Magic Mountain: The Media of Messianism and the Mark of Marikana in South Africa

Monday 3 November 2014, 4.30PM

Speaker(s): Professor Rosalind Morris (Columbia University)

In the aftermath of the bloody strikes at Marikana, South Africans heard mineworkers speak of “going to the mountain.”  A literal hill Clive van den Berg, African Landscape, 2014‌above the Lonmin complex made that phrase seem innocent, a merely referential gesture.  But elsewhere, in other strikes at other locations, the same phrase surfaced as a metaphor for the gathering of mineworkers in crowds whose forms of communication were dominated by massified face-to-face address. Arenas of contestation and nearly ecstatic self-presencing, the mountain has become the name of an aspiration to unity, but also of a violent contradiction between the desire for and the failure of representationalism. 

The forms of speech that circulate at strikes, and that suffuse the public sphere are often ones in which a certain fetishism can be seen to operate: bureaucratic forms have acquired autonomy, and repetition and redundancy threaten to evacuate the expressive capacities of language, even as mineworkers say that, on the mountain, words make things happen.  This paper is an exploration of the messianic element in contemporary South African labor contexts, as a phenomenon of language in which force is liberated from representation. At the same time, it considers the countervailing tendency in such messianism to locate speech, and to thereby code it in terms of place.  In closing, I consider the ways in which labor discourse participates in the long history of landscape-work that has elsewhere been the object of aesthetic intervention, to problematize the ways in which contemporary artists have responded to Marikana by rendering that event not as a scene of the performative but as a space of the mark.

Image: Clive van den Berg, African Landscape, 2014

Location: The Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul