The postmoderns are right that different cultural contexts (social situations) can and do create an interpersonal and intrapersonal logic that can furnish us with our public (and up to the point that they are powerful, private) identities. This seems to me to be what is correct about postmodernism. Yet to understand as much also provides a link as to how trauma is created: In situations where the logic of “who one is” is overridden or denied by an entirely different logic of circumstance — such as where primeval survival mechanisms override dignity, or where one is not socially permitted to behave according to the dictates of one’s cultural upbringing — a different kind of dissociative identity may develop. This need have nothing to do with willing a different kind of identity into existence at a conscious level. Rather, the body itself, in search of an outcome of chemical equilibrium instantiates the solution of “different identities”. That way the identity which is suited to adapation under a very specific (or very different) set of circumstances) does not suddenly flood over, with its affects and alien form of logic, into the situations of the present which demand a different form of logic.
Every migrant who has been thrown from one cultural situation into a very different one and forced to sink or swim will probably have many dissociated aspects to their identity/ies. One learns that there are some aspects of one’s thinking and perceptions that simply cannot be voiced in the different culture, for instance. Thus there is adaptive value in alienating aspects (or the whole) of one’s previous identity from the identity that one is expected to adopt. One learns that if one wants to refer to aspects of one’s past identity, one cannot do so by blurting out one’s memories and experiences in accordance with the overarching cultural logic that used to be employed to organise and give meanings to one’s experiences. One must employ an altogether different cultural logic to give meaning to these things from the point of transition, on.
Failing to adapt sufficiently means that one employs a lot of bodily (emotional, hence chemical) energy in trying to square up two incommensurable systems of cultural logic. Full adaptation seems to mean accepting in its entirety the new cultural logic, for which the material circumstances of the culture are still available to give material support to.
When cultural change is dramatic, due to a sudden change in the material circumstances of life (sudden sociohistorical changes, as in the demise of colonialism in Zimbabwe), parts of one’s self are swept away as by the streams of life. If one person cannot relate to the other person after a time, even though they shared the same historical circumstances, it is not because the person is lying. Rather, their identities have been overtaken by a different logic.
The failure to communicate — sometimes between family members — when each employs a different system of cultural logic is not something to look forward to. These divisions in perspectives, informed by different sets of cultural logic (and different paces of psychological resistance or assimilation by the new) are inevitably divisive. The shaman, however, sees all of this change from the perspective that returns the perceiver to “the head of the stream”. From this perspective he or she can creatively determine what were the forces in life that produced these outcomes of hostilities and divisions. The shaman’s skill is thus primarily spiritually diagnostic.
In the dream last night, racing around the edges of the castle of maCraigie. We were three girls — little girls from school; Gilbert and Sullivan girls. We hid at the back of the building and nudged each other because we had snuck in surreptitiously. ‘I bet it is the first time he has even noticed us here,” said one of these girls. I was the third girl. But we had come in through a hole the size of a tile in order to get food from the storehouse. Now we were watching the martial arts festival inside, and soon we would have to leave, through the difficult maneuver of squeezing through the hole in the floor and dropping ten feet.
But as we were running so fast, we overestimated the limits of the parameter, and stepped off the side of the cylinder and felt the sudden shift of falling.
MIND BODY DUALISM IN THE HOUSE OF HUNGER – this is the site of the author’s wound. Shamanism could be construed as a way of rebuilding the body as a material body, starting with the bones. Mind body dualism exacerbates the sense of the abject, that Kristeva refers to as a natural process of maturity, and which she sees as being consolidated by learning to speak. The author’s distaste for Immaculate’s sexuality, as well as his sense that “on the threshold of puberty” (in the short story) language was being separated from him indicate the breaking point which splits the tree down the middle. The rebuilding of this tree of self (Eliade sees it as the bridge that unites the upper and lower realms with the middle realm of nonordinary reality – ie, the elements of reality controlled by the memory, and sensations directed by outmoded cultural framing) requires (logically) an emotional reconcialiation with the abject in order to dominate the negative aspects of life and reorganise them within a cultural and psychological arrangement whereby they can be experienced in terms of creative potency. (See radical anthropology – the dualism that denies the creative potency of the imagination emerged with Descartes. It was he who defined the imagination in terms of what was not real. Yet we still frame the world imaginatively – now in terms of our ideas of mechanistic modernism, I would argue.) The shaman must count his or her bones, in any case, to understand that the basis of human experience is founded upon these solid forms – or, the concrete.
