The Stuart Hall Project

A Film by John Akomfrah

UK 99 minutes

From the award winning documentarian John Akomfrah comes The Stuart Hall Project, a ground-breaking film that pioneers a new archival and sonic approach to forgotten histories, forgotten ideas and the untold stories of the politics of change. Visionary director John Akomfrah weaves between the musical archaeology of Miles Davis, the political narratives of the new post-war Left and the life and works of key architect, the cultural theorist Stuart Hall—one of the New Left’s most prominent and influential intellectuals. Akomfrah carefully constructs archival sequences of rare forgotten and long since seen historical material together with Hall’s extensive broadcasts and personal archives, taking the audience on a kaleidoscopic journey through the ideas and personal story of Stuart Hall. Imagined through a Miles Davis and an original sonic sound track, Akomfrah creates a vivid cartography of the twentieth century’s defining political moments making a powerful portrait of Hall.

“John Akomfrah’s film is a tribute to the critic and New Left Review founder Stuart Hall – a montage of existing documentary footage and Hall’s own words and thoughts on film. It has an idealism and high seriousness that people might not immediately associate with the subject Hall pioneered: cultural studies. This is not about, say, postmodern readings of Lady Gaga, but a deeply considered project that reconsiders culture and identity for those excluded from the circles of power through race, gender and class. His is the progressive tradition of Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, unfashionable since Margaret Thatcher dismantled the welfarist consensus. Akomfrah finds a new and quietly moving significance in Hall’s own life story: a man who came from Jamaica – which Hall elegantly calls the “home of hybridity” – and found himself not really at home there, nor in the postwar UK in which he began a brilliant academic career at Oxford. Akomfrah sees Hall as a calm figure who insists on the fundamental topic of equality – yet without getting angry at the surface flashpoints of history. I wondered sometimes at Hall’s view on racial identity: it could well be, as he says, that race is an ideological construct – but does that help victims of racism? Anyway, an absorbing account.”   Peter Brahe Guardian, September 5, 2013

 

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Weekend Special Pass: Austin, Gordon, Marx

For a special price of $10 you can attend all three weekend activities of January 25, 26 and 27.

a. Friday, January 25, 7 to 9:30 pm at The Peoples Forum: Dread Poetry and Freedom: Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Unfinished Revolution
author David Austin
with an introduction by Lewis Gordon

In Dread Poetry and Freedom — the first book dedicated to the work of this ‘political poet par excellence’ – David Austin explores the themes of poetry, political consciousness and social transformation through the prism of Johnson’s work. Drawing from the Bible, reggae and Rastafari, and surrealism, socialism and feminism, and in dialogue with Aime Cesaire and Frantz Fanon, C.L.R. James and Walter Rodney, and W.E.B. Du Bois and the poetry of d’bi young anitafrika, Johnson’s work becomes a crucial point of reflection on the meaning of freedom in this masterful and rich study.

b. Saturday, January 26, 12 noon to 3 pm at Unnameable Books, 600 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, Capital, Volume 1 with the Capital Studies Group

Karl Marx’s Capital remains the fundamental text for understanding how capitalism works. By unraveling the commoditized forms of our interactions with nature and each other, it provides tools to understand capitalism’s astounding innovativeness and productivity, intertwined with growing inequality and misery, alienation, stunting of human potential, and ecological destruction all over the globe.

c. Sunday, January 27, 1 to 3:30 pm at The Peoples Forum: Moving Against the System:The 1968 Congress of Black Writers and the Making of Global Consciousness
With author and editor David Austin

 

This is a special one ticket price of $10 which is admission to two events and one class. Both Friday and Sunday at The Peoples Forum, Saturday class at Unnameable Books.

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Dread Poetry and Freedom

Dread Poetry and Freedom:
Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Unfinished Revolution

David Austin
with an introduction by Lewis Gordon

What is the relationship between poetry and social change?

Standing at the forefront of political poetry since the 1970s, Linton Kwesi Johnson has been fighting neo-fascism, police violence and promoting socialism while putting pen to paper to refute W.H. Auden’s claim that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’. For Johnson, only the second living poet to have been published in the Penguin Modern Classics series, writing has always been ‘a political act’ and poetry ‘a cultural weapon’.

