This following is so quintessentially Marecherian.
When the formal requirements of society get you down, there is always the flipside of the coin. One turns towards one’s impious, naturalised self.
This is a quote from THE BLACK INSIDER:
The impiety of a Puck is the sort of mood I get into whenever I feel injured by reviewers and the family; it is a sordid but exhilirating attempt to recapture the childish openness of my youth. Though this was dangerous in a London full of policemen and National Fronts who added spice to the victuals. The drink was steadily transforming me, it injected into me a belligerant impishness which I thought I had lost with the departure of my student days. It took the form of rapid and delirious recapitulations of my whole life, bits and pieces of which would suddenly flit into my mind like bars of half-remembered music. It was [at] once audible, visible, tactile, fragrant and elusively bitter-sweet as it swept again and again through the plastic atoms of my mind. The very act of recapitulation was itself enough; the finely-cut diamonds of specific memories were a bonus. I could have danced — all the million versions of me — danced on the point of a pin, so light and inexplicably subtracted I felt. It was, as Petronius said, that the soul craves what it has lost and wholly throws itself into the past.
– p 110
This kind of inversionist movement like the chess motion of castling gives the basis for a fresh set of circumstances in the game of life. It is a motion of renewal, and of taking back some aspect of control over things.
To succeed with such a movement in one’s life, one must have first tacitly accepted that reality is neither linear nor simply hierarchical. There are other movements that can occur within the game of organising and determining reality.
This outlook is refreshingly shamanistic as it derives from values other than improving the image of one’s public self and/or climbing the hierarchical ladder towards success. Other alternatives for selfhood come into view. It expresses a feeling of freedom at being able to give oneself permission to subtract what is authentic delight in oneself from the reified representation of the self.
Of course the writing is also audaciously defiant, wryly comic and expressive of a huge amount of psychological resourcefulness.
I’ve just read COLONIAL PSYCHIATRY AND THE AFRICAN MIND by Jock McCulloch.
it is a profound and well written book. The ethnopsychiatrists impression of what they took to be the African mind were no doubt Eurocentric and self-serving to varying degrees. Yet, their overall impressions contained elements of phenomenological truths. I have, for instance, come to this conclusion about my father’s personality and how it was constructed in Rhodesia (taking him to be “a primitive”):
“According to Mannoni, among primitives there was no disharmony between the social being and the inner personality. The oriental face was firmly wedded to the whole being and the individual was held together by the collective shell.” — p 143.
I say this because in Zimbabwe he gave the impression of having had quite a forceful character, which somehow was totally undermined in due course in Australia.
Of course, to some degree (and I do think we all tend to underestimate just how much), we are all held together by a social shell. Should any of us move to a totally different culture, we would find out just to what degree we had been leaning upon an implicit understanding of the social structure in order to support us, and give us our identities. So, it is easy to think that the person of the other culture is the robot, but all too hard to see the robotic (unconsciously culturally programmed) aspects within oneself.
But in some ways Mannoni is right: There was more of a naturalness and ease with conducting oneself within the African context. There was much less of a moral and cultural emphasis on “how one appears.”
The following, too, seems like it has something to say about my father’s madness. It is from Julia Kristeva’s STRANGERS TO OURSELVES, page 190, and derives from a section speaking about the encounter with the foreigner. Now, the complexity of who and under what circumstances is “the foreigner” cannot be understated. My father was himself a foreigner, and yet he also saw me as one, as I had been changed by my immersal in the newer culture. Here is Kristeva:
[T]he uncanny strangeness [of an inevitable and psychologically disintegrating encounter with the foreigner] can also be evacuated: “No, that does not bother me; I laugh or take action — I go away, I shut my eyes, I strike, I command …” Such an elimination of the strange could lead to an elimination of the psyche, leaving, at the cost of mental impoverishment, the way open to acting out, including paranoia and murder.
It’s interesting on the mind-body dualism. I am so used to it that I do not see it, but when shown it, I see and it explains a lot.
Yeah. The way I see this having its greatest effect it in humour. Instead of the preposterousness of reality-as-it-is being related back to an implicit humanistic standard of decency and fairness for all, a moral line is drawn. But it is a line of censorship in actuality.
So I suppose a person could read BLACK SUNLIGHT and think “what a crazy person the author was — but you can sympathise with his travails because he is black.”