And I wonder sometimes how much of my troubles in previous times have had to do much less with not being treated as one of you, but rather with being treated as a Westerner when I was not one.
For it now seems to me that within relations of power it is the norm for one Westerner, when given authority over another, to try to blast their entrance into the consciousness of the other by breaking down all too many solipsistic protective shells that have accrued around the other person. Communication must always be forceful if one is going to make an entrance as an authority. It is imperative to shatter all the shells that insulate the person from having to recognise the other. The confrontation with authority — if authority is to be recognised as such — must necessarily be violent and confrontational.
However, rather than shatter my solipsistic shell — which I do not have — such unnecessary excesses on the part of authority always made me feel that I was being called upon to fight. I also felt, in such situations, that there was a wound, an untidy mangle, a bacterial disease within our midst. That disease was lurking within the authority in question — having called attention to itself so precipitously.
The Westerner, when wanting something from another demands it: Give me your best love and attention, since I’ve taken the trouble to blast my way through your shell and shake you up. Give me proper and civil behaviour, because it is fair exchange for my dollar. Thus does one Westerner attempt to communicate to another, sending their flaming arrows of intention through the dull viscosity of the air, within the contemporary workplace.
But what if you do not feel that intrinsic connection to the community base of the society? What if the demands for this and that and, indeed, the other, seem to have no ethical or emotional sense — unless there is already a humanising relationship in place?
I have walked away from one Western workplace after another, unable to find within myself a source of motivational meaning in the shrill demands to act authentically to attitudes and acts which are without the basic clothing of good manners.
I realise that the lack of manners is supposed to impress a feeling of power upon me, whilst breaking through my defensive shell, and impressing on me the necessity of the dictates that seem, eerily, to come from a higher reckoning than my my own thoughts. Yet the destruction of the relationship that ensues following this sort of treatment means that I have no choice but to walk from such an unintelligible situation, once again.
It’s odd that it should have worked out this way, but I suspect that it is through the processes of Modernist rigour that we have mechanistically accounted for all parts in the machinery of society, thus that the principle of agency has become a perplexing question of much skeptical prevarication.
This problem seems to relate to a deeper issue or metaphilosophical issue that pertains to how ideologies of rationalism create and develop their own consequences of irrationalism. Paradoxically, the allowance of a certain amount of irrationalism within the machine of “society” might actually serve to make it more rational. Whereas “agency” may be hardpressed to do that job, especially since we don’t know where it makes its entrance or its exit from the exactitude of the machine, I have found lately, in my study of shamanism, that the capacity to dream might be the peculiar aspect that can introduce a measure of the irrational that can disrupt the practical determinism of the machine.
On the other hand, the machine is strong because we actually believe in its determinism, and dismiss the dreams we have as being extraneous to “reality”. First world cultures thus perpetuate themselves at a relatively impoverished level, compared to the vitality that is regularly injected into third world cultures, by their citizens, through their capacity to make much of a dream.
Sparred Aneil the other day, who was kind enough not to beat the life out of me. It’s been a rough week, because of the fires that have been deliberately lit around Perth and surrounding areas. I’m normally the first one to react to changes in the air quality, but even Moike felt sick because of it. So I went in on Friday hoping for not much to do and ending up sparring this purple belt kid for a couple of rounds. Two three minute rounds — and three minutes at that level of confrontation and requisite energy felt like three hours. The kid is only twenty and powerfully fit. Oh blah, and I will have to get much fitter!
