Remembering Stuart Hall
To Friends' House on Euston Road this afternoon, for a powerful, moving five-hour-long memorial event for Stuart Hall. He was not simply a pioneer of cultural studies, but provided fantastic insights into race and identity, was a political activist from the Universities and Left Review established in the wake of Hungary and Suez down to his critique of Thatcherism. A public intellectual of the highest order, a warm and collegiate man, the sort of broad mind that comes along all too rarely.
About 700 people came along today - a gathering of the old new left (and some of the old old left too). There was Angela Davis from the US - that's her in the photo - and Chuck Taylor from Canada, joining the likes of Bea Campbell, Sally Alexander and Martin Jacques. The best speech, mixing emotion, personal remembrance and great humour, was from Stuart and Cath's daughter, Becky - among other things, recalling how she and her brother Jess hated their parents' embrace of collective childminding ('the arrangement, we used to call it') and hankered after repressive '50s style parenting.
Amid so much else, Stuart Hall in the latter part of his life gave particular emphasis to black representation in culture - notably photography, film and fine art. Rivington Place in Shoreditch - which describes itself as London's global arts centre - is the institutional legacy of that work. This aspect of Stuart Hall's intellectual energy was well reflected during the afternoon - as was his love of jazz, and Miles Davis in particular.
Bea Campbell recalled that she once commented to Stuart how blues music takes you to the worst of human experience. 'Yes', he replied, 'it takes you there, but it doesn't leave you there.' That, she suggested, could be said of Stuart's life's work - taking us to the worst and most contested aspects of our world, but not leaving us there.
The event ended with everyone singing William Blake's Jerusalem. Cath explained that she and her sister grew up in a house with a lot of hymn singing, and she wanted a collective act to round off the afternoon:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green and pleasant Land
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