November 11, 2020

Breath, Eyes, Public Memory: representing the basic elements of life in a time of crisis

Angelo Fick

Breath and the inspiration of air into the human corporeal form have long been central to considering the relationship between the human the metaphysical across various traditions, whether the religious traditions of Abrahamic thought, or so-called pagan traditions.  In analytical responses to the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, many phrased the oppression and thanatic impulses of the dictatorships in terms of trouble with breathing (Baranczak among others).  Recently the murder of George Floyd became the fulcrum in a movement to reclaim ‘the right to breathe’ (metaphorically and literally) in what is often considered one of the longest-surviving and leading democracies in which the repressive working of the state has long blighted the self-image of the state.  Here in South Africa, a polity blighted with breathing troubles related to disease (tuberculosis and silicosis, central to the industrialisation over the last 100 years) but also repression, there is now an intensified scrutiny of obstacles to ‘the right to breathe’ and the State failure to enable rather than hamper that right, metaphorically as well as literally.  Now, through the Covid-crisis, breathing is once more prominent in public debate.  This presentation will explore how current concerns with breathing as life in contemporary South Africa’s attempt to deal with the Covid-crisis are metonymic of larger concerns in late industrial capitalism with concerns over the right to life, epitomised by the right to breath and to breathe.


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Angelo Fick

About Angelo Fick

Angelo Fick is the Director of Research at the Auwal Socioeconomic Research Institute (ASRI) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Before joining ASRI, he spent nearly half a decade as a resident current affairs and news analyst in the broadcast sector in South Africa, and he continues to give political commentary across various broadcast platforms across the African continent and for TeleSUR, CGTN and the BBC. For two decades he taught across a variety of disciplines in the Humanities and Applied Sciences in universities in South Africa and Europe, including the Department of English at the University of Cape Town, the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, the Centre for Science Access at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in South Africa. He held a UNESCO Fellowship at the Centre for Women’s Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.  His research is informed by critical ‘race’ theory, feminism, colonial discourse theory, and post-structuralism. He has written widely on post-millennial post-apartheid South Africa’s political economy, and remains interested in broader issues of justice, freedom, and equality. Most recently he taught courses on colonial discourse theory and postcolonial culture in the Department of Visual Culture at the University of Pretoria. He has supervised graduate work on the representation of women politicians in South African media, the figuration of subjectivity in contemporary critical theory, and most recently, an analysis of the relationship between national sovereignty and supra-national organisations in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. His work has appeared in the Mail & Guardian, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, The Funambulist Magazine (Paris), Women Writing Africa (Feminist Press and CUNY), Cuba Counterpoints, The Johannesburg Review of Books and English in Africa.