Sunday, September 23, 2007


Tim Adams profiles Stuart Hall at the Guardian. An interesting piece about an interesting thinker:
I wonder, thinking about the debate over the Danish cartoons, where he stands on the right to comment on other cultures, on the right to offend?

'I tend to think some things are off-limits,' he suggests. 'Not in the sense that you should not be able to say them, but you need some care about how and when you go into them. If you wanted to make a joke about concentration camps you should think twice. At least twice. Given the complexity of relations between Islam and the West I would think at least twice about those cartoons. You cannot simply say it is my right to do it and then be surprised at the consequences. You have to take on the personal risk and decide whether it is worth the price.'

Isn't that a remit for intimidation?

'I think you always need the double perspective. Before you say that you have to understand what it is like to come from that "other" place. How it feels to live in that closed world. How such ideas have kept people together in the face of all that has happened to them. But you also have to be true to your own culture of debate and you have to find some way to begin to translate between those two cultures. It is not easy, but it is necessary.'

Hall first encountered the nuances of such conversations at his home in Kingston when he was growing up. He was born into a middle-class family in thrall to what he calls 'the colonial romance'. People think all Jamaicans are black, he suggests, and don't understand the gradations that can exist within a single family like his. 'My mother's connections to England were more recent. My father's side was not pure African either, it had Indian in it, and probably some English somewhere. I was always the blackest member of my family and I knew it from the moment I was born. My sister said: "Where did you get this coolie baby from?" Not black baby, you will note, but low-class Indian.'

His mother's maiden name was Hopwood and she once suggested to her son that she thought she might have some Habsburg blood in her. 'I mean: craziness,' he says, laughing. He believes cultural studies was born for him when he was first told he could not bring black school friends home, even though, to white eyes, he was black himself. 'It was the subaltern position, on the knees to the dominant culture. After the war you could hear the voices in Kingston whispering "independence, independence independence". I could not understand why my family was not part of that.'

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