Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

The Beginnings of Their Own Enunciations: Stuart Hall and the Work of Culture

Homi K. Bhabha

“I said I see no joy, I see only sorrow

I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow


So stand down Margaret, stand down please, stand down

I say stand down Margaret, stand down please, stand down


Our lives seem petty in your cold gray hands

Would you give a second thought, would you ever give a damn?


I doubt it

Stand down Margaret

Everybody shout it”

[The Beat, “Stand Down Margaret,” 1980]

My earliest memories of Stuart Hall go back to the Thatcher Years, heyday of high theory and low spirits. Stuart did much to diagnose the organic crisis that plagued Britain’s Lebenswelt in that lean and mean decade of radical right-wing Tory rule. It was ironically those very years, the long 1980s, that provided the provocation for many of Stuart’s most influential essays and encouraged some of his most fruitful collaborations. The contours of Thatcherite discourse were custom-built to raise the ire of an early New Left Review intellectual from Jamaica, who had deftly recast Antonio Gramsci in the spirit of post-structuralism and was by the mid-80s increasingly coming to regard Britain as a postcolonial society of diasporic cultures and migrant communities. Thatcher’s consumerist populism with its facile fiat “society does not exist” flew in the face of the finely wefted interdisciplinary work—police and public, race and citizenship, gender and public culture—that marked the progressive pedagogy at the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies under Stuart’s leadership.

Thatcherism brought out the best in Stuart. This had as much to do with Gramsci as with the grocer’s daughter from Grantham. Stuart had many lives before the 80s: as the first editor of the New Left Review, an active member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, an early British Film Institute lecturer in film studies. The last decades of the century found him actively engaged in black arts collectives and cultural institutions. From where I saw things, YBA referred to Stuart’s remarkable mentorship of young black artists. That celebrated tag did not at all stand for those boozy, blokey Young British Artists of the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin who rode the Thatcher wave and established a lucrative, celebrity art-market.

Stuart’s interventions into Thatcher’s diverse domains and discourses of governance established his daunting authority amongst the British Left.  The editors of Radical Philosophy preface their excellent interview with a similar judgment. “[Hall’s] essays on Thatcherism made him the dominant intellectual figure in a group of writers associated with the heretical Communist Party monthly Marxism Today and its project for a new kind of left politics.”[2] Stuart’s later critiques of Tony Blair and New Labour were forceful, farsighted contributions to leftist politics in Britain, but it was “Mrs. T” who tested his mettle. Under the shadow of the Iron Lady, Stuart was confronted with a historical conjuncture (a Gramscian term of art found on almost every page of his work) that elicited his sharpest edge as an inspirational teacher and dissident public intellectual.

The Voice

Stuart’s obituaries have pointed to a curiosity in his charismatic career. “There are no single-authored, scholarly monographs to his name, [but] Hall produced an astonishing array of collectively written and edited volumes, essays and journalism.”[3] Ironically, Stuart, “who rarely used the first person,”[4] had a voice of astonishing singularity. Voice is not merely the vehicle of language and music. The “grain of the voice,” Roland Barthes reveals, “is the very precise space (genre) of the encounter between a language and a voice… The grain is that: the materiality of the body speaking its mother-tongue; perhaps the letter, almost certainly significance.”[5]  At the cost of sounding like Joseph Conrad’s Marlow mesmerized by the voice of Kurtz, let me capture something of the grain of Stuart’s voice.  For it is voice that gives material form to the genres—lectures, essays, collected volumes, and more—associated with Stuart’s name. And it is through voice—writing, speaking, listening—that these genres develop their authority and claim title to an oeuvre. And in the event of death, it is the voice still resonant in his writing that keeps alive that precise space of enunciation that lives on in the encounter between a language and a body: viva voce.

Stuart’s was a strong voice redolent with a restrained music that I have heard amongst those who acquired the Queen’s English in the colonies. It was a voice that was meticulous in its use of a language that had been “correctly” learnt at some distance from its native provenance, rather than naturally picked up; but it was also a voice that refused the prim protocols of “proper” English. Stuart’s grain could not hold back the richly colored intonations of the Caribbean islands conveyed through the vowel music of Jamaican English with its extended Irish burr. Stuart taught the Queen’s English to calypso a little, and to draw breath from Bob Marley’s rasping beat. Stuart’s voice conjured the theoretical keywords of the day—ideological interpellation, conjunctural analysis, discursive formation, phantasmatic identification, and many more—with an easeful intelligence. The jejune philistines of little learning who repudiated these terms as mere jargon had clearly never heard Stuart speak. Or teach.

There was a sharp political purpose to Stuart’s voice. His chosen genres are occasions on which he skillfully transforms the theoretical force of Gramsci’s concept of conjunctural analysis into an active rhetorical practice. A conjunctural critical practice intervenes in the multifaceted contingency of an emerging political moment, continually keeping in mind the concrete circumstances of possible political action. To make such a contribution, the grain of voice must extend to the experiences and interests of the national-popular classes and the domain of civil society.  “What the [Gramscian concept of conjuncture] offers me,” Stuart says, “is a way of understanding the condensation of all these [different ideological] elements at a moment which is not repeatable, in a condition which is not repeatable.”[6] The essay, the lecture, the collaborative project, all these genres of the speaking or writing voice, embody a temporal aspect of conjunctural analysis. They illuminate what is politically at stake now; they indicate what is contradictory or contested within the ideologies of hegemonic power now. If voice marks the enunciative site of conjunctural analysis, it also articulates the place of activism. Now is the urgent time that indicates the place and position of political and cultural agency.

The preeminent aim of British cultural studies, Stuart writes, is “to align intellectuals with an emerging historic movement”[7] in the manner of Gramsci’s organic intellectual, however elusive or unpredictable such an endeavor might be.  The commitment to speaking on point, to writing punctually, or to forming an alliance or collaboration now—despite historical happenstance—is an ethical imperative.  The organic intellectual cannot “absolve himself or herself from the responsibility of transmitting [knowledge] . . . to those who do not belong, professionally, in the intellectual class.”[8] The organic intellectual’s commitment to intervening in the unrepeatable now, so manifestly present in Stuart’s grain of voice, finds an echo in Walter Benjamin’s insistence that a dialectical historian must engage with the “now of a particular recognisability”[9] because that present moment has the capacity to make legible, figuratively if not factually, what is suddenly emergent.

Essex in the Eighties

It was at Essex University that I first heard Stuart lecture on problems of ideology and representation. The University of Essex in Colchester hosted a remarkable series of mid-summer conferences on the sociology of literature that gave theory (as it was then called) a voice in an otherwise largely hostile English academic environment.  The Essex conferences convened progressive, cosmopolitan conversations amongst interdisciplinary thinkers of the Left from across the world. Many a delinquent English summer—cloud cover streaked with faint sunlight—was lit up by the sight of an impeccably tailored Edward Said striding along a country lane in the Essex, or Julia Kristeva silhouetted against the raw concrete of the campus buildings. Under the inspired leadership of Peter Hulme, the late Francis Barker, and Maggie Iverson, the Essex conferences were serious summer camp for enthusiasts of literary theory and cultural studies. In the midst of those brutalist sixties buildings we hung out with comrades and colleagues, graduates students and motley enthusiasts, as if in an academic arcadia. Or so it seems now; and so it seemed then too. At the end of the summer, we would make our way back to our various campuses and prepare for another year of strident and stringent reductions in education budgets. British scholars were being “cut down to size” by the ideologues of the Thatcher administration. 

