Uninvited, Stuart Hall often sprung to my mind in the past few months. There are many reasons for this. My ‘hood has been ‘abuzz’ with updates of crime. Whenever I received these emails and SMS alerts about “bravo” males, the words of Stuart Hall came to mind. The tension in me has been mirrored by the tension in our house as we try to figure out what is going on? How to respond? How to honour other people’s experiences of violent crime? How to honour our own fear of being sucked into a vortex of what we do not know?
Given the pressure that suburbia can place on one, most of these conversations have been left unfinished. Mostly, I am the one who storms off. I have struggled within myself, to understand and to name what I feel in my gut. Raymond Suttner, on the other hand, has been more grounded than me. He has been able to be calm. & state his position.
In that crisis of trying to understand one’s truth and honour it – I have found the words of Stuart Hall most helpful. He is amongst the writers who gave me the language to understand “moral panic” – how it is created, replicated and acted out. His work on race and identity helped me so many decades ago, to decode racism and to understand how fear is often deployed to control others.,
Whenever I listen to people speak of violent protest and “them who don’t want to use their vote to change things” my mind automatically goes back to Stuart Hall. I have watched the cultural “othering” and “pathologising” of people who inhabit spaces that are different from ours. As I watch police shoot people, themselves in a state of panic (at least in some instances) I have thought deeply of the “politics of panic”.
Stuart Hall introduced to me to a new language. That is the language of awareness of our location and how this shapes us. Like so many others, who are engaged in cultural studies as serious and committed intellectuals, he also lived with the tension of his location at a time, when many people die. It is a tension that many of us, live with everyday. At least, I hope I do.
Stuart Hall dies so soon after Juan Gellman, the Argentine poet. They were very different in their view of the world. Their craft was different. Yet, they were also similar, in their unrelenting questioning of the assumptions we make. Gelman was a poet of the most tender, humane, transformative and revolutionary kind. He was a poet whose craft was never subordinated to his pain, his passion and his politics. He pursued the truth about his son and his daughter- in – law for many decades. He was convinced that the child, his daughter in law carried in her stomach when she was taken by the Junta was alive and taken by the military. He searched with as much energy as he struggled for justice, for himself and his country and all of us.
In his poems dedicated to Argentine at a time when he could not go home, when he was a wanted man, I find the depth of his love of his country and humanity is healing. When he wrote “I shall hit you with Paco” Gelman was writing about the power of memory, the way only a poet can.
“Sleep my son, between these sheets of grappa…” were words that seared the heart. These were lonely years in Paris, when nothing could dull the pain; no words could bring comfort…..A search of 25 years or thereabout, finally saw him united with his granddaughter.
Stuart Hall used a different style. His calling, his craft and his platform as a sociologist was of course different. Yet, he too, got under one’s skin. He did so, in a way that makes one step back a little and decide “let me check this out. What is going on here…?” Whether he was writing about race, identity, or cultural studies, Stuart Hall asked difficult questions. I am deeply grateful that I continue to read Stuart Hall to understand myself, my world and how our societies are structured. I am most grateful that in reading him, my world view was altered.
Sure this creates tensions within one. It would be easier to take the alert message about “bravo” males and not question what this project is being created here. These things are insidious because they operate at the level of the unconscious. So, even when we feel we must protect ourselves, which is our responsibility to ourselves and our right, it is important to be mindful of the dynamics at play.
I would not know where to begin were it not the works of many writers and intellectuals, men and women, who have given me the benefit of their craft, intellectual depth and passion. Unsettling as this is, it is a gift I continue to receive with open hands. #RIP Stuart Hall #RIP Juan Gelman
Stuart Hall made such an interesting contribution to social theory from the 60s and his work on ‘moral panics’ followed on from Stan Cohens. I am not sure that fear of violent crime in the South African context can be equated to a moral panic.