I only met Stuart Hall once, as a star-struck graduate student autograph-seeker. But he changed my life freshman year, when reading his analysis of Thatcherism derailed me from an intended major in political science, and, indeed, from any lasting version of academic disciplinarity. From my own displaced point of origin in Britain’s former empire, I ‘got’ his drive to use scholarship as a ticket out of Jamaica, make it to the center of power and privilege, and piss in the soup. “Marxism without guarantees” for me translated, and still translates, into Marxism without masculinism, Marxism without subordinating race to class, an open-ended and restlessly questioning “criticism of everything existing,” include Marxism itself.
I was a second-generation Hall student; taught his work by Henry Abelove, Michael Denning, David Parker, Hazel Carby and Paul Gilroy. Between graduating college and starting my doctorate I spent a master’s year roaming the halls of Birmingham, soaking up the multicultural ambiance of the Center he had built and then left, always in search of the next conjuncture. Birmingham Cultural Studies circa 1995 was totally punk: cigs in that treacherous stairwell; late night bull sessions on overdue Skunk Anansie term papers, magic trips to the Gay Village, wondering what a mobile phone was and who could afford one. I didn’t take a degree, but I left with something better: meeting Melikka Mehdid, David Parker, Gargi Battacharya, Tom Everett, Rajinder Dudrah.
I’ve loved reading about Hall’s early days in the 1950s: jazz fiend, dapper hipster, literary critic and New Left lion. A fierce polemicist who apparently never made lasting enemies, and avoided left factionalism and left melancholia to the end. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., called him Britain’s Du Bois, but I say let Hall be measured by the tape of his own life, and in relation to the contemporary moment that was the animating force of his love and struggle. Which means we are the revolutionaries, and this is the moment we have been waiting for.