On just such a damp Essex afternoon during one of these summers, I listened to Stuart wrestle with the angels, as he was later to describe the necessary struggle against the hegemony of theory itself:

I want to suggest a different metaphor for theoretical work: the metaphor of struggle, of wrestling with the angels. The only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency. . . . I remember wrestling with Althusser. I remember looking at the idea of “theoretical practice” in Reading Capital and thinking, “I’ve gone as far in this book as it is proper to go…” He’ll have to march over me to convince me. I warred with him to the death…[10]

Yes, I recall that duel to the death, as Stuart wrestled with Louis Althusser’s hieratic (and hierarchical) concept of the science of theoretical practice. Almost three decades later, I have no stomach for that fight. What interests me now is Stuart’s deft footwork in dealing with a problem, at once conceptual and political, that recurs like a leitmotif across various phases of his writing. In an indispensable interview in Radical Philosophy, Stuart faces the problem head-on:

Ideology is “neutral” in the sense that ideology and culture are inscribed in language and language is the infinite semiosis of meaning. Now, particular ideologies intervene in language to secure a particular configuration… Language always goes out having many meanings and ideology says: “This is the particular linguistic thing that explains the world. The meaning must stop here, because this is the truth.” Ideology intervenes to stop language, to stop culture producing new meanings, and that, of course, is the opening through which interest operates… Ideology is never the necessary expression of a class interest. It is the way certain class interests and other social forces attempt to interfere in the sphere of signification, to articulate or harness it to a particular project, to hegemonize.[11]

The war with Althusser, all those years ago in Essex, revolved around the central issue at stake in this much later conversation: What is the opening through which interest operates? The leveraged linkages (overdetermination) that structure symbolic and symptomatic relations across the metonymic chain of ideology—discourse—power—institution—enunciation, are of an ambidextrous character. On the one hand, they produce openings for the establishment of hegemonic formations under the sway of the state; on the other hand, and at the same time, they create marginal or interstitial spaces that empower counterhegemonic radical movements.  There is considerably more at risk in this struggle with ideology and hegemony than meticulous philosophical argument can convey. In his obituary in New Left Review Robin Blackburn affiliates Stuart with the anticapitalism of the “new social movements”—oppressed minorities, anti-discrimination movements, antiimperialist struggles, environmentalist lobbies, the cultural front—and justly concludes that “grasping the cross-dynamic of social movements was to be central to Stuart’s work.”[12]

Stuart sunders the normative, totalizing link between class and ideology as sovereign subjects of a Marxisant narrative of political power. Class and ideology are neither empirical nor epistemological realities. They are materially and relationally constituted through the infinite semiosis of linguistic meaning and the historical contingency of discursive practices. Both class and ideology owe their representational authority (core values, mindsets, political interests, group identities, economic relations, affective affiliations) to the generation of meanings mediated through culture. At this point Stuart’s sights are set on the limitations of Althusser’s functionalist concept of the relative autonomy of ideology that masks its economic determinism by relegating it to “the last instance.” The lesson taught by cultural studies to the organic intellectual—and vice versa—is to live “with a tension that all textual practices must assume”[13]:

I want to insist that until and unless cultural studies learns to live with this tension, a tension that all textual practices must assume -- a tension which Said describes as the study of the text in its affiliations with “institutions, offices, agencies, classes, academies, corporations, groups, ideologically defined parties and professions, races and genders” it will have renounced its “worldly” vocation… If you lose hold of the tension you can do extremely fine intellectual work, but will have lost intellectual practice as a politics… Both in the British and American context, cultural studies has drawn attention to itself… because it holds theoretical and political questions in an ever irresolvable but permanent tension. It continuously allows the one to irritate, bother and disturb the other, without insisting on some final theoretical closure.[14]

Does the refusal of final closure create the very space—and time—for “the opening through which interest operates”? How do emergent movements and minority groups survive the permanent tension while struggling for their moment in history, for their rights of recognition and representation? What does it mean to occupy “the now of a particular recognisability,” to signify what is suddenly emergent? These questions crowded in on me at Essex as I sat pinned against the wall, amidst a theatre full of “wrestling” enthusiasts. I only half understood where they would lead on that occasion; nonetheless, the voice pursued one seemingly intractable problem after another. Today I wrestle with my own angels as I reread a decade of Stuart’s essays, to better understand theory as the struggle to “open up” new voices and emergent interests or to grasp what he means when he says “theoretical work [is] interruption.”

The Language of Theory and the Anxiety of Confluence

In a pedagogical history marked by interruptions and ruptures, a few struggles stand out in the life of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS): “the first around feminism and the second around the question of race.”[15] A third turning point comes, a few years later, with the advent of the linguistic turn and its post-structuralist progeny. Such leading-edge moments (as Stuart frequently names them) are now part of the everyday cut and thrust of critical discourse; and yet, the early years of their inception and reception are memorable, in retrospect, for revealing the dramatic imbrications of affect and analysis, of anxiety and theory. Theory’s anxious past is poorly recalled in frenzied events like the agitation against Jacques Derrida’s candidacy for an honorary degree at Cambridge University in 1992. A phalanx of fearful dons protested his unworthiness, arguing that deconstruction was replete with “tricks and gimmicks similar to those of the Dadaists.”[16] Such pedantry is quite surprising from scholars who are ready to plunge into the most arcane practices of philology or philosophy but refuse to enter into the spirit of the signifier.

The obsessive campaign against “jargon” obscures a legitimate anxiety about the language of indeterminacy that mediates politics and theory. Written across Stuart’s work, from beginning to end, is the belief that culture and politics are practices “without guarantees… We have to acknowledge the real indeterminacy of the political.”[17] Theoretical discourses that usher in new social movements do not simply add to our vocabularies of change; they transform the temporal medium through which we interpret the world and act upon it. Affectivity—fear, ambivalence, terror, shame, disorientation, or dispossession—figures prominently in addressing the subject’s identification with, or resistance to, the indeterminacy of change.  Affect registers and regulates the subject’s ambivalent and anxious responses as it faces what is new, partially known, or without guarantees; at the same time it provides the agent with an imminent sense of sensory and bodily attentiveness to the task of change. To the extent that affectivity is crucial in positioning subjects in relation to contingent and indeterminate circumstances, affect is an acute measure of the time change takes—in particular, the temporalities of transition or transience.

The very creation of an “intellectual-moral bloc”[18] of scholars and public intellectuals affirms the existence of a complex temporal structure underlying historical conjunctures. Gramsci recognizes this formation as “… a variable combination of old and new, …a new culture in incubation, which will develop with the development of social relations.”[19]  The organic intellectual is obliged to work within the time lag that exists between poiesis and praxis. And elsewhere, as if to endorse the uses of indeterminacy, Gramsci warns that before the formation of a new state, the attitude of the intellectual-moral bloc “can only be critic-polemical, never dogmatic.”[20] Long memories of earlier, unsettled cultural and political movements live on in the anxious incompletions of contemporary protests and insurrections. The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are not devoid of the traces of the collective movements that spearheaded the early years of feminist struggles and antiracist projects. Incubatory movements of earlier times remain contemporary because their origins appear to be messy, half-grasped breaks from the past, and their futures are open and uncertain. These transitional temporalities “without guarantees” put us in a double relation to ourselves: we are at once survivors and subjects, inheritors and initiators. In a perceptive essay that links Wall Street and Tahrir Square, W. J. T. Mitchell argues persuasively for a visual and spatial memory that performs “uncanny repetition[s] and parodic mimeses of … pre-existing conditions.”[21] In the midst of contemporary crises, present events often return to our attention as if they came from elsewhere, creating anxious, spectral perspectives that foreshorten distance and attenuate closeness.

