This essay examines the historical emergence and recent revival of the figure of the tsotsi via the transatlantic migration of aesthetic forms and their dispersal across generic and social spaces. The historical arc of the tsotsi traverses a period that opens at the beginning of apartheid and stretches into the present. I argue that this era saw the developing recognition on the part of the settler colonial state that coercive apparati needed to be supplemented by the desiring machinery of the mass media, which the South African state awkwardly appropriated, first through censorship and then through carefully controlled production, but always in a manner that was intended to sustain a racially differentiated relationship to consumption and the uneven development intrinsic to capital. Crucial to the tsotsi's emergence, I argue, are the relationships between cinema and other media forms (print, radio, sound recording, and so forth) and the structure of overhearing that they enable. Paying particular attention to the ways in which the jazz musical and cinema noir converged to produce a figure of masculine sovereignty defined by a refusal to not desire in a space of racially contained consumerism, I then consider how particular visual and linguistic practices were autonomized in the mode of style. At the center of the essay is an exploration of the apotheosis of masculinist claims to sovereignty via style; it concludes by reflecting on the gendered aporia in any politics of style.

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