Having rejoined Facebook the world seems to be a darker place. I say this because everybody seems to have become more intolerant and more radicalised in their positions. Of course it is only social media. One person who used to ‘hate’ me on Facebook and accuse me of ghastly political positions was very different when I met her in person at a gallery. In real life she was quite civil to me – she even asked me if I wanted to go for a drink. So one should, I guess, take some of what one sees on social media with a pinch of salt. However, things have changed, people who I know are now saying things that they quite simply would never have said two or three years ago. To be sure some of all of this has to do with hipsterism and nostalgia. People want to use the language of the past without understanding that it has no real meaning in the present. Like the Beetle and Mini these are (I hope) merely simulacra. And I hope again that the people espousing these ideas might, one day, simply be seen as ‘craft beer socialists’ rather than the champagne ones they are copying.
But this radicalism doesn’t just go for the people on ‘the left’. For the same is true of the people on the right. Take for example Matthew Theunissen. He is from a generation that might be referred to as ‘born free’, from a generation that did not have that word he used bandied about with alacrity. In the 80s and early 90s I, because of my surname and my support of the ANC, was quite often referred to as k****boetie by my class mates in the government school I attended. That is a term that would never have been used in Theunissen’s class. And if it was, unlike in my era, it would have been stamped out by the teachers. Theunissen’s rant, I think, is also part of this radicalisation, this return to the values of old, this embracing of nostalgia. This is precisely what I have said in various attempts at art criticism. That is to say that the emergence of ‘abstract hipsterism’ is a conservative movement which refuses to engage with the present on its own terms but instead resorts to an understanding through the lens of the past.
This attitude is, I believe, sending a generation back into the throes of the reactionary. This is an outlook that, I think, is now turning into one that wants to hold onto the old ideas of racial division, of supremacy and negritude. I never believed that after 1994 that this would be possible. I still believe that negotiated settlements are available to South Africa and that an equitable pluralistic society could still be a reality. But what I fear is that the warning offered by Albert Camus about his beloved Algeria may still be before us. If the right and left continue with these invectives, although they are (I think) simulacra, they may lead us down the very same route they took Algeria. A route that turned Algeria into ‘a land of ruins and of corpses that no force, no power in the world, will be able to restore in our century.’