Sunday, October 20, 2013

Contemporary amorality (a changed Cape Town)

On Wednesday evening I wrote some of my thoughts down here about living in Cape Town. Which is why I was very interested to read these excerpts from Stephen Watson's 'Writer's Diary' (1997), as published in 'Cape Town Calling', edited by Justin Fox (Tafelberg: 2007). It's on my bedside table right now.
19 September 1996
The changing city.

"Not far into the next century I suspect that Cape Town, a city remarkable for having a mountain in the middle of it, will have managed to relegate even its natural environment to a kind of sideshow freak show. For a moment, though, as one half of it takes on the patina, the glaze of a giant Club Med, one sees clearly why the feel of the place has changed. More and more, it has become a city which specialises in marrying fantastically sophisticated surfaces (technologically-speaking) and utterly childish values.

"And, strange to say, it is precisely this combination which defines the very texture - which is to say, the feel - of contemporary amorality.

"From week to week the newspapers carry the usual flapdoodle about restaurants and wines, as if it were a sign of the city's coming of age, even cause for self-congratulation, that one can now eat as variously, as profusely, and expensively here, as almost anywhere else on the planet.
But not so long ago there was a tradition that maintained that such displays of complacent ostentation, especially in the midst of poverty and destitution, were not only acts of human thoughtlessness, but were sins and that they remained sins.

"One of the chief effects of 1994, it sometimes seems, is to have granted a permanent vacation to consciences of those who might have once, back in the apartheid era, have felt a residual shame that they possessed everything while others had next to nothing. And so one hears not a murmur of such things. Even to raise the issue these days would be regarded nowadays as a kind of childish puritanism; or envy masquerading as high-mindedness. For we live in a cultural moment, now virtually global, in which even to speak of morality is to somehow sounds moralistic."

[I took the photos in Leeuwen street in the Bo Kaap three Sunday afternoons ago.]

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