Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

By Michael Bérubé | Go to book overview
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goal was to describe in as many ways as possible how the conference was a reprehensible event, full of careerists, elitists, stargazers and fashion victims - and worst of all, an event that sought to write the book on cultural studies.

That book is now written, and though it certainly deserves every shopper's attention, it doesn't look as if it's going to be the only important cultural studies title on the shelf after all. Besides, cultural studies comes to us bearing not a big book but a sword, and the question of where it will strike next is less clear than the question of who will strike back. For who won't? To the traditional left, cultural studies will probably seem too politically diffuse and too high-theoretical; from the diffuse, high-theoretical left, the artifact of Cultural Studies is likely to invite any number of dismissive swipes - too monolithic, too academic, too hegemonic. To intellectual conservatives, cultural studies will look like an amalgam of their worst nightmares: an irreducibly 'political', interventionist, confrontational body of work generating knowledge without discipline, activism without apology. That's a lot to expect of one book, one field, or even one antifield. But then again, cultural studies promises a lot, as well it should. It's precisely because cultural studies promises so much - more than it can possibly deliver - that both its opponents and practitioners will insist that it doesn't belong in the universities at all: the former because it's too activist (it performs intellectual work) and the latter because it's not activist enough (it performs merely intellectual work). Yet even for ambitious intellectual movements, 'institutionalization' doesn't have to mean 'entombment'. And if cultural studies can manage to work through its anti-professionalisms, its hybrid theoretical languages, and its occasional smugnesses, it may just wind up being an intellectual movement that matters to a broad constituency of Americans who don't usually go around calling themselves intellectuals.

Angela McRobbie, "Post-Marxism and Cultural Studies: A Post-script", in Cultural Studies, Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson and Paula A. Treichler, eds ( New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 722.
Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style ( New York: Routledge, 1979), p. 26.
Stuart Hall, "The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism among the Theorists", in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, eds, Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1988), pp. 72-3; hereafter cited in the text as 'Toad'.
Stuart Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left ( London: Verso, 1988), p. 5.
Douglas Kellner, "Film, Politics, and Ideology: Reflections on Hollywood Film in the Age of Reagan", The Velvet Light Trap, no. 27 ( 1991), p. 12.
Andrew Ross, No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture ( New York: Routledge,


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