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The Salon

Volume 1, 2009

Juan Orrantio
Editorial: Arguing for a Southern Salon
Lara Allen and Achille Mbembe
A global initiative emanating from the South, The Johannesburg Salon, aims to provide a public space dedicated to the discussion of ideas across three domains: intellectual, political and aesthetic.
South Polar Projection of Earth Photo: NASA
On Populism
Populism: The New Form of Radicalism?
Jean Comaroff
Populism is often little more than a 'figure of excitable speech' used to disparage and discredit. But can it - should it - also be more than this?
Un discour de Lula à Salvador Photo: Flickr/jean gabriel elia
South Africa: Toward Authoritar ian Populism?
Daryl Glaser
Should supporters of liberal democracy in South Africa fear the Zunami? Daryl Glaser suggests that those hoping for a quieter post-election life should be careful what they wish for.
Zuma Dawn Photo: Flickr/Warrenski
Ideas and Elections in India
Mukul Kesevan
Indian electoral politics may be animated by populism, caste-based politics and curious coalitions, but ultimately the process is still driven by notions of ‘democracy’ and other big ideas.
India voters at a BJP rally Photo: Flickr/Al Jazeera English/India Election
True Humanism
TRUE HUMANISM?: Civilisationism, Securitocracy and Racial Resignation
Paul Gilroy
The fundamental challenge of our time, asserts Paul Gilroy, is to imagine an ethical and just world that truly fulfils the promise of humanism and enacts the idea of universal human rights. This cannot be achieved through comfortable liberalism. It requires direct confrontation with both the discomforting realities of the dark shadow of colonialism and its ongoing legacy, and the continuing damaging naturalisation of racialised thinking.
Writing Back
Is there ‘a’ Postcolonial Condition?
Peter Geschiere
Peter Geschiere is concerned that the concept of ‘the postcolonial’ is too allembracing to be analytically useful. How could so many variants of colonialism produce one postcolonial condition? And how long does the postcolonial really last? In many places being in or post something else (like the cold war or neoliberalism) is arguably more defining.
Recuperating the Postcolonial: Dispatches from the US Classroom
Kerry Bystrom
Of course there is no ‘one’ postcolonial condition, responds Kerry Bystrom. But in literary studies at least, that’s not primarily what matters. The salience of a term like postcolonial resides in its ability to destabilise normative understandings and received perceptions, to ask questions and open up debate.
Postcolonial Who? Postcolonial What? Some Thoughts on the Subjects of the Postcolonial
Yara El-Ghadban
For Yara El-Ghadban the postcolonial still usefully describes much of contemporary life, even if used in different ways. Anyway, obsessing over the definition of terms risks diverting analytical energy away from more important concerns.
Is there ‘a’ Postcolonial Condition? A Response to Peter Geschiere
Megan Jones
A ‘catch-all’ term like postcolonial is a necessary evil, suggests Megan Jones: it provides a political rallying point.
On Postcolonialism
Rachel Signer
For Rachel Signer the postcolonial is the unavoidable condition of contemporary life for everyone.
Postcolonial Thought Explained to the French
An Interview with Achille Mbembe
Talking to French magazine Esprit in December 2006, Achille Mbembe suggests that postcolonial thought looks original because it developed in a transnational, eclectic vein from the very start. This enabled it to combine the antiimperialist tradition with a specific take on worldliness and a poetics of human mutuality. The interview was conducted by Olivier Mongin, Nathalie Lempereur and Jean-Louis Schlegel.
Politics and the Grammar of Mutuality
Thomas Cousins
Thomas Cousins reflects on the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism as a nascent experiment in re-thinking the political and evolving an intellectual community based on an ethic of mutuality.
Obama in Egypt: Appealing to Islam
Faisal Devji
Obama breaks ranks with international statesmanship and global institutional politics and appeals to personal ethics in the name of a common humanity. That’s why he interests ordinary people.
What is Left of the Left?
The End of Neoliberalism?
John Comaroff
International capital immune from most legal challenge; corporates that continue to take profit without shouldering loss; governments that are business: If the Left thinks neoliberalism is dead, it’s time for a radical process of thought-decolonisation.
