After Stuart Hall (After Marx)

February 2024


In 1983, one hundred years after Karl Marx’s death, Stuart Hall delivered the inaugural Karl Marx Memorial Lecture in Sheffield, England. Hall opened that occasion by noting, among other things, “the immensity of Marx’s contribution to our thinking.” In light of this, Hall was careful to refuse any demand for totalizing accounts of Marx’s ideas and contributions: “I am not going to offer a comprehensive picture, and I do not offer the meaning of Marx, whatever that is, if indeed any such single object does exist.”1 Hall, instead, notes the importance of “wrestling with Marx” as a particular quality of his engagement:

One has to wrestle with Marx, otherwise he brings his huge girth and that gigantic beard to bear on you and you are absolutely overwhelmed by it. . . . This notion that Marx, somehow, covers the entire globe, all one’s thoughts, could tell us what to do yesterday and tomorrow and so on, requires engaging with him in fisticuffs.2

If the well-known biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel was one about receiving a blessing, for Hall this notion of “wrestling” was about a refusal of dogma or deification. Noting Marx’s fundamental critique of religion, Hall, for example, criticized the “the notion of approaching him as if he is a kind of prophet.” He argued for a more secular vision to inform Marx’s memory and memorialization: “He was not a demi-god. It is in the destruction of demi-gods that Marx comes into his own”3 Yet Hall also further reminds us:

Marx is very safely buried and dead in Highgate cemetery (and I can tell you that, I went yesterday). There he is far down below the surface of the earth and he’s not planning a resurrection. Nevertheless, his ideas just refuse to lie down and die beside him there. They are restless spirits. . . . He is the specter haunting the world.4

In attending to this less sacred, more mortal vision of Marx (one in which he might be less transcendent and more meaningfully historicized), Hall offered three important observations. These observations, I would argue, are useful for thinking about Hall’s practice of memorializing but are also useful for thinking about the terms on which we might engage Hall’s own memory as he too, like Marx, now lies “very safely buried and dead in Highgate cemetery.”

First, Hall called for greater attention to Marx’s “insistence on combining his contribution to scientific social theory with his deep and profound commitment to an emancipatory socialist politics.”5 This viewpoint is expressed in Marx’s own often-quoted assertion that “philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”6 Hall adds to this the idea that Marx “saw a world, complex with a huge history, which had to be understood . . . and the purpose of doing that was to understand how the past had shaped the present so that we could make the future.”7 Second, Hall suggests that “we would be wrong if we approach Marx as if his work was a total, coherent complete entity.” Emphasizing questions of contingency and contradiction, Hall asserts that his life was not without contradiction and urges greater wrestling with important shifts as Marx passed “from different phases of his life to very different emphases.”8 Third, Hall noted incompletion as another way of underlining Marx’s mortality reminding us that “the majority of his mature works are incomplete.”9 These comments by Hall might be read, in his iterative way, as a development of prior analysis. His reflections on incompletion, for instance, might be usefully connected to the ending of his essay “The Problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees,” published earlier that same year in the commemorative volume Marx: A Hundred Years On, in which Hall called for a more “open horizon of Marxist theorizing—determinacy without guaranteed closures.”10


I begin this special book review section focused on Stuart Hall’s work with this memory of one great theorist memorializing another because it is instructive. Hall’s comments are profoundly useful to recall in our own attempts to remember, analyze, and reflect on his life and work. Indeed, one might say, it is almost as if he was even then offering notes about things we should be mindful of in attending to his own memory, legacy, and intellectual afterlife and our own grief, loss, and impulse to immortalize and deify our heroes, intellectual predecessors, and loved ones who have departed. But Hall would perhaps also be cautious, maybe even skeptical, about me phrasing it in this way, since it might echo with the din of prophecy.

