Published in 2000, Without Guarantees — edited by Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg, and Angela McRobbie — brings together more than 30 essays inspired by, or written in honor of, the great cultural theorist Stuart Hall, who died three years ago this week. "It is appropriate," the editors write in their preface:
given the spirit of Stuart's own commitments that this volume has a second, subsidiary purpose. Cultural studies have been subjected to much abuse lately and the fragile institutional initiatives with which those words are entangled are now under great and growing pressure. In these circumstances it seemed right to try to make this public gift a modest interventionist act in its own right. Here then are some implicit and explicit reflections on what cultural studies can be and what it might become.
Below, we present one of the essays collected in the volume: Wendy Brown's now classic reflection on Hall and the condition that Walter Benjamin termed "left melancholia." First published in boundary 2 in 1999, Brown's essay spurred a debate that has continued through the present day.
via Stuart Hall Foundation
“In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. ... only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins.”1 Walter Benjamin
It has become commonplace to lament the current beleaguered and disoriented condition of the Left. Stuart Hall is among the few who have tried to diagnose the sources and dynamics of this condition. From the earliest days of the rise of the Thatcher-Reagan-Gingrich Right in Europe and North America, Hall insisted that the “crisis of the Left” in the late twentieth century was due neither to internal divisions in the activist or academic Left nor to the clever rhetoric or funding schemes of the Right. Rather, he charged, this ascendency was consequent to the Left's own failure to apprehend the character of the age, and to develop a political critique and a moral-political vision appropriate to this character.
On this day in 1891 one of the most influential Marxists of the 21st Century, Antonio Gramsci, was born in the small town of Ales in Sardinia. Gramsci's work transformed how we think about a Marxist politics. Whereas the Russian Revolution occured in the "backward" Russia, and as such was as much a revolution against the "old regime" as against capital, Gramsci attempted to wrestle with the question of how we build a revolutionary movement in the developed areas of Western Europe. In particular it was his development of the concept of "hegemony" which was to prove the most influential. In this piece, from the great Stuart Hall and published in The Hard Road to Renewal, Hall attempts to expand these insights of Gramsci's to analyse the "regressive modernisation" of Thatcher. In an age where many are tackling the question of how to build a new left modernity, Gramsci and Hall are as relevant as ever.
After the Brexit vote, a friend of mine said 2016 feels like the right-wing 1960s. Today, right-wing social movements across much of Europe have found their way to Britain, in nationalist campaigns dressed up as anti-establishment crusades. The election of Donald Trump has seen this populism explode across the Atlantic in a manner few predicted, showing once again that this global shift can translate nationalistic rhetoric and sentiment into viable candidates and winnable elections. But rather than seeing these often proto-fascistic movements as a break from the Thatchers, Reagans, Bushes, and Blairs that proceeded them, it may be more useful to see them as a continuation.