Introduction: ‘What We Need Now…’
This book examines the visions of urban space produced across a range of contemporary British fiction in order to evaluate the legacy of British cultural studies in the field of literary production between 1987 and the mid-2010s. Previous approaches to this relationship have celebrated as politically progressive the resonances between, on the one hand, novels by contemporary British authors such as Hanif Kureishi and Zadie Smith and, on the other, the fluid account of subjectivity imagined by thinkers associated with cultural studies such as Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy. By placing the relationship between freedom and the city at the centre of its analysis, this book demonstrates instead that both groups came to share a vision of social transformation that, paradoxically, led to a foreclosure of the space of politics itself. By drawing on the thinking of Hannah Arendt, I argue that the novels examined in this book become trapped in a failed literary and political logic that I term ‘the cultural politics of disenfranchisement’. This logic grew out of a project of radical reinvention initiated by left culturalist thinkers such as Hall and Gilroy over the course of the 1980s in response to the challenge posed by the realignment of the political right. And it took the form of what Aihwa Ong might describe as an ‘experiment with freedom’ (Ong 2006), in which urban subcultures were identified as a substitute for the formal freedom associated with established political structures such as voting, unionism, cooperativism, activism and the broad exercise of the democratic right to be heard.
KeywordsCultural Politics Urban Space Left Culturalism Cultural Materialism Political Space
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