MacCabe, Colin 1949–

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MacCABE, Colin 1949–

(Colin Myles Joseph MacCabe)


Born February 9, 1949; son of Myles Joseph and Ruth Ward MacCabe; children: two sons, one daughter. Education: Trinity College, Cambridge, B.A., 1971, M.A., 1974, Ph.D., 1976; attended École Normale Superieure, 1972-73.


Office—University of Exeter, Queen's Building, The Queen's Drive, Exeter EX4 4QH, England; University of Pittsburgh, English Department CL 526, 4200 5th Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15260. E-mail[email protected].


King's College, Cambridge, fellow, 1976-81, assistant lecturer in English, 1976-81, professor of English studies, 1981-85; Strathclyde University, Glasgow, Scotland, visiting professor, 1985-91; British Film Institute, London, England, head of production, 1985-89, head of research, 1989-98; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, professor of English, 1987—; University of Exeter, Exeter, England, chair of English department, 1998—. Griffith University, visiting fellow in school of humanities, 1981, 1984; University of Pittsburgh, Mellon Visiting Professor, 1985; Birkbeck College, University of London, visiting professor, 1992—. John Logie Baird Centre for Research in Television and Film, director, 1983-85, chair, 1985-91. Producer, Minerva Pictures. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, guest curator, 1992.


James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word, Barnes and Noble Books (New York, NY), 1979, 2nd edition, Palgrave (New York, NY), 2003.

Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1980.

(Editor) The Talking Cure: Essays in Psychoanalysis and Language, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1981.

(Editor) James Joyce: New Perspectives, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1982.

Tracking the Signifier: Theoretical Essays: Film, Linguistics, Literature, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1985, published as Theoretical Essays: Film, Linguistics, Literature, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1985.

(Editor) High Theory/Low Culture: Analyzing Popular Television and Film, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

(Editor, with Olivia Stewart) The BBC and Public Service Broadcasting, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1986.

(Editor) Futures for English, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1988.

(With Isaac Julien) Diary of a Young Soul Rebel, British Film Institute (London, England)), 1991.

On the Eloquence of the Vulgar: A Justification of Contemporary Culture, British Film Institute (London, England), 1993.

(Editor, with Cornel West) James A. Snead, White Screens, Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor, with Duncan Petrie) New Scholarship from BFI Research, British Film Institute (London, England), 1996.

(Editor, with Mark Francis and Peter Wollen) Who Is Andy Warhol?, Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh, PA), 1997.

Performance, British Film Institute (London, England), 1998.

(Editor, with Victoria Rothschild) Stalin on Linguistics and Other Essays, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2002.

Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2003.

(Editor, with Stephen Heath and Denise Riley) The Language, Discourse, Society Reader, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor, with Cornell West and Kara Keeling) James A. Snead, Racist Traces and Other Writings: European Pedigrees/African Contagions, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to The Linguistics of Writing, edited by Nigel Fabb, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1987. Critical Quarterly, critical editor, 1987-90, editor, 1990—; Screen, member of editorial board, 1973-81.


Colin MacCabe is a professor of seventeenth-century literature and twentieth-century literature and media. He has also written widely on literature and film. American Book Review contributor Jerome Klinkowitz described MacCabe as a leading theorist of "fictional self-reflexivity."

In James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word MacCabe finds value in Joyce's use of language, comparing the author to Shakespeare, and discusses the political ramifications of Joyce's work. In the Times Literary Supplement, Richard Brown asserted: "MacCabe has pointed the way for a new understanding of Joyce and most certainly merits serious attention." Terry Eagleton, writing for the New Statesman, called the same work "the most exciting and original book on Joyce to have appeared for many years." Eagleton further noted that the book's strength lies in MacCabe's "deeply original treatment of Joyce's politics," in which the reader is reminded that Joyce criticized Irish nationalism. A writer for Choice maintained that "MacCabe has an unerring sense of the important philosophical problems that Joyce scholarship has been unwilling to face or unable to resolve."

Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics is a study of JeanLuc Godard's films, mostly from 1968 onward, that focuses on "the nexus between class struggle and individual psychology and how film, its production, distribution, and formal characteristics, function to transmit class ideology to its audience," according to a reviewer for Choice. In the book MacCabe asserts: "Cinema constructs meaning, it does not embody it." Klinkowitz concluded that "only by making film self-conscious can this construction take place." Judy Steele, writing in British Book News, called the work "an authoritative volume."

In 1982 MacCabe edited and contributed to a book on James Joyce titled James Joyce: New Perspectives. The book is comprised of lectures given at two separate events. A Choice reviewer wrote that the contributors "have a sophisticated grasp of poststructuralist, contemporary socialist, and recent psychoanalytic … theories, which they use very convincingly." While Tom Paulin noted some "poor performances" in the book, he added in New Statesman that "MacCabe's two contributions … [are] lucid and helpful."

