archive - issue 11

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  • Apartment / Containers

    By Vincent Bezuidenhout
    These diptychs are the start of a series of images I have been working on regarding the visual landscape we choose to surround ourselves
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  • Collage

    By Claudio Parentela
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  • Drag and Snap

    By Leigh-Anne Niehaus
    This series is inspired by the childhood game of "snapdragon", which allows for simplistic and delightful decision-making through random selections of colour and number.
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  • Human/Nature

    By Lydia Anne McCarthy
    This series explores moments between nature and human beings that are at once idealistic and unsettling. Each picture is an independent narrative, but placed
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  • p u n c t u a t i o n

    By Ula Einstein
    Einstein works with a diverse range of media, including drawings and installation with fire, thread, and blades. The series of drawings and installations with
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  • Pretty Babies

    By Peregrine Honig
    With the premise that "/ " presents what is IN and what is OUT, the "Pretty Babies" series explores the fashion industry's well-published and syndicated DOs
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  • River Bank

    By Mario Sughi
    The symbol / is intended initially as a symbol of division. A real or unreal line divides the girl from the water, the girl from
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  • Seasaw

    By Sol Kjøk
    Here, the motif is conceived of as a seesaw (the typo in the title is intended, as this drawing is part of a series
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  • Series Seven Up

    By Noel Fignier
    Text by João Branco Kyron, HipnóticaThe collision is imminent and in the fraction of time left, the eyes shut and the vision is superbly
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  • A battle over samoosas between the snobbish Cinderella and a homeless electrician is mediated by Cinderella's boyfriend JJ. The samoosa battle is conflated with
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  • Untitled

    By Wilhelm Saayman
    This series of images, made using pen and ink, photographs and Photoshop, explore alternate/dream realities.
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  • The space between.

    By Mehita Iqani
    It's a handy little line, the one that we use to make our options known. Either/Or. Paper and ink or binary code? Its clichéd,
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  • /

    By Ruth Barker
    On the QWERTY layout of my computer keyboard, the symbol / appears beside the questioning symbol ?. They are represented together on the same key, and
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  • I returned home after my first year in college to discover my younger sister had turned gorgeous. This was a disappointment, but not an
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  • Forward! Slash!

    By Travis Lyle
    You think you're a forward-thinking kinda person, do you? Lemme be the one to break it to you, sunshine – you're as lame as the
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  • Letter to the Editor

    By Elan Gamaker
    Dear Sir/Madam I should like strenuously to object to the subject matter ("/") of your current issue. It must first be mentioned, however, that it
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  • Butterfly

    By Adriana de Barros
    The pupa, a silk wrap of emotionsIsolated, within breathing, wanting to bethe intense pronoun of selfIt is silly to be one's own pronounShe giggles
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  • Evidence of Life

    By Tamlyn Martin
    Below is an extract from a series of 11 poems created in parallel with visual artworks. 5. Memories laced with visceral realityFlooding herThe gentle
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  • Immigrants

    By Stanley Onjezani Kenani
    you want to livenothing else.you leaveto liveyou swimor like fresh sardinesyou are packedin boatsyou leaveto live.  you leavegold in the belly of Africaoil in
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  • In Between

    By Tania van Schalkwyk
    Raised in an Arabian land of heat, fire and temper,sometimes the calm of England clamps downlike damp in a bathroom with no windowand a
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  • Or: a line drawing

    By Gabeba Baderoon
    Pencil and nothing. Her face turned almost entirely away. Forehead, cheekbone,jaw,the bun low in her neck,shoulderand down,the long linejust enoughthen left alone.
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  • Scissor

    By Charlotte Gait
    There was a time when you and I were connected by iron, acid, vitamin and blood. Where every mouthful I took was with the
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  • Un Hombre Fuerte

    By Tamo Vonarim
    Sun.star.kid: Written these words are, at times of a subconscious flow – whether they are mine, I don't know. All I know is that I
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  • Unbroken Awareness

    By TENDAI MWANAKA
    My life is now a floating shellI am a vessel on that river.The storm, the ship, the sea,Whose shores we lost in crossing.  I
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  • Untitled

    By Aryan Kaganof
    /At R550 rand I thought I'd rather die/ My mother: can I trust this woman?/ I thought the Romans were coming, dinkum/ …and always
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  • PATCH

    By Sean Hampton-Cole
    Keys. John speaking. 'Lo?Good morning. May I speak to Bob Mitchell please?Bob in Bonds?I'm not really sure. I'm trying to...You want extension 125. This
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  • Wayne Porter, freelance journalist, donned his anthropologist's birthday suit and hit the bowling alley. Bar the bowlers hat tipped gently off centre, the man
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  • The Incised Wound

    By Joanne Hichens
    "Please, for me, Dave," I placed my hand on his, and really, no begging, just asked him nicely, "Lay off the booze tonight." Whether
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  • He had been driving for hours through that unstable, somnambulist night when he fell asleep at the wheel. He awoke with a start and
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Friday, 13 September 2013 13:39

The Myth of Taboos and Impotent 'Counterculture': A Cynic's Rant

By 
The Myth of Taboos and Impotent 'Counterculture': A Cynic's Rant Image courtesy of the National Geographic Channel. The author claims no intellectual ownership or creative license thereof.
The National Geographic Channel routinely airs a program simply titled Taboo which, needless to say, deals with subject matter that typically elicits an ‘ooh’ and an ‘aah’, accompanied invariably by a disapproving shake of the head or facial expression that marries bewilderment with fascination. The idea of flying completely against normative behaviour, values and notions brings with it a kind of intellectual excitement that is not dissimilar to the adrenalin rush when one decides to do something that the brain deems detrimental and/or lethal.