Located in different historical conjunctures, and speaking in a babel of theoretical voices, we ask strangely similar questions. Engaged in diverse political and cultural causes, we repeatedly encounter ourselves as secret sharers in an unsettled time of incubation. The anxiety of confluence is a way of understanding what it means to construct discourses of affiliation across the conflicting jurisdictions and contested boundaries that have to be negotiated repeatedly in the designation of communities of difference. If my phrase “the anxiety of confluence” echoes Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence,” it is because both have a bearing on Freud’s understanding of the ambivalence of identification. Where there is affiliation—in the midst of the articulation of differences—can anxiety be far behind? The anxiety generated within the critical-polemical discourse, enunciated by organic intellectuals as members of an intellectual-moral bloc, is the emotional or affective tie that accompanies the formation of a counterhegemonic or subaltern solidarity from the antagonistic elements—ideologies, identities, interests—that structure any historical conjuncture. What makes confluence possible, and solidarity sustainable, when groups struggle to claim their differential rights and representations? Sigmund Freud’s concept of  “partial identification” in Group Psychology and The Analysis of the Ego provides a suggestive response. The group effect is prompted by “the possibility or desire of putting oneself in the same situation”—a shared condition of empathy.[22] Such an empathic, affective “tie” injects political passion into political virtue and creates a sense of solidarity in which “one ego has perceived a significant analogy with another upon one point… an identification is thereupon constructed on this point.”[23] The axis of political agency is precariously balanced on this “point” shared by communities of difference. Potent though the one point may be, it is always haunted by the anxiety that such a partial identification is “without guarantee”; always fearful that the one point might not lead to an ongoing point-by-point agreement that may well be necessary for the endurance required by political struggle.

.Solidarity “without guarantees” is deeply etched in the ethical imaginary of the best work in cultural studies, protecting it from  the purism of identity politics. Group differences, whether they are involved in the politics of discrimination or emancipation, customarily reference attributes of personhood—the subject’s integrity or indignity—as props of political recognition. The anxiety of confluence takes an intersubjective approach to the complex relations between communities of difference. At stake are locations within knowledges and discursive practices—affirmative or derogatory—through which differences are established as sites of utterance and identification in the realms of cultural representation and political recognition. To place oneself in an intersubjective relation to others, through the dialogic alterity of language, is to enter what Émile Benveniste calls “the positional field of the subject.”[24] The anxiety of confluence has less to do with personhood or identity, and is more focused on the subject’s striving or struggling for the position of enunciation and the agency it provides.

This minoritarian access to enunciation is consonant with Michel Foucault’s process of desubjugation. “Genealogy is the tactic which once it has described these local discursivities,” Foucault writes, “brings into play the desubjugated knowledges that have been released from them…[To] set them free, or in other words to enable them to oppose and struggle against the coercion of a unitary, formal and scientific theoretical discourse.”[25] This struggle disabuses us of the emancipatory fantasy that “differences” are free radicals in-themselves; the radical edge of difference comes from its liminal enunciative position, located somewhere between affective pressures exerted on the inside, and forces summoned by political contingencies on the outside.

Feminists Break In

And so it was with the feminist coup at the CCCS.  “It was ruptural,” Stuart argues, ”…Feminism broke in. I used the metaphor deliberately. As the thief in the night it broke in; interrupted, made an unseemly noise, seized the time, crapped on the table of cultural studies.”[26] Stuart’s account of feminism’s forced entry into the domain of cultural studies is more than a vivid figurative tableau. Second-wave British feminists of the late 1970s and ‘80s did not seek to break ranks with the CCCS or turn their backs on one of the very few academic environments in Britain that encouraged collaborative interdisciplinary work in the humanities and social sciences.  Theirs was not a struggle that sought to assert the principle of “separate and equal” embedded in a politics of identity; the feminist project was much more ambitious and courageous than that. Feminists intervened in the Marxisant lineage of cultural studies—Raymond Williams’s humanist Marxism, Richard Hoggart’s democratic socialism, Althusser’s structuralist Marxism—to reshape the grounds of socialist solidarity and redraw the horizons of political representation. Wise after the event, Stuart tells the story with a wry honesty:

And we indeed tried to buy it in, to import it, to attract good feminist scholars. As you might expect, many of the women in cultural studies weren’t terribly interested in this benign project. We were opening the door to feminist studies, being good transformed men. And yet, when it broke through the window, every single unsuspected resistance rose to the surface – fully installed patriarchal power, which believed it had disavowed itself.[27]

I thought I would let Stuart’s vignette stand for itself; a historical set piece about feminist struggles in Birmingham in the late 1970s and 1980s. But Stuart won’t let the attack by the “thieves in the night” pass so easily: “I used the metaphor deliberately,” he insists, and leaves me wondering whether the anxious, aggressive metaphor is a sign of something discomfiting, half remembered and partly unspoken. I grasp the patriarchal sense of violent dispossession; I understand the inverted guilt that turns feminists into aggressors and the benign patriarchs into victims. But there is an aura of affect that troubles me; why are feminists portrayed as an army of the night? Why are they denizens of the dark? What is the obscure understanding they bring to light that unleashes an anxiety in the power and possession of knowledge?

These salient questions are as pressing in the early decades of the twenty-first century as they were in the late twentieth. The issues they raise are given renewed attention in Jacqueline Rose’s most recent book, Women in Dark Times. Rose argues for a “scandalous feminism” which, true to trope, ”…makes it a matter of principle to tell the world what it has to learn from the moment when we enter the landscape of the night.”[28] Rose’s shadowed metaphors are largely engaged with aspects of the politics of sexuality: the perversity of desire; the demands of sexual difference and its tryst with freedom and equality; and the ungovernability of the heart’s hauntings. Our issues, on the other hand, relate less to the psychic configurations of the body, and connect more closely with the concerns of the anxiety of confluence. The scandalous embodiment of feminist knowledge, then as now, Rose argues, “…generates violence in and of itself, which might help us understand the agony of feminism, why the progress of women, despite the many hard-won advances or perhaps because of them, is so tortuously slow . . . which is also why feminism cannot stop and why it is a folly to suggest that the task of feminism is done.”[29]

Stuart’s scenario provides an anecdotal view of what happens in such situations. Feminists break through the defenses of patriarchal power and all hell is let loose: “Talking about giving up power,” he writes, “ is a radically different experience from being silenced.”[30] Women scholars at CCCS struggle against the benign tyranny of pastoral power by refusing to acquiesce in its normalizing strategies. They reject the takeover plainly visible in the terminology of buying in or importing feminist works as if they are foreign goods (or foreign bodies) circulating in a progressive marketplace of ideas. They resist the transparency of the eye of power—“things being known and people seen in a sort of immediate, collective and anonymous gaze”[31] —and pitch their flag in disavowed areas of darkness. Feminists involved in the early establishment of cultural studies do not stage a frontal confrontation between the causes of class and gender, nor force a choice between racial oppression and gender discrimination. And yet, as Stuart writes, when feminism broke through the window in Birmingham that night, “every single unsuspected resistance rose to the surface—fully installed patriarchal power, which believed it had disavowed itself.[32] Why does it take the psychoanalytic process of disavowal to grasp the insight of feminist insurrection, and to understand the blindness of patriarchal power?

Power As Disavowal

The patriarchal attempt to appropriate or buy in emergent feminisms—new archives, new curricular initiatives, new interdisciplinary projects, new ethnographic insights—is an invitation to feminists to assume the role of informants of the plural and particular, and enlarge the closed circle of the reigning paradigms of class and culture. To “import” feminist claims into the patriarchal body of cultural studies is to disavow the agonistic and ambivalent sites of gendered enunciation. Disavowals are “half measures, incomplete attempts at detachment from reality,” Sigmund Freud writes: “Two contrary and independent attitudes always arise and result in the situation of there being a splitting of the ego.”[33] Disavowal is the tolerance of contradictory belief—and the subject’s splitting—made possible by a defensive, compromise formation: patriarchal power denies feminist’s pedagogical autonomy at the unconscious level, and, side by side with it, establishes a collegiality that professes a dissembling solidarity with the women’s cause.