In 1985 the University of Minnesota Press published MacCabe's Tracking the Signifier: Theoretical Essays (also published as Theoretical Essays: Film, Linguistics, Literature), a collection of five essays, plus an autobiographical essay by MacCabe. It deals with meaning and the recognition of meaning, and espouses some of the classical points of Marxist theoretical criticism. Reviewing the portion of the anthology that concerns film for the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Flo Leibowitz asserted that MacCabe "makes justifiable comments about some individual films…. However, connections between a film's (or a filmmaker's) substantive positions and a film's form or style are drawn in ways that trade on loose uses of terms." Janet Rex noted in Poetics Today that in these essays "film, linguistics, and literature are seen not as autonomous disciplines but as connected in crucial, if still unexplored, ways; these connections can be traced by beginning with the work of Barthes, Lacan and Pecheux and, to a lesser extent, Brecht, Althussers and Wittgenstein." Rex went on to write: "What runs through all the essays is a sense of urgency and immediacy that, although colored by pessimism about the likelihood of resolutions, is often missing from comparable investigations that smugly rely on the sheer weight of theory to carry the day." British Book News critic Elizabeth Wright related how "linguistics, psychoanalysis and Marxism are the recurring points of reference throughout the book." Reviewing the work for the Times Literary Supplement, Christopher Butler found that in several essays, MacCabe "is so precise that he inspires the critical reader to argue with him—and this is surely the most significant end."

In 1986 MacCabe edited High Theory/Low Culture: Analyzing Popular Television and Film and, with Olivia Stewart, The BBC and Public Service Broadcasting, both of which are collections of essays from two seminars held at the University of Strathclyde and reflect on the role of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) in Great Britain. At that time, a group known as the Peacock Committee released a report on the role of the BBC and its finance problems—governmental vs. commercial funding. Peter Golding described High Theory/Low Culture in British Book News as a "miscellaneous set of papers," with "considerable variation in lucidity and coherence, but several chapters have interesting material." Golding also wrote that though The BBC and Public Service Broadcasting "suffers in focus and up-to-dateness," "it is an interesting collection." Robin Buss also noted in a Times Educational Supplement article a "lack of design" that "is confusing for the reader." Noel Annan, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, felt that " The BBC and Public Service Broadcasting is an interesting collection of seminar offerings." Annan also related: "MacCabe is a utopian. He wants to see minority audiences developing and defining themselves and then broadcasting their definitions back to the wider community."

Diary of a Young Soul Rebel is the creation of a collaboration between MacCabe and Isaac Julien, who was directing his first film, Young Soul Rebels, at the time of the writing. The film was financed by the British Film Institute, which MacCabe worked with to ensure funds. The book is composed of Julien's diary excerpts and the thoughts of MacCabe throughout the creation of the film. The film's script is included as well. Film Quarterly reviewer Mark A. Reid commented: " Diary of a Young Soul Rebel deals with issues concerning homosexuality, interracial love, and black British nationality," not just "race and gender subjectivity." Reid concluded: "MacCabe's comments provide the diary with insight into the politics and financial hurdles that accompany most BFI productions." In 1994, MacCabe with Cornel West edited recently deceased James Snead's White Screens, Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side, which discusses Snead's views on how racist ideologies functioned in Hollywood films.

On the Eloquence of the Vulgar: A Justification of Contemporary Culture is one of the several books that MacCabe published under the British Film Institute (BFI) imprint. In this lecture marking the inauguration of a new Master of Arts degree in Cinema and Television by the BFI and Birkbeck College, MacCabe investigates the relationship between culture and the institutions of culture, looking at the history of film from Alfred Bazin and the "Cahiers du Cinema" group to the BFI. Steven Connor, reviewing the text for the Times Literary Supplement, commented: "Central to … MacCabe's vision of an expanded curricular and educational economy is an acknowledgment of the pluralization of the idea of cultural value, together with a dogged refusal to surrender the question of value to the caprice of the global style-thesaurus that is the contemporary culture industry."

Serving as an editor again, MacCabe assembled Who Is Andy Warhol?, a collection of essays on Warhol commissioned for the opening of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. David Johnson, writing for Apollo, observed: "This collection investigates the diversity of Warhol's enquiries into the lower depths (in terms of high art) of cultural life, including Warhol's work as a model for the Zoli agency in the eighties, his appearance on The Love Boat, and his talent for social engineering." Johnson continued: "This collection's concentration upon all manner of sawdust and glitter tends to reveal the festive, affirmative character of much of Warhol's work, a much-needed perspective considering the prison house of much Warhol criticism, hope-lessly divided between considering Warhol's work as either a critique of, or a falling-in with, serial production in industry and culture."

