Post-Postcolonial: Figaro South of the Zambesi

Thursday, 1 October, 2015 - 13:00

A seminar presented by Danny Herwitz.  Participants should please read the attached extracts prior to the seminar. 

Abstract : Young people today, in South Africa and in other parts of the global world, are turning to paradigmatically European forms like opera, challenging postcolonial canons of authenticity: raising questions about whether the postcolonial world, understood as that which appeared in the immediate moment of decolonization and nation-building, and addressed itself to the critique of colonialism and the role of the vast apparatus of knowledge in constructing its ideology, is now out of date in the second decade of the twenty first century. Are these young persons simply naïve when they pursue Mozart, Verdi and Puccini? Are they unaware of the larger cultural politics in which they dwell? Do they fundamentally lack historical memory? And what should the role of such memory be for them? This chapter of an as yet unpublished manuscript entitled Post-Postcolonial: Art, Music and Culture in a Global World, provides a long meditation on these questions by way of listening to a debate between two sets of young South Africans, one a group of singers from the Cape Town School of Opera, the other a group of postgraduates, about the putative "authenticity" of singing opera in the new South Africa. It rehearses the "logic" of Eurocentrism into which opera once fit, and asks what the stakes are in a cosmopolitan world of making opera "one's own", and not only that, producing a global contribution to the medium in the course of it. These things are not discussed in the abstract but around a particular, and impressive performance of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro by the Cape Town gang. The larger question of my book is how to consider the question of whether the postcolonial world and its archive of thought, certainly one of the great achievements of the twentieth century, is a thing past its sell-by date in the global world of the twenty first century. And how to do this not in the abstract but through close readings of what is happening in art, music and culture.