Books

Stuart Hall: Voted Most Likely to Succeed

Seemingly for those interested in Stuart Hall's theories, this text is really just for Stuart's cool kids in the hall.

Stuart Hall: Conversations, Projects and Legacies
Julian Henriques, ed. David Morley, ed. Vana Goblot, ed.

Goldsmiths Press

Dec 2017

Other

I had high hopes for Stuart Hall: Conversations, Projects and Legacies, even with the glaring omission of the Oxford comma in the title. (Seriously, Hall used British English. Where is it?) As a graduate student in rhetoric and cultural studies, I was exposed to Stuart Hall's theories and writings—they were frequently studied but little understood, at least by me

It was with some eagerness, then, that I began reading with a desire to better comprehend Hall's contribution and (ahem) legacy in the field of leftist cultural criticism. I had hoped that reading various perspectives by people like activist Angela Davis would lead me to a better grasp of Hall's Marxist leaning ideals. Sadly, the text was not meant for me at all. It's a yearbook for the cool kids at Stuart Hall High School Class of 2017 instead.

The first thing I noticed about the book was how heavy it is. And I don't mean "heavy" in some '60s slang for weighty ideas (though such slang would be fitting for this monstrous volume). I mean the book itself weighs a lot. It's dense, with ultra-thin, high gloss paper and page after page of head shots and bios of the contributors. The resemblance to a yearbook is further enforced by the fuzzy black and white action snapshots of random people posing, protesting, and talking, free of context or captions. The title page too, contributes to the sophomoric assemblage of the text through the use of mismatched, inconsistent fonts, skewed text alignment, and random photos including a mother with a baby and peace signs. I'm not making this up.


Glossy yearbook photos of the cool kids, only truly meaningful to the people in the Stuart Hall clique, instantly make the reader feel like an outsider to the text. Unfortunately, the content itself does nothing to assuage this feeling. The first line of the introduction tells readers what they can expect from the text:

"Stuart Hall has been described as an 'intellectual giant' whose influence now spans the work of several generations…"

(involuntary eyeroll)

Further excluding the reader from the content is the lack of clarity on whether the essays and discussions are derived from conference presentations or submitted as original articles. Many of the sections mention a conference -- indeed, Davis herself begins with a statement of gratitude about being able to participate in "the" conference—but nowhere in the text is a conference explicitly discussed, nor does the book jacket mention any such thing. This omission makes for a confusing read, since the essays all seem to assume a reader has participated in the conference. This, of course, deepens the cliquish feel of the book for outsiders.

If readers are hoping for insights about theory, they will come away (as I did) disappointed. One may want to hear authors reminisce about moments like "I remember when I ran into Stuart before my class on ethics and he suggested the notion of transcendentalism was too simple for my students…." but will be more likely to read reflections like "I remember when I ran into Stuart before my class on ethics and he told me he liked my new haircut."

The text doesn't offer much in the way of theoretical exploration. It just feels exclusionary. If readers aren't already familiar with Hall's ideas, they'll be lost. Unless they actually know Stuart Hall and contributed to this volume, this book will seem like it belongs in someone else's backpack. I don't have a better understanding of Hall's theories, but I do feel as though I've been stuffed in a locker.

Stay in touch, Stewie. I'll miss you next year at Uni. heart over the i -XOXO.

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