Bill Schwarz

Bill Schwarz

Professor of Modern Literature and History in the School of English and Drama, University of London
Fall 2020: Stuart Hall Fellow
Bill Schwarz

Bill Schwarz teaches Caribbean literature at the School of English and Drama, Queen Mary University of London. Most recently he has co-written, with Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger. A Life Between Two Islands (Duke UP, 2017), and, with Steven Fielding and Richard Toye, The Churchill Myths (Oxford UP, 2020). Currently he’s writing, with Stuart Hall, The Symbolic World. Meaning and Power (Duke UP) and the second volume of his Memories of Empire trilogy, The Caribbean in England (Oxford UP).

Stuart Hall's, The Symbolic World. Meaning and Power

A little over twenty years ago I embarked on a comprehensive conversation with Stuart Hall concerning his life and work. The conversation grew and grew. The original transcript of the interviews served as the foundation for the scores of drafts which followed. When he died in February 2014 the (incomplete) manuscript amounted to 300,000 words.

Hall was keen that the manuscript should appear as an integrated whole. In the event this did not prove possible, Penguin in the UK was committed to taking on the autobiographical material and to publish it as a memoir. This appeared in 2017 under the title Familiar Stranger. A Life Between Two Islands. However the more self-consciously analytical explorations of the latter half of the manuscript -- where Hall reflects on the social significance of the symbolic world and how it can best be conceptualized -- represented too awkward an undertaking for a commercial publisher to contemplate.

Since Hall’s death I, alongside his widow Catherine, have been overseeing the publication of his selected works for Duke UP. To date, nine volumes have been completed, with four more to come. It’s now time to make good our commitment, and to see through to publication his final work, representing the tenth volume (and nearly the last) in the Duke series.

It takes for its title (provisionally) The Symbolic World. Meaning and Power, endeavouring to stand as testament to a lifetime’s engagement with the shifting cross-currents which underwrite the relations between culture and the larger social world, and between culture and politics. In so doing it is affiliated more insistently to ‘thought’ than it is to ‘life’. Indeed there were moods in which he wondered whether the project couldn’t be described as ‘thinking about thinking’.