Patriarchy’s attempt at a buy-in (or buy-out) of feminism is a double disavowal. First, feminist claims to equality in difference (at the core of Etienne Balibar’s “equaliberty”[34]) are placed on the outside of the threshold of freedom in the hope that in the belated process of women being included, they become part of the myth of the redeemable and reformable “tolerant” horizon of democratic politics. The gendered site of enunciation—whether occupied by the subject or the citizen—is now neutered in the name of a sovereign speaker whose abstract difference is, by default, male.  Secondly, the normalization of feminist knowledge as the information of sexual diversity rather than the enunciation of gender difference, deprives feminists of their ethical and political prowess—a quality of thinking and feeling that Rose summons when she writes, ”The feminism I am calling for would have the courage of its contradictions.”[35]

It was indeed just such a show of the courage of contradictions that empowered the armies of the night to orchestrate a disorderly break-in and refuse to accept the proffered places around the seminar table at the CCCS. And in this process the Birmingham feminists revealed a critical connection between equality and enunciation. Balibar takes on the story of seizing power at the vanishing point of disavowal:

Doubtless it is an issue of inequalities, or more precisely of the foundations constantly invoked in order to institute inequality, and thereby limit or annul the freedom of an entire "class" of humanity… These are repressed contradictions that haunt modern politics: in this sense, even though they are constantly presented as exterior to it, they are constantly present in the hollow of its discursive, legislative, organizational, and repressive practices.  Perhaps it is only from today that the beginning of their own enunciation can be dated, to the extent that the inadequacy of specialized discourses on the family, education, and professional training becomes manifest.[36]

Minorities mark the beginning of their own enunciations by speaking from anxious places of disavowal—from the hollows of denial, or the traces of repressed contradictions. Gramsci is well aware of the anxiety that accompanies subaltern rebellion: ”Subaltern classes are subject to the initiatives of the dominant class, even when they rebel; they are in a state of anxious defense.”[37] An anxious defense is not a heroic stance tethered to a losing proposition; it is very much in keeping with the situation, and the strategy, of the Birmingham feminists. They claim the right to narrate by occupying the patriarchal grounds of disavowal from which their voices and visions are denied. However, as I shall argue, the feminist attempt at beginning their own enunciations from absence and denial unleashes a temporality of transition that turns absence into enunciation, and denial into a demand for justice.  Such a reversal of fate comes from a rarely acknowledged aspect of disavowal. It bears directly on feminism finding its voice in the place of anxious defense. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, in their editorial note on disavowal, argue that the best translation of disavowal (Verleugnung) is the French deni, because its dark hollows harbor claims to the restoration of rights and justice:

As well as referring to a statement which is being disputed, “denial” is also used to evoke the withholding of goods or rights… In this last case, the implication is that the prohibition in question is illegitimate: denial of justice…  in other words a denial of what is due.[38]

The Beginnings of their Own Enunciations

The Birmingham feminists change the mode of speaking truth to power by reoccupying the place of their disavowal to derive a measure of goods and rights.  When I recently picked up their pioneering volume Women Take Issue thirty-five years after it was published, I was afraid of being trapped in a time capsule.  The “agony of feminism” had lasted over a decade and found its way into Stuart’s anxious nightmare; would it extend to our own times? I soon discovered that the traumatic affect—rather than the professional challenge—of feminism in the academy had more to do with knowledge as enunciation than information. The scandal of early feminism, in retrospect, lies in an anxious contradiction between the demand for epistemological equality for women’s studies—self-consciously gendered archival, ethnographic, and theoretical knowledge—and unresolvable contradictions associated with the “beginning of their own enunciations”—the initiatory gesture of authorship. The absence of women and gender from the scholarly archives creates a lack within the object of knowledge that in its turn compels the feminist scholar to take up an enunciative position that is itself an absence. And yet, it is from this accumulation of absences that feminist scholars have to create a discipline of desubjugation and, through that pedagogy of doubt and ambivalence, occupy a space of enunciation.  Let me illustrate two aspects of this problem.

The absent object of feminist desubjugation:

We were constantly trying to understand the experience of the absence of women, at a theoretical level… to see how gender structures and is itself structured. Although in some areas, at one level, it is a question of the absence of empirical material -- there is more data available about boys at school than about girls -- this absence is always already structured. We can’t just say ‘what about women,’ when the answer to this question involves thinking differently about the whole field or object of study… Intellectually our questions were still about ‘absences’[39]

The missing subject of enunciative address:

“…Working from the point of view of women reveals that there is a systematic absence of this viewpoint, and the presence of whole sets of assumptions about women[40] …The problem of who to address is still with us, and we have had lengthy debates over it in the production of this book… It was difficult both to argue amongst ourselves inside the group, and, as individual feminists, to articulate different positions in a wider context… Instead we assumed an illusory shared feminist position, which gave us little purchase as a group on new work, and meant the atmosphere was rather tense, although still easier for women to work in than other CCCS groups. [41]

Birmingham feminists are not ready to accede to the enigma of authorship in the style of theories prominent in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. They don’t seem ready to accept the Lacanian figure of Lady Lack; nor are they prepared to mourn the death of the author (1967).  Foucault’s author function (1977) is more to the point, but of these feminists it can’t easily be said, “What matter, who’s speaking.”[42] The feminist emphasis on a politics of absent address—embedded in acts of enunciation—comes close in tone and temper to Bernard Harcourt’s reading of the “authorial issue” raised by the Occupy movement. A leaderless movement of collectives, spread across various sites and cities, makes its statement in many voices but speaks in and through the enunciative link between location and “a self-conception that one is protesting [or occupying].”[43]  What links the two movements—almost forty years apart—is the affirmation of insubordinate agency in the face of the absence of a sovereign mode of identification.  Absence isn’t a metaphysics of lack gesturing towards the yet to come; it is more like a holding position, a talismanic territory from which to act in the present, not in the name of progress, as Walter Benjamin might say, but in the spirit of “actualization” or the “suddenly emergent.”[44]

The search for a feminist viewpoint initiates a working through of the genealogy of absences around WSG (Women, Sexuality, Gender) in an effort to create a disciplinary pedagogy: absence of scholarly and ethnographic materials; absence of statistical data; absence of theoretical articulations of gender and class; absence of the possibility of full collaboration within CCCS; absence of a method of desubjugating the amorphous presence of women as a subordinated group, entangled doubly in realpolitik and disciplinary politics, at once in a position of dependence and dissidence. What would the pedagogic or hermeneutic gaze rest upon when, “as women, we are inevitably the subject and object of our study[45] …both the result and the occasion of struggles inside and outside the [academic] context[46]”? 

The echo chamber of absences cannot be satisfactorily subsumed into an identitarian concept of collective authorship. “An illusory shared feminist position” fails to provide the group with two elements essential to the beginning of their own enunciations. First, the shared position does not accommodate the affective spectrum—the subaltern’s “anxious defense”—that is critical for the efficacy of subaltern agency. And in addition, the cohesive collective voice is unable to negotiate the alterity that structures the dialogic discourse of gender difference: “It was difficult to argue among ourselves inside the group, and, as individual feminists, to articulate different positions in the wider context.”[47] The relative failure of group identity reveals a form of agency that is as elusive as it is important for the feminist enunciation of what is their due—their goods and rights. The absence of women in the academic realms of pedagogy raises the problem of what it means to begin to write feminist scholarship; but it also implicitly and insistently introduces a temporality of transition, reminiscent of Gramsci’s concept of incubation as the time of emergence. In writing and speaking from within absence, feminists are no longer simply symptoms of patriarchal denial; they are agents of transition, enunciating a sudden yet determined shift away from what is denied them, to claim what is their due and strike out in a direction of their own.

