Now I think poetry will save nothing from oblivion, but I keep writing about the ordinary because for me it’s the home of the extraordinary, the only home. >>>Philip Levine
In eight weeks a lot can happen and does. It doesn‘t precisely have to be eight weeks but that is what it feels like in my muddled estimation. Though, if I calculate it to be fifty-six days then it sounds much less plausible, suggesting a phony precision of circadian (is that the adjective?) guesstimational competence, which cannot be. Two months, on the other hand, sounds lazy, the equivalent of a fat finger stabbing thin air. Eight weeks then. If I were to make notes, which I should‘ve been doing for at least 18yrs now but‘ve failed, then I could draw on them to give a rich or impoverished but, at any rate, plentiful account of how these past 60 or so days have been filling up. Building towards a critical mass of events and, in retrospect, minor narratives, storylines the logic of which defy me or I am unable to reconstruct. All that is narrative melts into air.
For example. How a fresh relationship with a young, lovely woman has progressed from the somatic to the intellectuo-somatic. Incorrect, that‘s not what happened, there was no physical exclusivity to begin with nor an intellectual component that only got admixed latter in the process, the progression. It was both or nothing from the very beginning. Bodies with a brain if you will, though, to be precise, there was a premium on lips in their polyvalent functions. Apart from ship-sinking. No way to talk about one‘s relationships without coming off like a coy, smug fucko.
Another thing, something about all the famous people who departed, many generations above me, mind you, making me feel nevertheless unexpectedly and unenjoyably, aye, evanescent. Oblivion‘s bitter sirencall: thou too shall pass. I would and likely should hold forth at great length about Madiba‘s passing but then who with a pen or keyboard in working order and a passing acquaintance with the alphabet hasn‘t this past fortnight. Yes or yes?
No, I‘d rather not. Likely the most memorable event was, and I kid you to no degree, seeing how easily and unappreciably things fall apart. I mean, objects, including the human shape, simply decompose out of the blue and there is a very limited amount of countermeasures we can take. I am referring to ten days or so ago coming out of the Pepperoncini, of no fame, approaching a roundabout of somnabulant family-neighborhood traffic, one where cars creep about in terror of jaywalking toddlers and whose drivers mentally extend the zebra 20 meters in either direction, coming to a halt while a pedestrian finds herself still at an embarassingly far remove from it and thus hastens her step, approaching it and seeing such a car loose its plastic hub cap; at that very moment. What could possibly be more unspectacular than a slow moving car loosing its hub cap? None of the bystanders even took note as the cheap hubcap went pinwheeling past, progressing on one of the roundabout‘s infinite tangents while the car took a mild turn left. Turned all the way and drove back the exact same street it came from, specifically come here to inauspiciously calf a hubcap: good riddance you plastick piece of shite!
It bounced, very alone from where I could see, and made plasticky noises when the curbstone jolted it upwards. 30 kilometers an hour, tops, slower, I would guess, now that I fully recall the specifics of the situation: the youpa quartier, the make of the car, the maximal permissible velocity in roundabouts. There it went. The hub cap, one of the least integral parts of a car, like loosing part of a fingernail, the part that is not attached to the flesh. ,Oblivion!‘ is all I could think, I swear. Or ,Death!‘. I cannot remember with any useful degree of certainy [the autobiographical prerogative]. Definitely thought about how the heart or a lackluster artery or a maverick, malignant cluster of cells would one day, inside myself, night-mare al dentro, come loose and spin away from life‘s somniferous roundabout: kajuuuuuunk, juuuuunk, junxh, blllllnk. Maybe someone lifts their head to note a disturbance of the air, polarizingly cold as it is: „Say…whatever happened to that other kid, what‘s-his-name?“
The plastic saucer stopped in a desiccated roadside hedge where a kid would consider it a choice find. I can see the kid smile in disbelief, I can hear the kid thinking to itself why somebody would just leave it here, this valuable object. Really perfect, if you consider the matter, for constructing a shield to protect yourself from unwelcome hazel-twig blows. I was almost of a mind to go and pluck it ouf the shrubbery until, with a pang, no, a derailed heart, I either remembered or realized that I‘m not a child anymore. Not understood to be.