But actually, it is supposed to be a novel full of preposterous humour. If you don’t appreciate that the implicit backdrop to all of its allusions is a humanistic standard, then you are unable to get its humour in the fullest way.
And this is deeply problematic because there is a GOOD REASON why Western culture takes itself seriously and is not self-reflexively humorous: That is because the basis for this culture is primarily a mechanistic separation of mind and body, in a non-humanistic way. The “purpose” of this, from a capitalist/industrial perspective, is to facilitate work efficacy, rather than humanistic ends. So one does not joke about serious things such as identity. Identity is too serious to joke about — unless one is making a blatant ideological point. One simply doesn’t joke in that way. Too much of economic life and death hinges upon identity for humour not to be at least extremely defensive and biting.
But the humour in Marechera is more defiant and ad hoc than intellectually biting. It makes it points more softly, more humanistically. At the same time, the humour is more slapstick, violent, than you would conventionally expect in Western culture. This is not a matter of formulating a moral discourse, but more a case of presenting an aesthetic revelation.
I mean if Marechera has to have a mental illness, as is the view of some, then why not this one?
After all, there is evidence for it. See the very beginning of his first published book:
I got my things and left. The sun was coming up. I couldn’t think where to go. I wandered towards the beerhall but stopped at the bottle-store where I bought a beer. There were people scattered along the store’s wide verandah, drinking. I sat beneath the tall msasa tree whose branches scrape the corrugated iron roofs. I was trying not to think about where I was going. I didn’t feel bitter. I was glad things had happened the way they had; I couldn’t have stayed on in that House of Hunger where every morsel of sanity was snatched from you the way some kinds of birds snatch food from the very mouths of babes.
These appeasement efforts had no connection whatsoever to anything I really felt or thought. They seemed socially and ideologically necessary for me, in terms of the structure of the system and what it required, but they meant nothing of intrinsic worth. I found I had been switching fundamental parts of my mind off, whilst trying to suddenly and dramatically grow other parts, in order just to achieve a very radical effect, the effect of proving my ability to perform effectively within a culturally contrived matrix that had little subjective meaning to me.
When I spoke to my recent Zimbabwean friend, I knew immediately that we have tacitly agreed on what is centre and what is periphery. I don’t feel strained and contorted by the relationship. My blood flows thick and strong. It is as if part of my very mind fading into a state of vagueness and a feeling of debility were suddenly revived.
And in other news, today, I fought my new training partner, Ruth, who is as formidable as hell. She hit me half force on the nose and it began to bleed a little. That woman has all sorts of power – but I’m slightly better on defence.
Finally, reification appears very clearly in Durkheim’s description of me-
chanical solidarity as opposed to an organic one.
Social molecules held together in this way alone could not move as a single whole unless they were lacking in specific movements of their own, like the molecules of inorganic bodies. This is why we propose to call this type of solidarity mechanical. This word does not signify that it has been produced by mechanical or artificial means. We call it thus only by analogy with the cohesion which holds together the elements of material bodies (corps bruts), in contrast with that which holds together living bodies. The use of the term is justified, finally, by the fact that the bond which unites the individual with society is completely analagous to that which unites things to the person. Individual consciousness, viewed in this light, is a simple dependency of the collective consciousness and follows all its movements, just as the thing owned follows all those movements impressed on it by its owner. In societies where this type of solidarity is highly developed, the individual does not belong to himself, as we will see later; he is literally a thing handled at the discretion of society. Thus, in these types of society, personal rights are not yet distinguished from property rights. (Durkheim, 1960, italics added)6
The meaning of this passage is clear. Societies with mechanical solidarity are reified societies; those with organic solidarity represent concrete dialectical totalities.
All quoted from: Durkheimianism and Political Alienation: Durkheim and Marx
Joseph Gabel Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie, Vol. 9, No. 2. (Spring, 1984), pp. 179-189.
As it screams, I think of Marechera, who was a “manfish” and to this extent in limbo or dead — “subtracted” from humanity himself. A manfish is a person who has drowned, and whose spirit becomes a fish. “I’ve been a manfish all my life. Maria, you did well to leave me. I must go.” And Maria, in the short story about the benevolent mould around the hut wall, signifying moisture as the blessing of the rains, is the blessing of organic life processes. The death of “Maria”, in his short story, is the effect of drought on Nature. Political awareness is the fruit of good and evil which, once eaten, signals the end of the innocent organic life lived in Eden. Marechera — a political, rather than spiritual fellow — is dead to his tribe.