MacCabe wrote a book about the history of one of England's most controversial films, 1970's Performance. The book, which carries the same title, chronicles the history of the film as well as including interviews with people involved with the movie and commentary by MacCabe. Starring Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, and James Fox, the film was a story about the clash of hard rock and hippie culture, focusing on such issues as sex, violence, art, and fantasy. It received an X rating but was eventually edited and released with an R rating. Since then it has become a cult film classic. Times Literary Supplement contributor Sylvia Brownrigg felt that MacCabe filled in a blank-spot in film study. For Brownrigg, MaCabe "clothes the film in theory…. He makes a compelling case for Perfor mance as a key cultural artifact from the shape-shifting 1960s."

MacCabe returned to an earlier subject, the work of French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, in his 2003 book, Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy. What began in the 1980s as an authorized biography of the auteur film director had, by the 1990s, lost Godard's support. MacCabe, however, persisted in his work. As Jonathan Rosenbaum noted in Cineaste: "This must have been an extremely difficult book to research and write, and we all owe the author our gratitude for having seen it through to the end." In the end, however, the book became more of a critical study than a biography. Rosenbaum felt that the first chapter of the book is "most valuable," dealing as it does with Godard's family background: a privileged childhood and a father who supported his son's early efforts at filmmaking. However, by the 1950s the father had withdrawn financial aid, and Godard was on his own, turning to petty thievery to get by. He was eventually disowned by his family. Christopher Byrd, reviewing the work in the Wilson Quarterly, called Godard the "eminence grise of the European avant-garde," and an interesting but difficult subject for a biography. MacCabe places Godard not only in the French New Wave of filmmakers, but also in a Marxist context, rebelling against staid bourgeois life. Byrd concluded that "MacCabe illuminates the historical and theoretical contexts, but he doesn't deeply analyze the films themselves. It's a conscious choice, and probably a wise one." For New Statesman critic Sukhdev Sandhu, MacCabe's biography is a "thoughtful book"; it is not a conventional biography, but rather one that offers different "angles" of perspective—social, political, artistic—from which to judge Godard's films.



MacCabe, Colin, Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1980.


American Book Review, July-August, 1982, Jerome Klinkowitz, review of Godard, p. 5.

Apollo, October, 1997, David Johnson, review of Who Is Andy Warhol?, p. 57.

British Book News, March, 1981, Judy Steele, review of Godard, p. 176; September, 1985, Elizabeth Wright, review of Theoretical Essays: Film, Linguistics, Literature, p. 557; September, 1986, Peter Golding, review of High Theory/Low Culture: Analyzing Popular Television and Film, p. 521.

Choice, February, 1980, review of James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word, p. 1582; July-August, 1981, review of Godard, p. 1555; October, 1982, review of James Joyce: New Perspectives, p. 266.

Cineaste, summer, 2004, Jonathan Rosenbaum, review of Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy, p. 58.

Film Quarterly, fall, 1992, Mark A. Reid, review of Diary of a Young Soul Rebel, pp. 56-57.

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, winter, 1987, Flo Leibowitz, review of Tracking the Signifier: Theoretical Essays: Film, Linguistics, Literature, pp. 314-316.

London Review of Books, December 19, 1985, Eric Griffiths, review of Theoretical Essays, pp. 9-10; October 16, 1997, Andrew O'Hara, review of Who Is Andy Warhol?, p. 12.

New Statesman, September 19, 1980, Terry Eagleton, review of James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word, p. 21; August 20, 1982, Tom Paulin, review of James Joyce, p. 20; November 24, 2003, Sukhdev Sandhu, "The Parlour Nihilist," review of Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy, p. 51.

Poetics Today, Volume 8, number 1, 1987, Janet Rex, review of Tracking the Signifier, pp. 194-196.

Sight and Sound, August, 1997, review of Who Is Andy Warhol?, p. 33.

Times Educational Supplement, January 3, 1986, Robin Buss, review of Theoretical Essays, p. 17; August, 1986, Robin Buss, review of The BBC and Public Service Broadcasting and High Theory/Low Culture, p. 18.

Times Literary Supplement, December 21, 1979, Richard Brown, review of James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word, p. 155; March 23, 1984, review of James Joyce, p. 319; February 14, 1986, Christopher Butler, review of Theoretical Essays, p. 170; September 12, 1986, Noel Annan, review of The BBC and Public Service Broadcasting, pp. 991-993; May 28, 1993, Steven Connor, review of On the Eloquence of the Vulgar, pp. 15-16; December 25, 1998, Sylvia Brownrigg, review of Performance, p. 28.

Wilson Quarterly, spring, 2004, Christopher Byrd, review of Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy, p. 117.


Bloomsbury Review Web site, (May 18, 2006), biography of Colin MacCabe."

University of Pittsburgh English Department Web site, (May 18, 2006), brief biography on Colin MacCabe."*