Louise Meintjes’s Dust of the Zulu: Ngoma Aesthetics After Apartheid (Duke University Press, 2017) is an ethnography of post-aparteid ngoma dance—a competitive dance developed under the machinations of colonial legacies and its inherited violence. These machinations and their mediation during late apartheid depicted Zulu men “as warriors,” though the performances have a much longer history of violence in encounter—including its representation. Meinjtes writes that colonists and white nationalists leveraged their representations of the performances “to justify their politics of dehumanization in the interests of their imperial, entrepreneurial, and nation-building projects, whether in the 1890s or the 1980s.” Dust of the Zulu is an attempt to reckon with this history, to suggest that the daily dance of labor is “less a genre to be culturally contextualized than an embodied practice.” As a dance that emerged from migrant labor during the twentieth century as mining interests developed with the South African state, ngoma’s aesthetic dimension cannot be understood apart from its politico-economic context, nor the confluence of violence and masculinity that characterize both its labor and recreation.
More than a beautifully written monograph, Dust of the Zulu does not try to render or represent its subject, nor disentangle it from its embodied history. Instead, it performs an energetics of understanding through interrogating the multiple aesthetic modalities at hand: writing in a variety of registers or alongside TJ Lemon’s photographs, and alluding to recordings of audiovisual material that both comment on and interleave with the dance itself. The availability of these modalities deepens what it means to know the sensory world by the means of knowing the sensory world. Mientjes expertly balances her own mimetic writing with exposition to examine the ways in which sense becomes form, and sensibility constitutes the formations of anger (ukala), voice, body, masculinity, and military—the world of ngoma.
Contributing editors responded to Dust of the Zulu for the Society for Cultural Anthropology’s Bateson Book Forum. Benjamin Bean takes up the implications of “play” when dealing with the aesthetic-political. Megan Jeanne Gette questions the modality of the written ethnography itself when dealing with issues of the sensory and aesthetic world. Robyn Holly Taylor-Neu attunes to the mimetic and ambiguous qualities of the writing that confer with ngoma performance. Lastly, Beth Derderian builds on this strategic ambiguity to apply it to her own research with UAE artists and their citizenship status, confirming that art and aesthetics are capacious enough to hold the terms of unknowing while foreshadowing a politics through litigation.
Posts in This Series
Sometimes We Are Just Playing
For those of us who believe in the power of performing arts to effect political change, heal social wounds, or empower marginalized individuals, Louise Meintjes... More
On the Value and Versatility of Strategic Ambiguity
In Dust of the Zulu: Ngoma Aesthetics after Apartheid (Duke University Press, 2017), Louise Meintjes’s analysis of the ambiguity of aesthetics in ngoma can serv... More
Dear Dr. Meintjes,I find myself caught by the resonance between Dust of the Zulu’s (Duke University Press, 2017) poetics and its ethnographic material. In this ... More
Dance and Detachment
What would a sounded anthropology be? —Louise Meintjes et. al, “Soundscapes: Toward a Sounded Anthropology”Reading Dust of the Zulu: Ngoma Aesthetics after Apar... More