Thinking like a novelist, not a theorist

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, in an article well worth reading start to finish on the legacy of cultural studies. A plea for treating your ideological opponents in a non-condescending way, and trying thusly to understand why they think what they think. I would say this is thinking like a novelist (and thus holistically) about people, rather than as a theorist.

In an especially rich essay, “The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism Among the Theorists”—in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988), edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg—Hall wrote: “The first thing to ask about an ‘organic’ ideology that, however unexpectedly, succeeds in organizing substantial sections of the masses and mobilizing them for political action, is not what is false about it but what is true.” What, in other words, actively makes sense to people whose beliefs you do not share? Hall proposed that leftist intellectuals should not answer that question by assuming that working-class conservatives have succumbed to false consciousness: “It is a highly unstable theory about the world which has to assume that vast numbers of ordinary people, mentally equipped in much the same way as you or I, can simply be thoroughly and systematically duped into misrecognizing entirely where their real interests lie. Even less acceptable is the position that, whereas ‘they’—the masses—are the dupes of history, ‘we’—the privileged—are somehow without a trace of illusion and can see, transitively, right through into the truth, the essence, of a situation.”