Nature, like water, is fluidly part of the unconscious — the stuff of dreams. Thus, Marechera has been “a manfish all my life”. This subterranean fluidity is the ground of the author’s very being, concretised by direct experiences which aesthetically resonate in the fluid and surreal manner of a lucid dream. One is at home in such a place of ontological fluidity. Paradoxically, one is “grounded” by the knowledge of this place of extremes. It forms a kind of absolute — a personal watermark within the psyche, reflecting memories of terrifying encounters which somehow did not suffice to obliterate one. This knowledge instills familiarity and at homeness in a place that is of such extremes that is is separated from the rest of reality. This is an internal place of absolute aloneness, where the vicissitudes of the everyday world cannot affect you. One is thus protected (by dissociation, which separates you from the dangerous everyday world) and in danger (from the experience of that dissociation) — both at the same time.
This is how we can understand the experiences of the shaman — half man, half animal, with memories that represent each of those two worlds (traditionally, the “spirit” world and the real world). But the manfish is a drowned man, thus living on, whilst having died. His viewpoints are endemically political in nature, for he has developed a transhuman perspective (not merely egotistic or self serving) on matters political. His insightful and anti-egoistic nature (swimming in the unconscious, rather than within the limits of the rational ego and its everyday calculations) makes him a danger to egos with their self-interested perspectives. As another kind of supernatural creature, he has to learn to keep his “claws sheathed”.
HOW VIOLENCE SHAMANISES (a term used by Jim Perkinson, the writer of the article on black shamans). Violence shamanises because it creates a different perspective on the world, which can later be utilised creatively as “wonder” and wildness. The different perspective can be akin to bringing something close that was perceived at a distance – hence the writer’s “Incredible face” close up. The experience of violence breaches the psychological unity of the symbolic structure of society, reducing what seemed to be a sublime and natural order into a form of immanence. Thus the imposition of violence from above might serve to delegitimise the system of values that those who act violently in the name of society seek to impose. The illusion of society having a unified transcendental structure is destroyed through a forced desublimation of one’s psychological projections of social order and justice on to the world. Such a perspective is undermined via a direct confrontation with violence.
Meanwhile, the nature of violence and trauma (the debilitating memory of violence) propels one to view reality as a serious of textural patterns and alignments (rather than through a transcendental view of logic and detachment). In Marechera’s The House of Hunger, reality appears close-up, as stains (a recurrent HOH motif) and stitches. This alteration of normal perspective through the process of encountering violence is what gives the shamanist’s approach a “concretising” perspective according to Jim Perkinson. Frieda Kahlo’s artistic achievements after her accident reflect such a concretising perspective, according to Perkinson. The ability to view the world from such a concretising point of view gives the subject the basis for a point of view that is not easily seduced by ideology (ideology being a form of transcendental argument about things). It is in the alternative point of view which offers the ability to resist ideology wherein we perhaps find the source of shamanistic integrity. Shamanistic psychological strength would surely also spring from this same point of injury. The key point here is that shamans, through their concretising perspectival approach, are better positioned that most to see the irrationality of ideologically based social systems, and to navigate the hidden corridors of social ideology, whilst protecting themselves from their ill effects.
I think what people (right wingers and the naïve in general) are unhappy with this the anti-aesthetic effect of a lack of seamlessness in society’s structure. I am speaking from my own experience and past errors. What they want is the feeling of aesthetic flow and “naturalness’ expressed as fluidity. Anything that suggests that social things are not all naturally in predetermined accordance and agreement, in naturally free flowing way, if you will, raises feelings of distress concerning the divine justice of the universe. But recognition that normal society has aspects that depart from what is right (an approach taken in feminist and Marxist discourse) relates to, above all, the right winger’s aesthetic feeling concerning disharmony and the dislike of discordance, rather than directly relating to the right winger’s sense of good or bad morality in any way. What the right-wingers of this naïve sort do not see is that wherever women go, their presence will seem to create aesthetic discordance. That is because, in a patriarchal society, women have very questionable (that is anti-aesthetic) characteristics simply for being women. The contexts in which they are women (whether they go to work or stay at home) — although much is regularly made out of it — actually counts for relatively little in terms of this feeling of anti-aesthetic social discordance.
When you give a description to something or someone, you are not merely describing a set of features or characteristics in a vacuum. This is what I had been used to thinking but it is not generally the way that Westerners will read and understand. Rather: When you describe something, you are locating identities within an already established structuralist scope of what exists.