Knowledge of good and evil (politics) equals death: this is the fundamental lesson from the Garden of Eden. And yet the infinity sign twists as we travel along its line, from one side to the other. Knowledge = the promise of power;a satanic delight. Marechera takes sides with the daemonic:. a product of the spiritual “other side”.
There are always two sides of the coin and one preserves this form of the human condition through self-awareness. Being human: a kind of sane insanity.
In many of my encounters with black Africans (and somehow less so with the white ones, with whom I am more forthright), I regularly neglect to inform them of my atheism.
When they greet me with such things as “God Bless” somehow I know the feeling behind what they are saying ought to be: “The universe is smiling on you.” I have thought of explaining the ideological nature of my position with a little note: “By the way, I’m not religious. I’m an atheist.” But I recoil from that for reasons that I cannot quite explain. I’ll certainly try to, though, since I’m a sucker for punishment of the more intellectual sort.
So here it is. When I was a young horsey girl in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, a British couple lived just down the road from us. They had a rather old, fly-bitten retired racehorse, which I used to groom, to help them out. One time the male of the couple was over in the field with us, as I was making busy pulling ticks from underneath the tail of his horse. I started to explain the procedure to the hapless fellow. “This is what you need to do……and if you can manage to tell this to your wife as well, then perhaps she can also help you if you don’t have the time…”
Well, this young English man told me at that point that the woman in his life was not his wife. He looked at me directly as if expecting a reaction — as if what he had just told me ought to hold some significance, somehow, generally, in the world. But I — for my part — couldn’t be sure of what he was trying to tell me. It just seemed odd. If the woman wasn’t his wife, and yet this wasn’t going to change anything, why was the strange man bothering to tell me something?
And so, it is with this kind of an experience in mind, the recollection of being African myself, and having Westerners make their peculiar ideological pronouncements at me, that I do not tell the one I’m writing to that I am atheistic in my leanings. (Nor do I mention the socialistic aspect to my thoughts, which could only serve to make things awkward, ideological-sounding and emotionally complicated.)
Am I right or am I wrong? I just feel awkward making sudden pronouncements about myself.
Two very large birds were chasing each other through the sky. One was on the other’s tail, moving in for the kill. Right behind them was a child, somehow flying way above the roof of the house. In exhuberant spirits, she followed directly behind the large birds, oblivious to the nature of the violence. And when she finally came to earth, we all wanted to know how she did it. Did she have a secret that we could commercially exploit?
The dream just before that was of a dustbowl and a mining district. There were large vehicles and secret excavations and a tool shed, with instruments that kept falling of the wall. Finally, people were standing on a the steps that went just down from the warehouse or shed. They were casually discussing whether or not they would like to dominate the aristocrats. One of them suggested, “yes.”
Page 188 on soul loss is most interesting.
Perhaps soul retrieval was the whole point of Marechera’s writing BLACK SUNLIGHT?
He does face death, feel exhausted at the end, and expose his bones.
I also consider that I recently retrieved a part of my soul and feel much better for it. I have now added that retrieved part into my autobiography, which suddenly became satisfyingly whole as the completed text gobbled it up.
Possession by Helping Spirits– These “familiars” were often invoked by shamans during trance states as helpers and guides. DID patients almost always have helper personalities, some of whom claim to be from other dimensions or to be spirits.
…..and in the short story of Marechera’s called THE WRITER’S GRAIN, the protagonist’s ‘familiar’ is a dog.
