Friday, July 9, 2010

Cape Town, Days 4-5: Slugs, thugs, and mugs

Thursday, Friday, 8-9 July, 2010

I headed down to the National Library again on Thursday and Friday, but before I talk about my continued research, a photograph of two of Cape Town’s main attractions:

The so-called Wheel of Excellence, right next to the Mound of Indifference.

My remaining time in the National Library was spent going through children’s literature and oral literature. I’ve made a few discoveries along the way, including a terribly racist Alice in Wonderland imitation, but nothing too dearth-shattering. As Mrs. Baba told me, the indigenous material is rarely published, and as I have found out reading about children’s literature in South Africa, most of it only sees one printing and then disappears or is eaten by toothy children. Just as the India market for English books has been dominated by books from the UK, so English-speaking South Africans have been only too happy to import their books from abroad, and so native publishers rarely would solicit more indigenous material. Jay Heale writes that before 1985, there were so few children’s books published in South Africa as to be “derisory,” and he gives the grim statistics for post-1985:

Year Total books for children’s published in South Africa
1985 26
1986 59
1987 134
1988 121
1989 109
1990 105
1991 84
1992 78
1993 102
1994 92
1995 76

(from Heale, Jay. from the Bushveld to Biko: The growth of South African children’s literature in English from 1907 to 1992 traced through 110 notable books. Grabouw: Bookchat, 1996. p. 3)

Things have been getting better since then, thanks to writers and artists like Niki Daly, Gus Ferguson, Philip de Vos, and Piet Grobler, but there is still (as there was in India) far too much Enid Blyton on the shelves.

On Friday, first thing in the morning, I met with Gus Ferguson, who, in addition to being a pharmacist, a top-notch poet, and a cartoonist, is the Cosmic Life President of the Snail Liberation Underground (SLUg?), and the erstwhile publisher of Slug Times, a magazine of slimendous proportions. I thought that perhaps it would only be fitting for an upright member of the Society for the Prevention of Sense (SFPS) to collaborate and conspire with the SLU(g), and so, to make our First Contact as smooth as possible, I set out to liberate a snail (and to document it fully). I scoped out a colony of indentured snails toiling away in the park near the library, and, while pretending to be one of the Hairytrees that inhabit this land, I swooped in and liberated the snail. But, as I have learned from The Herding of the Snail, it is not enough to liberate a snail. One must tame the snail, take it home, play with it, and by these processes, transcend the snail and self to achieve Enlightenment. And this is what I did.

As you might imagine a meeting between two self-less and snail-less beings can only be harmonious, and so it was. Gus was kind enough to bring many of his books, and we talked much about this and that, nonsense and Fook Island. I also discovered that there is a “Slug Award,” a shining beacon of slugness, given by his august Underground movement, and that Niki had in fact won it. I can only hope, some day, to be worthy of the Slug Award.