In Dread Poetry and Freedom — the first book dedicated to the work of this ‘political poet par excellence’ – David Austin explores the themes of poetry, political consciousness and social transformation through the prism of Johnson’s work. Drawing from the Bible, reggae and Rastafari, and surrealism, socialism and feminism, and in dialogue with Aime Cesaire and Frantz Fanon, C.L.R. James and Walter Rodney, and W.E.B. Du Bois and the poetry of d’bi young anitafrika, Johnson’s work becomes a crucial point of reflection on the meaning of freedom in this masterful and rich study.

In the process, Austin demonstrates why art, and particularly poetry, is a vital part of our efforts to achieve genuine social change in times of dread.

David Austin is the author of the Casa de las Americas Prize-winning Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal, Moving Against the System: The 1968 Congress of Black Writers and the Making of Global Consciousness, and Dread Poetry and Freedom: Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Unfinished Revolution. He is also the editor of You Don’t Play with Revolution: The Montreal Lectures of C.L.R. James.

Lewis Gordon teaches in the United States and in South Africa, where he is the Nelson Mandela Visiting Professor of Politics and International Studies, and in Toulouse, France, where he holds the European Union Visiting Chair in philosophy. His recent book What Fanon Said has become a primary source on understanding the work of Fanon. He is known not only for his writings on Frantz Fanon, W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, Steve Bantu Biko, and many others, but also his work in philosophy, politics, and varieties of thought in the global south.

Tickets are sliding scale / No one turned away for inability to pay

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Globalization and Writing

Exploration: Exploitation/Domination • Discovery/Liberation
4 Works • 11 Weeks

The MEP Literature Group

In this eleven-week session we will read one memoir and three novels that study the scope of empire. Written between 1899 and 2000, the authors, two sailors (Polish and American), a Jamaican social theorist, and a British Jamaican immigrant are denied privilege because of their citizenship (or lack of it), class, or color. Unwilling, or unable to conform and accept lesser positions in their societies, they remain within their marginality and write their unease in novels which give readers an alternative report of the results of colonization both abroad where the EuroAmerican capitalists have colonized and what consequences that colonization has made for life in the home countries.

Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad
The story, written at the height of the British Empire, reflects the physical and psychological shock Conrad himself experienced in 1890 when he worked briefly in the Belgian Congo. The experience left him disillusioned, questioning what it meant to be civilized in the age of colonialism

This novella is astonishingly powerful and equally enigmatic. Its condemnation of Western imperialism—of the greed, violence, and exploitation that so often accompanies ventures to bring “light” and civilization to the “dark” and needy areas of the world—and its poignant look at the destructive influence of colonization on the colonized and colonizer alike, have been widely praised. However, some postcolonial African writers, most notably Chinua Achebe, deemed the book racist for its portrayal of native African cultures.

Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands
Stuart Hall
Familiar Stranger takes us only as far as the mid-1960s, after a decade during which, for Hall, “normal” life was suspended in favour of non-stop political agitation. The book touches on his role in the New Left; his critical involvement with CND; his early exposition of the “formal” and “unwitting” variants of British racism; and the importance of Catherine, with whom he relocated to Birmingham at the start of his lifelong embrace of cultural studies. These recollections of a busy life in Britain nonetheless remain haunted by the ghostly presence of his earlier years in Jamaica. With its resonant subtitle, A Life Between Two Islands, it encourages the reader to draw such parallels as that between Jamaica’s 1938 rebellion and the Brixton riots of 1981. It was Hall’s belief that the British had never fully come to terms with colonialism and decolonization.

Dog Soldiers
Robert Stone
Dog Soldiers deals with the fall of the counterculture in America, the rise of mass cynicism and the end of the optimism of the 1960s. California has moved on from the Summer of Love to post-Manson paranoia. Converse, a once-promising writer now unable to do more than observe, waits for artistic inspiration as a correspondent in Vietnam. Symbolic of his moral corruption is his decision to traffic in heroin, which the 1960s counterculture never embraced as they did marijuana and LSD.

White Teeth
Zadie Smith
This may be the first novel ever written that truly feels at home in our borderless, globalized, intermarried, post-colonial age, populated by “children with first and last names on a direct collision course.” Published when Smith was just 24, White Teeth follows the friendship of two Londoners, a pub-going working-class bloke named Archie and a Muslim from Bangladesh named Samad. Archie marries a Jamaican; Samad has twin sons, one of whom becomes a religious militant, the other a rabid Anglophile. The overlapping fates of Smith’s characters seem to trace the new structures of 21st-century life and test their sturdiness as framework for peace and happiness. Both deeply Dickensian and playfully post-modern, White Teeth doesn’t quail before the rampantly ramifying novelistic complexities of a multicultural world. It revels in them.