And that mongrel was licking my face and sniffing me with his cold nose and swishing his stumpy tail softly to and fro, but somewhat uncertainly. It seemed I had been talking to him while I was unconscious. I know I woke up telling him about how my parents starved themselves to give me an education and to make me what I am now. I was saying: ‘Never under any circumstances consent to be blackmailed by hard-suffering parents to be be made the sacrificial investment for their old age. Usually that means they have decided to sell your mind and soul to the bloody whites.’ The dog regarded me pensively for a few seconds and then nodded his head. He licked his lips and in a sad gravel voice he said: ‘What you have been saying is true. Very true, indeed. But do you get up, or else someone will think I attacked you: not that I mean anything at all about your fighting spirit or my own, but merely that men are so quick to draw wrong conclusions all the time: you ought to hear them at the Law Courts where I usually sleep. You are of course different, because you can understand me and I can easily follow your reasoning. But the others. Ah, the others. Ow, the others, bow, wow.’ I stood up and felt my head; there was a big lump at the back of it. My right elbow felt wet with blood where i had grazed it in my fall. The dog looked up critically at my lips and said: ‘Lick your lips and you will feel much much better, and we will go wherever you were going before.’ But however hard I tried to remember I could not think where it was I was going. I looked down hopefully at the dog. ‘Perhaps I told you my destination while I was unconscious?’ I leaned against the lamp-post while he scratched himself behind the ear an thought hard. I could see the effort of his thinking in his ears and in his eyes and in the way his nose and tail were twitching hard. At last he frowned and said: ‘Something about a cat you killed called Melinda the Bloody White.’
One of the great foolishnesses of the ones who subscribe to patriarchy, (as I have explained before!), is in their confusion of the public and the private selves of others. Horus only knows they should not fall into this trap, most of them, as most of those of a strongly patriarchal mindset do practice very differently their morals in a private setting as compared to when they are in public. Yet somehow whatever is done surreptitiously and in stealth is also thought to be invisible by those who take on this mode of thinking.
Hiding behind the cloak of patriarchy, these folk do not feel as if they are actually acting at all, when they express their meagre selves in private. So fully do they believe in the omnipotent force of the public mask that they do not take themselves for being very real when they act spontaneously and in private.
But is is very funny, this little trick of mind and body, how readily it deceives. And how masochistically the victim responds to the world ultimately, when he succumbs to being tied in his own threads of self deception and unable to distinguish truth from falsity in any vital sense. Such a person becomes a victim to his own confused thinking about power.
Let me do a little compare and contrast here. Reading between the lines of Marechera’s writing, he considers that anyone who has a public self has benefited by being given a free ride by the system to whatever degree that public identity has given them social advantages. (Hence, he is an anarchist.)That makes sense.
But consider the typical person with a strong patriarchal ideology. He has certainly benefited a lot by being given all sorts of free rides — but like the typical child filmstar, he doesn’t know whether others like him for his power or for himself: A typical neurotic position.
The patriarchal type might think that women have little societal power because they are personally weak. He believes — as stated, and against the force of much observable evidence — that public status is all there is to a person.
So, he believes that women are empty things that are easily influenced, and he believes to some degree that he, himself, has great individual qualities that have given him his efficacy in the world.
Okay, Okay, this is all very laughable. But he believes he doesn’t need to even try to get along, because his public persona speaks for itself. Not having to live by his wits alone (for example, like Marechera), his mind becomes rather mechanical and psychologically bluntened (to the degree that it is not taken over by neurosis and uncertainty). If he is more credulous than suspicious, he falls for a version of the world which is more than laughable. He decries that women are “influenced” by the wrong kinds of men. He laments that even though he stays passive, mechanistically trapped within his bourgeois societal thrall, no woman falls for him. He has become “castrated” — but that is only because he loves societal power. It is up to women to understand him on that. But — unfortunately — he has rendered women empty by his attribution to their very natures of the kind of passivity that he himself actually enjoys. He cannot appeal to them, he thinks, because they’re empty.
Yet it is annoying, he thinks to himself, how arbitrarily these women move around, enjoying others but not him. He is the one clothed with societal power. Women are arbitrary, he thinks, because they move randomly.
Other men are social actors, however, and can be appealed to. He lives in a world of men. “Men have reason.”
Yet it is the women who have the deeper reason for having been societally disenfranchised. They perceive that the public self concerns relates only to the degree of free ride that society gives the individual. In itself, it is meaningless.
But the publically defined patriarch still beats his breast and laments the harshness of the world.
UPDATED: I now maintain that the motif of “castration” in Lacan is nothing other than Judeo-Christianity expressing its hatred for the natural and for nature. It’s not necessary to castrate the emotions in order to enter civilization. For this reason, Deleuze and Guattari’s idealization of schizophrenia as the quintessential anti-Oedipal state misses the point dramatically. Naturalness, not schizophrenia, should be condoned as a form of liberation from domination. Furthermore, the problem of domination should be understood rather more ideologically, and less straight-forwardly psychologically, than they appear to understand it.
