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7 - Coloured Opera and the Violence of Dis-identification

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 October 2020

João Pedro Cachopo
Affiliation:
Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal
Patrick Nickleson
Affiliation:
Queen's University at Kingston
Chris Stover
Affiliation:
Universitetet i Oslo
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Summary

In the day [Jimmy Momberg] polishes the floors of the City Hall. Night time he sings the leading role … And we always used to joke among ourselves and say to him: ‘Jimmy, you really polish up that front part nicely, not so, [sic] because you’re standing there tonight!’

Jimmy Momberg's story defies the neat categorisations of apartheid classification. Marked by the state as a so-called coloured body, Momberg was employed as a cleaner at the Cape Town City Hall, the kind of vocation deemed too lowly for a white man in apartheid South Africa. At night, he stepped on to the very same stage, not as a cleaner, but as one of the stellar soloists of the Eoan group, South Africa's first grassroots company to perform full-scale operas. This chapter draws on the work of Jacques Rancière to understand better the suturing of aesthetics and dissensual politics acted out by the Eoan group. More importantly, it will set scenes from the Eoan archive to work on Rancièrean thought to render visible the limits and omissions that his avowedly Eurocentric premises are at risk of normalising. Commenting on the Eurocentric underpinnings of Rancière’s work, decolonial theorist Walter Mignolo writes that ‘[Rancière’s] examples never cross the Mediterranean toward the south of Italy, neither does he go toward the east of Greece, and never to the north of Germany’. Mignolo's observation is not entirely accurate. In The Emancipated Spectator, Rancière traverses the destitute geographies of Rwanda, Sudan, Cambodia and Palestine. Yet these examples often serve only a demonstrative purpose in Rancière's conception of politics and aesthetics, formulations that have theoretical origins in his earlier writings, notably his research on nineteenth-century French worker archives.

Despite this demonstrative presence, there is little in Rancière’s published writings that could act as a postcolonial antidote to his largely Eurocentric focus. This is not surprising if one considers his reluctance to state the problem of politics in terms of postcolonial identity. Rancière concedes that his interest has not been in formulating a theory of the subject (postcolonial or otherwise), but in the ‘process of subjectification’ as a form of dis-identification.

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Ranciere and Music , pp. 156 - 174
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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