Misguided academic rails against Die Antwoord’s postmodernism

Adam Haupt’s stock ideas are derivative and contrived. Deserve to be rejected by anyone supporting freedom of expression. There is no rock without drums. Without the cross-pollination of African rhythms, there would be no jazz music, and likewise hip hop. Ditto, Die Antwoord.

In a piece published on The Conversation, the UCT academic launches into support rather than an appraisal of several allegations of ‘cultural appropriation’ leveled at South African alternative hip hop group Die Antwoord. Immediately reaching towards conclusions and an opinion-based misapplication of what he terms ‘dominant and marginalised subjects’, which borrows heavily from the work of a solitary UK academic Rina Arya, in the process, dishing out the Encyclopedia Britannica whilst ignoring the work of continental theorists.

Haupt thus appears oblivious to the earlier writings of literary theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes, who once championed the idea of inter-textuality. For Kristeva intertextuality was a “mosaic of quotations” where “any text is the absorption and transformation of another”. Roland Barthes argued “a text is made of multiple writings” because writers “blend and clash” existing meanings.

Books are not written in a vacuum. According to Michel Foucault, they are “caught up in a system of references to other books”. Each of these theorists made the same point: “the meaning of a text owes more to other texts than the writer who puts their name to the work.”

The concept may be applied here to music culture, language and even fashion. In fact, Haupt’s criticism was once leveled at Eminem.

Rapper Marshall Bruce Mathers III, was slammed for ‘appropriating’ rap music, a genre which ‘began at block parties in New York City in the early 1970s, when DJs began isolating the percussion breaks of funk, soul, and disco songs and extending them’. That’s right, black rappers, appropriated Disco, the Bee Gees, ‘white boy music’.

Take the context of Apartheid which was all about preventing cross-pollination and hybridity to the point where ethnic identity was preserved on bantu reservations by the selfsame logic used by Haupt – ‘for your own good’ and to ‘stop whites going native’.

It may feel good to object to the postmodern intertextuality and cultural hybridity of Die Antwoord, whose work he criticises for being associated with Afrikaans, but doing so places the writer alongside other puritans, Strydom, Verwoerd, Vorster and Malan. The academic merely demonstrates how fatuous, pompous and censorious he has become in a mode of writing that eschews the requirements of rationality and evidence-based research, to posit that the mere position of the subject within, generalised and unequal power relations, is enough to aver, racism?

In Haupt’s weird weltanschauung the reception of words such as biltong, blatjang, dagga and kwagga into Afrikaans are the result of a plot to eradicate a language he calls Kaaps, forgetting that the Dutch Creole emerged as a Gamtaal, an attempt, often by sailors, to communicate, so elegantly described by Daniel Defoe in his novel Moby Dick.

Haupt goes so far as attacking Yolandi Visser for painting her face with makeup, and the result is somehow redolent of ‘Swarte Piet‘, a Dutch character associated with the ‘colonial gaze’.

Women have been deploying makeup for centuries. It is a false equivalence to raise the spectre of Hollywood ‘blackface’, in other words, a ‘white actor playing the role of a black person’, since Yolandi is clearly just being Yolandi. There is no harm caused by her self-expression. Nobody is out of a job. So far as the misguided academic is concerned, artists and musicians labelled white should be placed on mute, and should not express themselves, because, well, they are white and he is not?

Haupt’s assertion of linguistic imperialism is tenuous at best, appearing to rely on the fact that similar accusations may have been written up, by other academics, and thus he engages with another logical fallacy, that of circular logic (circulus in probando), a problem inherent to deferred investigation and meaning, in an obvious scholastic bias — inauthentic criticism which at the end of day, rings hollow, since Zef is a style which emerged from the polyglot and patois argot of Parow, not the armchairs of moral policemen like Haupt.

Zef may have a passing association with so-called Afrikaaps, but saying this language or mode of expression should be reserved for certain people, is like saying all language is copyrightable, which is clearly not the case. Nobody is going to fine you for speaking German without a license. Doing so would place one alongside those who seek to suppress language. In fact such activity would resemble the self-same stratagems of those dastardly colonialists.

Culture is always fluid, it does not live in a museum and deserves to be seen within an intertextual continuum. Die Antwoord are a living cross-referential subject-object, not a mere expression or mode of power-relations. Speaking and singing are not always an expression of two basic stereotypes — the oppressor or the oppressed, — as if we are all mere government bureaucrats rather than artists creating living works of art, books, music videos? Haupt’s position is essentially anti-humanist for it seeks to subjugate his subject, fixing and doctoring the other’s creativity to his own fanciful interpretations.

We are anything but stereotypes.

