In The Obsolescence of Humankind (Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen), Günther Anders describes a third industrial revolution, characterized not only by the substitution of humans by technology, and the subsequent mimicry of machines by humans, but by an improbable lack of poverty, an incapacity to keep up with the economy’s demand for ever-increasing ‘needs’. The symptom of that strangely doubled lack was to be found in the aestheticization of manual labor and the revalorization of ‘craft’. Anders was thinking about highly industrialized societies. He did not conceive, as did Walter Benjamin, the dialectical simultaneity of industrialization and its own ruination, nor of the twinned emergence of technological reproduction and scavenging. For Benjamin, the figure of the rag-picker, foraging in the ruins of the arcades, functioned as the visible sign of this entangled co-emergence – which made even waste a source of value. Yet Benjamin, too, remained focused on European modernity.
What might our understanding of de-industrializing and postindustrial life look like if it included the spaces of the colonized world? In the abandoned mines of southern Africa, the figure of the ragpicker is occupied by the zama zama miner: an undocumented itinerant who scavenges for gold in the abandoned skeletons of deep industrial mines. This figure is at once hypervisible as figure, and invisible to and for normative understandings of the migrant.
Over the last three years, Rosalind C. Morris has been making a film with individuals who occ
upy this simultaneously occluded and fetishistically remarked term. The lecture theorizes the histories and forms of becoming visible under this term, while reflecting on the forms of understanding, as well as the possibilities and limits, that inhere in videography and what Jean Rouch once termed “cine-ethnography”.
Rosalind C. Morris is Professor at the Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, New York, and Andrew W. Mellon Fellow of the Humanities, American Academy in Berlin. Her publications include: The Returns of Fetishism: Charles de Brosses and the Afterlives of an Idea (2017), Accounts and Drawings from Underground: East Rand Proprietary Mines, 1906, (together with William Kentridge, 2014), That Which is Not Drawn: William Kentridge in Conversation with Rosalind Morris (2013) and ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’: Essays on the History of an Idea (Editor, 2010).