Things I (Don’t) Know

The world is round. Well, actually it’s an oblate spheroid,1 but who’s going to quibble over that? “Quibble”2 is attested to from the 1600s and, like most (if not all?) of our qui- words in English, stems from Latin. Latin is often referred to as a “dead language”. It isn’t.3 There is a newspaper on current affairs published in Latin, there is a small social network in Latin, there is a Finnish radio station that does news in Latin4, and you can buy Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis at Amazon. Jeff Bezos, founder and blah-blah of Amazon was worth $19.1-billion in late 2011; I wonder if he feels poor when he hangs with Carlos Slim ($69-billion), Bill Gates ($61-billion), or Warren Buffett ($44-billion). South Africa’s richest man is Nicky Oppenheimer who, with only $6.8-billion, is practically skint. Although he could buy 20,000 (R150,000)5 houses for only half his fortune. If the Ruperts, Christoffel Wiese and Patrice Motsepe chipped in they could buy double that many. The housing backlog in South Africa is 2.1 million. When I think of the term “backlog” I think of constipation.

Sometimes, when I’ve had to hold on to my number two for too long, I get an immense amount of pleasure from the movement’s passing. Judging by the other males6 in boarding school, residence, and shared houses, I guess that I am not alone in this scatological delight. I am not put off by very many fetishes and, in fact, have a few of my own including hiding language exercises in things I write as a way to amuse myself. These are sometimes called Easter Eggs7 and there is one two (too? to?) sentences back. But, let’s be frank,8 this isn’t a real fetish and I probably disappointed you when I said that. Things that disappoint me include: capitalism, the current state of democracy, Natalie Portman’s and James Franco’s acting in Your Highness, when people don’t use the possessive before the participle,9 that I can’t get Vicodin in South Africa, and hipsters who pretend they’ve read Kafka, Nabokov, Tolstoy, Proust and David Foster Wallace.10 I have been struggling through The Pale King and have recently acquired Infinite Jest. Infinite Jest is 1079 pages, weighs 1.1kg, and cost the person who bought it for me as a gift $13.47. It was bought from Amazon and delivered to Iowa. It was then taken to Denver, flown through Heathrow into Cape Town and driven to Stellenbosch. Talk about a carbon footprint – I probably have to plant 30 trees, including one for the book’s paper alone. I’d happily plant Marijuana, but that’s illegal.11 I don’t think even something as scary as global warming will be an adequate excuse for the use and distribution of such a dangerous plant. I didn’t think it, but two Nobel Prize winners deny that man is causing global warming. Gary S. Becker is an economist. Ivar Giaever is a physics professor who won his Nobel while working at General Electric. Huh.

General Electric has a South African branch. They have been in South Africa over a century, they say.12 That’s about 1912, then. The same year the South African Native National Congress was founded in Bloemfontein. I wonder if General Electric funded that indaba? Sol Plaatje was there. Sol Plaatje was the first black person to write an English novel, Mhudi. I’ve read it but I couldn’t tell you a thing about it. Yes, I am white, kind of, no, I don’t think that makes me racist.

The list of books by white people whose details elude me includes: Amsterdam – McEwan, Story of the Eye – Bataille, Blood Kin – Ceridwen Dovey, Pride and Prejudice – Austen, and King Solomon’s Mines – Rider Haggard. I remember bits of Dickens, Borges, Shakespeare, the Brontes, Franzen and others. I remember well Disgrace, The Stranger, Catcher in the Rye, Portnoy’s Complaint, and The Power of One. The well-read reader will think my reading is shallow.13 I’ve read Seneca, Catullus, and Ovid untranslated. I’ve read the ancient Greek Bible.14 I’ve read numerous poems by Larkin, Breytenbach, cummings, and I’ve tried Ashberry, Krog, and Baderoon. I’ve never read any Mellville, Eggers, Delillo, Updike, Galgut, or Coovadia. They sit on my shelves with many others besides: Eco, Chabon, Easton-Ellis, Morisson, Adichie, Naipaul, Foucault. I have mentioned South African authors intentionally as I have continually to combat the colonial attitude educated into me as well as the splitting of the infinitive.15

Linguistic prescriptivism is funny. Languages change. Get over it. Languages mix. Get over it. Afrikaans, just relax. Purity is constructed. Let it do what it will do, it’ll be a happier language. Die meerderheid van my ondergraadse klasse was in die T-Opsie gewees.16 I have no problem with that. I enjoy speaking Afrikaans even though many white Afrikaners laugh at my accent. Very few coloured Afrikaans speakers laugh at my accent. I googled “what should I do if someone laughs at my accent”. The omnipotent wizard17 told me: “Tell them their aura looks sour and they should get it serviced.” This is funny even though I don’t believe in auras. E.B. White apparently once said: “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies.” This is pithy but not true in my case. Dissecting humour brings me much comfort. Carlin, Pryor, Hicks, Carr, and Moran are my favourites as, I suspect, is the case for many people.18 I think comedy is underrated as an art-form; have you ever watched Louis C.K?

While “have you ever” questions mostly irritate me, I understand that they are a way for us to connect. Human connections are showing up in certain social and human sciences circles these days.19 Maybe it’s my imagination or maybe this increased mobility20 foregrounds issues of identity, connections, social groupings, and the like. The world is getting smaller, for some, they say, metaphorically. Jersey Shore is in South Africa. We don’t need more rich, o-billionoxious, fake-tanned, super hair-gelled, narcissistic wastes-of-space. We have Sandton.21

The world has a sanitation problem. There are 2.6-billion people who don’t have a place to shit. The world has a food problem. There are 800-million who do not have enough food. The USA produced 34mn tons of food waste in 201022. Alanis Morisette sold 33-million copies of Jagged Little Pill. She is a vegan. Allegedly Coetzee is a vegetarian and Mda a vegan. Max Normal have exhorted23 us to Eat Meat. They must make PETA sad.

Ninja is not, I think, actually Zef, just really good at performance art. I have interviewed him; he was hell to get answers out of. Koos Kombuis was not. I am sad Kombuis has given up pot. Ninja, I think, has not. Do South African creatives talk to one another? Does Chris Chameleon know the poems of Loftus Marais? Have BLK JKS talked to Finuala Dowling?
Do you sleep well at night? Why?


1. It’s a little flat at the poles and bulges at the beltline.
2. In case you’re wondering, it is both a verb and a noun meaning; to ‘argue over petty things’ and ‘a petty argument’, respectively. It may have other uses. I can’t be arsed.
3. Insert cheesy zombie metaphor here. Those sell books.
4. I studied Latin. There were four of us. Très popular. We and the subject both.
5. Yes, you can get houses for that price.
6. This is not sexism, this is observation.
7. For quite obvious reasons.
8. Strictly speaking I’m J.D., and even that’s a pseudonym. Childish endnotes FTW.
9. Or is it a gerund?
10. Much of this piece is inspired by this man as well as Edouard Levé, but I’m not going to tell you how because you should have to investigate this shit yourself.
11. Here. Not everywhere. Not always.
12. Proudly displayed on the website, nogals.
13. Though Derrida once amusingly declared that while he’d only read one book in his library, he’d read it really well.
14. I am an atheist.
15. hese things come from the elite school I went to in KZN. It costs more per year than literally billions of people earn.
16. The majority of my undergraduate classes were in the bilingual option.
17. Just like God.
18. Even Comedy Central agrees.
19. If you think this sounds silly, you are incredibly alert to irony and should get help.
20. Globalisation, dummy.
21. I’ve never been to Sandton. This joke was just for cheap laughs. I think.
22. ou do the maths.
23. Exhort=Urge. Not sexual.

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