And to refine my thesis statement: Marechera did not have an overall MAD disposition towards the world. He was extremely clear-minded in his embrace of the ideals of political freedom and in his self-expression through his art.
1. In the matter of his passion for art, it is likely that Marechera embraced a certain conceptual and practical dichotomy between art and life. And what if Marechera was odd? — What if there was an element of the schizoid in him that compelled this kind of a practical and conceptual division in his mind? This does not imply that his overall disposition towards life was one of madness in the sense of being unable to distinguish truth from fiction. If he was schizoid — and I’m not quite clear what this means in terms of access to one’s own emotional states and giving them a clear reading, which Marechera obviously did — well, he was never schizophrenic. There is no evidence for the latter state of being in Marechera’s work or life.
2. In the matter of his embrace of political freedom, we see a highly intelligent strategy to become, and to remain free. However, the kind of freedom Marechera embraced was a very radical freedom. His desire not to be controlled might seem a bit extreme from the point of view of those who have experienced more benevolent handling from those in power over them. Yet from the point of view of his own experiences, the logic of avoiding control once one has hard-won one’s own freedom makes acute sense. A further disincentive against being controlled would have been the psychological trauma instilled in him by his early experiences of being reduced to the violent happenings of ‘the ghetto’.
Having said all this, ultimately I want to hedge towards a more radical thesis:
Marechera is actually the uncastrated man — the one who defies the necessity of castration as a feature of being civilised.
As per Wiki on Lacan:
3. Castration is the symbolic lack of an imaginary object. It is essentially tied to the symbolic order and to the central position given by the Oedipus complex. It refers to the symbolic debt in the register of the law. The clinic provides evidence that castration refers to the loss of the phallus as imaginary object. The agent of castration is the real father.
And Wiki on Freud:
Where for Freud, the castrated one is the woman, for Lacan it is the man who is castrated, in so far as he is completely subjected to the signifier which says ‘no’ to complete satisfaction. The boy is totally subjected to the law and thus to symbolic castration. It is only at the imaginary level that he appears not to be castrated in his possession of a penis. The only exception to this rule that all men are castrated is that of the father of the primal horde. In its connection with the incest taboo, the effect of castration is to divide women into those who are accessible and those who are not.
The only one who has not succumbed to castration is Freud’s mythical primal horde father who considers himself as being able to have access to all women including those to whom he is related. This uncastrated exception confirms the rule of castration following the logic that every rule requires at least one exception.
Marechera is also not a kind of the wild man — a particular type rebelling from society after having been forced to suffer much. Yet, perhaps he has been understood this way all too often, at least by some?
By far to the contrary, he is something much more innocent and unbroken in his underlying perspective. I sum, he is that rare organism, the socially uncastrated man. That is the hidden message behind all of the amusing escapades into modes of madness (eg. in The House of Hunger). Ultimately, he is also one who melds a sense of right to wholeness with intellect and artistic acumen.
Through his writing we sense the human wholeness that has been fractured by the forces of “civilisation” — [This term has a rather particular political resonance for Marechera since the colonial forces were associated in his mind with the term, "civilisation" ]. Nonetheless, Marechera is not a Romantic (except in a sort of sub-speciality sense of using romantic tropes to write allegorical love poems, or in a certain affinity with PB Shelley). Rather, he is in fact a clear-eyed social and philosophical naturalist — one who accepts life for the violent experience that it so often is, but who uses metaphysical ideas to elaborate his philosophical perspectives as well as flights of fancy.
Accurate perceptions of the world — whether considered in political terms (Black Sunlight) of in general psychological terms (The House of Hunger, The Alley) requires great mental strength. Madness is the polar opposite to mental strength. It denies and destroys the integrity of insight. How come then, there is so much insight in Marechera’s work (when properly understood in the correct cultural light)?
Upon such strong premises rest my entire Marechera thesis.
More supporting premises:
– The issue of “inner exile” is a post-colonial one.
– Untreated PTSD tends to generalise (become worse)
– The organic relationship between madness and sanity is not a linear and transparent one, but looks rather more like the infinity sign, with extreme forms of rationality devolving into a kind of madness (civilisation and its discontents) and certain kinds of detachment from the world representing a purer state of consciousness.
