younger brother by calling him “Muppet” or “Kermit.” But after running his hand gently over his brother’s baby-smooth pate, he’s done with hard goofs and comes up with a cooler American nickname for his sibling. He vows to call his born-again brother “Kojack.”

V

I don’t know if Mike Leigh was into the Centre’s subcultural theory before he made Meantime. (FWIW, he once confirmed he’d been schooled by The Uses of Literacy in his youth.)  But the ideas of Cohen, Hall, et al. were in the air by the early 80s. That’s when I first came upon a summary of Cohen’s analysis in the introduction to Resistance Through Rituals: Youth subcultures in post-war Britain (which also included a lucid breakdown of class-bound tripe about youth culture). A glance at that book’s hot typesetting is enough to make me nostalgic. Resistance Through Rituals, which was edited by Hall and Tony Jefferson, was originally published as a volume of the Centre’s journal in 1975 and its mimeographed look conveys the urgency—and the provisional nature—of these “Working Papers in Cultural Studies.” What’s going on in Resistance Through Rituals once seemed dewy-fresh and street-wise. The Center’s collective effort to comprehend British working class youth culture’s stranger flowers prepped Brits for Punk and, a few years on, helped me dig New York’s hip hop subculture. (B-boys were training in from the South Bronx when I was coming into Manhattan from a very different habitus.) The cross-Atlantic mental traffic even had a soundtrack as Punk avatars like Johnny Rotten collaborated with Afrika Bambaatta (one of hip hop’s originators) and The Clash aligned with b-boys, dropping science about Marxism in “Magnificent Seven” (though lead singer Joe Strummer’s witty agitprop rap got cut from the remix that made it on to black radio).

That conjuncture (to use one of Hall’s fave terms) when “everybody was listening to everything”[9] will never grow old to me. I was thrilled to be a part of a rad miscegenation.  (Not that anyone in between subcultures in the early 80s felt like they belonged in this almost world. You were always dancing in the dark.)  But my fealty to that memory didn’t mean I got stuck on the Centre’s bandwagon. Well before the 80s were out, I’d begun to question Hall et al.’s inattentiveness to art qua art and the Centre’s tendency to side with those who put “taste” in scare quotes. While my heart once rose when I came upon a Centre essay titled “The Dialectics of Doing Nothing,” which treated working class kids’ ways of passing time meaningfully and winning space for themselves in local surrounds, I soon realized–absent Hall et al.’s class-consciousness and sense of place–such an essay might become a template for mindless takes on teenage time-wasting. I’m recalling just now how my doubts were amped up by a “critique” of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure–a paper written for a seminar in contemporary culture given at an elite American college.  I read that student essay over the shoulder of a prof (who hadn’t stopped being an entrancing exponent of Shakespeare and 19th C. novels even as he went pop) and I wasn’t shocked to hear he’d quit teaching a semester or two later. Stuart Hall shouldn’t be blamed for that student’s wack trip (or the prof’s good-bye to all that). Hall’s approach to pop life was no joke. In his mind, cultural studies was hitched to ways of struggle and (in the fullness of time perhaps) liberatory political projects. Yet his tendency to bracket aesthetic judgments provided cover for trivia-mongers and faux-populist profs like Andrew Ross. (Known for such mots as: “I hate literature.”)  Ross, who was a large presence in American Cultural Studies, came out in the 80s as a taste-buster in No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture:

Pop arose out of problematizing the question of taste itself, and in its purist forms was addressed directly to the media processes through which cultural tastes is defined and communicated. Not only did it deny the imposition from above, of seeming arbitrary boundaries of taste, but it also questioned the distanced contemplation, interpretive expertise, and categories of aesthetic judgement which accompanied that imposition. Nothing could be more execrable to a tradition of taste that was founded on the precepts of “universality,” “timelessness,” and “uniqueness” than a culture of obsolescence: specifically designed not to endure.

Ross may have believed he was defending popular culture, but on the real side, he was trashing it. Pop life, for him, was nada. There’s nothing good (or bad) to be had there. And, before going on, I should remark on Ross’s traducing of that great, ah, problematizer Andy Warhol, who definitely had his own idiosyncratic sense of taste. One shouldn’t confuse Ross’s nihilistic mucker pose with Warhol’s angle.