This year marks a decade since Hall’s passing in February 2014. We devote this special book review section to reflections on work by and about Hall published in the intervening years. We feature reviews of seven books, including a memoir, a biography, a book of conversation, and a commemorative volume of essays, as well as edited collections featuring lectures, speeches, and interviews. The appearance of these texts and the discussions about them offered here demonstrate the ongoing and immeasurable contribution of Hall’s work to our thinking in and about our times. This is not by any means an exhaustive survey of the books that have been published.11 We did commission a few other reviews that, for various reasons, did not make their way into this published gathering. But as Hall has taught us, there is value in attending to incompletion and the open-endedness of things as part of the condition of thinking. To paraphrase Hall himself, we might say, then, that this special review section cannot and does not offer the full meaning of Hall today, whatever that might be. However, the pieces gathered here allow us to continue the meaningful task of wrestling with a new bounty of publications that we have received in the wake of Hall’s passing. This provides a space to reflect on the making and meaning of these books.

A number of scholars have noted Hall’s complex relationship to the book as mode of producing thought. As Gilbert Rodman points out: “To be sure, more than a dozen different books appeared during his lifetime with his name attached to them. With only one exception, however, all of these were collaborative projects. . . . And even that exception (The Hard Road to Renewal) was a collection of his previously published essays on Thatcherism, rather than a project he had conceived of as a book from the start.”12 This hesitation about the book as the primary vessel for thought contrasts with the recent arrival of a number of books bearing Hall’s name. These represent one kind of consolidation of his legacy. But as Rodman notes, they potentially also displace a focus on Hall’s particular use of the essay as a form:

His preferred mode of writing was the essay (though the public lecture and the interview were not far behind): A form much better suited to the kind of grounded, context-specific interventions that he wanted to make in the world.13

As David Scott reminds us in Stuart Hall’s Voice, Hall thought much about form, about “the problem of form [and] form as a problem.” Scott has notably examined this matter of formal politics (and poetics) through his attention to style and what he terms Hall’s “way of having views.”14 The reviews in this section variously engage with this complex question of the problem of form and reflect on how these texts continue to push us to think about form in relation to the content and contexts of Hall’s thinking. For example, Christopher G. Smith reflects on the limits and uses of chronology as a mode of narrative unfolding in his examination of biographical writing about Hall, and he positions Hall’s memoir as composed of essays. Sam Tecle meditates on the uses of the lecture as a mode for Hall’s contemplative examinations of race and identity. Tzarina T. Prater thinks about the uses of conversation and the dynamics of power and relation in dialogue.15

Hall’s practice also included a commitment to collaboration that seemed an essential part of his ethic of engagement. In reading the reviewed volumes, how might we attend to these challenges of form but also be alert to new forms of collaboration being inspired in and through the coproduction of these new works? Rather than reading the latest collections of writings as repurposed, remixed, remediated, or consolidated texts, how might we also attend to their collaborative praxis of making? For instance, a number of the recent books have multiple coeditors and some include forewords and other paratexts that expand the multivocal nature of the work or, as is the case of the volume examined in Annie Paul’s incisive review, have come out of conferences and gatherings.16 These indicate an ongoing practice of thinking together collaboratively about the meaning, impact, and insights of Hall’s work.They also push against (or wrestle with) particular constructions of Hall, as author and authority, on terms that he might have questioned.

We might also note how these reviews take up some of the questions posed by Hall in his reflections on memorializing Marx. In this way they join a dialogue about memory and legacies of intellectual thought in which Hall himself participated. Echoing Hall’s discomforts about Marx’s deification, Gökbörü Sarp Tanyildiz, for example, raises anxieties about critical offerings that would enact for Hall “an apotheotic ascension into a canonical pantheon.” Tanyildiz’s discussion aims to offer a counterpoint in its insistence on remaining attuned to the political and wider social uses of Hall’s insights for wrestling with the crises of our times, “some old, some new, and all ongoing.”17 Paul reflects on what might be a stake in the globalized reach and application of Hall’s thought, echoing his caution that “this notion that Marx, somehow, covers the entire globe,” requires a fair deal of wrestling. Tecle and Prater, in their respective discussions, are both attuned to the contingencies, contradictions, and phases of Hall’s thinking as well as how and where his texts circulate in relation to critical shifts in the wider academic sphere. Smith thinks about incompletion and the implications of this for narrating a life. The attention to Marx’s specters (or Marx as specter, haunting the world) seen in Hall’s lecture examined above is arguably translated, in one way, into the notion of queer afterlives explored in Smith’s discussion.