– Zimbabwean versus Western cultural differences can make some of Marechera’s writing inaccessible to those of a Westernised consciousness.
Here are some differences that form the basis for differing transcultural assumptions (and possible misunderstandings of the writer by his Western readers):
* The intensity of the life and death struggle to move up and away from tribalism and its dirt and grit is not necessarily understood by those of other cultures who romanticise tribal life.
* Zimbabwe is a culture strongly influenced by militarism and by a certain respect for things warrior-like, even after the demise of the colonial regime.
* Superstition and notions of witchcraft still play a high part in Zimbabwean culture — even white parts of the culture, to a degree. So, the mood that Marechera conjures up in BLACK SUNLIGHT (of black magic at work) may not be felt so intensely and with such aesthetic reverberations by one brought up in a more rationalist culture. (I felt it, however.)
* Christianity is still very alive as an ideology in Zimbabwe
* Hardship (economic and social) is conceptualised differently in a third world culture like Zimbabwe. It has become de rigueur.
* The legacy of the war (2nd chimurenga) left a whole generation of people who experienced it with varying degrees of emotional damage.
* Social privilege is conceptualised differently in Zimbabwe — and prejudice and discrimination has somewhat of a different emphasis that it does in the West. It has more of a tribal and class flavour, rather than being a clear-cut matter of skin colour.
* Educational level is a strong sign of class in Zimbabwe.
* The mind-body dualism of Zimbabwean culture has less to do with Morality and maintaining one’s purity by keeping mind and body distinct (as it seems to have to do with, in the traditions of the West). In Zimbabwe, the distinction is more one of Spiritism.
* The mood of fear and dread that Marechera so effectively plays up in his work, is part of a Zimbabwean cultural atmosphere. It relates to a psychological feeling of magic (childlike sensations of belief) as well as to more stridently superstitious notions of witchcraft.
* In Zimbabwe, there is a strong tradition of moral criticism directed towards one’s leaders and other prominent figures. Zimbabwe is a society of ideological consensus reached through the grapevine (a kind of oral history-making).
* Violence, in Zimbabwe, is not a cultural aberration. It has become the norm.
Another point of cultural differences that must be addressed:
In Western society, the implicit and expected cultural narrative structure for an individual’s life is that of the happy ending. Anything else is perceived as marked deviance, which cries out for an explanation. Another Western cultural myth: greater intelligence than usual, as well as greater social sensitivity than usual and considered to be factors predisposing one towards the happy ending. A lack of a happy ending to one’s life is considered grounds for raising justifiable suspicions against one’s intelligence and the merits of one’s character in general. This assumption, too, is culturally Western.
Another level of understanding that may be missing from the awareness of any reader who is not cross-cultural in the appropriate sense is the quality of finessing of emotional states that is always present in Marechera’s work.
The use of Western poetic and literary tropes is rarely arbitrary, but rather there can often be found a relation between the moods evoked by certain Western literary tropes — eg Percy Shelley and the daemonic – and certain culturally African moods. Marechera’s poetry and prose often relies upon invoking such transcultural moods through the reader’s own subjective awareness and learnedness.
I’ve decided that Marechera had a feral intellect, ferociously reappropriating all sorts of ideas into his own form of literary jazz.
I am very pleased to advise you that the Scholarships Committee of the
University of Western Australia has awarded you a University
Postgraduate Award (UPA) in the School of Social & Cultural Studies.
Congratulations on your success! As you have already been enrolled in
the degree for which the scholarship has been awarded, the maximum
tenure of the scholarship will be reduced by the length of your prior
candidature. Attached is a copy of the letter of offer which has been
mailed to you today.
Congratulations on your success and please contact the Scholarships
Office next week regarding this offer.
It is profoundly common for a Westerner, having looked me up and down and determined that I am white — or, even worse, having heard the dreadful gong sound of the word ‘Zimbabwe’ — to believe themselves fully in their rights to teach me a thing or two about racism and how to speak to black people.
Nonetheless, they know not a thing about who I am — what my experiences are, what my attitudes are, etc. In his extreme crudeness of temperament and self-certainty (a feature of belonging to a power bloc, and so not needing to experience much self doubt), the Westerner overlooks my actual identity and feelings in order to preach at me in relation to his own moral ideology.
And this has happened to me again and again and again.
The having of power has protected the hapless Westerner from discerning how little he really knows about the world.
