A new publication from Duke University Press


Stuart Hall’s Voice

Intimations of an Ethics of Receptive Generosity

David Scott

“I found myself disagreeing often, only to discover this is David Scott’s whole point—unlearning what we take for granted can open us to a dialogical ethics of receptivity of the kind Stuart Hall enacted throughout his intellectual life. With philosophically inflected readings of ‘identity’ and ‘contingency’ that engage a range of political traditions, this epistolary experiment brings a new interpretive perspective to understanding Hall’s inimitable way of thinking aloud.”– Kobena Mercer, author of  Travel & See: Black Diaspora Art Practices since the 1980s

“Scott’s small and eminently readable book is written as a series of epistolary letters to his late friend and mentor….. When the book merits our attention, it is in its keen attention and responsiveness to central themes in Halls oeuvre, and Hall’s mode of thinking and engaging as a public intellectual. For Scott calls attention to Hall’s using his particular and characteristic voice as a public intellectual as a mode of thinking itself; and speaking and listening a way of clarification.”–Africa is a Country – Sindre Bangstad

Stuart Hall’s Voice explores the ethos of style that characterized Stuart Hall’s intellectual vocation. David Scott frames the book—which he wrote as a series of letters to Hall in the wake of his death—as an evocation of friendship understood as the moral and intellectual medium in which his dialogical hermeneutic relationship with Hall’s work unfolded. In this respect, the book asks: what do we owe intellectually to the work of those whom we know well, admire, and honor? Reflecting one of the lessons of Hall’s style, the book responds: what we owe should be conceived less in terms of criticism than in terms of listening.

Hall’s intellectual life was animated by voice in literal and extended senses: not only was his voice distinctive in the materiality of its sound, but his thinking and writing were fundamentally shaped by a dialogical and reciprocal practice of speaking and listening. Voice, Scott suggests, is the central axis of the ethos of Hall’s style.

Against the backdrop of the consideration of the voice’s aspects, Scott specifically engages Hall’s relationship to the concepts of “contingency” and “identity,” concepts that were dimensions less of a method as such than of an attuned and responsive attitude to the world. This attitude, moreover, constituted an ethical orientation of Hall’s that should be thought of as a special kind of generosity, namely a “receptive generosity,” a generosity oriented as much around giving as receiving, as much around listening as speaking.

David Scott is Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. He is the author of a number of books, including Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice and Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment, and is the editor of Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism, all also published by Duke University Press.