Dissensus and R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The women who shockingly broke into the patriarchal house in Birmingham are the women who now occupy “transition-breaks”—as Althusser names them—and they speak from this uncharted territory. Transition breaks are historical moments and political movements that “in one aspect . . . belong to the old ideological universe which serves as their theoretical reference . . . but in the other they concern a new domain, pointing out the displacement to be put into effect to get to . . . a direction and a destination.”[48] The feminist displacement—the undoing of the patriarchal power of disavowal—does not lie merely in recovering or representing “absent” women as the pedagogical knowledge of sexual difference. To write or speak from the place of absence extends the recognition of difference to a performative right to differ across, and within, the realms of intellectual work and political work—to elaborate a feminism without guarantees. Feminists take up the “positional field” of gendered enunciation and write out of the courage of their contradictions.  In the words of the authors of Women Take Issue:

This book has been written out of the contradictions we have tried to locate in this article… But we differ… on whether political adequacy is a relevant criteria in a direct way for intellectual work. We have different approaches to the relationship between Marxism and feminism in terms of political practice. …Further we differ on whether we should be primarily addressing women or men, and whether it is possible to address both simultaneously, in the same terms. We find that we have obscured many of these differences in an attempt to produce an account of where this book came from. This means that we disagree differently, with the emphases of this article.[49]

            To “differ” in this sense is to mark the beginnings of their own enunciation in a moment of political transition. The Birmingham feminists emerge in the early years of Thatcherism, which were more anxious and uncertain than the Iron Lady’s strident rhetorical flourishes would let you believe. Both parties, Labour and Tory, were in the process of redefining their political values and revising their foundational concepts of community and constituency. At the theoretical end, as we have seen, feminism was half caught within the Marxist dialectic and was half struggling to free itself and move in the direction of psychoanalysis and post-structuralism. Feminism’s traces of transition become the major dilemmas in the development of cultural studies. The feminist community of dissensus, visible above, emerges in a passage thick with a peculiar mix of doubt and decision. In these scenes of men and women “disagreeing differently” —on everything from theory and politics to modes of address—you can sense a temporality of displacement (qua Althusser) that begins to lead in a different direction and destination. One political direction, taken by the Birmingham feminists all those years ago, is resonant with Jacques Ranciere’s concept of dissensus in the demos: “the rejection of every difference that distinguishes between people who ‘live’ in different spheres of existence, the dismissal of categories of those who are or are not qualified for political life.”[50]

There is, however, another ethical destination that is less easy to decipher, but no less important, once we recognize its presence. “But we differ… Further we differ…”—these temporal markers of dissensus, embedded in the cited passage, are also sites in which decisions are made to change direction, to construct new narratives, to revalue the past. They are moments, amidst the trials of transition, when disavowal and denial are overturned and feminists demand what is due to them, and claim the goods and rights that were once withheld. But what has the contingent time of transition to do with the demand for recognition and R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Only a narrow, negative view of respect suggests that it is a compensatory act for the indignities and inequities of exclusion and discrimination. The minoritarian demand for respect goes much further: it is less to do with the past than the future, but most of all it is to do with establishing equitable and accessible social and affective conditions that provide people with the capacity, however contingent and confusing, to make decisions to revalue their lives and change directions.  Self-respect, and the demand for respect from others and for others, is grounded in the capacity provided by social movements to affirm the inclusive and open landscape of the future.  In Avishai Margalit’s words:

The source of respect is the fact that the future remains open. Respecting people preserves the idea that the future is open, and that they can change their lives for the better through the action or a revaluation of their past.[51] The capacity [for respect] is that of re-evaluating one’s life at any given moment as well as the capacity to change one’s life from this moment on.[52]

The anxiety of freedom lies in its untimeliness; without the right to act at any given moment there is no affirming sign of freedom. The patience of minorities has been worn thin by asking them to wait for the “right” time to make their bids for freedom and equality. And rarely have the rights of minorities been affirmed without a protest from some section of the national or international community that the time is not right. Timely and untimely at once, the “shock” of freedom (in the Brechtian sense) is not simply a guerilla tactic; it is an ethical and affective acknowledgement of the sudden readiness for representation.

Reflecting on the feminist breakthrough at CCCS a decade later, Stuart assesses the impact of gender politics on the development of cultural studies: “We could not use the term power in the same way… The centrality of questions of gender and sexuality to the understanding of power … [opened up] …many of the questions we that we thought we had abolished around the dangerous area of the subjective and the subject.”[53] This revisionary approach to power—power as disavowal—is accurately picked up in Charlotte Brunsdon’s account of the feminist contribution to cultural studies. Brunsdon, herself a midnight marauder, recalls the shift in Stuart’s understanding of the materiality of power, “the way it is inscribed in reading-lists and psyches as well as theoretical paradigms.”[54] But beyond acknowledging the discursive dissemination of power, Brunsdon alights on the ironic properties of power as a practice of disavowal: a situation in which trauma is acknowledged to be the proving ground for emerging political agency and cultural contestation, and denial (or defense) is a spur to the claim for rights and justice.

The Linguistic Turn and the Trials of Transition

After the struggle with feminism, Stuart writes, the next  “necessary detour… that decentered and dislocated the settled path of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies certainly, and British cultural studies… in general, is what is sometimes called ‘the linguistic turn’: the discovery of discursivity, of texuality.”[55] What Stuart calls the language metaphor plays a vivid analytical role in cultural studies, especially when a war of position is waged in the battlefield that opens up between rhetoric and politics. In Gramsci’s view, one resorts to the war of position in states of disorder and transformism in which “a form of historical development has not as yet… been adequately emphasized.”[56]  Stuart’s reading of Thatcher’s bid for national-populist hegemony focuses on shifting significations within the definitional discourses of “the people.” “The Great Moving Right Show,” as Stuart names the era, does not merely manipulate political rhetoric to prescribe an alternative Tory social reality. Thatcher stakes her claim on reconfiguring the commonplace and commonsense parole of populism; she shifts the mode of address of both major parties, Labour and Conservative, in the process of establishing her agenda. Stuart describes Thatcher’s discursive strategy:

When in a crisis the traditional alignments are disrupted, it is possible on the very ground of the break to construct the people into a populist political subject … in alliance with new political forces in a great national crusade to ‘make Britain Great’ once more… The language of the ‘the people’ … connects with radical-popular sentiments; but it effectively turns them round, absorbs and neutralizes their popular thrust, and creates, in the place of a popular rupture, a populist unity… We can see construction of ideological cross-alliances between ‘Thatcherism’ and ‘the people’ going on in the very structure of Mrs. Thatcher’s own rhetoric: ‘Don’t talk to me about “them” and “us” in a company,’ she once told the readers of Woman’s Own: ‘You’re all “we” in a company… The future lies in cooperation and not confrontation.’ This displaces an existing structure of oppositions -- ‘them vs. us’. It sets in its place an alternative set of equivalents: ‘Them and us equals we’. Then it positions we -- the ‘people’ -- in a particular relation to capital: behind it, dominated by its imperatives (profitability, accumulation); yet at the same time, yoked to it, identified with it. …The process we are looking at here is very similar to that which Gramsci once described as transformism: the neutralization of some elements in an ideological formation, their absorption and passive appropriation into a new political configuration.[57]

There is a kind of fugitive power at work in Thatcher’s figurative turn around the language of “the people”—a turn that must be executed on the broken grounds or incomplete bases that provide the seedbed for transformative politics. Thatcher’s hegemonic rhetoric breaks down the binary opposition of them versus us—what Stuart elsewhere describes as “the logic of class struggle in its classic conception”[58]—and turns the popular antagonism between Labour and Tory parties, or state and civil society, into a neoliberal corporatist populism—them and us equals we. The new conservative covenant rises on broken ground in two directions at once: Thatcher rudely interrupts Tory paternalist rule, leaving Lord Harold Macmillan dabbing a damp eye and accusing the Lady of selling the family silver; at the same time, she challenges the traditional socialist values of the Labour Party while rendering obsolete the rationale for its compact with the trades unions (the celebrated Clause 4 of the party program). The long-standing republican and socialist genealogies of “the people” are neutralized and then reappropriated into the jingoistic configuration of the “British peoplewho willput the Great back into Great Britain,” to recall a slogan of the times. Although the Thatcher decade saw no net increase in immigration numbers, Thatcher felt compelled to portray “immigration as a threat to national British identity, a common rhetoric she exercised with American conservatives.”[59]

