A Tribute

From the Last Dancer

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

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. And then Ernesto Laclau. A generation of intellectuals and activists, 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 cultural production that spilled over into hands-on activism. Paul Gilroy, Angela McRobbie, Isaac Julien, Michelle Barrett, John Akomfrah, the list goes on.

It was my good fortune to meet Stuart Hall with an opportunity of spending quality time with him in discussion, at the Marxist Cultural Interpretation Institute in Champaign-Urbana in 1983, under the shadow of Shabra and Shatila. Stuart Hall recounted the days of the saving of New Left Review when the Russell Foundation no longer supported it, in, if memory serves, 1963. (I was in Britain that year, a young Bengali woman tyrannized by a pre-feminist white alpha-male financially dependent resentful companion, a transient research student at Girton, two years out of India, not part of the radical mainstream.) Hall was among the founders in the fifties of the New Left Review.

I cannot museumize Stuart in the widely claimed Euro-US protest scene of the sixties, as widely claimed as the Naxalbari movement at home. He surely belonged to it as a passionate participant, even a charismatic leader, but mourning takes me elsewhere.

Today, I remember that it was also the moment of the death of Lumumba, Fanon, Du Bois. In other words, Hall came in and participated without epistemic recognition, at the inauguration of a new way of thinking the world, long-haul, not just immediate protest or resistance. I cannot confine him to a merely British Cultural Studies alone, even as it preserves its political difference from US Cultural Studies identitarianism betraying the austere hospitality of democracy; I read him rather in the world that worked for social justice in the diversified field of the struggle for citizenship in the metropolis after the waning of territorial imperialisms; and after the passing of the initial dreams of negritude and Pan-Africanism.

It was Awoonor who made me imagine the early 60s 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. Smart boy from Africa, not in the radical British mainstream. Awoonor became Du Bois's minder. He remembers the move against Du Bois's sympathies with a peculiar communism which 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?'[1] 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 from Jamaica, in this broad world, for the philosophers of the future, rather than keep him local. I wish he were here for me to be having this discussion about global connectivities. You listened, Stuart Hall, contradicted, but also, sometimes, agreed.

I can sense the shadow of this re-constellation in "When Was the Postcolonial?"[2] Although the essay apparently relates to a debate by now forgotten, between "postcolonial critics," and Arif Dirlik, Ella Shohat, Anne McClintock, Lata Mani, Ruth Frankenburg, Mary Louise Pratt, Robert Young, Homi Bhabha. "Larger issues are 'at stake' in these debates than the criticisms which have been widely signalled sometimes suggest" (256).

Paragraph after paragraph describes—without mentioning Africa—the predicament of postcolonial nation-states in Africa, a predicament that clearly signals Africa's nationalism, division into regionalism, unexamined culturalism. As we are today reeling under the dismissal of a good governor of Nigeria's Central Bank, or looking at an aging 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—and, 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 about "the emergence of powerful local elites managing the contradictory effects of under-development,... charcterised by the persistence of many of the effects of colonization, but at the same time their displacement from the coloniser/colonised axis to their internalization within the decolonized society itself" in the context of Africa, not, as he does, in the context of the Gulf States, where we are looking at Sykes-Picot.[3] Rather do I hear Assia Djebar, in Paris/North Africa, bringing colonial and postcolonial violence together, exclaiming in October, 1988 : "Once more, O Frantz the 'wretched of the earth!'", but now it is Algerian killing Algerian.[4]

In some quarters, the desired solution is to make the countries safe for foreign direct investment. This is Hall's "devil and the deep blue sea," not the contradictions in Dirlik's, or Shohat's, or yet Robert Young's arguments.

It should be noticed that Hall's arguments do not apply to the proliferating examples of the removal of bad heads of state by popular movements being signaled as "revolution," with no preparation for building new states. It is in the context of "Africa rising," looking at tradition surviving interregionally rather than favoring conflict, that we can read Hall's words about "some other, related but as yet 'emergent' new configurations of power-knowledge relations... beginning to exert their distinctive and specific effects" (254). We can read them in the context of emerging informal markets competitive within the ruling view of the world that can no longer think democracy.[5] "Cultural Studies" material, for analysis, not just celebration.

While the New Left was organizing itself at Oxford, W E B Du Bois in Ghana was looking carefully, as Marx looked at Lewis Morgan, at responsible critical scholarly anthropological texts describing West, South, East Africa, making notes, marking indexes—to combat the stupidity of declaring the Negro slave population stupid because violently withdrawn from impressively structured social organization, tremendous statistical and historical achievement inscribed on mnemic material and altogether impressive linguistic sophistication, where the line from figurative practice to rational choice was always alive in daily life. (No mere romanticization of Africa, this. Du Bois had no interest in denying the cruelty and absolute hierarchization in these political formations.) He is looking to examine how post-slavery African-Americans in the American South could possibly have worked so quickly with the structural principles of Reconstruction and parliamentary administration and, if his marginalia and index markings are to be trusted, he is thinking of something operating in the absence of any entry granted into intellectual labor—something that Fernand Braudel would later call the longue duree—persistent perennial residual structures unrecognizable by Southern gentry and benevolent collecting types—so that we are dealing not just with exceptions such as Phyllis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass but also with the general community of emancipated slaves.

It is here that Stuart Hall's work on ideology and national identity can be made intertextual within a field that is usually not recognized as his. The work of Gilroy and Julien, in their different ways, have elaborated such possibilities.

