By Leila Dawney
I recently attended an event at Sussex University reflecting on the life and work of Stuart Hall. Here I come to consider Hall as a 'figure of authority' (see also Dawney 2013) and begin to work through some ideas about nostalgia and authority.
During the event several members of the audience became very emotional about Hall’s loss. Something was being mourned: and this mourning revealed affective attachments to certain values, practices, politics that Hall embodied and enacted.
I expressed concern that in telling the story of Stuart Hall, and in telling stories of British cultural studies in the academy, we are in danger of reducing the plurality of their meanings and responses. As the same stories are cited, iterated and drawn upon, inevitably we are left with “preferred readings” and a number of forgettings. This is of course dependent on whose stories we are hearing, and how these stories relate to other histories, biographies, encounters and agendas. Hall was and is a very important figure for the humanities and for critical studies more generally. Rather than outline why, and contribute to the sedimentation of one particular reading of this figure, I am interested in thinking about ways in which it can be evoked as a pluralising, productive figure for the humanities, one which enables multiple responses yet carries with it the authority of a public intellectual that is produced through a lifetime’s work.
When we reduce the figure of Hall to a heritage figure, does it then merely stand in for the loss of the age of critique, for a time when the university was a very different place, when education was associated with more than the production of debt and employable subjects. In placing this figure as the spectre representing a lost past, perhaps we are in danger of losing sight of the struggles involved in the production of cultural studies as a discipline, and the ongoing work of making critical work in the context of the academy. The figure of Hall needs to do work in the present in keeping the spirit of critique alive, in starting conversations, working collectively and collaboratively, in refusing to play along with the demands of the neoliberal university.
Bonnet argues for a rethinking of nostalgia. “Nostalgia is found to be acceptable only when it can be shown to be ‘a catalyst for action’, a resource for progressives and insurgents. He argues that nostalgia is variously seen as “good” or “bad” depending on whether it leads to progressive politics. Instead, he argues for a more open ended discussion of nostalgia, based on the idea that nostalgia is a condition of modernity, and that rather than compartmentalising its forms into those that are good and bad, or radical and conservative, we may do better by opening up a space for thinking about what nostalgia does – what attachments, distancings, positionings and vectorial shifts emerge through the operation of nostalgia? In other words, rather than placing a value on its various forms, we need to think about the part played by nostalgic imaginings, by the dreams of loss and return through which nostalgia plays out.
Let us now think about how this is playing out in the responses to Stuart Hall’s death. What if Hall is becoming a figure representing nostalgia for a lost university? How is this sense of loss, this grieving for a golden age of cultural critique, social mobility and access to critical education manifest itself and what is the work being done? We need to watch this space….
Julian Brigstocke's new book The Life of the City: Space, Humour and the Experience of Truth in fin-de-siècle Montmartre is now out, published by Ashgate.
Could the vitality of embodied experience create a foundation for a new form of revolutionary authority? The Life of the City is a bold and innovative reassessment of the early urban avant-garde movements that sought to re-imagine and reinvent the experiential life of the city. Constructing a ground-breaking theoretical analysis of the relationships between biological life, urban culture, and modern forms of biopolitical ‘experiential authority’, Julian Brigstocke traces the failed attempts of Parisian radicals to turn the ‘crisis of authority’ in late nineteenth-century Paris into an opportunity to invent new forms of urban commons. The most comprehensive account to date of the spatial politics of the literary, artistic and anarchist groups that settled in the Montmartre area of Paris after the suppression of the 1871 Paris Commune, The Life of the City analyses the reasons why laughter emerged as the unlikely tool through which Parisian bohemians attempted to forge a new, non-representational biopolitics of sensation. Ranging from the carnivalesque performances of artistic cabarets such as the Chat Noir to the laughing violence of anarchist terrorism, The Life of the City is a timely analysis of the birth of a carnivalesque politics that remains highly influential in contemporary urban movements.
Our forthcoming edited collection Authority, Experience and the Life of Power, edited by Claire Blencowe, Leila Dawney and Julian Brigstocke, is now in press. It will be published in October 2014.
Taking up the challenge of understanding power in its complexity, this volume returns to and revitalises the concept of authority. It provides a powerful analysis of the ways that relationships of trust, attachment, governance and inequality become possible when subjectivities and bodies are invested in the life of power. The collection offers a vibrant new analysis of the biopolitical, arguing that ‘experience of life’ has become equated with 'objectivity’ in contemporary culture and has thus become a primary basis of authority. Biopolitical or experiential authority can be generated through reference to a variety of experiences, performances or intensities of life including creativity, radicalism, risk-taking, experimentation, inter-relation, suffering and proximity to death. The authority-producing capacities of community and aesthetics are key issues, pointing to vexed relationships between politics and policing, inventiveness and violence...
We are excited to have signed a contract for a new book Space, Power and the Politics of the Commons, edited by Sam Kirwan, Julian Brigstocke and Leila Dawney, and scheduled for publication by Routledge in summer 2015.
Across the globe, political movements opposing privatisation, enclosures, and other spatial controls have recently coalesced over the notion of the ‘commons’. Struggles over the commons and common life are now coming to the forefront of both political activism and scholarly enquiry.
This book advances academic debates concerning the spatialities of the commons, setting the agenda for future research and drawing out the diverse materialities, temporalities, and experiences of practices of commoning. Part One, "Spatial Imaginaries of the Commons", extends approaches to the commons beyond anarchistic paradigms of disorder and disorganisation, and draws attention to the performance of new geographical imaginations in concrete spatial and material practices of commoning. Part Two, "Histories and Futures of the Commons", develops this argument, outlining the need to extend a spatio-temporal perspective on the commons. This section links struggles for the commons to historical campaigns for common land. Part Three, "Fragments of the Commons", develops novel ‘post-foundational’ theoretical approaches to the commons, exploring the instability and excess at the heart of every experience of common life, and demonstrates ways in which tracing this excess might lead researchers to extend the empirical focus of research on the commons.
More details to follow shortly!