The cheap parlor game played by Haupt invariably involves throwing around stock objections, bald assertions which may be based upon Marxist class analysis, and thus contrived academic notions of power and power relations — ideas obviously gleaned from narrow contemporary proponents of historical materialism (where all history should be strictly-speaking the history of classes). The result is a major contradiction — an historical dislocation and distortion leading to internal inconsistency.

Inconsistency which, at the face of it, tends to break-down the minute one bothers to actually read history — engaging with facts instead of mere, discourse. He could do better by getting to grips with Post-Marxism, which provides an anti-essentialist approach in which class, society, and history are no longer treated as unitary, universal, pre-discursive categories?

If apartheid wasn’t about cultural purity, what was it, mere materialism?

By the same token do we avoid food which isn’t cooked by Gogo?

Is there really an ever-present ‘grand narrative’ always reducible to geopolitical categories such as colonialism and empire?

Whither ones own private meaning, existence and right to language?

Do we have to remind Haupt to object whenever he encounters a black man in a French suit wearing an English collar and tie? Ditto those Celtic tattoos you just acquired at the local tat-shop. Why would anyone want to deny Die Antwoord‘s right to freedom of expression, if not to pursue a personal vendetta, or simply to get ahead in academia? Power-relations are not corrected by an inversion of power. We can turn the map of the Earth around, but we cannot change the fundamental fact of our common humanity.

So herewith my attempt at another definition. If the shoe fits wear it:

Wokeism is the purposeful misreading of history to score short term popular goals. Blind scholasticism without reference to actual evidence and research. The person who claims to be awake, is more than likely, still asleep.

We all one species folks

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Yoga ‘wokeism’ misses the whole point of post-modernity.

IF YOU one of this week’s spiritual-elect — self-appointed cultural purists devoted to pointing out ‘cultural appropriation’ or ‘misappropriation” whatever the case may be, and upbraiding the ‘yoga community’ for ‘not being more inclusive and representative’ (or worse), ‘costing a fortune and not catering to different body types’, — you may wish to reflect on the history of puritanism in South Africa, and my own yoga journey.

In order to maintain ‘white privilege’ the architects of apartheid devised a grandiose scheme whereby the character of tribal and ethnic groups ‘would be preserved’, albeit under the pretext of culture. The unique and distinct peoples of South Africa, the faces of whom seemingly adorn a well-known art deco building in Cape Town, were presented with separate homelands, under a segregationist system introduced by Hendrik Verwoerd. All to maintain the ”integrity of culture’, and to avoid the dreaded cross-pollination which has characterised much of the past century including our own.

Enter the interlocuters of a contemporary movement known as ‘wokeism’, who appear to vigorously object to any instance of ‘hybridity’ and ‘cultural influence’ , if only to serve a political purpose — namely media exposure for a campaign which locates itself within the global ‘black lives matter’ movement. All for the sake of convenience and keeping the pot on the boil, (and who can argue with this strategy?)

To add some context, I started my free yoga journey some years ago at an ashram in Beverley Hills. One cannot get more ‘up-market’ than that. Hollywood itself is replete with cross-cultural influences, (some of which may, like the black face of the 1920s, cause offence, whilst others like the face of Mickey Mouse have universal appeal).

After a long hiatus, I found myself returning to my yoga mat, with another free yoga class at the Scalabrini Centre offered by an Italian yoga instructor by the name of Laura Anjali. The local revolution in freebie yoga classes didn’t end after Anjali left Cape Town.

When my attendance at ‘paid sessions’ at Virgin Active became unaffordible, I turned to costless yoga videos on Youtube, and began practicing at home.

A Tamil friend of mine suggested a particular Hatha Yoga guru, offering ‘authentic yoga‘ and whose videos were also freely available. I was then drawn into the gratis events surrounding the International Day of Yoga, joined several free yoga festivals and participated in many outdoor sessions, some for love, some by donation only.

Earth Child even have a programme whereby one may sponsor children to practice yoga in the townships.

Reading the brouhaugh surrounding a City yoga studio, punted by a news outlet at the centre of a multi-baby scandal, I counted nearly a dozen false assumptions, most of which boil down to a variation of any of the following:

Yoga is exclusive

As my own journey with costless and free yoga practice demonstrates, yoga is for everyone, and you don’t necessarily require any money.

Yoga should only be practiced in India or by persons of Indian descent

Much like the Asian game of Chess which conquered the world and is played nearly everywhere, Yoga has entered the common global lexicon and exercise regime, alongside Cricket and Tennis. Similarly tattoos and dreads.

