This is not to denigrate Hall’s work; I think thinkers like Hall and Hebdige offer us really interesting models for doing complex thinking about the economy of culture. But Gramsci is a systematic, incredibly complex and advanced thinker - a philosopher in every possible sense - and his labor is not primarily critical but conceptual.
The text by Gramsci which is by far the most familiar and anthologized is something called “The Intellectuals.” Except that Gramsci never wrote an essay called “The Intellectuals.” Rather, “Formation of Italian intellectual groups: development, attitudes” is one of 16 topics that Gramsci lists as general headings on the first page of the first prison notebook; these topics are used in a broad way to organize Gramsci’s rhizomatic jottings and ruminations. “The Intellectuals” is a cut-and-paste operation drawn from several notes in several notebooks, with no indication whatever of where and why the cuts were made. It is to Gramsci as The Will to Power is to Nietzsche. Despite this, it is the piece of Gramsci’s thought that is often considered most representative of what his work is - and of course, here again we see the immense and endless narcissism of the intellectual: Gramsci wrote about every aspect of social, political, and civil organization from the history of the historiography of linguistics to the mating habits of American auto workers, but we only read the part that’s about us.
This a fundamental problem of the canon; it’s not specific to Gramsci. I’ve written before about the difference between knowing a thinker and understanding a thinker. In the history of philosophy, with very few exceptions, Hume is discussed in one of two ways. If you’re introduced to Hume in an analytic philosophy context, you learn that he can be summed up in two points: extreme skepticism; developed empiricism with Locke and Berkeley. If you’re introduced to Hume in a Continental philosophy context, you learn that he can be summed up in one point: Kant took Hume as his point of departure and developed the a priori synthesis as a direct response to Hume’s theory of the mind. And that’s all. You don’t learn about Hume’s humor and wit, his brilliance, his sophisticated and frankly unimpeachable system of ethics and civil society. The same holds true for so many thinkers.
When I encourage someone to “read” a particular philosopher, I mean read, I don’t mean read about. Secondary literature can help you organize, clarify, and refute, and these are all important parts of intellectual labor. But there is no substitute for reading a thinker’s own words. In the original language if possible, but if not, in a decently edited critical edition which explains to you the process and procedure of translation.
There’s no substitute for a primary text. An entire primary text. Not excerpts, not summaries, but the actual experience of working your way through a text from start to finish, the sensation of illumination as the pieces fall into place and unfold their shape. If you’re not experiencing that sensation, you may be reading texts that are important, either to you or to the canon of your field, but you are not reading the right texts for you. In this sense, philosophy is no different from literature: you don’t always know why you like the books you do, but you can always tell the ones you like from the ones you don’t.
That feeling in your gut is what the Stoics called assent and what Hume called belief. Cicero’s Academica, which is about his time in Athens and the philosophical disputations he witnessed there, tells of a debate between a Stoic and a skeptical Academic. The Stoic tells a story about Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, and how Zeno explained the four stages of cognition. First, Zeno held his palm out flat, and said: this is perception. The simple fact of a sensory impression. Then, Zeno pulled his fingertips together, and said: this is awareness. The sensory impression enters consciousness. Then, Zeno balled up his fist and said: this is understanding. The impression is processed and comprehended. And then Zeno wrapped his second hand around his fist and said: this is assent.
That feeling in your gut is just that: a feeling. But you’ll know it when you feel it. And when you do, being will unfold in wondrous new shapes. You know that moment in The Matrix when Neo starts to see the world in green and black source code? That’s what it’s like. It’s what the Yogic tradition calls Jñāna yoga: oneness in knowledge. If philosophy isn’t your thing, that’s cool. But if philosophy is important to you, keep looking until you find it. And then you’ll know.