- Patterns behind the Patterns
David Morley, ed.
Duke University Press
424 Pages; Print, $30.95
David Morley, ed.
Duke University Press
352 Pages; Print, $28.95
In 2004, the Centre for Caribbean Thought at the University of the West Indies held a conference entitled Culture, Politics and Diaspora: The Thought of Stuart Hall. Invited to deliver the closing address, Hall described the estranging effects of "experiencing [himself]" in such a venue: "this experience of, as it were … encountering oneself from the outside … is uncanny," he observed; yet, in the process, "one sees all sorts of things about one's self and one's own thinking, connections in one's work, the patterns behind the patterns, which one could not possibly see for oneself in any other way."
The address now serves as the epilogue to David Morley's two-volume set Essential Essays, one of several collections and tributes that have appeared since Hall's passing in 2014. It is a fitting conclusion to a collection which itself reveals the "connections" and the "patterns behind the patterns" that comprise Hall's lifelong engagement with the political and intellectual project known as Cultural Studies, and that situates some of its now most "familiar" ideas and references in the broader context of his life and times.
To extract the "essential" from a decades-long project that is aware of, even committed to, its own contingency could have been no easy task, and Morley, a Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, and longtime friend and colleague of Hall, acknowledges that another editor might justifiably have made choices very different from his own. Morley's advantage, however, consists in some thirty years of "conversations" with Hall about precisely this sort of project, dating back to the 1980s when Hall asked for help compiling some of his works for a collection planned by Macmillan. That collection never materialized, nor did similar ones initiated and abandoned over the ensuing decades; Hall was unwilling, Morely writes, to "prioritize … self-curatorial work over the more pressing demand of his ongoing involvement in … public policy and politics," and hesitant to canonize essays that had been "produced for … specific context(s)" and made no claim to present "eternal truths." But the conversations occasioned by successive attempts at the project did ultimately inform the posthumous result: a roughly chronological selection of twenty-three essays, lectures, and interviews that, Morley writes, bears "[Hall's] own imprimatur in its overall shaping, if not in its final detail."
Reading through the collection, it is clear how Hall's reluctance to "[perfect] a selection of his work for the historical record" is consistent with his vision for Cultural Studies as a whole. Profoundly influenced by Antonio Gramsci's concept of the "conjunctural," Hall was drawn to "necessarily provisional modes of analysis" that allowed him work through concrete and immediate political problems without subordinating them to any grand theoretical model. Anyone seeking in the collection an "origin story" for Cultural Studies as a unified methodology or an authoritative account of its evolution, is therefore likely to be disappointed; Hall envisioned no teleology for the work he was doing and laid no claim to "patriarchal authority" where Cultural Studies as a whole was concerned, stressing instead the collaborative spirit of serious intellectual work such as took place at the Birmingham Centre and in the collaborative book-length project Policing the Crisis (1978). Yet considered as a whole, and assisted by an "editorial
voice" that furnishes the historical, biographical and intellectual contexts of the work and skillfully illuminates its connections and continuities, Essential Essays does weave together the patterns, impulses, and influences that shaped the emergence and trajectory of Cultural Studies and that must indeed be considered "essential" if we wish to keep it relevant today.
The first volume, Foundations of Cultural Studies, features works on culture, class, media, ideology, and representation through which Hall developed, in Morley's words, a "nonessentialist form of 'Marxism without guarantees...