Wednesday, 19 June 2013

God Again

I was sure he would be back and, lo and behold, there he was, shaking me out of slumber like he had no respect for my basic human right to a sound night’s sleep.

“Now listen good,” he said. “If you don’t get it this time, then fuck you, and you can live with the consequences, because this is your last chance. I’ve got better things to do with my time than …”

“Alright, alright,” I said. “You don’t have to shout. I’m awake and I’m sober. And I’ll write it down when you’ve finished.”

He then delivered a short lecture on story structure. I had heard it all before, from other sources, but I jotted down the main points anyway. We tell stories to find meaning and impose order on the world. (Yawn.) All good stories contain a protagonist, an antagonistic force, an inciting incident, a crisis, a climax and a resolution. (Formula for the Hollywood dreck cocktail, without the alcohol.) The universal narrative pattern consists of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Or flaw, challenge, resolution. (Ho-hum.) He prattled on about the basic elements of a good story.

“Where’s this going?” I said, interrupting him.

“Going? It’s probably going nowhere on account of your mulish nature,” he said. “Listen, Sonny-boy, I’m trying to advise you on how to write something that will actually sell.”

“I’ve got no problem with the formula,” I said. “Who says I’m trying to find a new formula?”

“Look,” he said, “I was about to tell you that although the formula is essential, there is more to it than that. A satisfactory story must also fit into a certain moral scheme.”

“Oh, like good triumphs over evil?” I said.

“Exactly,” he said. “But that needn’t confine you to happy-ever-after endings.”

“Huh!” I said. “Just so long as I put in some shit about the indomitable human spirit?”

“Right. People don’t want to be told they belong to a despicable species of animal and there is no purpose to their sordid existence. They want to be reassured that all will be well,” he said. “And they want to be entertained.”

“Ah, man!” I said. “Basically, what you’re telling me is that I should write what the vast majority of readers want, and that is genre kak.”

“And what’s wrong with genre kak?” he said. “If you’ve got a good plot, like I have just outlined, and you create interesting, three-dimensional characters, you can do a lot with genre kak. And it sells.”

“Okay,” I said, getting back into bed. “Thanks for the great advice, but now I must be getting my shut-eye. Please let yourself out the way you let yourself in.” And I turned over and went back to sleep.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Ever Heard Of An “Other Coloured’?

Fifteen years ago, there was no way you could have bought two prosthetic limbs for just R549.95. So it’s a bit misleading when I say I paid an arm and a leg for this book in 1998. But that is how it felt at the time, and I was afflicted by both guilt and resentment at shelling out all that moolah for a single volume. Yet I have never regretted the acquisition of A Dictionary Of South African English On Historical Principles. The price has turned out to be trifling, considering all the information I have gleaned from this book over the past decade and a half.

Just the other day I heard someone refer to a tortoise as a padloper. Ah, I thought to myself, I must look that one up when I get back. And I did indeed find an informative entry in the dictionary. However, on the way to P, my eye was distracted by something under O. Other Coloured? I had to stop and read it.

other coloured ppl adj. phr. and n. phr. Hist. Freq. with initial capitals. [See COLOURED.]
A. ppl adj. phr. Of or pertaining to a person who, during the apartheid era, was defined as ‘Other Coloured’ (see quot.1959) in the system of race classification. See also COLOURED ppl adj.
1959 Govt Gaz. Vol.195 No.6191, 11 Other Coloured Group: In the Other Coloured Group shall be included any person who is not included in the Cape Coloured Group, the Malay Group, the Griqua Group, the Chinese Group, the Indian Group or the Other Asiatic Group, and who is not a white person or a native as defined in section one of the Population Registration Act, 1950. 1971 [see CLASSIFICATION]. 1989 Frontline Apr. 32 In my family there were brothers classified ‘Cape Coloured’ and others classified ‘Other Coloured’, which caused a problem because the ‘Cape Coloureds’ were supposed to be the real thing. 1991 B. ROBERTSON in Sunday Times 14 July (Extra) 8 There were
many children of Oriental sailors and white prostitutes who were brought to welfare agencies ... The seamen were classified honorary whites and their offsprings were classified ‘Other Coloured’.
B. n. phr. One who, during the apartheid era, was classified as a member of the officially-defined ‘Other Coloured’ group, a sub-group of the ‘coloured’ group in terms of the POPULATION REGISTRATION ACT. See also COLOURED n.
1978 Drum June 79 The offspring of a coloured guy and a black girl would usually be classified as an ‘other coloured’. I say usually because there are some cases when the child is able to choose whether he wants to be classified as coloured or black.

One tends to forget what it was like living under apartheid, which is understandable but not wise. It is better to refresh the memory, now and again, by reading entries such as this one. It is then possible to keep within one’s grasp just how insane apartheid was, and how intellectually and morally deranged its architects and supporters were.

I am inclined to believe that by keeping an eye on human idiocy in the past one is better able to recognise lunacy that is endorsed or overlooked in the present. Like today’s
neoliberal economic dogma that condemns millions of people to unnecessary unemployment and poverty, while a small minority are able to amass excessive wealth for themselves and their families. As was apartheid, this too is a crazy system and one day it will be looked back on with disbelief.