People will get offended by my weight or body type

The whole point of yoga is to embrace the inner journey that arises from the physical limitations of the body. Don’t get put off if you are overweight, but then don’t go about destroying other people’s spiritual health practices just because they are willing to get up at 5am to do sunrise yoga on the beach, while you prefer to stay in bed.

People should be offended if I embrace hybridity and cross-pollination

While there is much to be said about traditional yoga practices, new styles of yoga are constantly emerging. Getting caught up in the correct naming of asanas (or poses) can be a huge distraction (but is recommended, especially if you want to appreciate the new Skywalker Pose). Of course there is nothing to beat acquiring a working understanding of the conventional, but demanding that we all cowtow to convention is just plain idiotic.

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Dear Mr Fallist

Dear Mr Fallist,

You and your partner have been visiting my home for the past months.

I value our friendship and shared history at Community House, but more often than not, you have returned my kindness by engaging in a ‘bully pulpit’, declaiming upon matters which leave no room for disagreement, nor intellectual freedom from my side nor that of my friends and associates.

Yours is a bully pulpit with its associated guilt trip which boils down to the modern version of Mathew 20:30 — “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.”

As a non-theist I don’t quote this biblical reference out of respect for scripture but rather to demonstrate that you appear to have a lot in common with the people that you claim to oppose.

To the day in question, in which you arrived, over a week ago only to tell me that UCT, still required ‘Decolonization’.

An institution from which I have a degree, and which treated persons such as myself, objectors and war-resisters, rather cruelly (to use your words), implementing a form of academic exclusion which amounted to invisibility alongside similar strictures meted out by the apartheid regime.

Nevetherless I finally received my marks in December 2020, some thirty years after I failed to attend my graduation in 1990 only to discover I had received a reasonable second, and had done quite well under the circumstances during a tumultuous period of student unrest.

You proceeded to inform me that there was something terribly wrong with the maths syllabus, ‘since there are other ways to draw a circle that don’t involve European maths’ as you put it. For the life of me, I could not recall any rudimentary method which did not have its origins in the Olduvai Gorge, the Caves of Lascaux and gardens of Mesopotamia.

You then motioned to explain that students at UCT were ‘still being taught Christianity and how many Angels’ (not angles) ‘could fit on a pinhead’, whereupon I exclaimed, that I ‘did not believe that every student at my alma mater was in the process of studying Thomas Aquinas, a native of Sicily, born in Italy.

You then advanced to relate the story of a particular female ‘professor’, a friend who you did not name, nor give any further details.

You explained that she had been active in ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, was appointed to an advisory board to former Chancellor Max Price, and had been overlooked for a job at UCT on account of her politics, whereupon she had taken the institution to the High Court, only to be told after nine months that it was a simple labour court matter.

I explained that since UCT is an institution created by an Act of Parliament (the UCT Act), I could imagine what she was up against and advised that issues to do with the curriculum and policy would be better taken up in Senate and that I am merely a member of Convocation.

I also hastened to guess at what the unfair discrimination case at Labour Court might entail, since as you know, I have had my fair share of labour discrimination litigation including a longstanding dispute, that also involves corruption at the Court by a member and/or associate of the ANC and former professor of law at UCT.

To your chagrin, I began to unpack some elements of the case. Asking who the person was that had beaten the aggrieved educator in question?

You answered that she was an Argentinian, ‘who was not even a professor at UCT’, and offered up the biography of one Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning — Associate Professor Lis Lange, formerly of University of the Free State (UFS), whose specialty is ‘philosophy of politics in education’

I then made an honest mistake of applying the self-same cursory test applied in my own case against the Legal Aid Board, averring that the courts would assume the case was one merely of sour grapes, your close friend, was simply a sore loser in the eyes of the law if the policy issues were set aside, and it was not simply a question of who was most qualified, but rather of the powers and mandate of the institution to appoint whomever it felt most capable.

I further cautioned that Max Price was no longer the Vice Chancellor, but rather, this post was held by a highly qualified professor of mathematics education, a black woman by the name of  Mamokgethi Phakeng

Whereupon you flew into a blind rage and was asked to leave.

If there is any lesson to be drawn from this experience, I guess, it is far easier to overlook naked aggression, than it is the inferences which may be drawn, that what you are really engaged in isn’t decolonization per se, but rather the desecularisation of society, its replacement by a politburo that shuns academic freedom at the same time as it discards pluralism and the multi-ethnic character of an institution, which has transformed immensely since the days I was on campus.

I therefore once again reiterate the view that policy issues regarding the UCT curriculum are best resolved by open debate, vigorous intellectual inquiry, evidence-based research and consultation between both academics and the student body.

Kind regards

D R Lewis