Despite the length and eloquence of Mr. Poplak’s response, it should be clear to anyone willing to resubmit to reading his original piece and my long comment on it, that he has not read my original comment with the required perspicacity, such as one would rightly expect of someone who writes with such an eloquent and bravura mixture of discourse that flits quite comfortably from informal ‘street’ rhetoric to high art to arch-postmodern anthropology, even if the latter appears in “lite” aphoristic reference. The to and fro of such long and eloquent disquisition says at least one thing: Die Antwoord is a cultural product of some worth. Had it been otherwise, individuals would not be investing so much time in spilling ink, real or virtual.
But it seems that saying something like “a cultural product of some worth” – in this style of archaic charm that I adopt here, for I am easily charmed – may not be evidence enough of a critic’s viewpoint, or his or her likes and dislikes. Mr. Poplak, it seems, would prefer that one either celebrate something in absolute carnivalesque abandon or not raise one critical squeak.
My original comment in part intended to add some nuance to how Die Antwoord was being framed by writers, of which I found Mr. Poplak’s article particularly exemplar. I had already been alerted to the existence of this exuberant cultural phenomenon called Die Antwoord a few months ago. I like them and have even danced a few steps to their music here in the solitary confines of my study (Mr. Poplak is at pains to know how the music makes me feel.) – a few steps only because, if I may be so bold as to confess something more personal than how the music of Die Antwoord makes me feel, my knees cannot take too much such abandon.
On the word “framed”, for which Mr Poplak accuses me of swinging the discussion into the “oncoming headlights of Edward Said’s oeuvre” and thus, by extension, into the somnolent droning of my supposed academic discourse (light or otherwise): I cannot understand the puzzlement and I am pressed to divest myself of any adopted rhetorical flourish and put this in point form:
1. Die Antwoord is a thing of culture
2. Things of culture are open to interpretation
3. People interpret culture all the time. Mr. Poplak himself is guilty of this activity for he has written about Die Antwoord
4. In writing/expressing one’s interpretation, one frames that thing of culture for the next person.
5. That interpretation becomes part of the meanings of the object of culture, part of its frame, part of its context. It even has its own frames.
6. Interpretation has its own framing? Yes, opening paragraphs, some initial explication of historical context, presentation of writer’s credentials, etc. One would expect thus a writer of experience to be aware of what “frame” means.
7. As Mr. Geertz, quoted by Mr. Poplak, says, culture is context. To understand culture/Die Antwoord, one should also pay attention to its context. I.e. its frames.
8. My frame in my original comment: “I like Die Antwoord, and my problems are with how [they] are interpreted and framed”. In other words, whatever critical points I follow with, need to be understood through the frame of me liking them. Why is this such a puzzle? Because I then raise some critical points? Why should reticence or ambivalence in cultural commentary be a problem? And why should the ambivalences I have exercise other critics?
But let me to a consideration of selected paragraphs of Mr. Poplak’s.
This is or should be Mr. Poplak’s frame for what is to follow. In it he expresses a mock-naivete about writing and its consequences, while also presenting his credentials by mentioning the production of one of his books (for which he provides a link) and by referencing Manet. He mentions all the ink and bytes around Die Antwoord. All of this is then summoned in a justification for the present “quick revisit”.
How does it frame what follows? Does it? Is the mock-naivete supposed to elicit sympathy (he has also received hate mail)? Is Mr Poplak not aware of the online dynamics around almost anything? That things online beget commentary ad nauseum?
I think Mr. Poplak is very much aware of this, but uses the mock-naivete to suggest that, despite him knowing about the pitfalls of such – i.e. the to and fro nature, the vituperation that might obtain – he will engage. He shows his reader that he is aware of the nature of things so that his engagement against his better judgement in the very to and fro of online commentary is foreclosed again criticism. Or, he has argued with himself, but he will engage, against his better judgement. He reminds himself of the foolishness so that when he does in any case engage in the foolishness, no one can say that he was being foolish without him being able to retort that he knew full well what he was doing.
Why does Mr. Poplak not just start, right away, without agonising?
I find then that Paragraph 1 does not really frame – or introduce or provide context to – the following discoursing, except to present the writer’s credentials and his own internal rhetorical machinations.
