It is not difficult to guess that Marechera’s attitude in his choreodrama may have been related to overly levated expectations regarding British society, which Marechera almost certainly had entertained (his sense of let-down upon encountering those of the upper classes who took their education lightly has been well documented). Lloyd Matowe details in his unpublished novel, The Garden of Eden, how Britain was represented to those of the colonial culture as somehow being a perfectly elevated and fair society. “Buckingham Palace” is an emotionally equivalent construction of Matowe’s deliberately overly inflated term for Britain, “The Garden of Eden”. Nonetheless, the overall sense of Marechera’s choreodrama is that one does not enter Britain on one’s own terms, but on the terms that one becomes British – terms he was not prepared to accept:
Wipe your nose you’re in Buckingham Palace
Whitewash your race you’re in Kensington Gardens
Shave your pubic hair you’re a Heathrow Asian virgin
Shoplift and run the bullet is already in your back Wandsworth
The children’s meals are cut their gums bleed with education
I said wipe your arse you’re in Buckingham Palace
Marechera’s behaviour may have seemed out of place in Britain, but in the country he had come from, with its enshrinement of an anti-authoritarian chic during the war years, a certain degree of outlandishness was not all that unusual. After all, for the white colonial leaders it was a way of thumbing their noses at British propriety and British notions of civilising order. Jarring and outlandish behaviour had the political – as well as thoroughly psychological value – of undermining the stature of the British authorities who would condemn Rhodesia’s UDI.
By denying the validity of British culture, one also undermined the political basis for Britain to tell the colonial State what to do. (However, the undermining of the relationship between Britain and Rhodesia occured at a behavioural level, and not necessarily at the level of principle or implicitely held values — on that level, the colonials were more British than the British.) After all, the one country was politically not like the other, but the latter had to be shown to have attained its own cultural identity as evidenced by its making up and following its own rules (but not so extremely as to not be on the right). [Note — see pamwe chete, for white cultural eccentrics] The cultural milieu of the rebel state was a perfect for producing cultural eccentricities. The emphasis ( in terms of a kind of Robinson Crusoe innovativeness to beat the sanctions) on waiving of the rules of normal civilisation (also to beat the sanctions and to win the war) led to the adoption of a certain pragmatic nihilism in social conduct, as part of the society’s norms. One could argue very easily that Marechera’s eccentricities only exceeded this cultural norm to the degree that he had been traumatised by the force of injustice within the colonial society. (Most of all, he had suffered as a victim of extreme poverty and its political correlative – that is, very narrow prospects to improve his lot.) This is in fact my view.
Although Marechera’s rejection of British authority was related to a cultural default: the culturally dominant white regime’s rejection of British authority, it is even more significant to note that Marechera also strenuously opposed the political domination of the white colonial authority. In some ways, this didn’t help him as he was, despite himself, as he acknowledged, a product of Ian Smith’s education system. That didn’t change his determination or political direction – he could still oppose Ian Smith’s ideologies (by realising the limits of his classical education, for instance; or by adapting and corrupting the English language, rather than speaking it perfectly). However, he was astute enough to realise that he was, to some degree, opposing what was already within himself. It was this inner knowledge that he had to oppose himself in order to find a way forwards, that made his approach to knowledge shamanistic. For what he found within himself – the aspects that he considered corrupted – were also salient within the culture of the new Zimbabwe. By diagnosing the illnesses within himself, he could point the way to purifying and regenerating the culture. First, however, he would have to dwell within the liminal realm where one’s own persona is not only burdened with the aspects of life that signify death, but is the bringer of new possibilities. In such a way, the writer addresses the newly liberated Zimbabwe, which stands as his reprobate lover and his muse.
By the time of writing “Throne of Bayonets”, the writer has embraced a position of absolute freedom for himself, living for the moment. Maybe such a concept of freedom was never far from Marechera’s embrace, but now we see that it has come to practical fulfilment in a hand to mouth existence on the streets. Remarkably, the focus in his poem is not on himself and on the difficulties that his situation poses, but on finding a solution to the unfulfilled potential of the revolution in Zimbabwe. This approach is just as paradoxical as it might seem, for, in being prevented from leaving Zimbabwe by a government authority at Harare Airport, the writer has taken to sleeping on park benches on the streets — as well as under a hibiscus hedge, which the poem mentions. Having divested himself of any personal attachment or relationship to any authority or system of control, he finds himself alone in the company of death. An encounter with the metaphysical Absolute of individual freedom is also an encounter with death. To “cross over the bridge” from social existence and participation to the other side of freedom/death is shamanistic. It is to go beyond what is conventionally and definitively human. This shamanistic role in this light has strong philosophical credentials.
Only by entering this realm of death, this realm of “over-man”, can the writer transcend his ego – that is the limitations internalised by the social and historical conditions of his time. Such a person who goes beyond narrow concerns for self, as determined by the limited nature of a particular time and a particular place is an “overman” who goes beyond humanity as it is currently known and described.
“I teach you the overman. Human being is something that must be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
Such an individual who goes beyond is different from one who takes a conventional human perspective, for in the process of one repressing anxieties about one’s mortality, one loses something valuable – insight into a broader and more complex perspectives on the world. However, in going “beyond self”, one observes the social dynamics at play both in oneself and in others. For instance, the writer transcends the conventional anger he might otherwise feel at finding himself in a situation that began with white, colonial oppression, and that ends up only with (black) Nationalist repression.
The poem – simultaneously transcendent (of ego) and immanent (in its openness to the immediate sensations that allow for scrutiny of immediate realities of the post liberation situation) – goes beyond merely conventional politics. Needless to say, the narrative does not trace the development of the more obvious political aspects affecting the author’s life, but rather searches ever more urgently for a solution to the social dynamics affecting Zimbabwean society (black and white) at large. This superior process (both ethically and cognitively) is also costly: The process of discovery is a soul journey within the realm of death, (which is, in some ways, social death, since it is a realm definitively beyond the human.) An ego-based experience is always based on core values of fulfilling one’s own needs. An egotistic perspective is inferior to one that transcends ego, as it draws us back into identity politics and an eternal war based on the fallacious cultural construction of “races”.
The author begins his poem by telling his story of precarious survival and then calling upon his “tenant soul” – his inner self as transcendent muse — to show him what the deeper realities of his personal and historical situation. Through encountering death/transcending himself, he faces, head-on, the hidden fears that would otherwise restrict his vision: He discovers “terror [to be] the totem of truth”. Thus, his writing explodes a conceptual divison of Nature versus Culture, as the two essentially opposed human categories of engagement.