Stuart Hall, 1932–2014

Edward W. Said died in 2003. Jacques Derrida died in 2004. Kofi Awoonor was killed in Westgate Mall last year. Now Stuart Hall is gone. A generation of intellectuals and activists, and intellectual–activists, is disappearing. Academics worldwide could not think ‘Black Britain’ before Stuart Hall. And in Britain the impact of Cultural Studies went beyond the confines of the academy. That quiet, gentle, witty, tenacious, learned, original political thinker inspired generations of students into intellectual and activist cultural production. Paul Gilroy, Angela McRobbie, Isaac Julien, John Akomfrah, the list goes on. It was my good fortune to meet Stuart Hall at the Marxist Cultural Interpretation Institute in Champaign, Urbana in 1983, under the shadow of Sabra and Shatila. He recounted the days of the saving of New Left Review when the Russell Foundation no longer supported it in 1962, having been its founding editor in 1960, after its formation out of the merger of The New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review – the latter of which Hall had worked on while at Oxford in the mid 1950s. Today, I remember that it was also the moment of the death of Lumumba, Fanon and Du Bois. Hall came in and participated without epistemic recognition at the inauguration of a new way of thinking the world. His significance is not confined to British Cultural Studies, but rather to the world of social justice after the passing of the initial dreams of Negritude and pan-Africanism. It was Awoonor who made me imagine the early 1960s in this worldly way. Awoonor came back to Accra with a good Brit Lit degree from Leeds even as the New Left was consolidating itself at Oxford. Awoonor became Du Bois’s minder. He remembers the move against Du Bois’s sympathies with a peculiar communism that meant passport denial in the United States, but might mean going with the Eastern bloc in newly fledged Ghana. (Remember Padmore’s ‘Pan-Africanism or Communism?’ And that Marcus Garvey was still taken seriously as an alternative.) More important, he remembered the 1959 Pan-African Congress, with both Lumumba and Fanon (‘the tall one and the short one’) in attendance. I want to place Hall, young man lately arrived in England from Jamaica, in this broad world, for the philosophers of the future, rather than keeping him local. I wish he were here for me to be having this discussion with about global connectivities. You listened, contradicted but also, sometimes, agreed. Nowhere is the possibility of such a rereading clearer than in ‘When Was the Postcolonial? Thinking at the Limit’ (in Ian Chambers and Lidia Curti, eds, The Post-Colonial Question, Routledge, London, 1996). Although the essay apparently relates to a by-now-forgotten debate between ‘postcolonial critics’ and Arif Dirlik, Ella Shohat, Anne McClintock, Lata Mani, Ruth Frankenburg, Mary Louise Pratt, Robert Young and Homi Bhabha, ‘larger issues are “at stake” in these debates than the criticisms which have been widely signalled sometimes suggest’ (256). Paragraph after paragraph describe – without mentioning Africa – the Obituaries StUARt HALL , 1932–2014 After Pan-Africanism Placing Stuart HallIsaac Julien, The Attendan t, 1993predicament of postcolonial nation-states in Africa, a predicament that clearly signals Africa’s nationalism, division into regionalism and unexamined culturalism. As we are today reeling under the dismissal of a good governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, or looking at an ageing FLN member running again for president in Algeria, tremendous ethnic conflict in Kenya, an inequitable infrastructure and education system below a certain class in Ghana – indeed, at the well-known fact that the difference between rich and poor is most aggravated in sub-Saharan Africa with South Africa coming close behind – we read Hall’s words aboutthe emergence of powerful local elites managing the contradictory effects of under-development … characterized by the persistence of many of the effects of colonization, but at the same time their displacement from the colonizer/colonized axis to their internalization within the decolonized society itself. We read this in the context of Africa, not, as he does, in the context of the Gulf States, where we are looking at Sykes–Picot. I hear Assia Djebar, bringing colonial and postcolonial violence together, exclaiming in October 1988: ‘Once more, O Frantz, the “wretched of the earth”!’ In some … Continue reading Stuart Hall, 1932–2014