Here Mr. Poplak presents a brief description of Die Antwoord and their rise to fame, while making reference to “some” who make cynical commentary on Die Antwoord. In Mr. Poplak’s words: “Die Antwoord have surfed the capricious wave of Web 3.0 on, some say, the backs of a marginalized community who will decidedly not be joining them on the stage at Coachella [a music festival; emphasis added].”
It would be helpful if Mr Poplak, at pains with citation elsewhere and right from the start, provided a reference to “some” of the authors of such malicious envy, lest he suffer accusation of insinuation – insinuation, after all, being a dishonest form of framing.
Naturally, I am alerted particularly to such insinuation as Mr. Poplak’s piece does me the dubious honour of spending almost half of its space in critical discussion of my arguments, and so the framing insinuations I take to frame my arguments and his portrayal of me as well. Towards the end of his piece Mr. Poplak will also state that “There will always be those who seek to define who can speak for whom, and those who narrow culture down to essentialist readings of precise cultural nuances that cannot — must not — be misinterpreted or misaligned”.
It would not be entirely wrong to surmise that Mr. Poplak draws me into this group – wrongfully, I will add, because based on a lack of perspicacity on his part. I wish thus that Mr. Poplak had sought first to resolve that I expressed ambivalence in my original piece and that he had made peace with such ambivalence. I wish also that Mr. Poplak would reflect on how the critical reception of my own discourse on the matter can also be said to exhibit such policing tendencies as against which he so eloquently fulminates. I would venture that Mr. Poplak himself has fallen into the trap of essentialism by ascribing or insinuating certain meanings to my criticism of Die Antwoord, meanings such as people would be wont to read via those markers unmentioned by Mr. Poplak, but hovering in the penumbra of next level discussion. Critical of Die Antwoord? Talk of aunthenticity? Talk of appropriation? Oh, it must be because… And therefore it means…
As I have stated elsewhere, but still in discourse on the same matter:
No one can demand that an artist cannot represent anyone else, irrespective of any kind of demographic difference and distance. It’s not even worth discussing. Every artist is free to create whatever character they want, and speak through that character, etc. etc. Artists do it all the time: men writing through female characters, people imagining themselves into all sorts of characters without any kind of connection. But the artistic product, once it is out there, should equally stand up to interrogations of authenticity. Is writer X’s female character believable or not, etc.? The product is out there, how does it measure up?” (Africa is a country)
Certainly if we compare, say, Eminem to Vanilla Ice, are we to be held to account for saying that the one is artificial, the other not? Or that the one is better skilled at the art of artifice than the other one? Are we to be accused of anything if we were to exercise our judgement and prefer one over the other in terms of how we hear and receive them, in terms of which artifice is more convincing?
One wishes that Mr. Poplak had taken cognisance of such qualification here in his new writing, being as he is consonant to the “general interweb frenzy”. But, aah, web-journalism is “literature at warp speed” and thus Mr. Poplak is freed of knowing the thing of which he speaks.
The beauty of such insinuation as is found in much of Mr. Poplak’s new writing is of course that that is all one can say. And then will follow disagreements about the interpretation of words – ad nauseum –, the subtle mechanics of rhetoric, and so on and so forth – until one withdraws in exhaustion without having convinced anyone of the error of their ways in insinuation.
But I get ahead of myself.
Mr. Poplak also patently refuses to draw distinction between the artist, Waddy Jones, and his artifice, Ninja, or a former incarnation in Max Normal.
For what purpose? Does he not do a disservice to the artist’s creativity by erasing the very artfulness of such artifice? Should such distinction not be insisted upon, as one would insist on drawing a line between, say, Shakespeare and Hamlet, JM Coetzee and Prof. Lurie in Disgrace, Isabelle Huppert and Erika in The Piano Teacher. David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust? And, yes, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ali G?
More than failing to distinguish between Waddy Jones and Ninja, which Mr. Poplak does do in his original piece, he here, in stark contrast, erases Waddy Jones from the picture and, by extension, erases the artifice or the fact of the artifice.