That Melancholic Object of Desire: Work and Official Discourse Before and After Polokwane
Franco Barchiesi
Where is the dignity in what work? Franco Barchiesi examines the impossible disconnect between official discourses valorizing work as the precondition for social inclusion and citizenship, and the frail, exploitative, precarious reality of waged employment.
Pasts in the Present
The Future(s) of (Colonial) Nostalgia or Ruminations on Ruins
Pamila Gupta
Why is there a global boom in colonial nostalgia? And what, exactly, is it about colonialism that we are nostalgic for? Pamila Gupta ruminates on the possibilities nostalgia might offer for a future-oriented politics, utopian or otherwise.
Photo: Pamila Gupta
Accessible Archives
Lakshmi Subramanian
Lakshmi Subramanian relates the pleasures of going down with archival fever in South Africa.
Library Archives Photo: Flickr/Pete Ashton
Transitive Measures
Things Fall Apart after 50 Years: Tragedy and Existentialism in African Writing
Ato Quayson
Could the condition of social alienation experienced throughout Africa (usually attributed to transitions from the colonial to the post-colonial, and from the rural to the urban) be understood as constituting a widespread existential crisis? Ato Quayson explores Chinua Achebe’s novels for historical ambiguity, contemporary ambivalence, the impossibility of authentic action, and transitive measures.
A cover of “Things Fall Apart”, Ballantine Books, 1984. Photo: Flickr/lungstruck
Photography and Politics
Acts of State : A Photographic History of the Israeli Occupation
Ariella Azoulay
Politics and photography – does it work? If so, why and how? Israeli philosopher and visual theorist Ariella Azoulay curated a photographic exhibition on the occupation of Palestine Israel in a notorious apartheid prison, now the grounds of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. Juan Orrantia and Ravinder Kaur respond.
Unidentified photographer 1967 1967/09
In the Make
On a Knife Edge
Penny Siopis in conversation with Sarah Nuttall
Form and formlessness; violence and eroticism; horror and ecstasy: the precarious slip and a split of making art at the knife edge.
Hundred-pieces Photo courtesy of Penny Siopis and Michael Stevenson
The Paul Smith Shop, Joburg. Culture of Display, Culture of Concealment
Sarah Calburn
Fear and Clothing in Johannesburg: Sarah Calburn takes on the city’s addiction to the dislocated dream world of ultra capitalism, the mall, and prescribes an exclusive, excluding, floating, opaque pink glass box.
Paul Smith Boutique, Parkhurst. Photo: Adriaan Louw
A Residual Presence
Juan Orrantia
After photographing the everyday in the aftermath of terror in Colombia for over a year, I found myself in southern Africa. I heard stories of war and recovery in places that my own history made similar yet so different. This led me to Mozambique where I wanted to document the similarities and differences of resilience and imagination in the wake of violence. I went to places where events of terror had taken place. I followed the emptiness of landscapes filled with history and its material remains. I entered buildings where the different trajectories of wars have come together in its multiple reoccupations and imaginations. And so, as the work unfolds, I often wonder about the residues that fill our everyday landscapes, of the feelings they produce as they stroke our skin, as silent inhabitants of our dreams and nightmares.
In Short
Brothers in Blood
Megan Jones
Religious and racial misunderstanding and intolerance continue to mark the South African experience asserts Mike van Graan’s new theatre work.
Leila and Fadiel Photo courtesy of the Market Theatre
Ivor Chipkin on Nationalism, Democracy and the Identity of 'the People' in South Africa
Maria Frahm-Arp
South Africa is peopled by subjects not fully democratic citizens, argues Ivor Chipkin. For the latter occurs only when fraternity, equality and liberty are exercised with ethical responsibility, in line with the principles universal human rights, and this has not been achieved in theory or practice.
South Africans are Proud, Conservative and Unequal
Annie Leatt
South Africans identify by race, language group and nation, and are fundamentally conservative and traditional. At least that’s what public opinion showed six years ago. What might a more recent survey reveal?
Obituary Carol A. Breckenridge September 6, 1942 - October 4, 2009
Dipesh Chakrabarty
The historian and cultural critic Carol Breckenridge (b.1942) passed away on the morning of the 4th of October, 2009 in New York. She and her husband, Arjun Appadurai, founded the field-defining academic journal Public Culture in 1988.
Carol Breckenridge Photo: Arjun Appadurai