The long decade of the 1980s was a period of entangled and agonistic conjunction between the Left’s analytic of new times (“post-industrial,” “post-Fordist,” “revolution of the subject,” “postmodernist”[60]) and the Right’s neoliberal platform (high-tech industries, flex-time labor markets, unfettered, under-regulated flows of multinational capital, the international division of labor, the commodified citizen consumer).[61] There frequently appear to be slippages—or seepages—between programs and policies that are ideologically opposed but are forced to face common truths and shared realities because they are uncomfortably embedded in the same historical conjuncture.  Problems generated by such border conflicts are difficult to resolve, Stuart writes, “because what is asked of us is to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the same time.”[62] Two decades later, surveying the breaking ground of the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, Stuart again acknowledges the contribution of structures of ambivalence and undecidability in shaping subaltern forces of resistance. He sums up the situation with a thought that has been his constant companion throughout his life’s work. “Hegemonies are never completed projects, they are always in contention. There are always cracks and contradictions—and therefore opportunities.”[63] There is no better way to convey a sense of the transitions involved in the hegemonic process—cracks and contradictions—than through the dialogic strategies of the language metaphor:

[The dialogic] rigorously exposes the absence of a guaranteed logic or ‘law’ to the play of meaning, to the endlessly shifting positionalities of the places of enunciation, as contrasted with the given positions of class antagonism classically conceived. ….[It] intrudes the idea of reversibility, of historic shifts which bear the traces of the past indelibly inscribed into the future, of the rupture of novelty which is always caught up in the return of the archaic. It is difficult to capture—except metaphorically—what this shift of the metaphors of transformation consist of… It is more a question … of being suspended between the metaphors—of leaving one without being able to transcend it, and moving towards the other without fully being able to encompass it. What the so-called shift to the dialogic seems to involve is the ‘spatialisation’ of moments of conflicts and antagonism which have hitherto been captured by metaphors of condensation.[64]

Gramsci and the Dialogic Shift

It is surely strange to view the leading edge of transformation as a process of reversibility; and however malleable metaphors are, it is challenging to picture conflict and antagonism as an on-going form of suspension. These disorderly, transitional traces—negation, iteration, contradiction, disjunction, inversion—are subsumed (or sublated) in the dialectical process; the dialogic, by contrast, engages contingent forces of mobility and mutability in the elaboration of new political identities and movements. There is a recurrent motif in Stuart’s work which suggests that the leading edge of change emerges from fraught conceptual and historical grounds: theoretical interruption, feminist rupture, patriarchal disavowal, cultural delay, hegemony’s tangential alignments. “If culture is what seizes hold of your soul,” Stuart once wrote, “you have to recognize that you will always be working in an area of displacement.”[65] It is the open-endedness of dialogical thinking that compels us to make assessments and judgments in states of “unstable balance.”[66]

A “detour through Gramsci” is the phrase Stuart repeatedly uses to navigate the difficult terrain of transition. Transition is more than the noise of history shifting gears or the cacophony of theory caught unawares between paradigms. Rereading Gramsci in the wake of the linguistic turn, Stuart renders him au courant with Bakhtinian semiotics and post-structuralist theory. A newly minted Gramsci—retooled in the manner of Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau—takes his place as perhaps the most influential tactician and theoretician in the field of cultural studies. Transition is the time signature of Gramsci’s theory, his key to the modern state of being. The powers of sovereignty, Gramsci argues, are invested in the state, but the hub of “intellectual-moral”[67] authority rests in the hands of organic intellectuals and subaltern classes, drawn by diverse lines of force into the intricate nexuses of civil society. This dislocation (or displacement) between power and authority within the constitution of modern governmentality is an integral part—the motor—of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony on the move.

Hegemony provides direction and movement; it does not exercise domination. The lure of the exercise of power through a dominant ideology, with its assigned oppositions and deterministic causalities (economism), hampers hegemony’s balancing act. Hegemony is an on-going process of the calibration of strategy and the calculation of the (im)balance of forces.  In its address to the public, or to members of civil society, hegemonic power—like Foucault’s concept of governmentality—displays something closer to a “paradoxical equivalence, and not . . . a higher unity formed by the whole.”[68] A glossary entry on Gramscian hegemony gets it just about right:

[Hegemony] is characterized by the combination of force and consent variously balancing one another… Gramsci also insists that hegemony is dynamic (a “continuous process of formation and superseding of unstable equlibria”) and that “the fact of hegemony presupposes that account be taken of the interests and the tendencies of the groups over which hegemony is to be exercised.”[69]

Gramsci’s concept of hegemony revolves around the dynamic of  “unstable equilibria,” which Stuart translates as “unstable balance” in his dialogic metaphors. It is the instability of time that makes possible the ideological antagonisms in the war of position. The past is inscribed in the future; novelty is an iteration of the archaic; and historic change often dawns as a suspension of time between contingent concepts and conjunctures.  These acrobatic maneuvers of time walking the tightrope of transition—“suspended between metaphors” —is arrested in a sudden call to the spatial: “the spatialisation of moments of conflict and antagonism.”[70] The “present” as hegemonic project is a critical moment in Gramsci’s elaboration of the war of position. His argument with Benedetto Croce’s History of Europe in the Nineteenth Century rests on its linear temporality and its failure to engage with the eruptive present as a measure of transition revealed in the moment of struggle. Stuart is just about to confront the imminence of transition—the present—when he changes direction and reaches for a spatial metaphor. Does spatiality further the war of position waged by cultural studies? The answer lies in seeing how Stuart’s  “shift to the dialogic” creates a space of enunciation for “the new politics of ethnicity”[71] in fin de siècle Britain.

Enunciation and New Ethnicities

In the last decades of the twentieth century Stuart’s critical attention shifts from what he had once called new times to what he now recognizes as new ethnicities. Stuart may have recalled Gramsci’s observation that the leading edge of change is difficult to decipher because its historical development has not been adequately emphasized. And yet Stuart makes a tryst with transition and actively turns to shaping the present—to the task that Gramsci once defined as “turning to the immediate moment of ‘relations of force.’”[72] Stuart senses that there is a politics of representation afoot that has gripped the new, younger generation of politicians, artists, photographers, filmmakers, and critical theorists. These cultural practitioners embrace a new ethnicity that distances itself from essentialisms—strategic or substantial.  The essentialism of alienation (to be implacably other) is as much of a cul-de-sac as the essentialism of appropriation (to be integrally English). The politics of representation defines ethnicity in terms of the war of position— “the struggle around positionalities.”[73] Cultural studies, as Stuart writes, shares Gramsci’s sense of the strategies and struggles of the theater of political war:

 To build those forms of solidarity and identification which make common struggle and resistance possible but without suppressing the real heterogeneity of interests and identities, and which can effectively draw the political boundary lines without which political contestation is impossible.[74]

There is, however, a recognizable difference between position in war of position, and positionality as deployed in the vocabulary of the politics of representation. And attractive though it is to slide metaphorically between the two, it is crucial to mark their differences in order to avoid the easy charm of hasty analogies.  For Gramsci, positions are occupied by political actors and social classes located in specific historical conjunctures. Gramsci’s materialism is extraordinarily alive to cultural mediation, but it is markedly different from the machinery of representation installed by post-Saussurean linguistics and its post-structuralist elaborations. For Stuart, positionalities are enunciative modes related to the linguistic turn in cultural studies. As Stuart suggests:

The machineries and regimes of representation in culture do play a constitutive role, and not merely a reflexive, after-the-event role … Enunciation is always produced within codes that have a history.[75]

A dialogical shift assigns agency to the act of enunciation: the interlocking twine of time and place, subject and language, that turns the techne of representation into an agent of transformation, rather than a mere medium of expression. Enunciation is not a bodyless, bloodless linguistic function as is often taught and thought. The subject of enunciation, motivated in discourse and dialogue, is caught up in unsettling inversions and reversions in the positioning of the agent as subject and object, in the practice of speech and action.[76] Enunciation opens up a discursive space for representing new ethnicity, and in order to understand why, it makes sense to distinguish between the metaphorical and the dialogical/enunciatory.

