‘I was not yet myself’: representations of Kippie ‘Charlie Parker’ Moeketsi
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Black Atlantic representational economies commonly entail the translation of traces of a matrix of meaning from one diasporic context to another. These translations result in complex continuities and discontinuities between and within systems of meaning. At times, chains of signification defer meanings to other contexts, to other orders of knowledge and the particular configurations of power from which they are inextricable. Thus are set in motion asymmetrical symbolic economies in which fragments of meaning are invoked, appropriated and manipulated within the specific context of their reception. Rather than conceive of the black Atlantic as a reciprocal system of dialogic exchange, then, we might choose to emphasise these asymmetries and their constitutive ruptures.
This paper concerns a particular disjunctive representational history: the superimposition of the biography and cultural significance of Charlie Parker onto the life of Kippie Moeketsi, the legendary South African saxophonist. It traces the discontinuity between the modernist African America of bebop’s embedding and black South African accommodations to apartheid’s cruel and unusual modernity. In bridging this discontinuity, the argument suggests, representations of Moeketsi in both literature and reportage translate a specific poetics of cruelty, suffering and alienation in order to come to terms with the seam at which an individual’s capacity for improvisation faces the intractable power of the apartheid state. The paper concludes by considering how these representations insinuate a black Atlantic rhetoric of relation to create an aura of loss, a resonating silence across disjunctive acoustic and symbolic regimes. The ‘nothing,’ it will emerge, is filled with transactional meaning; Moeketsi’s dulled senses in the wake of electroshock therapy at the hands of the British medical establishment becomes the ‘something’ of ontological and political tragedy.
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