Stuart Hall compared the theoretical work, the work of the academic or intellectual, with a struggle using the metaphor: “wrestling with the angels.” He added: “The only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency.” Its a curious image Hall uses here. Tracing it back to Jakob’s biblical struggle with an unknown, who might have according to various interpretation been a man, an angel or God himself, shows that the meaning of the story is ambiguous. Jacob, after having wrestled with the angel all night, overcomes him, but then asks him for his blessing.
Furthermore, Satan himself was an fallen angel, who according to Milton in Paradise Lost used his abundant rhetorical abilities and persuasive powers for his own purposes, with long lasting consequences, as we all know. Was Jakob wrestling with a fallen angel, or an angel who would fall, after all? To muddle things up further William Blake later reversed the meaning of Heaven and Hell and stated that Milton “was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”
So who is the theorist, according to Hall, wrestling with? Hall leaves the interpretation to the reader, “you can take as literally as you like,” he says. I think “wrestling with the angels” is a great metaphor, and I may use it to preface my PhD thesis, if I ever manage to finish it. My night of wrestling with the angels is not over yet.
Stuart Hall (1992) Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies (originally published in Cultural Studies, ed. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, Paula Treichler. New York and London: Routledge, 1992