Metaphor is a figural transference of meaning that aims to establish analogy, identity, identification.[77]  Enunciation is a dialogical practice that institutes a space of intersubjectivity shaped through the traces of alterity, “in which differences remain in an effective referential situation.”[78] Louis Marin boldly makes the case for alterity in his reading of Benveniste’s writings on enunciation: “The being of the Ego is the being of difference, not the identity of non-identity or the identity of the same; rather, the non-identity of identity and of the non-identity of the other.”[79]  The living link between representation and politics, in this instance, lies in the critical role played by alterity—the effective reference and return of difference—in shaping the critical frame (enunciation) that defines political culture (new ethnicity). The politics of representation and the representation of politics surprisingly come together once we acknowledge the trace elements of alterity as they intercede in the public realms of intersubjectivity—imagined communities, civil society—to create new ethnicities.

When new ethnicities become the casus belli in wars of position, alterity is responsible for the unstable equilibria that unsettle common sense.  The knife-edge of alterity cuts both ways at once, sparing neither oneself nor the other, revealing the “paradoxical plurality” of theory and politics.[80] Stuart is aware of the importance of an analytic of alterity, convinced that the new ethnicity demands a liminal critical practice—a “double-fracturing,” as he puts it elsewhere:

I think there is another position, one which locates itself inside a continuous struggle and politics around black representation, but which then is able to open up a continuous critical discourse about themes, about the forms of representation, the subjects of representation, above all, the regimes of representation. I thought it was important, at that point, to intervene to try and get that mode of critical address right.[81]

Stuart mostly gets it right. His address to the new ethnicity follows Gramsci’s directive that the war of position must not be engaged frontally. A critical discourse must be situated on the inside—in the trenches—while at the same time providing a bulwark for the subaltern perspective, a new intellectual-moral hegemony, in the world abroad. The supple doubleness of enunciation makes possible a critical perspective with a split address. The dialogic moment aligns the subject on the inside in the act of interlocutory communication; the enunciative moment embeds the subject as object in the encompassing area of intersubjectivity. In proposing a new ethnicity Stuart seeks to establish a threshold—a double fracture—that opens up a two-way passage between intellectual work and the praxis of popular common sense. The new ethnics named and nurtured by Stuart at the century’s end—artists, film-makers, dancers, photographers, critics, political organizers, writers—are embodiments of a long-cherished pedagogical and political project, going back to Birmingham, to establish a cohort of organic intellectuals:

Black men and women know they come from the Caribbean, know that they are black, know that they are British. They want to speak from all three identities. They are not prepared to give up any one of them. They will contest the Thatcherite notion of Englishness, because they say this Englishness is Black. They will contest the notion of Blackness because they want to make a differentiation between people who are Black from one kind of society and people who are Black from another. Because they need to know that difference is how they write their poetry, make their films, how they paint. It makes a difference. It is inscribed in their creative work. They need it as a resource.[82]

Stuart’s dramatic illustration of a dialogical diaspora set in the early 1990s speaks a different language of race and ethnicity than what is current in contemporary Britain. Afro-Caribbeans continue to be victims of discrimination, but the most salient forms of racism and xenophobia are reserved for Asians in the North of England, Muslims in particular. Riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford in 2001, followed by 9/11 and 7/7 in London, have fermented a rage against “Pakis” —a generic term of abuse for unspecified South Asians—who are now indiscriminately associated with terror and jihad. However, as if to echo Stuart’s call for a “difference that makes a difference,” the Cantle report (2001) states that “some black and ethnic minorities felt that they were always identified without sufficient differentiation and ‘problematised’ as a result.”[83] To have one’s ethnic difference count as a visible citizenly right to political and cultural representation -- alongside other rights and protections -- is a democratic claim to justice and equality. What Stuart dramatizes as the demand to be “able to speak from all three identities.”

At issue in the representation of new ethnicity is the alterity that inhabits the common sense understanding of being black British. The everyday connection between the theoretical alterity of enunciation and the living difference of ethnicity comes together in the everyday intersubjective relations manifested in the lifeworlds of community.  The antagonisms that dismember any unitary existence of “blackness” are also assertions of a solidarity achieved through alterity—through the repetition and relocation of black “in which differences remain in an effective referential situation.”[84] These retrospective thoughts on the “new ethnicity,” entertained at a distance of decades, find some support in Paul Gilroy’s There Aint No Black in the Union Jack, written almost contemporaneously with Stuart’s proposals for a new ethnicity. What Gilroy describes as an interpretive community “is a boundary [between groups] which is presented primarily by symbolic means and therefore a broad range of meaning can co-exist around it reconciling individuality and commonality and competing definitions of what the movement is about.”[85] Although Stuart’s illustration of the expressive demands of the new ethnics is anecdotal, it has an intriguing relevance to my emphasis on the intersubjective aspect of enunciation.

            Stuart’s tableau of the interpellation of new ethnic subjects suggests that diasporic citizens are coerced to assume, at any given time, only one form of identity amongst the plural and hybrid modes of identification and affiliation that define their civic and psychic lives. They must respond as Caribbean migrants locating themselves on the nation’s margins; or answer as Anglicised foreign citizens absorbed by liberal pluralism; or respond from behind the color line as belonging to a generic, undifferentiated black community.  When subalterns rebel, Gramsci reminds us, they are afflicted with a kind of “anxious defense.”[86] So, our new ethnics answer in a spirit of sly civility with the wit of vernacular cosmopolitans.  Having refused the embrace of any form of identitarian politics, they have also shimmied out of the low bar of either/or. The new ethnics have opted instead for a solidarity of alterity, their dialogical dispositions consisting of three partial and double identifications: black British without being Anglophone; black diasporic citizen; black Afro-Caribbean within a diverse, democratic commonality of new ethnics. New ethnics do not want to speak from all three identities; they want to speak dialogically from the overlap in-between them. To speak from in-between is to position oneself in the place of interlocution (not identity); is to place oneself simultaneously in a relation of alterity to oneself and to one’s interlocutor in the process of creating a network of intersubjective relations between the one and the other.

They [One and the other] [“L’un et l’autre”] thus find themselves in agreement on the same wavelength.[87]  The time of discourse is not brought back into the divisions of chronic time, nor is it enclosed in a solipsistic subjectivity.  It functions as a factor of intersubjectivity—while it should be unipersonal, the time of discourse makes it omnipersonal.  The condition of intersubjectivity is the only thing that makes linguistic communication possible.[88]

Voice and Wavelength

With this final thought on enunciation—speaking as the one to the other—I want to return, Stuart, to your voice with which I began. I find it difficult to speak about the dead. Conversing with the dead is another matter. There is nothing more comforting or challenging than the return of a voice you have loved and learnt from, coming to life again in sounds or signs that offer themselves for another conversation, on a subject never before discussed. Death may disembody you, Stuart, but it doesn’t distance you, or prevent you from being directional, in a way that Gramsci thought we should be:

In any case the attitude to be taken up before the formation of the new state can only be critic-polemical, never dogmatic; it must be a romantic attitude, but of a romanticism which is consciously aspiring to its classical composure.[89]

            Some of the best moments of your writings are, what you call, your  “detours through Gramsci.” Writing in response to your essays, I have made some detours of my own: the anxiety of confluence; feminist power as disavowal; enunciation as the war of position; the dialogic alterity of the diasporic voice; and the fate of agency in times and terrains of unstable equilibriums. These are brief excursions in the spirit of our many conversations; but straying from each other allows us, sometime later, to take a fork in the road that brings us together again. And in this process, following Benveniste, we—the one and the other—find ourselves occupying the same wavelength. Having once shared in the amplitude of your thoughts, in person, I find myself waiting for another conversation. And now, having engaged with the fullness of your voice in absentia, I cannot stop myself looking for another wavelength on which we may come together again, in the company of Gramsci, to aspire to a “pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will.”[90]



This essay is dedicated to Lidia Curti and Iain Chambers, keepers of the flame, with thanks to Steven Biel, Stephen Tardif, and Jane Acheson.