If one wanted to insinuate, one could talk about how erasing Waddy Jones from Die Antwoord performs a useful service in the marketing of Die Antwoord by erasing any suggestion that Ninja is not ‘real’. To an international audience who is ready to lap up his “otherness” according to Mr. Poplak, it may well just be important to have a veil slung so as to “keep real” the artifice.
Is this cultural commentary, one might ask of Mr. Poplak, or, by insinuation, is this cultural commentary serving a commercial agenda?
I full well know that invented personas are far from uncommon in “show-biz” and that many acts are personas; since that is the case, surely audiences will not care that Waddy Jones is artificer and actor, and Ninja the character, himself an artificer, but also artifice. Who except the culturally naive, for instance, thought that Ali G was a ‘real’ person? Thus, why this erasure, especially in the critical discourse of such matters as are under discussion?
In this paragraph we finally have something of a frame for what is to come: according to Mr. Poplak, the incontestable success of Die Antwoord in contrast to the cynical, envious commentary. In other words, the readers can prepare for something in this regard.
Here Mr. Poplak covers some of the factual errors and his willing correction of them in his original piece. In other words, we are to take it that Mr. Poplak takes criticism on the chin and is not the kind of writer who shies away from admitting error and mistake. He is a fair writer and his responses to me should thus be read through that frame: I am a fair writer and easily admit error, so my criticism of Mr. Kozain should not be read to the detriment of that fair portrait (a parallel to my opening: “I like Die Antwoord…”). He then describes how he has been characterised negatively, but he does so mostly in passive voice, so that he can cast aspersions by insinuation and without naming names.
As frame then: Mr. Poplak is a fair writer, readily admits of error and provides further taster of the negative or critical comments said in general, before he will finally get to one specific case or example of this.
Interestingly, Mr. Poplak quotes praise from Ninja for his analysis of their music: “quite fuckin’ brilliant”. Why, a fair writer, readily admitting error, wading into territory fraught with misguided critical commentary, but having received the blessing of Ninja himself…? Who can complain about Mr. Poplak’s suitability for the job? Who would even contest that his interpretation, his framing, of them is the one true meaning, the one true answer of the gospel according to Die Antwoord?
But Mr. Poplak makes a fundamental error of interpretation here, one that I would not have expected from a writer who quotes the eminent Mr. Geertz: he takes Ninja’s word. Ninja, the jester invented by Waddy Jones. Mr. Poplak, having failed to distinguish between Waddy Jones, the artist, and Ninja, the invention, accepts Ninja’s words as the word of the artist. He makes this error again when, in Paragraph 6, he quotes Ninja (“It’s not a persona”) in answering the question: “What did the creators have in mind,…?” A persona’s answer for the creators’ intention? This is next level.
In my original post I have noted the space of double meaning opened by Die Antwoord – “gatkrap”, “talking shit”. That Ninja is also jester should certainly caution Mr. Poplak against taking Ninja’s words at face value. Does Ninja, who clearly is a mentalist and shit talker of note, mean it when he says Mr. Poplak’s analysis is brilliant, or is Ninja talking shit? This next level of talking shit means that you can never be sure. Or, is it Waddy Jones that said Mr. Poplak’s analysis is brilliant?
And what might Mr. Poplak’s response have been had Ninja thought that his analysis was kak? Would Mr. Poplak have trusted Ninja’s words then and taken leave of commentary in despondence? Or would Mr. Poplak perhaps then have massaged such response into evidence of Ninja’s artifice as hardegat on a next-level ninja mission who cares not what other people think?
Mr. Poplak starts out with a reference to Clifford Geertz’s insistence on context in understanding culture as a frame to Mr. Poplak’s own understanding of “Die Antwoord’s importance” (but Mr. Poplak will later use “academic” and its semantic and rhetorical variants as disparaging labels for my discourse; what is sauce for Mr. Poplak is apparently not sauce for “some” critics). Then he introduces a tone of pettiness: “spanked” for using “white trash” and not getting a peanut butter ad’s reference right. Mr. Poplak here is happy to introduce it, but not happy to respond to the substantive point I make about his reference to the peanut butter ad: “Petty yes, but it signals the writer’s propensity for universalising his own experiences.”
