03 October 2005

Not the "Not The Monday Paper"

Last week I received, via e-mail, the first edition of the Not The Monday Paper, edited by David Bee-in-his-bonnet-ter. Given the ongoing discussions about the difficulties of transformation in our faculty, as evidenced by recent correspondence in the (actual) Monday Paper, among other forums, which have suggested that, for some, the process of finding voices to begin to engage with why transformation is so difficult is not one the institution can take for granted, I must say I am delighted to see that white men, so disadvantaged on this majority-black campus, disempowered and clearly silenced by the politically-correct policing that, judging from the point of the sophisticated satire of the Not The Monday Paper is rife at UCT and directed specifically against those who are not black Africans, have bravely managed to find a way to express their dissatisfaction with how they are treated on our campus. I salute this clever and useful contribution to our ongoing process.

Natasha Distiller
Department of English Language and Literature

Surely Not the Monday Paper!

What I find objectionable in the Not The Monday Paper (Sep 2005 1.1) is its vicious, venal and predatory use of aspects of the transformative debate, an elaborate display of intellectual gall and chutzpah. It reflects the sort of academic gall that intimates an intellectual arrogance that purports to get readers to believe just about anything. From the lead article, and using the chancellor's name as device, the rag suffers from a tension between, on the one hand, "Black put-down" terms/"Black-averse" terminology, versus its insistence on the "Black-friendly" mode, on the other. Playing on the issue of black/white divide is itself divisive, and who said that coffee need have a whitener anyway. I like my coffee as is, without dilution of any sort, so what's so original in this piece of idiocy masquerading as satire? The venal use of the "Office of (Re-)classification" is the sort of idiocy that one would expect from an individual whose ancestry never had to go through the ritual of race classification, since, by God, there was no need to.

At what point is the mass humiliation of our ancestors the subject of jokes? What is the time limit for such an attempt at finding the matter jocular? Is there a time limit to jokes we could make, however tasteless, about the Second World War Holocaust whose perpetrators Simon Weinsenthal (1908-2005) fought so hard and with such moral rectitude to bring to justice? Couching such painful memories and reminders as intellectual dodge does not remove from the idiocy embedded in such nonsenses of apartheid ideology. Wrapped in vapid academese, it is of course possible to pass this as satiric. In effect, such hypocrisy is the hypocrisy of power: only a well-connected person, knowing that there would be little by way of retribution, would dare make a joke of such a banal aspect of South African history.

It is the hypocrisy whose authority is assured, whose authority depends very much on the networks that undergird it, whose authority depends absolutely on its ideological self-imagery as a moral agent, acting in "good faith" and, not surprisingly, with unimpeachable intentions, the classic dodge of the institutional establishmentarian.

Posture is important to such ideological self-image, displaying as it does the fundamental thinking akin to "Napoleon-is-always-right" syndrome. And when such a posture is challenged, of course the classic knee-jerk reaction is to say how many people of all races found the rag funny, the sort of "Look at me I am a progressive" mantra (progressivism-by-association syndrome). Of course, it spreads itself among communities of interpretation so that there will be those who "appreciate" the rag, as opposed to those who will find it banal, thus, voila! it is "democratic".

Such communities are disaggregated as socio-cultural institutions of interpretation in which to object is to be "not too bright". It engenders the view that, for some, UCT is a part of the homeland, for others part of a hostland. This, I submit, is bunkum.

Sam Raditlhalo
Department of English Language and Literature

Not The Monday Paper editor responds:

I should like to thank the two members of the department of English for simultaneously demonstrating just how badly needed the first issue of Not The Monday Paper was and for providing material for the second issue. Dr Raditlhalo has offered us just the kind of incendiary rhetoric that needs to be checked. The brew from Natasha's Distillery, while not poisonous, is acidic. The intermediate of the three sentences in her letter is particularly hard to swallow, being 128 words long.

Not The Monday Paper has a number of aims other than bringing comic relief to those many people able to enjoy it, many dozens of whom have written to express their appreciation. We challenged managerial excess, unquestioned assumptions about transformation, the self-congratulatory tone of much university PR, bureaucratic-speak, obfuscatory academic language and much else. That it is the transformation issue that has been singled out for irate or sarcastic response is an indication of a bee in their bonnets, rather than mine. In any event, the satirist of another's obsession need not himself be obsessed.

Drs Distiller and Raditlhalo would have us believe that the (usually inchoate) conception of transformation that pervades university discourse is beyond critical assessment (by various means, including satire). However, this notion is inimical to the central project of the university, which is to subject all views to critical evaluation. Such evaluation either leads to rejection, revision or strengthening of the examined views.

What is so disturbing is not that Drs Raditlhalo and Distiller disagree with what they think we are saying, but that they apply toxic labels to those with whom they disagree. In this regard, Dr Raditlhalo is the worse offender. Because his letter is filled not with argument but with assertion upon assertion, and because it takes full arguments to rebut assertions, I cannot respond to all his claims in the limited space available. However, I shall respond, all too briefly, to three.

First, Dr Raditlhalo accuses Not The Monday Paper of a tension between "Black-averse" and "Black-friendly" terms. It is no wonder that he provides no justification for this claim, because it is without foundation. Although some "Blacks" may be satirised, so are some "Whites". Is Dr Raditlhalo implicitly suggesting that only the latter but not the former may be satirised? Second, he claims that the satirical reference to the "Office of (Re-)classification is the sort of idiocy that one would expect from an individual whose ancestry never had to go through the ritual of race classification". This is an ad hominem attack and is accordingly fallacious. In any event, the attack is ungrounded. It is precisely those who abhor the idiocy and pernicious nature of racial classification who are most inclined to satirise it. These people include not only those whose ancestry was subject to such classification, but even if one thought it need be so restricted, Dr Raditlhalo has too narrow a view about who falls into this category. Some of us are descended from groups who were racially classified on the way to gas chambers.

Third, Dr Raditlhalo seems to think that Not The Monday Paper made fun of the mass humiliation of his ancestors. But this is patently false. No fun is made of this suffering. Notwithstanding this, laughter is a reasonable response to suffering. It need not indicate that one takes it any less seriously. Indeed, one often laughs precisely because one takes it so seriously - as a way of coping. Those appalled by the Holocaust, for example, can enjoy a joke about it. Indeed, some of those who lived through the Holocaust joked about it - and they sometimes even joked about it while they were living through it. Dr Raditlhalo may not share that sense of humour, but he is not entitled to taint those who do.

David Benatar
Department of Philosophy

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