MONDAY, 26 APRIL 2004
[I started filling an electronic document with text that would become the FINAL CHAPTER on this Monday at the end of April 2004. The following paragraphs – that touch on an old theme – were thus the original beginning of what I thought would be the last piece of the “Personal Agenda” project.]
The idea of “exile” is still a useful concept to explain – to myself more than to any reader of this text – what I have been doing for the last 10 years of my life.
I recently thought that my exile had in fact started when I returned from a five-week trip to Europe in 1995. From the day I again put my feet on South African soil, I distanced myself – sometimes subconsciously, sometimes deliberately – from the world around me. A case of, “I’m not really here. I’m actually on my way somewhere else …”
In 1995 I realized that the time I had been fearing for years had finally arrived. I had to start making more money than I had earned with part-time work as a student, because I had entered the post-university world of responsible adults. I also knew that my struggle was elementary: it was either make money or sleep on the street.
To complicate things even more, I suffered from the somewhat arrogant belief that I was “special”, that to “simply” pursue a conventional life would mean that I will miss the true purpose of my life.
Two years in Korea and more than five years in Taiwan was how I tried to be responsible without getting caught up in the so-called rat race – or my own over-simplified view of it, and at the same time to make an attempt at sorting out exactly what the purpose and meaning of my life was, or what it was supposed to be.
It has been a long journey; not as long or as arduous as our former legendary president, but long enough in my own book – so to speak.
What is this book for which you, the reader, is sacrificing so many hours of entertainment? Is it worth reading about my search for identity? Is it interesting to read about plans that have absolutely no value for any person outside my intimate inner circle?
This book is ultimately a small window on the life of just another human-animal, in more respects like you as you may be willing to admit in broad daylight. It is a story that deals with one person’s search for identity, his place in the world, and what is important to him.
If I had not written this book, the world would most probably still have been exactly the same as it is now. No earth-shattering discoveries were made. No bizarre anecdotes were told that could have added a little entertainment. In more sombre moments one can even go so far as to say that this entire project has been a complete waste of time – in the Greater Scheme of Things.
The truth, however, is that our daily lives sometimes feels far removed from the Greater Scheme of Things. We live in the world of sour milk and screaming children and superficial pop music. We live in a world where criminals get away with their criminal acts, where people carefully assemble houses of cards that could be destroyed by a chilly breeze the moment they look the other way to watch the sun go down. It is in this world where I have been writing for the past 10 years, and it is in this world where I have to find my salvation.
Is my book important? Yes, because I think it is important.
Do you think this book is important? Because I do not intend to butter my bread with money I earn from this material I can honestly say that it does not matter what anyone thinks of it. It has been written. It can be read. It is more important than a Korean recipe book in the average South African kitchen, but less important than the Bible. If anything can have value depending on the person or the situation, then anything that anyone writes about his or her own life can also have value.
So it is with this literary project.
I do sit with new questions at the end that I [initially] thought I was not going to address in this final chapter [but which have already been mentioned in several notes]. These questions are related to issues that I have thought I had resolved for myself over the years, but which have slipped back through the window in the middle of the night with frightening new formulations.
How, to take one example, does one define the “self”? Do you “find” yourself, or you decide who you want to be, and then become it?
How do I define concepts such as “home” and “place” used so often in these pages, words one always assumes everyone understands in the same way?
And seeing that we are talking about this, what should one do with the idea that the framework and limitations of language are of utmost importance in philosophical issues? Does it mean “I” am much more a product of my cultural heritage and much more dependent on the Afrikaans and English language communities than I have previously thought? Certainly one can have a sense of “self” without language, can’t you? But can you give expression to your self-awareness if you have never mastered a language, if you have never been part of a community that agrees on the meaning of the sounds that make up language?
What is a human being then but a highly developed mammal?
And why, incidentally, is it important to be more than just another mammal? I mean, rather a mammal than a reptile, right? Or am I being snobbish?