But he is more than happy to preach – and preach he does.
Neocolonialist through and through! (And don’t forget — the original colonials used Christianity to advance their power. Neocolonials use morality.)
Well it is not impossible that Marechera has a little of the SPD in him, but if so I am inclined to think that this could have been the texture of his life, rather than what directed his overall existence. More likely he used psychodelics to achieve the basic format for his stories.
I still see a certain logic of intellectual and artistic integrity as the driving force of his life. How does one keep it together when everything around is looking bad? Does a bit of SPD actually help one to do so? Yet, Marechera spoke of the thickness of his skin wearing thin through constantly having to beg. Clearly, he acknowledges the reality of social norms.
Still he spoke of how people and other things became ‘unreal’ to him after his father’s death. This sense of keeping the real world and one’s fantasy world apart is a feature of SPD.
Then, another contra-indicator: What stands out for me in Marechera’s writing is a very strong sense of human psychology, of the ways in which we emotionally function. In the way that I read him, he hits the nail on the head psychologically, again and again – he is IN TUNE with human emotion. That is to say that his writing shows that he is excruciatingly aware of the precise nature of emotional effect that various configurations of events can have on others. Indeed, he often uses the knowledge that comes from his deep emotional awareness to shock people. His acute sense of dramatic timing and irony would not be possible if he were truly “depersonalised” (according to SPD) — and crazy.
Against such a simple psychiatric approach, I would like to suggest that with regard to the whole detachment from social life aspect that is apparently a feature of SPD, it is important to recognise that cultural alienation can really do a number on you. I know with regard to my own case that my whole sense of humour, my way of making light of the bad situation I felt myself to be in (that is, the situation of being culturally alienated and feeling a gap in ‘making sense’ between what I was doing and what would have liked to do) was misread in a way that I totally did not intend it. When the heavy fist of judgment descends against the wryness of your sense of humour, casting it as a character defect, then the shock of the unexpectedness of this kind of judgment can bring about a feeling of powerful detachment from a society that judges one thus.
And yet, once one has at last adapted to even a bad cultural situation, one is changed forever through the process of relearning about oneself. One can never, as the same person, go home again.
Talk about inner exile!
The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity: “On Productivity and the Necessity of Madness
We may have instituted child labor laws, but look at the modern alternative. Ritalin, a drug known to produce repetitive, stereotypical behavior in animals, is being foisted on millions of our school-age children with the hope of enforcing classroom docility, compliance and productivity. (8)
An overwhelming value placed on productivity stems from a reduction of human nature to a soulless, mechanistic, materialistic existence. The activities which appeal to our deepest nature and which inspire and enrich us are, for the most part, unproductive in a capitalist or industrialist sense. They have to do with physical closeness and affection, with emotional energy, with unmarketable creative expression, with relationships, with curiosity, with play and with inner and outer rituals by way of which we approach the numinous and the divine.”
Just like a spider who spreads out her web and waits in an inconspicuous corner for various insects to fly into it, it is also necessary for the political matrix that is Western ideology to remain essentially invisible.
It is against the rules to speak directly of such anything called “The West”. To point out that there is a spider managing what happens in the web is called “essentialism”. For whatsoever magnifies its efficacy by seeming not to exist, essentialism is anathema. But for whatsover is dominated by colonial and neocolonial forces, strategic essentialism is the key to becoming even slightly visible. So, the rule seems to be: If you have immense power, feel free to take advantage of an ideology that suggests you do not even exist; but if you have no or little power, you need to find ways to constantly assert your existence as a matter of survival.
So, surely there is no “West” that does anything to you or I — least of all infiltrate our minds and implant ideologies (the spider’s poison, before sucking our blood). Nonetheless, to the degree that I am heavily cautioned about using the term to refer to the Western ideologies and attitudes I have encountered, my suspicions are doubly aroused. Since I am prohibited (by academics) from speaking about a set of values and attitudes that I have found to be different from my own, and since, more specifically, I am prohibited from giving these values and attitudes that have so often tripped me up and disturbed me, a name, I am inclined to think that academia is the web by which Western ideology casts its net far and wide.
Those of the liberal West do not want to believe that they are ideologically neocolonialists, however. That is why they point to me and utter under their breaths, “Colonial!”.
That is why I am discluded from the advantages of the academy and from acquiring power.