I came across Ross’s disrespectful passage recently in Eugene Goodheart’s new introduction to his Culture and Radical Conscience (1973).[10] In the course of that collection of essays, Goodheart lamented that college teachers rarely sought to cultivate a student’s personal sense of judgment—what Cardinal Newman once alluded to when he invoked “the illative sense” in his 19th C. ruminations on faith and aesthetics. Academic leftists, per Goodheart, tended to be anti-illative in the 60s and not much changed in the era of tasteless cult studs. But Goodheart was also aware conservative defenders of the canon have tended to slight the idea students should be encouraged to develop their own personal response to cultural texts. Goodheart doesn’t go there, but I’m guessing pop lifers who came of age in the 60s would suss that cineastes and music writers have provided an alternative to the taste-free zone of Academe. Pauline Kael should get a nod here, of course. But I’m one of many pop heads who owe more to the illative sense of rock critics and celebrants.

VI

On that score, the Birmingham Centre, under Stuart Hall, wasn’t where it was at. I’m recalling just now that a Centre alumnus, Simon Frith, writing in the anthology, The 60s Without Apology (1984) once mocked the thought anyone might still care about mid-Sixties music qua music. According to Frith, records that had sounded vital in a 60s context were out of time in the 80s—the music wasn’t worth much more than the faded pop art images on album covers. Frith’s riff cut against the grain of the anthology, in which 60s vets recalled Glory Days, so he may have deserved kudos for his contrarianism. But I protested against his dismissive shtick, talking up the art of Dylan and Aretha Franklin in a review of The 60s Without Apology. Looking back now, it seems apparent the eventual Nobelist and eternal Queen of Soul didn’t need my poor help in the 80s. It would have been better for me to make a case for the uses of “Hang on Sloopy.”

That 60s’ song’s bouncy groove–and the dancing girl’s body-work in the video—point to the limits of aestheticism. Taste matters but not at that expense of the dance! When discrimination trumps participation, culture begins to ossify. Radical ethnographers like Charles Keil and John Chernoff and the late Christopher Small have affirmed participatory culture—especially when it comes to music (or musicking to use Small’s term). These theorists of participation and communality have known what they liked. But they haven’t been locked on their own tastes. For them, a healthy culture is one where the whole body of the people give it up and turn it loose on the regular. Or, as a former punk rocker put it in a 90s re-write of “Hang on Sloopy”—“we need more parties in the U.S.A.”

Stuart Hall and the Centre never made common cause with party animators like Keil, Chernoff and Small. But there’s a sequence in Cultural Studies 1983 when Hall got close to their flows of inspiration. He recalled sounds he heard at night, close by but far gone…

[I]n Jamaica, African drumming has been maintained somewhere about ten miles from the window of the room in which I grew up. It was a continuous voice in the night when I was a child, as I imagine it still is. It never died out…I used to live next door to a black Baptist church where they sang British, Baptist, and nonconformist hymns. They sang them for hours. As time passed and the rhythms became slower (and you thought you’d never get to the end of a line, let alone the end of the hymn), someone—the person who was hoping to preach—would begin to fill the space allowed by the slow rhythms, reminding people of the lines. And suddenly, you could hear this traditional religious music and language—a part of the dominant culture—being subverted rhythmically from underneath. Where did this other rhythm come from, this other language preserved inside the forms of religious music? How is this subversion from within possible? Slaves develop a set of skills by which they can conform perfectly—they meet the requirements, speak the language, honor the gods, sing the songs, learn the Bible, and so on— but adapt the forms in such a way that something is secured, some advance is made, maintained, and continued.

End of Part I.  (To Be Continued.)

 

Notes

1 I regret First never managed to facilitate a meeting between those two good minds.

2 Hoggart’s subtitle hinted at future contours of cultural studies. It also evoked Queenie Leavis’s study of popular literature, Fiction and the Reading Public (1939)

3 Though T.S. Eliot’s appreciation of the music hall singer Marie Lloyd deserves a bow. And Orwell—see his Collected Essays, Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, etc—was ahead of the pack (as ever).

4 Larkin’s line seems apt here in part because Hoggart was one of the expert witnesses who helped the publisher of Lady Chatterly’s Lover beat obscenity charges in 1960.

5 In correspondence with author.

6 Richard Webster, “A Mighty Wind”: First of the Year: 2008.

7 Raymond Tallis as quoted by Richard Webster in “A Mighty Wind.”

8 Thompson’s case was bolstered by the evidence he’d adduced in his classic work, The Making of the English Working Class. (1963).

9 Per Afrika Islam, a former member of the hip hop group, Soul Sonic Force.

10 Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams were exemplars of the radical conscience for Goodheart who grasped how their politics of culture made an American exponent of the counter-culture–Theodore Roszak, author of the famous long ago apologetic, The Making of the Counterculture—seem like a spoiled child.

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