Tribute to Stuart Hall
Monday, February 17, 2014
Posted by: Aviva Dove-Viebahn
Tribute to Stuart Hall
E. Ann Kaplan, Stony Brook University
I was very sad indeed to hear of Stuart’s death. I had gotten used to going to visit him, along with Richard Dyer, at his comfortable West Hampstead house each Summer when in London visiting family. Our last visit was in June 2013. As always, once Stuart was comfortably seated, and we began talking, he was his old, smart, friendly, and ever curious self. His sense of humour was infectious and no matter how much pain he was in, Stuart was able to laugh in his deep, familiar, and unique way.
That day last June, our talk ranged from the most personal to philosophical, intellectual and of course political issues. We talked about criticisms of Obama and his dilemma dealing with newly intractable far right Republicans, but almost in the next breath we were sharing our likes and dislikes about a plethora of international TV Series. I recall thinking that all of us watching the same series—Wallander, Mad Men, Homeland, House of Cards and more—somehow made me feel we didn’t live that far away. I also recall that Stuart was somewhat amused by his status as "STUART HALL,” a famous personage he didn’t quite recognize. The brilliant triptych video installation by John Akomfrah about Stuart’s life was about to be shown in London, but I had already seen it in Taiwan in November 2012. It’s a remarkable work, making use of photos, newsreel and home video footage, brilliantly edited so as to show the different phases and faces of Stuart’s complex life. This included his journey from the Caribbean to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1951 and then onto London where, in a teacher-training college, he was introducing the first cultural studies courses in film.
It was at that time in London (around 1960) that I first met Stuart. Paddy Whannel at the British Film Institute, starting BFI Publishing and promoting the teaching of film, invited a few of us representing a range of educational Institutions to write about our courses. I had just landed a job at Kingsway Day College, and Norman Fruchter (later Jim Kitses) and myself were developing early film courses on a range of topics suitable for our young working class students. Stuart and Paddy’s work (eventually published as The Popular Arts) influenced the content of our courses as can be seen in the small book I co-wrote with Jim Kitses, Talking About the Cinema. The series included a book by Stuart, and together the volumes represented the first British books on film from a cultural studies perspective.
But that was just the beginning. From London Stuart went to found the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University, and I went to do a Ph.D. at Rutgers University. But I continued to be guided intellectually by Stuart’s research and teaching. Each year in London I grabbed the latest volume of Working Papers in Cultural Studies edited by Stuart and containing then cutting edge research of students in CCCS being taught by Stuart. His influence reached far and wide in this way, and young left-leaning British intellectuals at the time produced innovative research under Stuart’s guidance. More recently, newly interested in work by young black artists, Stuart, as Chair of the Iniva Board, helped found Rivington Place in Shoreditch as a site for showcasing this work, among other things.
In yet one more phase of collaboration, Stuart visited The Humanities Institute (HISB) I founded at Stony Brook University several times. His characteristic generosity each time meant that he gave several presentations of varied kinds. The HISB was initiating a Cultural Studies Graduate Certificate during those years, and benefitted from Stuart’s visits which stimulated valuable thought and direction. Hall’s illuminating essays on Cultural Studies and politics always end up on many of our syllabi.
Stuart was perhaps the most brilliant conversationalist I have ever known. Because of this gift, Stuart was also a born teacher: He was always able to make new, complex ideas accessible to those not yet familiar with the discourses in play. He had a crystal clear intellect, and a sharp wit in addition to the marvelous sense of humour. He enjoyed interacting with students, faculty and the general public; his generosity—intellectual, personal, even political—is legendary. Listen to the series of interviews Stuart did with Caryl Philliips, Laurie Taylor or Pnina Werbner and you will see what I mean.
Stuart touched so many lives personally and intellectually. We will miss his balanced, careful yet creative thinking, and his sharp incisive intellect, but the ways in which his research has helped change the face of humanities disciplines remains with us not only as a powerful legacy but as an incentive to face the huge challenges before us with renewed effort.
Image from Flickr user nicholaslaughlin under Creative Commons.