(The effect of adrenalin fades.)

Extensive tattoos that transform a man into a leopard. Sadomasochistic nude couples that pierce each other with all manner of steel objects for an on-looking crowd. Pre-pubescent girls given carte-blanche to have sex with whomever they want in their parents’ back yard (quite literally). Rites of passage that are the stuff of nightmares for males around the world. Diets that most would expect to see only on Fear Factor.

These are all the things you would see on Taboo. They are deviant from convention. Rules are ignored and broken (and, if you’re a masochist, handcuffed and whipped). These are the people, in other words, who use grammatically incomplete sentences, use full stops instead of commas and semi-colons to punctuate them, and begin a paragraph with a hanging sentence that senselessly defies the cardinal left-hand margin.

The idea of ‘taboos’ is mythical on two fronts: First, they do not have any intrinsic meaning. Secondly, and subsequent to the absence of meaning in the first place, taboos can only (inadvertently attempt to?) construct meaning by using convention as a point of reference. Allow me to illustrate.

No intrinsic meaning

A man covered in leopard-skin tattoos is a man covered in leopard-skin tattoos. What is he saying? Nothing; his mouth is shut, and he is a man covered in leopard-skin tattoos. So what? So he is covered in leopard skin tattoos. But what does it mean? It means he is expressing himself. So why would that be ‘taboo’ since we all express ourselves? Indeed we do, it is only that we do not all express ourselves like that …

Convention as a point of reference

… so, really, he is only considered taboo because his chosen mode of expression does not fall in line with expectations of conventional expression. A frustrated young man, for instance, usually gets a Mohawk and plays drums exceedingly loudly. Or he gets a semi-legible tattoo on his right shoulder and lifts weights. Or perpetually wears headphones while ascribing to himself a nickname that everyone around him is supposed to know via osmosis.

Getting oneself covered in inked leopard skin, however, is not what ‘normally’ happens when people express themselves. And it is precisely what ‘normally happens that gives some kind of substantive (shock) value to what is abnormal.

is and whatsoever value semantic no absolutely has backwards written is sentence this that fact The
only rendered taboo by the left to right convention of writing in English. In other words, without the convention you would not be able to read the sentence in all senses of the word: a) you would not be able to make sense of the series of letters and spaces and b) you would therefore not be able to decipher what they signify.

We read texts by calling them ‘taboo’; we do not, I don’t think, read them as taboo. This is precisely because, outside of the normative, ‘taboo’ has no meaning. Without labouring the point, to fly against something presupposes, and by extension reinforces, that there is a something to fly against to begin with.

In this sense, taboos are unoriginal.

Death of ‘counterculture’

It is the proliferation of ‘taboos’, then, that has given birth to the concurrent fallacy of ‘counterculture’. In various contexts, the idea of defying the accepted norms is often employed by youth as we revel in an extended project of self-discovery and identity formation. Of course, some find it easier to simply categorise this as ‘rebellion’.

Yet I beg to differ, for further thought on the matter surely must reveal that rebellion for the sake of rebellion is nonsensical, and in fact impossible, much in the same way that abstaining from voting is in itself a political choice. Sibusiso does not launch into alcohol at 16 after having been a ‘well-rounded’ young man ‘for no reason at all’. Curiosity is a reason. Undetected depression is a reason. Boredom is a reason. Lack of or disregard for moral principles is a reason. Long-standing anger at dad’s absence is a reason. Upholding a certain image is a reason. Inability to deal with his high school crush’s infidelity is a reason. The point is that, however trite or serious, however sudden or gradual, however impulsive or well thought out, however conspicuous or hidden (even to himself) the reason is, there is always a reason.

I highlight the logic of rebellion only because ‘counterculture’ is seen as a rebellion against certain cultural norms. Thus it is evident that ‘Counter-culture’, insofar as it seeks to go against what ‘everyone else’ is doing, is nothing more than rebellion, and it should be called as such.

What’s the big deal, one may ask? Well, the term ‘counterculture’ gives the false impression that there is some kind of original and authentic identity to be found or formed within it, when in fact, if you accept my line of thinking, ‘counter-culture’ is itself a way of exploring alternate identities other than those prescribed and imposed. It cannot be, to be sure, an alternate identity (nor a constellation thereof) in and of itself.

Ultimately, then, all we really have in ‘counterculture’ is the proliferation of taboos , so that there is what I call the culturization of ‘counterculture’; we have so many attempts at going against the flow that they simply create another flow, exceptional only by virtue of going in the opposite direction. Note that it is a flow nonetheless. In short, breaking the rules becomes a new rule.

It is thus that the term taboo has a seen a metamorphosis from being the name of shocking but relatively isolated rule deviations to being simply another name for another programme that shows a series of these rule deviations through a very conventional medium: TV.

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Zama Moyo

Zama is a writer and holds an MA in Ideology and Discourse Analysis from the University of Essex.

Website: zama-m.blogspot.com/