A few novelists are word-perfect in this regard: you remember the small, exhaustingly idiosyncratic details. As if the memory had a mind of its own the intentions of which you will never divine, not even in your own entrails and dreams. The same day of the hubcap, I seem to recall, I crossed a street not far away at all and, to my wide-eyed dismay, saw a fellow wear the very same shoes I was wearing then and there. Again, a triviality second to none, so vapid it beggars me to find myself writing about it. But not in years, by blind chance, blind alright, have I seen anybody wear the same sneakers as I do. Any identical item of clothing. Plus these had seemed to me, imported from turtle island, of an improbable color and recherche brand, to be rara avis among shoework. Not so, Thembo! Here was a totally unprepossessing fellow, shady of appearance to put it benevolently, puffing away on his stupid tarlet, wearing MY beloved shoes in full daylight! Mine! A sartorial slap in the face if shoes may be counted among sartorial items. Seized by a style-related vanity I had had absolutely no inkling of I even found myself glancing about to see if anybody noticed the identical pair of shoes. That a stranger might establish a family-resemblance in his/her mind between myself and the impostor, somebody I would never in a thousand years meet, was a hellacious notion.
So here I am/was, a goodly western-style individual always thinking he doesn‘t give a flying one about clothing and such trivialities but when a random bloke shows up sporting the same sneaks, I loose my cool! My eensy-weensy zen is zapped. And there wasn‘t a spark of rationality about my reaction; all it had been, doing the damage count now, is again and again being gifted unbidden compliments on my sneaker predeliction, detecting sideway-downward glances at my cardinal NBs and myself occasionally enjoying their bounce and fiery look. And here was this bum, this hobo, this derelict bastard daring to wear my favourite shoes, my brand, my… discovery! I simply watched him amble past, son of an alien-raped-manatee, not discovering a single similarity between the two of us. Except, bloody hell, our immortal sneakers! Somewhere in the Middle East there is a certain crime that is punished by cutting off of the feet, well then.
So now anyway, I know better than to let a surreptitious process of identity construction into which clothes creep and, who knows?, worse, lowjack my sense of self. The books are just the books. The books are nothing but the books are nothing but the lovely books. And the GalaxyII be the GalaxyII, is only and for the forseeable, unfractured future the GalaxyII. Even the rainbowy NBs are only rainbowy NBs are only polychromatic, staggeringly aesthetic running shoes, only just sneaks. To be worn at any moment by a passing stranger or worse. There is always worse.
Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest human beings ever to wander the lands. I think that something could be stated about Madiba‘s death after all. First of all this address itself, „Madiba“. It sounds so inappropriately intimate, as though this man had been a family friend to every single one of us, the glum, whimsical global community: „Dear Uncle Madiba, I wish you‘d‘ve stayed a little longer“. To a man only a milli-fraction of us ever met in person. I don‘t have a clear grasp: we wanted him as a surrogate father or uncle? we knew him so well through the books and movies? his aura was so infectiously familial we could only perceive him within a blood-relation-matrix? what exactly? Madiba? The painful silence to this last.
But no, that‘s not my point here. The immensity of the event is. How seemingly the entire world had been dreading but expecting this moment ever since the old man walked out of gaol, fist raised to challenge and propell the incomprehensible fate of a nation. Not a rainbow in sight, not even a cloud. Just South African crowds witnessing a historic event, standing in race- and class-encrypted clusters. The release I mean, not the funeral. The release was, without a doubt, an epiphany, a moment when one could easily and palpably sense that not all is wrong with humanity, that hope is yet abroad.