Mr. Poplak, who has presented himself through his prior discursive self-portrayal as a writer of some fairness, unfortunately here stoops below the dignity of which his eloquence seeks to convince us. This further by reducing my criticism of the use of “white trash” as a paternal reprimand.
I stand by my distaste of such stereotyping labels because such labels refuse the humanity of people. Call me old-school, such as you may because of the persona I have constructed via my style, but stereotyping labels of especially working class people is an ugliness, more so in writers who fail to understand that their own experiences are not the world’s experiences.
And that is a fundamental gap in much cultural commentary: writers writing as if their own experience provides enough frame for the interpretation of culture, their own or others’. And thus Mr. Poplak will not find my gut-level responses in my original comment as, while I rely on my own experience, that experience is not the only frame or context by which I approach cultural artefacts. (I do express some of my ‘feelings’ about Die Antwoord, though, but it may not be accessible at warp speed.)
Here Mr. Poplak, an intellectual himself (he works with ideas, such as culture and aesthetics), hauls out the familiar anti-intellectual argument: mention a name like Mr. Said’s, mention somnolence, clearly the writing under view cannot have value…
An intellectual, a writer who writes about music, culture and aesthetics and who quotes Clifford Geertz, using an anti-intellectual argument in a contestation of ideas? Why, Mr. Poplak is again at stooping surely.
Is Mr. Said the first or only writer to suggest looking at frames and interpretation? Why, anyone knows that many pictures look better if framed, even pictures of Shaolin masters or practitioners of One-foot crane kung fu, such as I have hanging on my walls.
And, in a response to Mr. Poplak’s original article, which is his interpretation (framing, contextualisation) of Die Antwoord, and in critique of which I decided to write, how does my focus on interpretation and frame strike Mr. Poplak as a false note?
And why should my equivocation trouble Mr. Poplak, while he in the very same piece is troubled by “some” critics “who narrow culture down to essentialist readings of precise cultural nuances that cannot — must not — be misinterpreted or misaligned”? (One would have thought that “precise cultural nuances” are the antidote in any case to the essentialist.)
Yes, if, by Mr. Poplak’s leave, he will grant me my misreading, I shall graciously accept it.
But why, I hasten to ask, does Mr. Poplak write so very many words before granting me my misreading? If it’s not for Mr. Poplak “to tell these fine people to cease and desist, and [that] acts like Die Antwoord deserve all the scrutiny that comes their way”, why should Mr. Poplak nevertheless be so exercised in addressing my mahala comment? What, I wonder, are Mr. Poplak’s motives in responding at such length?
As to my focus on reception, Mr. Poplak himself admits that artists “are notoriously poor parsers of their own work” (Pa6). So why would Mr. Polak hold me to account for not caring about the artists’ intention? I am interested in the cultural product as cultural product. And, if intention is to provide enlightenment – univocal? multi-vocal? – whose intention does Mr. Poplak prefer, Ninja’s or Waddy Jones’s?
In which Mr. Poplak takes Ninja’s words at face value, or is it Waddy Jones’s words?
I am not sure I follow Mr. Poplak here and I happily will take advisement from him. He finds some uneasiness in my comments – I am uneasy that Die Antwoord will be accepted out of context. I can follow that sentence; I know what Mr. Poplak means: my equivocation is evidence of unease. How Mr. Poplak should know what further that uneasiness means or points to, I will not venture to surmise.
I do however myself know what my equivocation means and I shall reiterate it here for a broader, ‘non-academic’ audience, lest I am accused once more of inducing anyone to sleep: I like Die Antwoord but I think Mr. Poplak, among others, wrote a bad article about them.
Mr. Poplak, and any writer of course, has every right to write as many bad articles as he or she may want. They may even publish it on the internet. (I would counsel against it, given the consequences as mentioned by Mr. Poplak; but they are, of course, also free to reject such counsel.)
By the same count, I believe I have, and claim, the right to respond. And yes, Mr. Poplak can again respond, etc. At least Mr. Poplak can agree that his new favourite band leads to discourse, and should celebrate such fruitfulness of critical discussion, unless he is happy only with total and full agreement and blind celebrations expressed by handclapping, singing and dancing.