These reviews taken together raise formidable questions about the ongoing relevance of Hall’s work and its timeliness. In addition to marking how Hall’s writing might still offer us necessary critical, political, and philosophical tools and language to grapple with our times, they also engage fresh insights and terms to think with Hall’s work. They also usefully signal potential directions for further explorations in Stuart Hall studies, as seen in Tanyildiz’s mapping of the movement “toward a new conjuncture that is marked by the global far-right consolidation and normalization of neofascist racial capitalism,” or Smith’s marking of queer entanglements, or Prater’s attention to gender, or Paul’s and Tecle’s questions about where the place of the Caribbean and Jamaica is in Stuart Hall studies. If Hall insisted on a practice of public dialogue throughout his life, these discussions arguably take up this praxis through the penning of book reviews, a necessary form of public scholarship. They also enable Hall’s vision by facilitating continued wider engagement with his work.

Ronald Cummings is an associate professor of Caribbean literature and Black diaspora studies at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. He is the coeditor of three critical volumes, including, with Nalini Mohabir, The Fire That Time: Transnational Black Radicalism and the Sir George Williams Occupation (Black Rose Books, 2021); and the editor of Make the World New: The Poetry of Lillian Allen (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2021). He is also an affiliated member of the Centre for the Study of Race, Gender, and Class at the University of Johannesburg. Ronald is the book reviews editor of sx salon.

[1] Stuart Hall, inaugural Karl Marx Memorial Lecture, Sheffield, England, 14 March 1983 (Sheffield Local Studies Library ref. VID 244); (accessed 14 February 2024), at 2:12, at 3:00 (Hall’s emphasis). Time codes, per the transcript, are approximate.

[2] At 4:31, 5:07.

[3] At 7:00, at 10:00.

[4] At 5:54. Also see the ITV documentary Karl Marx and Marxism (1983), narrated by Hall. The documentary opens with a visit to Marx’s grave; (accessed 14 February 2024).

[5] At 8:11.

[6] Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach (1845),” trans. Cyril Smith and Don Cuckson, Marxists Internet Archive, 2002,, sec. 11 (italics in original). 

[7] Hall, Karl Marx Memorial Lecture, at 8:36.

[8] At 9:23, 9:41. 

[9] At 9:28.

[10] Stuart Hall, “The Problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees,” in Betty Matthews, ed., Marx: A Hundred Years On (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1983), 84 (italics in original).  

[11] For some of the other books not reviewed here, see the book series Stuart Hall: Selected Writings, which currently includes nine books;

[12] Gilbert Rodman, “The World We Want: What We Can Still Learn from Stuart Hall,” Journal of Communication Inquiry 43, no. 1 (2019): 116. Rodman references Stuart Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left (New York: Verso, 1988).

[13] Rodman, “The World We Want,” 116.

[14] David Scott. Stuart Hall’s Voice (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 4, 1 (all italics in original).

[15] In this issue of sx salon, see Christopher G. Smith, “Matters of Formation and the Queer Afterlives of Stuart Hall”; Sam Tecle, “Stuart Hall, Race, and Black Diaspora Memory”; and Tzarina T. Prater, “Conversations between the Closer Kin.”

[16] See Annie Paul, “Culturing the Conjuncture,” this issue of sx salon

[17] See Gökbörü Sarp Tanyildiz, “The Conjunctural Imagination,” this issue of sx salon.

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