In my own experience of communicating life as a cultural exile, there are some ideas which cannot be communicated. From personal experience, I have found that generally a person has either one particular epistemological framework or another; and to persist in trying to relate to those who have a different one from mine produces only more infernal difficulties.
The difficulty is precisely this: One cannot be both supplicant (begging to be heard just to be understood) and educator (attempting to bestow meaningful information) at the same time. It’s too infernal! One should never ever even begin to try! Yet, very often one who crosses cultural epistemological borders finds themselves playing both roles by default.
This is what I feel today. One can be brave like Marechera and keep on pressing through. One can try to use both Western epistemological mindsets and more traditionally freeform or unstable ideas of reality, together. But all this hard work — and surely harder work, intellectually, than that contributed to the world by Charles Mungoshi – and one is understood less than ever.
Mungoshi, in a sense, played it safe. He stayed within the parameters of describing traditional Zimbabwean culture. Marechera’s goal was more towards describing HIMSELF, and therefore traditional cultural strictures and the epistemic structures they entailed, were too narrow for him. Besides, his mind was ever expanding into a new realm of visions and ideas. He had to borrow English and some of Western literary ideas in order to elucidate a broader emotional vision. His character, also, lent itself to a more abstract, intellectual style — for all the good it did him.
What happened to Marechera as compared to Mungoshi? No well respected national position as people’s writer, rather an ignominous death from AIDS. Well, it cannot be said that AIDS was in any sense a spell cast by his enemies, but all of his literary failures no doubt caused him to live closer to the edge, at times throwing all to the winds. Underlying this extremist temperament, however, Marechera was a survivor, who had already calculated his own worth. His death was accidental, not planned.
Some critics cast him as a European elitist writer who had nothing to offer the Revolution of Zimbabwe. Some thought his freeform writing was undisciplined, because unclearly structured. Others may not have understood his imagery, and thought his tone and literary allusions to be too pompous. Marechera either anticipated or simply acknowledged these condemnations, and a record of such judgements appear in his later books. Because he didn’t write narrowly — as an “African” writer, concerning himself purely with “African” themes — he was not accepted by Heinemann, after his first book. He also didn’t receive the cushy post of “Zimbabwean Writer” in the new post-independence regime of Zimbabwe. Such a placing would have been within his reach, if only he had played his cards right.
There’s a great deal of unjustice in the treatment of Marechera, who would not allow himself to be categorised. Contemporary thinking still has much to do to catch up with Marechera’s own manner of thinking: unimaginably much!