Course Alias: 
Art and the Sociology of Popular Culture


  • Ari Sitas (wk1-4, 8-11)
  • Amrita Pande (5-7/11-12)


  • Mbongiseni Buthelezi
  • Mark Fleishman
  • Jay Pather
  • Omar Badsha
  • William Kentridge
  • Sumangala Damodaran
  • Mario Pissarra

Course Convener:

  • Ari Sitas (x 3510)

 The Course:

not found

Introduction (July 23): Theorising Signification and the Social (Sitas and Pande)

Part 1(July 30-August 6): The Voice and Poetry in Movements and Society (Sitas and Buthelezi)
Part 2 (August 13-August 27): Performance and the Theatres of Change (Pande, Fleishman, Pather)
Part 3 (September 10-September 17) The Eye and Popular Imagination (Sitas, Kentridge, Badsha,)
Part 4 (October 1-8-15)The Sounds of Music and Popular Culture (Sitas, Pande and Damodaran)
Part 5: (October 22-October 29th) The Eye and the Popular Imagination (Pissarra)

The Course Assessment:

  • An Essay (20%)
  • A Research Project (50%)
  • Seminar Presentations (10%)
  • 2 Seminar Submissions (20%)

Introduction: Theorising Signification and the Social (Ari Sitas, Amrita Pande)

Link Text with Freiburg

Ari Sitas(2012) Narrative, Allegory and Sociological Dialogue in a Globalising World, Cape Town/Freiburg

The Sociology of Art and Popular Culture

Vera Zolberg (1990), Constructing a Sociology of the Arts, Cambridge : New York Cambridge University Press 1990
Pierre Bourdieu (1987), Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,Massachussets: the Harvard University Press, 1984, Introduction, Chapter 1, Postscript
Pierre Bourdieu, (1995) The Rules of Art, Stanford: the University Press, Chapter 1.
Rolena Adorno (ed) From Oral to Written Expression: Native Andean Chronicles of the Early Colonial Period (1982)

Rolena Adorno, GuamanPoma: Writing and Resistance in Colonial Peru (1986,2000)

(Mayakovsky: Pro Eto)

Part 1: The Voice and Poetry in Movements and Society (Ari Sitas) an the Powers of Orality (Mbongiseni Buthelezi)

1A: Poetry, from the Avant-Garde to Revolution: Paris-Moscow-Mexico City to Everywhere: We start our story with a case-study of public poetry and its travels. We start from Walter Benjamin’s Paris, its arcades and its avant-gardes. Modern poets like Rimbaud did not only fight on the barricades of the Paris Commune but came to create a poetic language and intensity that was at once transgressive and vivi and a poetry, that had repercussions everywhere. The competing fields of expression from the hyperbolic symbolism of Rimbaud to the cubist, surrealist and futurist currents of the grand city become important aesthetic constellations for the cultural explosion before and after the Russian Revolution. Here we move onto Mayakovsky and his milieu of revolutionary currents and dreams- of constructivism and proletkult and of a poetry that imagined itself as public, as part of the public spectacles of the day. We explore the reversal of all that with the canonization of socialist realism after Stalin’s (1932) "On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations". To understand the implications of that it has to be read parallel to his “On the National Question” which makes it appropriate for developing societies to recover their folkloric and cultural past whilst at the same time insisting on socialist realism. Whereas the communist international makes art an important political activity everywhere, it at the same time makes it a transmission belt of Soviet ideas. We therefore move from Rimbaud’s “Season in Hell” and “the Drunken Boat”, Mayakovsky’s “Cloud in Trousers” and “Pro Eto” to understand a new tension. What is “exported” to Mexico City and Bombay, Johannesburg and Beijing is a peculiar and contradictory constellation of practices during the Stalin era.

Our second take on poetry turns back to Paris and Moscow to tell another version of the relationship between word and society. It is how surrealism and hyper-symbolism provide a language for the poetry of the perceived non-West. With Elytis and Cesaire the Parisian experience of the 1930s is immediate; for, Neruda it is highly mediated. It involves an emotive “incendence” (not a “transcendence”) in their perceived ‘backwardness” and creates the voice of restoration and re-genesis: Elytis’s Axion Esti is a redrafting of creation, of the geomorphology of the Aegean, of the byzantine and the Hellenic. For Cesaire it is the redrafting of African-ness and Blackness through his “Return to My Native Land” and finally, for Neruda- after the experience of the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and his experience of the Mexican muralists, it involves the re-drafting of the Panamerican cosmogenesis of “Canto General”. For Cesaire and for Neruda as communists, the Stalin take on the national question makes them admire their magical pueblo but it leads to a poetry that is as distant to socialist realism as night is to day. Elytis’s work becomes an axiomatic Left text once Mikis Theodorakis (then a communist) turns it into an epic of popular music.

1B: The African/South African Voice:

Background Texts

Walter Benjamin (1968), “Paris the Capital of the 19th Century”, New Left Review, 1/48. (For the brave, a look into Benjamin’s (1999) The Arcades Project, Cambridge, Mass. :Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Richard Stites (1989) Utopian Vision and experimental life in the Russian Revolution, New York: Oxford University Press.
Desmond Rochfort (1993) Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, London: L.King
The Flight of the Gwala Gwala Bird: Durban
Klaus Segbers, et al (2007), The Making of Global City Regions, Johannesburg, Mumbai/Bombay, Sao Paolo and Shanghai, Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press

Background Introductions

Look up Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Negritude and Constructivism as Movements
Anything on Socialist Realism and if possible Stalin’s (1932) "On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations" and his “On the National Question”
Edward J. Brown (1988), Mayakovsky- the Poet in the Revolution, London: Paragon Books
Rolf Hellebust (1997) AlekseiGastev and the Metallization of the Revolutionary Body Slavic review, 56 no.3
Bowen-Struyk, Heather (2006): Introduction: Proletarian Arts in East Asia in Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, Volume 14, Number 2, pp. 251-278


Charles Baudelaire, Selection from Flowers of Evil, Florence Louie Friedman, London: Elek Books, 1962
Arthur Rimbaud, Season in Hell and Drunken Boat
Vladimir Mayakovsky, Cloud in Trousers and About This (Pro Eto)
AimeCesaire, Return to My Native land
Pablo Neruda, Canto General, Selections
Odysseus Elytis, TheAxionEsti, Selections
Wally Serote, Selection from Third World Express,
The Shembe and Luthuli praise Poems from Gunner and Gwala’s, Musho!