I am, though, at a loss to understand how my critical comments should lead to Mr. Poplak’s vigorous exercise of his rights and energy.
Mr. Poplak thinks I am worried that Die Antwoord will misrepresent the richness of SA culture, among other things. Similar to some critics who worry that hip-hop misrepresents black life in the USA.
Did I say that? And, did I say that in my references to hip-hop? I would be graciously indebted to Mr. Poplak were he to quote some of my words that suggest these two points. I submit that I have said that I am exhausted by the “coloured” figure being represented as coon. But I dare say it’s a fair hop from this to an uneasiness about Die Antwoord’s international reception.
In any event, I count myself as a member of the audience, local and international – for am I not in the world? – and, lest some other critics would have their wishes granted, I admit to raising whatever critical points this member of the audience has. And then I suppose it shall be wise of me to withdraw and husband my misreadings.
Mr. Poplak wants to know what I feel about Die Antwoord, etc. As I have mentioned earlier, if coyly, I have enjoyed dancing a few steps to their music. But why the insistence on the body and on emotion? Why can a critic not write in a dispassionate voice, especially if writing critically? I wonder whether Mr. Poplak has thought hard enough about that dispassionate voice and its advantages. And Mr. Poplak should also take note that “dispassionate” is not equal to “academic”, his de rigueur, easy, dismissive and disparaging label, and the popular writer’s trusty ‘race card’.
Has Mr. Poplak considered, for instance, that the dispassionate voice is a rhetorical device and rhetorical choice? Has Mr. Poplak considered the advantages of a dispassionate voice in making the claims that I make? Has Mr. Poplak considered that, perhaps, the dispassionate voice is one way of guarding against universalising one’s own experiences as if one’s own experiences is enough to understand culture?
And why does it trouble Mr. Poplak so very much that he cannot gauge whether I am offended or appalled by Die Antwoord? Is it that such an answer will grant him more ease in categorising my discourse? Oh, Mr. Kozain likes Die Antwoord, he’s one of ours; no, Mr. Kozain hates Die Antwoord, not one of ours. And all that may follow from there?
And certainly, for a writer of Mr. Poplak’s insight, he should not have had much trouble in pulling back the layers of academia-lite, so as to find, in my original post:
1. “I like Die Antwoord…” (yes, again)
2. “This to me is interesting: that Die Antwoord suggests a fusion of white Afrikaans working class and ‘coloured’ working class identities, expressed in the most eloquent way through dialect/s.”
3. “Doing this, Die Antwoord then happens also onto all sorts of interesting conjunctions.”
4. “The one thing that is certain is that Die Antwoord opens up the space of double-speak, characteristic especially of slave society and known, from my ‘coloured’ background, as ‘kak-praat’ or ‘gat-krap’. The latter especially points to mischievous lying, something that anthropologists don’t get: the informant cannot be trusted because you don’t know, can never know, whether the informant is talking the truth or whether they’re krapping gat (scratching hole/arse/behind).”
If he would calibrate for dryness and dispassion, Mr. Poplak might find, to his astonishment and delight, that these are positive points. But I submit that that dispassionate voice – in a critical piece about a piece of writing – may prove troubling and I do wish to extend my apologies that it does not celebrate Die Antwoord with wild abandon or with the admirable verve found in Mr. Poplak’s articles on them.
As to patronising and protecting other people, as Mr. Poplak suggests is one of my motives, I think that Mr. Poplak is troubled not only by ambivalence and equivocation expressed in a dispassionate voice, but also by ghosts and apparitions. I do not speak for other people; I speak for myself. But I would invite Mr. Poplak to draw a range of cultural and political inferences from such statement, and I shall grant him a shibboleth to help him in his endeavour: “double-speak”.
Mr. Poplak presents us with a biography of Waddy Jones, but presented as that of Ninja, and so as to grant dues to Ninja. Or is it dues to Waddy Jones?
