"Creolizing Thinking": A Roundtable Discussion of Stuart Hall's A Familiar Stranger: A Life between Two Islands

AHA Session 152
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Adams Room (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Marc Matera, University of California, Santa Cruz
Barnor Hesse, Northwestern University
Madhavi Kale, Bryn Mawr College
Minkah Makalani, University of Texas at Austin
Saree Makdisi, University of California, Los Angeles
Kennetta Hammond Perry, East Carolina University
Gabriel Solis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Session Abstract

The Jamaican-born Stuart Hall was the leading postcolonial critic in Britain from the 1960s until his death in 2014. Raised in late colonial Jamaica, Hall first came to Britain as a Rhodes Scholar, his arrival coinciding with the Empire Windrush moment of postwar migration. He became a major figure in the New Left during the 1960s, and he pioneered cultural studies at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. His diagnosis and analysis of Thatcherism have become conventional wisdom. In later years, he turned his attention to the black British culture and the visual arts, influencing younger generations of black artists in Britain and elsewhere and helping to create new platforms for their work.

Stuart Hall’s posthumously-published memoir, Familiar Stranger: A Life between Two Islands, covers the period before these later, more well-known portions of Hall’s biography. It is an intellectual memoir in the fullest sense. The book offers both an intimate portrait of Hall’s life from his youth in a middle-class Kingston household, surrounded by but buffered from the upheavals gripping 1930s Jamaica, through his first two decades in Britain, and a lucid reprising of key concepts and themes in his writings. Among other things, it is a meditation on the burdens of loyalty—from the bulky trunk he lugged to Britain and immediately abandoned in a basement at Oxford, “a relic” of his mother’s “loyalty to the colonial version of modernity,” to the symbolic importance of the colonial subject’s loyalty in consolidating Britishness and the postcolonial’s always-already suspicious loyalty to British culture. Like the majority of Hall’s oeuvre, Familiar Stranger is also the product of lengthy collaboration. The work began, in part, as a conversational interview by Bill Schwarz, and Schwarz edited and revised the final text for publication. Familiar Stranger is a layered and highly-mediated text in which the line between past and present, colonial and postcolonial, one voice and the other, is indeterminable—a fittingly rich and challenging coda to Hall’s enduring legacy. In the spirit of Hall’s work and in recognition of its wide influence, the roundtable will be an interdisciplinary conversation among six scholars working in history, literature, musicology, political theory, and cultural studies. The participants will discuss the peculiar qualities of the text itself and its significance for their respective fields, their own work, our understanding of the histories of Britain, the Caribbean, and African diaspora, and the political challenges of the present

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