The MEP LITERATURE GROUP has been meeting to discuss literature since the first days of The Marxist Education Project following a presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on her Indigenous Peoples History of the United States and her recommendation that we take up literature with Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of The Dead. The group has recently completed readings of Victor Serge’s Unforgiving Years following by Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Our second summer of noir, considered works by Hammett, Chandler, Manchette, and others. Other studies have included novels related to World War I, the global depression of the 1930s, and novels on border politics, migrations and labor organizing.

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Caribbean Literature: Breaking bonds before and after betrayed revolutions

10 Weeks beginning October 12 through December 21

A reading and discussion group with the Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group

During this term we will begin with Aimé Césaire’s cultural statement from the 30s, issued from the Caribbean to all those colonized by the capitalist powers, primarily of Europe. Following our discourse on his groundbreaking discourse we will consider three novels on the colonized Caribbean, long engaged in revolutionary struggle with just as long gains towards liberation and the centuries long experiences of counter-revolution, and the consequences of compromise and collaboration with former colonizers and the colossus US that treats the Caribbean like a backyard swimming pool and those of the islands, whether local agent of capital or exploited worker, as servants by that pool.

“I admit that it is a good thing to place different civilizations in contact with each other that it is an excellent thing to blend different worlds; that whatever its own particular genius may be, a civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies; that for civilizations, exchange is oxygen; that the great good fortune of Europe is to have been a crossroads, and that because it was the locus of all ideas, the receptacle of all philosophies, the meeting place of all sentiments, it was the best center for the redistribution of energy.
But then I ask the following question: has colonization really placed civilizations in contact? Or, if you prefer, of all the ways of establishing contact, was it the best?
“I answer no.
“And I say that between colonization and civilization there is an infinite distance; that out of all the colonial expeditions that have been undertaken, out of all the colonial statutes that have been drawn up, out of all the memoranda that have been dispatched by all the ministries, there could not come a single human value.”
` —Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism

Discourse on Colonialism
Aimé Fernand David Césaire
This classic work, first published in France in 1955, profoundly influenced the generation of scholars and activists at the forefront of liberation struggles in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Nearly twenty years later, when published for the first time in English, Discourse on Colonialism inspired a new generation engaged in the Civil Rights and Black Power and anti-war movements.

All Souls Rising
Madison Smartt Bell
1995
The slave uprising in Haiti was a momentous contribution to the tide of revolution that swept over the Western world at the end of the 1700s. A brutal rebellion that strove to overturn a vicious system of slavery, the uprising successfully transformed Haiti from a European colony to the world’s first Black republic. From the center of this horrific maelstrom, the heroic figure of Toussaint Louverture–a loyal, literate slave and both a devout Catholic and Vodouisant–emerges as the man who will take the merciless fires of violence and vengeance and forge a revolutionary war fueled by liberty and equality.

A Small Place
Jamaica Kincaid
Antigua, 2000
In A Small Place, Kincaid calls attention to the fact that in many ways, conditions in Antigua worsened with the achievement of independence; she communicates her frustration with her people and capitalism. In a nation free from colonialism, Antiguans “do to [themselves] the very things [colonists] used to do to [them]”. Through her critique of colonialism and the development of an exploitative tourist industry in A Small Place, Kincaid addresses several other major themes which include the influence of homeland on identity, culture, and the desire for independence.

A Brief History of Seven Killings
Marlon James
Jamaica, 2014
Winner of the Man Booker Prize
The first part of the novel is set in Kingston, Jamaica, in the build-up to the Smile Jamaica Concert, and describes politically motivated violence between gangs associated with the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP), especially in the West Kingston neighborhoods of Tivoli Gardens and Mathews Lane (renamed in the novel as Copenhagen City and Eight Lanes), including involvement of the CIA in the Jamaican politics of the time. As well as Marley (who is referred to as “the Singer” throughout), other real life characters depicted or fictionalized in the book include Kingston gangsters Winston “Burry Boy” Blake and George “Feathermop” Spence, Claude Massop and Lester Lloyd Coke (Jim Brown) of the JLP and Aston Thomson (Buckie Marshall) of the PNP.

The Indigenous Peoples’s Reading Group, which has grown from the enthusiastic call for the need of greater understanding of the long history of the peoples of North America and other continents of the world who were of those continents before and remain after the European colonists came to settle and bring this capitalist relations to every corner of the globe. Our group began following a stirring presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz September of 2014 where she introduced An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

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