So to name something is automatically to posit that which you are naming in opposition to something else — in opposition to its cultural and semantic opposite. That is how giving something a set of characteristics will be understood within Western culture. To do so implies that you are raising its profile up in opposition to something else. You cannot imply a set of relationships between things that is somehow contingent and deeply personal without invoking, in the Western mindset, the metaphysical principle of opposites. But once you raise what is deeply personal to the level of combat with a posited metaphysical opposite, you misunderstand the personal aspects of somebody’s personality. You do violation to that personality. This is the problem with the culture which views the world in terms of a metaphysics of identities. The aspects of character that are deeply personal are either dismissed as irrelevent to the monumental public scheme of things (the structuralist paradigm of metaphysical opposites that reign in the public sphere), or else they are irreverently interpellated by the public realm of metaphysics, roughed up and distorted to be what they are not.
And this is the cause of so much Western alienation.
In what does the healing power of wildness lie? Taussig answers this question: “Wildness challenges the unity of the symbol, the transcendent totalization binding the image to that which it represents. Wildness pries open this unity and in its place creates slippage. . . . Wildness is the death space of signification” (219).
This is the site of the author’s wound. Shamanism could be construed as a way of rebuilding the body as a material body, starting with the bones. Mind body dualism exacerbates the sense of the abject, that Kristeva refers to as a natural process of maturity, and which she sees as being consolidated by learning to speak. The author’s distaste for Immaculate’s sexuality, as well as his sense that “on the threshold of puberty” (in the short story) language was being separated from him indicate the breaking point which splits the tree down the middle.
The rebuilding of this tree of self (Eliade sees it as the bridge that unites the upper and lower realms with the middle realm of non-ordinary reality – ie, the elements of reality controlled by the memory, and sensations directed by outmoded cultural framing) requires (logically) an emotional reconciliation with the abject in order to dominate the negative aspects of life and reorganize them within a cultural and psychological arrangement whereby they can be experienced in terms of creative potency. (See radical anthropology – the dualism that denies the creative potency of the imagination emerged with Descartes. It was he who defined the imagination in terms of what was not real. Despite this, we still continue to view the world according to our ideological constructs – now in terms of our ideas of mechanistic modernism.) The shaman must “count his or her bones”, in any case, to get to the substance of what is real or not, since the basis of human experience is founded upon the structural components of one’s being.
For reasons impossible to fathom that tastes and qualities of last night’s dream had a repugnant 70s flavour. (Perhaps it is because I indulged in watching the 70s throwback detective show, Life on Mars?)
Anyway, this kind of extremely benign, passive guy is planning to get married. He is in this tiny sparsely funished office, just doing his best. He has two fans, and two large school tables, and not much else. He is not expansive in either ideas of gestures, or any other possibilities of life, but is methodically making busy, in the benign atmosphere that is his office environment.
Everyone is giving him twenty dollars, or ten dollars, or a five dollar note, so that he can celebrate his marriage.
He shows me his file of information pertaining to his business, and I leave, crossing the campus from where this busy engineer is working. In time, I encounter three large talking dogs, which altogether represent Kerberos. The dogs are really getting into my space. One of them is a cripple dog and it is licking my face.
I open up my briefcase, and a five dollar note floats out of a file. I wonder where it came from. I open up the file, and there is all the money that the office has donated to the foppish guy, so that he can get married. I can’t believe my eyes. I’d taken all of this guy’s money inadvertently.
But, luckily, he’s walking down the hallway across campus. Only, I don’t know if it’s him or not. I greet him and we start talking. He seems to be comfortable talking to me, so maybe it is he. I’d better not tell him that I’m weird because I don’t remember faces. His conversation is contained within a bubble of niceties, and fortunately he finally brings up the issue of his having lost his folder with the money in it. I said, oh yes, I know the one. He said it looked like a real estate folder.
I returned to the office and gave it back to him.
Please carefully read my post below on the imperative that some people feel to revitalise their beings, so as to feel alive.