There is a remarkable similarity between Poe’s William Wilson and some of Marechera’s writing. Marechera notably read Poe, and the haunted mood of much of Marechera’s writing also strongly echoes Poe.
Here is a section from Marechera’s “The Writer’s Grain”:
“He flicked ash in my direction and introduced me as his twin brother. And then he said, “He’s a bit of fun, not quite all right in the head.” I accepted a glass of South African wine and sat down as far away from him as possible. I drank glass after glass. I did not even have the strength to feel sorry for myself. It had all been so sudden; it had overwhelmed me. I needed time to rally myself together. After all I had those fine black grains in my pocket and I suspected that as long as I had that I could at least control him some.”
[A] surfeit of words, where there are two worlds of life and death, interrupted by intolerable and tenuous silences, creates within us a malediction, nausea. The image leaps out of the mirror to take over the mask and surface of our lives. Most never notice it’s happening to them. Some welcome it. I yield room big enough for us to coexist without obvious antagonism. In that way I am two people; others are more. [He turns to address the protagonist.] You look to me like one of those who turn a blind eye to their own self-evident existence.
– p 77 THE BLACK INSIDER
The literary modernism ……….. did give the whole matter of the author’s life and death a powerful metaphysical resonance and profundity.
Meanwhile, as is the case mentioned in my own autobiography, the excitement of the Rhodesian/Zimbabwean situation conditioned Marechera and myself to living at a certain level of profound intensity. Compared to our earlier lives, what came later would always seem anticlimactic UNLESS one could find new and different ways for living on the edge.
Trauma doth bleed a need for excitement.
Two thinkers that I do not particularly have a high regard for — perhaps more due to their effects (and the way that their writings have made society superficial) than because of their ideas — are BF Skinner and Jacques Derrida.
Derrida, for instance — he correctly discerns the inevitability of in interpretive slippage between what is written and what is interpreted in the writing. However, he doesn’t at all seem to countenance that there could be a huge amount of tragedy involved in this. For someone who does not have a voice that anyone will listen to within a particular society, and who therefore takes to writing, so much of what it means to be recognised as human and as vitally real depends upon reception of the work without distortion. So the eternal play of différence may be, in practical terms, within a multicultural society, to some degree entirely necessary as well as inavoidable. Yet the agonising screams of the subaltern who has once again had his attempts to communicate denied should not fail to somehow reach our ears. Derrida’s system which accustoms us to embrace an approach of consumption of meanings as they appear to us on our own terms (that is, without seeking further elucidation, through examinings history and political context) enables us to accept with pleasure — but, on limited terms only, the existence of a mild alterity between oneself and others. One accepts, in other words, the joy of making (necessarily) false interpretations, as a lighthearted game. The radical alterity of the subaltern has nothing to offer us as material for this lighthearted game. His needs are more desperate than that — his necessity to be heard is not even a game, but a matter of life and death (in the emotional sense, and possibly in more ways than this, since actual death can be an outcome of being radically misunderstood.) Let us not be lazy, therefore, with interpretation.
BF SKINNER: He doesn’t really tell us anything, beyond giving us some general principles that may as well be metaphysical, like yin and yang, for all of the predictive value that they have.
Of course, we all behave in certain ways to get rewards in life, and do our best to avoid various aversive stimulii. That is BF Skinner’s grand insight. So let us stop there. Beyond his assertion of this fact, his insights do not enable us to predict any single thing about any single person.
For right above the first layer of my feeling that something is an incentive, there lies an immediate disincentive, and above that the disincentive starts to look like an incentive again, but then through the power of my mind and will, I am actually able to conjure up its image as an overall aversive stimulus.
These are the layers of meanings we have in us — no doubt because we were conditioned through our early years by various experiences. Yet these experiences we had do not rest in our brains as isolated stimulii but in the form of comprehensive ideas and facts.
When I do kickboxing, I go towards an aversive stimulus. I suffer all sorts of mental and physical pains. Above that pain rests the reward of being more proficient. But above that positive stimulus there also remains the aversive stimulus of developing an injury. But, fortunately — above the likelihood of getting wounded rests the almost metaphysical delight of being able to look back in life and say that I’d achieved something.
So, don’t come at me with your aversive stimulus of pain and automatically expect me to pay you any mind. If life were simple like that, we would all be rats in a jar.