It seems strange, in this age of Kindles and smart phones, to attend an event as retro, and as quaint, as a book launch. An unfortunate side-effect of the growing trend of digitised content is that the author has been banished to the margins of his or her own e-text.
Thus it was a great pleasure for me to see a real live author in person recently, which helped to dispel the Pynchonesque conspiracy theory that all authors have been replaced by computers. Added to the pleasure was the fact that the author in question was the feisty, outspoken and thoroughly delightful Dr Mamphela Ramphele – one cannot imagine her sassy vivacity being replicated by a computer. At least not soon. By which time nobody will be reading anymore anyway.
The venue was Exclusive Books at Hyde Park. Well, the entrance to the bookshop. A makeshift stage was hastily erected to give the short Dr Ramphele some bearing over the looming crowd, which was squashed into the entrance. Every now and again someone would break the laser beam of the alarm system, and elicit both a high-pitched beep from the alarm and a laser-like scowl from one of the attendants.
A packed restaurant nearby made it almost impossible for the dimunitive Dr Ramphele to be heard over the hubhub of dinner chatter, which meant she was soon declaiming into the microphone as if she was at a political rally. And, yes, the feisty founder of Agang SA was soon saying the sorts of things that you just do not hear in polite society anymore. This generated a nervous frisson in the well-dressed and comfortably-heeled crowd, as if they were expecting the Thought Police to pop around the corner at any second and confiscate their book purchases.
This is rather sad. The worst kind of censorship is self-censorship. If we are constantly policing our thoughts and utterances in order to be in tune with the dominant discourse – well, or to appear to be in tune with – for fear of repercussions attendant on our minority, and ex-exploiter class status, then the state does not ever have to deploy its evil apparatus, for it has already, and always, won.
Publisher Tafelberg pulled out all the stops at the event, which translated into a steady flow of wine to keep the crowd in a good mood and more likely to buy a book at the end. During the book-signing afterwards, Dr Ramphele made a point of talking briefly to each and every person who approached her, but not to the point of holding up the queue and making people feel restless. A consummate people’s person, and one who knows how to work a crowd.
So, one day if Dr Ramphele perhaps becomes president of our beautifuly country, all the people who were there at that event are likely to dig out their battered signed copies, or search through the picture libraries on their smart phones, in order to tell their children or grandchildren: this is how history happens, quietly in the wings.