It is my view that to even be able to sense a desperateness in one’s lack of vitality, one has to have been thoroughly and vitally alive at some point. Yet, there are some who have never felt this very much, I fathom. They are the ones who cannot understand the shamanistic project. I suspect that they would utilise their tool of skepticism corroborated by the feeling of flatness of their own experiences, in order to undermine another’s project.
The shamanistic project involves radically resubjectivising persons and situations which have been objectified in ways that make them lose their inner vitality. It is about turning social objects back into subjects. Therefore, it is against the principle of shamanism to talk about shamanism in utilitarian terms (to talk about it in terms of its use-value and relation to objects). Resubjectivising might be considered by some to be a Use value, but only the subject herself knows in what sense this is true. It concerns a relationship between the subject and herself. It concerns the feeling of vitality as compared to devitalisation. This is in opposition to complying with economic and formal organisational dictates that make one “of service”. The principle of seeking to makes ones inavoidable pains and personal agonies work for one instead of against one is a feature of this radical subjectivity. Success with the project implies spiritual and aesthetic mastery of life that is of the highest order.
That which is generally counterintuitive to modern sensibilities is the fact that one must take the evil into oneself and embody it in order to learn to master it from within. This is what the an article by Jim Perkinson points out. But this is precisly, I feel, the hingepoint of the shamanistic paradigm that can make many modern liberals react with alarm. I think they see this in various ways as a descent into ideological impurity, exhibiting unsoundness of moral judgment or “madness”. They may see the appropriation and embodiment of the negative or demonic aspect (for example, the effect of violence) as psychologically regressive and pathological.
This descent into hell constitutes the basis of shamanistic alchemy. Internalising the negative ideologies of society and re-experiencing their effects gives the shaman opportunity to amalgamate their qualities with other aspects of life, thereby enabling him or her to dominate these aspects through a thorough knowledge of them and rearrangement of their qualities in terms that are aesthetically more sublime. This is the sense in which the shamans lose themselves to (social, political and psychological) demons and then slowly manage to regain themselves (”putting the flesh back on their bones”) to the point where they are able to feel masterful over the ideology (at least through knowledge of it, if not actually through the ability to materially escape its effects).
I may have developed a caring aspect.
……and I am swept along by it all
And my muscles are huge. I now walk with huge strides, and my motions are preternatually graceful. I go to the chemist and do not see what I want, and step backward in a motion I could not have predicted — a refined curve of a movement that incorporates an X-stance.
I do not feel such a great barrier of intellectual alienation between myself and others as I did before — (I say what I think).
I have shifted my approach from working from an intellectually detached approach of logic in my thesis. It’s now a much more hand in glove process of intuition that I am using to form my close reading of the text. (This transition has worked well, seeing that the logic got me to the point of diagnosing shamanism as the workable paradigm that enables me to effectively and closely evaluate much of DCM’s work.)
The shamanism approach works because it provides a framework of interpretation whereby somebody may live at the extremes of life and yet not be deemed raving mad. In truth I see more logic than madness in Mister Marechera’s writing. Yet functional rationality is a mental (or, in particular, intuitive) net thrown over a particular social and political environment. To understand more of the environment is to understand the reasons why the net of consciousness has taken the shape it has done. It is a mistake to evaluate the validity of the shape of someone else’s consciousness on the basis of comparing one’s own particular net of consciousness, thrown over an entirely different social and political terrain. (The latter tendency has been traditionally termed Eurocentrism, perhaps for want of a much more descriptive, less culturally judgmental term.) So having experienced much of the violent sidewinds that Marechera had experienced — only in his case, much more extremely — I would say that he stayed his course remarkably well, and never ceased to speak intelligibly. What seems unintelligible about his writing from the point of view of Eurocentrism seems like a tight glove enclosing the knotted hand of a well-known terrain, from my own perspective. Hence what appears to be madness from one point of view appears to another point of view to entail a conceptual mistake of confusing the mad environment that the writer analyses (the object) with the madness of the subject (the writer himself).
But this is not to say that the writer was not stretched to breaking point. It’s just that the writing itself isn’t in fact mad.