In the evenings there in Ghana, back from Du Bois, I read Awoonor's posthumously published The Promise of Hope. There is a moving tribute there to the Jamaican activist writer Neville Augustus Dawes, a writer involved in the transformation of Pan-Africanism in postcoloniality. Stuart Hall was resolutely North London. Yet I want to close with some words from that inclusive homage, because I, a New Yorker, have tried to write this tribute to my friend Stuart Hall in the spirit of conjunctural inclusiveness and solidarity. There was a time when I would say I was the chick vocalist in the theory performing band—Stuart Hall, Edward Said, Fredric Jameson, Hayden White. I put here a picture from that era courtesy Rainer Ganahl.[6] And that casual often-repeated comment of mine lets me borrow the grander metaphor of the last dancer from the poem.

Am I reading him right? Who can read anyone right? I am reading him, claiming him. The editors asked us to take as "[g]iven the points of intersection between [our] thought and the work, the project, of Stuart Hall." Am I doing more than attempting to stand at one of those crossroads? In 1985, Hall warned us away from a "continuous slippage away from any conceivable conjuncture."[7] I am shifting from an embedded into an embedding conjuncture, away from his deep involvement with the British context, the CND, the disappointment over Hungary, from working class to mass culture, the Open University; to the open ocean of Du Bois's Stalinism in the face of disappointment with capitalist democracy, Lumumba's betrayal by East, West, Africa; Fanon as a bridge, if you like—creating "an articulation in terms of effects which does not necessarily correspond to its origins." Put it down to my unease with Little Britain, as his with "post-structuralism." Standing in the crossroads, I am grasping at the refractible moments.[8]

In "What is This 'Black' in Black Popular Culture," Hall invokes a shift from the Euro-US and speaks of the diaspora. But what if a "global" Nigerian dreams a different Kingston? It will not be, as Hall says somewhere, reggae, and canned fruit raining down from cocoanut palms. Allow me, then:
I come again I say
half-clansman of the ritual goat
tethered to a forgotten tree
in a ruined and alien field:
I am the last dancer in the circular team
kicking only dust
after the graceful ones are done,
the jeers and sneers echoing
down the vast saharas of my history
on whose corner
this day, this natal day,
I weep anew
for historical follies I could not shed
abilities I did not realize
victories I did not savor
hopes I did not endure [9]

When I heard of Stuart Hall's death I was in Calcutta, writing a piece on Coleridge where I was discovering when the postcolonial was.[10] That essay is dedicated to his memory.

References :
1     George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa (New York: Roy Publishers, 1956).
2    Hall, "When Was 'The Post-Colonial'? Thinking at the Limit," in Ian Chambers and Lidia Curti eds., The Post-Colonial Question (New York: Routledge, 1996), page numbers included in text.
3    I refer here to the Sykes-Picot agreement—between the French and the British—that carved out boundaries of separate states—breaking promises earlier made with Arab muftis—in the Middle East in 1917. This was part of the de-Ottomanization undertaken at the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century by European powers. It can be argued that this de-Ottomanization displaced an earlier conflict within the Holy Roman Empire and continues to this day. That today's Middle Eastern conflict against what is perceived as an Israel-United States combination has retained this as cultural memory is reflected for example in an apparent dissolving of the boundaries between Syria and Iraq in ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), with its allegiance to a Caliph. "Their [the leaders of ISIS] stated goal is to obliterate the existing Middle Eastern borders drawn as spheres of influence by Western colonial powers after World War I. They aim to undo the partitioning of Muslim lands by Crusader powers'" (Francis X Clines, "ISIS Storms the Barricades, Justices Unite, and Republicans Sing," New York Times 6/29/14, p. SR 2). This is a different configuration from the effects of the absence of the practice of freedom under colonialism in literally post-colonial new nations.
4    Assia Djebar, Algerian White: 'A Narrative, tr. David Kelley and Marjolijn de Jaeger (New York: Seven Stories, 2000), p. 92. The problem in South Asian postcoloniality is related but also different, organized by the longue duree of the caste-system morphmg itself into a unique Islamophobia that is distinguishable from the international variety, taking us back to Sykes-Picot. Although the practice of freedom is not accessible to any colony, South Asia is determined by a different style of European imperial policy.
5    Dayo Olopade, The Bright Continent- Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2014).
6    Rainer Ganahl, Seminar/Lecture, Teresa de Lauretis, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Moderator: Mark Nash, Conditions of Identification, Questions of Difference, New York University, New York, 10/12/96.
7    Hall, "Signification, Representation, Ideology: Althusser and the Post-Structuralist Debates," Critical Studies in Mass Communication 2 (1985), p. 92-93, 95.
8    "How is this refraction of existence in the ideological sign determined? By an intersection"—my crossroads—"of differently oriented social interests, in every ideological sign" (Volosinov quoted in Hall, ''Rediscovery of 'Ideology': Return of the Repressed in Media Studies," in Michael Gurevitch et. al. eds., Culture, Society, and the Media (New York: Methuen, 1982), p. 79.
9    Kofi Awoonor, "In Memoriam: Return to Kingston," in The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013 (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2014), p. 76.
10 Willing Suspension of Disbelief, Here, Now," forthcoming in Forest Pyle III, ed. Constellations of Contemporary Romanticism (New York: Fordham University Press).

Vol. 47, No.11-14, Sep 21 - Oct 18 2014