amateur hour

I was thinking about Stuart Hall’s work, since I quoted him in yesterday’s post.

One time about a year ago, I was interviewing for a professor position at a small college. Over Zoom, I taught a class and gave a presentation about my research. As has been typical of my experience with these sorts of events, from start to finish the dominant thought in my mind was, “I really do not want to be here right now.”

I didn’t want to be there, nor did I want to go before I went. But I went anyway, in part because it is my personal opinion that any chance to discuss your research with the public, or with a group of students, is an opportunity not to be wasted. I thought the presentation portion would be an appropriate place to discuss my research on discourse about audio quality, and in particular, some of my recent reading about Stuart Hall’s idea of “articulation,” the station where my journey through semiotics had most recently stopped and, unfortunately, insisted I get off.

To be clear, I did not present myself as a master, expert, or even enthusiast of Hall’s work; I simply drew briefly from his ideas in what I thought was a genuine reflection of my work, and where it was presently at. Namely, I quoted him, hoping (though I didn’t state this desire explicitly) that someone out there might be able to elucidate further on a passage I find perplexing: “Let me put that the other way: the theory of articulation asks how an ideology discovers its subject rather than how the subject thinks the necessary and inevitable thoughts which belong to it.”1

During Q & A time, everyone’s favorite part, one of the professors on the search committee commented that quoting Hall was an interesting choice, since he is an evergreen and reliable quotee (my paraphrase). Weird flex, I thought, but okay. My white privilege sensors kicked in, if that makes sense. I nodded, my nod probably delayed due to the lag on Zoom. The professor continued, smugly, “Now, what do you think about Hall’s thoughts on tradition?”

Was he trying to reveal my limits, in that common academic mode of interrogation, or just lackadaisically picking my brain for random tidbits, in a stoner way? I couldn’t tell. I had never met the guy.

I feel sure I had been talking about articulation, which I’m not confident has anything at all to do with tradition—other than in the sense that everything has to do with tradition: picture frames! electric cars! party politics!—but I’m not in the business of getting into complicated disagreements over Zoom. So I replied simply and honestly, which was to say that I’m not sure what Hall thought about tradition, but that I would be curious to know.

In retrospect, I’m pretty sure this guy must have been thinking of Raymond Williams, who seems much more likely to have had strong opinions on “tradition” as such. Then again, I am the failed academic—not him.

  1. Lawrence Grossberg, ed., “On Postmodernism and Articulation: An Interview with Stuart Hall,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, pp. 131–150 (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 141–42; reprinted from Journal of Communication Inquiry 10, no. 2 (1986): 45–60.