Over on home cooked theory, with an entry entitled “Post Solidarity (?)” Mel Gregg is, I feel, a mite defensive about Cultural Studies. Admittedly, judging by this news about state funding of research in Australia (and the ensuing discussion), academics there have some cause to be touchy these days. On the other hand, she links my recent post on anti-politics to this same encroachment of state regulation upon academic production. To which I take, well, mild umbrage.
It’s true that, contra John McGowan, I would rather bury than celebrate Cultural Studies. But I see the main point of what I am trying to elaborate as “posthegemony theory” as the attempt to outline some kind of coherent alternative to the concept of hegemony that Cultural Studies wields so readily and so loosely.
The concept of hegemony serves as stand-in for political analysis, a deus ex machina that explains little and achieves even less. But it’s up to those of us dissatisfied with this approach to come up with something better.
In so far as people like Mel (or John McGowan, or, say, Larry Grossberg, or whomever else) also see their work as an attempt to come up with “something better,” then of course what I’m trying to do is in solidarity with their efforts.
The mistake is to assume that solidarity is premissed on agreement or consensus. But then that is a classic problem of hegemony theory itself…
Solidarity is a much more difficult and unrewarding relation than Cultural Studies typically imagines. As I’ve said before, “you cannot pick and choose: true solidarity has to contend with the physicality and materiality of the most unpleasant of affects and habits.” Cultural Studies consistently sets itself up for a fall by imagining that the people that it invokes will somehow spontaneously agree with the analyses and directions that it puts forward.
But if we learn anything from Subaltern Studies, for instance, it is that the characteristic gesture of the multitude is treason, betrayal.
Cultural Studies should therefore prepare itself to be unpopular (in all senses of that word: unliked and unpopulist). What would an unpopular cultural studies look like? Here’s how I’ve tried to answer that question in the past…
The first task of an unpopular cultural studies might be to return to those phenomena, such as testimonio, that (our current, populist) cultural studies has abandoned, to examine what flees or escapes from populism. We might understand the various failures of hegemonic movements less as, simply (and banally), failures always to be blamed upon some exterior force distorting the course of hegemonic politics, than as the sites of betrayals that may also be expressions of the multitude’s power. The second task of an unpopular cultural studies might be to return to examples of apparently successful hegemonic movements, such as Peronism, to examine the ways in which hegemony follows and overcodes the multitude’s inconstant and unpredictable movements. In either case, we may start with an investigation of “popular culture,” but only with the aim of uncovering traces of multitudinous unpopularity. And if the raison d’être of cultural studies has been the claim that hegemony is always provisional and incomplete–and that there is therefore room for counter-hegemonic projects–the watchword for unpopular cultural studies might be a radicalisation of this claim: there is no hegemony and never has been.