I admire the fact of Waddy Jones’s broad and varied life, but how does the biography of the artist (if it is the artist and not Ninja, the persona) automatically grant the cultural product meaning. Is the biography given in order to grant authenticity? I hope not, because notions of authenticity have flown out the window on ascending to the next level. Die Antwoord evades it, Waddy Jones is no where in sight and now Ninja wants to claim Waddy Jones’s life. My mind is not supple enough to grasp these next level high jinks, Ninja, Shaolin or what-what.
Here Mr. Poplak says that once we strip away the flourishes of my argument, that I (and those who agree with me) “can only be saying… that Die Antwoord are thieving piss-takers.” He then quotes Mr. K. Sello Duiker about cultural stagnation and the celebration of transgression, “going beyond boundaries”.
I will submit that if Mr. Poplak has indeed read my original comment, he has done so at warp speed, a speed he seems comfortable with. I will submit that once Mr. Poplak strips away my flourishes and academia-lite, he will find my points 1-4 as listed in my discussion of Paragraph 8. I will submit that that is a fair reading of some of the things that Die Antwoord means, and that it does not include “thieving piss-takers” nor a reluctance, on my part, to celebrate the crossing of racial boundaries. And if Waddy Jones has fully embraced Ninja, who has fully embraced whomever he has embraced (a hard to pin down mofo), then I think it even more pertinent to distinguish between Waddy Jones as artist and Ninja as persona now become anthropological informant.
How easily anthropologists – yes, even Mr. Poplak, who has referenced an uber-anthropologist, is an anthropologist however he might deny it via displaying his street-cred; however he might dismiss at his convenience Mr. Said or “academia-lite” – he, Mr. Poplak, writes about culture, in a distinctive style that is popular, but no less anthropological or intellectual and of insight to all, academics inluded – how easily, then, anthropologists trust their informants without understanding the performative framing at the moment of informing. (I apologise for that academic formulation; is it light, is it heavy?).
Ninja may be sincere in his communication with Mr. Poplak; they may even be friends or share at least email addresses. But in discussing a band who plays with multiple levels of meaning, one would expect Mr. Poplak, who quotes Mr. Geertz, to at least be aware of these dimensions. Unless they are friends, one would expect Mr. Poplak to be slightly reticent, not in taking Ninja at face value, but in reporting that he takes Ninja at face value.
Mr. Poplak does indeed write at warp speed, and this breathlessness in the writer may well be why he (as he states) has been labelled a “booster”. That, I imagine, is fine for certain forums and I would not hold it against him. At the same time, my original comment slowed down the pace, just to add some nuance to his breathless piece. But surely my comment must have meant something to him, and I thank him for the attention he paid to that comment, even if the attention was largely distracted.
It is clear that Mr. Poplak did not like that I added nuance, raised some critical points and criticised his article for a range of shortcomings – that I spanked him for being naughty. But I am intrigued that, in the seven paragraphs that he devotes to my original comment, I am still chastened to find that he has not responded substantively to any of my particular criticisms except to frame me in a particular way by insinuation and that ever-present label of “academic”, and to respond to this framing of me. I am thus intrigued as to the motives Mr. Poplak may husband in expending so much in responding to me.
Mr. Poplak may feel that I have done him a grave injustice and thus seeks to defend himself – indeed, it is the nature of such debates that writers may take personal offence and expend energy in defending themselves. Look here I too am doing it. And it may touch on the writer’s ego, and so a battle of egos ensues to the lasting exhaustion of readers.
But Mr. Poplak does not seem to be defending his self or the integrity of his writerly self – he is unconcerned with my criticism of his original article and seems exercised more in defence of Die Antwoord in general; thus he spends most of those seven paragraphs on the preamble to my original critique of his article. And his present article in general seeks to elucidate more on the importance of Die Antwoord, some of what I said previously being convenient launching pad. The engine of much writing.
Mr. Poplak indulges in some of the same fancies he disparagingly unpicks in my own discourse but such contradiction is of little concern as, at such warp speed as his platform demands and as is his wont, he needs to make his point: that Die Antwoord is poes groot.
Adding to this intrigue is the fact of Waddy Jones’s erasure from the very equation that gives us Die Antwoord. Or, has Waddy Jones, in a sly move that would equal the stealth of a Ninja, changed his legal name to Ninja? Now that would be poes groot .