The funeral wasn‘t the opposite either. Despite all premonitions, despite the dead-certain knowledge how hundreds of articles and interviews were being squirelled away during the last two or three times around the sun, despite a long walk fading into bedridden decency, despite foreknowledge, it still came as a surprise. Out of left-field as the turtle islanders put it. It had been so long in coming and hadn‘t come to pass that I‘d almost forgotten about it. Until I turned over an unliked sunday newspaper [nzz, naturally] to behold the late, great leader‘s countenance. Nelson Mandela. Dead @ 95. Peacefully departed in his sleep [please forgive but much like how Paul Walker died ,only seconds after impact‘, not in the infernal fire; we, the living, need our assurances]. This turning over of the page was followed by an cloyingly self-conscious moment of „Man, again one of these ,I will never forget this moment‘s. Anything clever I could think to tell people I was thinking or doing at this moment? Except for this allegedly postmodern, self-consciousness crapola? Etc.“. The best thing was to focus on breakfast and the bradykinetic Sunday ahead, which I did. Thinking about this event in advance, I had vaguely expected some sadness, possibly tears as I am constructed close to the water when it comes to public… griefing. But my sorrow was very, very faint, just a whisper of faraway tears, tears in Kazankulu. My thinking is what probably most levelheaded folks‘ has been: good for the good, old, ailing man that he was finally able to leave this vale of so-and-so. Despite whatall desperate measures, I imagine, wrongly I hope, his close ones might‘ve taken to keep his heart beating. At least his mind. But his body‘s a different story, is the story.
For ten days Mandela‘s remains got carted and shipped and flown around S.A. to a flurry of funerary services. It was like a pseudo-democratic goodbye tour. Pseudo because in a nation of 35millions it was an impossibility to get everybody to clap their eyes on the ballot-casket. And more pseudo because it is hardly imaginable that dear Madiba, when he yet had some powers left and this travesty certainly was already in the works, was allowed to sign off on it: „Yes, yes. And what about Bloemfontein? Shouldn‘t I also be put on display there, as a final salute to racial reconciliation?“ But then what if he did? This is not an attempt at cynicism, it‘s a question of wheter a person is allowed to be more complex, multi-shaded, rainbowy than his or her official mythology. For example: he was said to be great friends with Zuma. To me, that piece of news was quite an uppercut: Zuma, he of post-family-member-raping-anti-HIV-Coca-Cola-drinking-infamy. And this too is far from the point. I mean, I couldn‘t have envisioned a ten-day circus with Nelson Mandela‘s body being ferried from one location (!) to another and BBC, CNN, et al. in unending, daily-live-coverage hot pursuit. Though I probably should have. Ten days. That huge service in Jo-Burg. The head of states flying in from every corner of the world and alQ either unprepared or inoperative or smothered. Must‘ve been the really body after all, which got dumped at sea.
A minor surprise was finding, in a Guardian inundated by dozens of articles, both freshly squeezed and backlogged, about the 20th century‘s last great freedomfighter [ignoring Fidel Castro], only one single slightly critical article. By Zizek, who else? Though not a S.A. expert and uninterested in character-vandalization, the man pretty much nailed. NM is a safe hero, he didn‘t fundamentally rock the neoliberal boat [he actually tried but got stymied doublequick, see Bond‘s Elite Transition]. If he had carried out his original redistributional policies [not based on racial atavisms], there‘s a good chance the political landscape of SouthAfrica would look quite different nowadays. It‘s hard to imagine the Boers wouldn‘t have insisted on a violent resolution. It‘s hard to imagine the international community wouldn‘t have stabbed the rainbow nation in its back [which it did anyway]. It‘s hard to imagine Switzerland would‘ve got to keep all its gold [where‘d it come from, one wonders].It‘s hard to imagine there would be this outrageous a level of inequality. It‘s hard to imagine the pop-stars would‘ve put on their smiley faces.
And it is hard to imagine that there ever will be a funeral on this megalomaniac scale again. As much as the man deserved it.
¶ ø ¡