[2] “Interview: Stuart Hall: Culture and Power,” Radical Philosophy 86 (1997), 24.

[3] David Morley and Bill Schwartz. “Stuart Hall Obituary: Influential Cultural Theorist, Campaigner and Founding Editor of the New Left Review.” The Guardian, February 10, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Roland Barthes, “The Grain of the Voice” in Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 181-182.

[6] “Interview: Stuart Hall: Culture and Power,” 28.

[7] Stuart Hall, “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 262-275 (New York: Routledge, 1996), 267.

[8] Ibid., 268.

[9] Walter Benjamin, “Convolute N” in The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, 456-488, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) 461-2.

[10] Hall, “Cultural Studies,” 265-6.

[11] “Interview: Stuart Hall: Culture and Power,” 30-31; my emphasis.

[12] Robin Blackburn, “Stuart Hall 1932-2014,” New Left Review 86 (2014): 81.

[13] Hall, “Cultural Studies,” 271-2.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 268.

[16] Barry Smith, et al., letter to the editor, The Times (London) May 9, 1992.

[17] Stuart Hall, “The Problem of Ideology: Marxism Without Guarantees,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 262-275 (New York: Routledge, 1996), 45.

[18] Antonio Gramsci, “Notes for an Introduction and an Approach to the Study of Philosophy in the History of Culture” in A Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935 ed. David Forgacs  trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 324-343 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988), 333.

[19] Antonio Gramsci, “The Philosophy of Praxis and ‘Intellectual and Moral Reformation’” in A Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935 ed. David Forgacs, trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988), 353

[20] Ibid.

[21] W. T. J. Mitchell, “Image, Space, Revolution: The Arts of Occupation,” in Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience, 93-130 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 105.

[22] Sigmund Freud, “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVIII (1920-1922): Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Group Psychology and Other Works trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1955), 103.

[23] Ibid., 106; my emphasis.

[24] Sungdo Kim, “Benveniste et le paradigme de l'énonciation” [Benveniste and the Paradigm of Enunciation], LINX: Bulletin du Centre de recherches linguistiques de Paris X Nanterre Special Issue: “Emile Benveniste vingt ans après. Actes du colloque à Cerisy-la-Salle, du 10 au 19 août 1995”, 9 (1997): 213. Unpub trans. Lauren Fortner Ravalico.

[25] Michel Foucault, “Society Must be Defended” ed. Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 1997),10-11.

[26] Hall, “Cultural Studies,” 269.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Jacqueline Rose, preface to Women in Dark Times (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), x.

[29] Ibid., 265.

[30] Hall, “Cultural Studies,” 270.

[31] Michel Foucault, “The Eye of Power,” in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. and trans. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980), 154.

[32] Hall, “Cultural Studies,” 269.

[33] Sigmund Freud, “An Outline of Psycho-Analysis” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Volume XXIII (1937-1939): Moses and Monotheism, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis and Other Works, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1964), 203.

[34] Étienne Balibar, “The Proposition of Equaliberty” in Equaliberty: Political Essays, trans. James Ingram (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 59.

[35] Rose, 269.

[36] Balibar, p. 58; my emphasis.

[37] Marcus E. Green, “Gramsci Cannot Speak: Presentations and Interpretations of Gramsci’s Concept of the Subaltern,” in Rethinking Gramsci, ed. Marcus E. Green, 68-89 (New York: Routledge 2011), 68.

[38] Jean LaPlanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (London: Karnac, 2006), 120.

[39] Women’s Studies Group, Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, Women Take Issue: Aspects of Women’s Subordination (London: Hutchison 1978), 11.

[40] Ibid., 9.

[41] Ibid., 14.

42 Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?”, [quoting Samuel Beckett, Texts for Nothing (London: Calder & Boyars, 1974), 16] in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard (Ithaca, NY Cornell University Press, 1977), 115.

[43] Bernard E. Harcourt, “Political Disobedience” in Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience, 45-92 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 54.

[44] Benjamin, “Convolute N,” 460-62.

[45] Women Take Issue, 12.

[46] Ibid., 9.

[47] Ibid., 14.

[48] Louis Althusser, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Verso: 2005), 244.

[49] Women Take Issue, 15.

[50] Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, ed. and trans. Steven Corcoran (New York: Continuum, 2010), 69.

[51] Avishai Margalit, The Decent Society, trans. Naomi Goldblum, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 72.

[52] Ibid., 70.

[53] Hall, “Cultural Studies,” 269.

[54] Charlotte Brunsdon, “A Thief in the Night: Stories of Feminism in the 1970s at CCCS” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 276-286 (New York: Routledge, 1996), 279.

[55] Hall, “Cultural Studies,” 271.

[56] Antonio Gramsci, “The Concept of Passive Revolution,” Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, 106-113 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1973), 109.

[57] Stuart Hall, “The Great Moving Right Show,” in The Politics of Thatcherism, ed. Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques, 19-39 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1983), 30-31.

[58] Stuart Hall, “For Allon White: Metaphors of Transformation” in in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 287-308 (New York: Routledge, 1996), 299.

[59] Awale Owad, “What was Thatcher’s Legacy on Immigration?” Migrants’ Rights Network, April 15, 2013, (accessed January 14, 2015).

[60] Stuart Hall, “The Meaning of the New Times,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 223-237 (New York: Routledge, 1996), 224.

[61] Ibid., 224-5.

[62] Hall, “Cultural Studies,” 271.

[63] Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey, and Michael Rustin, eds. After Neoliberalism? The Kilburn Manifesto (London: Soundings, 2013), 17.

[64] Hall, “For Allon White: Metaphors of Transformation,” 299.

[65] Hall, “Cultural Studies,” 271.

[66] Stuart Hall, “Gramsci’s relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 411-440 (New York: Routledge, 1996), 423.

[67] Gramsci, “Notes for an Introduction and an Approach to the Study of Philosophy in the History of Culture,” 333.

[68] Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978, ed. Michel Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Picador, 2007), 129.

[69] “Glossary of Key Terms,” in A Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935 ed. David Forgacs 420-431 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988), 423-24.

[70] Hall, “For Allon White: Metaphors of Transformation,” 299.

[71] Stuart Hall, “New Ethnicities,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 441-449 (New York: Routledge, 1996), 446-447.

[72] Antonio Gramsci, “Analysis of Situations: Relations of Force” in A Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935 ed. David Forgacs  trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 200-209 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988), 202.

[73] Hall, “New Ethnicities,” 444.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid., 443.

[76] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 181.

[77] Richard A. Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms (Los Angeles: University of California Press,, 1991), 100

[78] Kim, 213.

[79] Louis Marin, “Remarques critiques sur l’énonciation: la question du present dans le discours.” [Critical Remarks on Enunciation: The Question of the Present in Speech] Modern Language Notes 91 (1976): 940. Unpub trans. Lauren Fortner Ravalico.

[80] Arendt, 176.

[81] Hall, “New Ethnicities,” 448; my emphasis.

[82] Stuart Hall, “Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities,” in Culture, Globalization and World Systems, ed. Anthony D. King (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 59.

[83] United Kingdom Home Office, Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team, Chaired by Ted Cantle (January 2001), (accessed January 14, 2015), 10; my emphasis.

[84] Kim, “Benveniste et le paradigme de l'énonciation,” 213.

[85] Paul Gilroy, ‘There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack’: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 235.

[86] Green, 68.

[87] I know “one and the other” is awkward, but that is the literal translation and is interesting in terms of intersubjective relations.

[88] Émile Benveniste, Problèmes de linguistique générale, Volume II [Problems of General Linguistics], (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), 76-77. Unpub. trans. Lauren Fortner Ravalico.

[89] Gramsci, “The Philosophy of Praxis and ‘Intellectual and Moral Reformation,’” 353.

[90] Antonio Gramsci, letter dated December 19, 1929, in Letters from Prison Volume 1, ed. Frank Rosengarten, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 299.