Doing the Work, or the Pitfalls of Intellectual Heroes

Steven Gotzler, Carnegie Mellon University

Perhaps no figure within the British new left has been more popularly heroized than Stuart Hall. As a theorist, activist, and public figure he has had a wide-ranging influence across disciplines in sociology, media studies, history and the arts. For cultural studies scholars, Hall’s position as the chief informant, and primary author, of the field’s auto-historiographical archive has made his example paradigmatic. This paper considers Stuart Hall’s legacy as a model for intellectual practice. Engaging with David Scott’s recent work in Stuart Hall’s Voice, it will interrogate the notion of “style” as a rubric for apprehending the familiar hallmarks of Hall’s oeuvre and biography in ontological terms—not simply as critical ideas, but as a way of being-in-the-world with others, through voice (in embodied speech) and presence (as the labor of listening). Situating Scott’s intervention within the wider genre of Hall tributes, I will briefly consider what new insights, if any, he offers regarding the life and work of Stuart Hall in particular, but also as concerns the conduct of our work as intellectuals more generally. Adopting a view of Hall’s style in these terms, I argue, recommends the laboring dimension of his thought, and challenges us to take seriously the philosophical and political choices—as well as opportunities—facing us in our intellectual works, and workings. This means posing the question of style, first and foremost, as a matter of labor, but also in terms of the sociality of a practice, and thus, as a question of politics. I will conclude by questioning the various pitfalls of employing the heroic projections typical of Hall tributes, and gesturing instead towards an alternative invocation of the heroic which construes the substance of intellectual work as deeds in struggle, in a bid to construct a renewed left-politics of intellectual practice today.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 195. Thinking with Stuart Hall: World-Making and the Afterlives of Empire