There are a number of quintessentially shamanistic tropes that pertain to Marechera’s actual life. These reflect a psychological organisation that is geared towards a shamanistic mode of perceiving and questioning the status quo. In all cases, shamanistic thinking involves the possibility – and indeed the necessity – of “boundary crossing”. This boundary crossing is always ontological, at least in the way in which the one who engages in such boundary crossing experiences it. The typical shamanic experience involves crossing boundaries of identity, which may be considered in terms of gender, race, and indeed species. Later, upon returning to a state of rest after shamanic journeying, the shaman may conceptualise and articulate his findings concerning the ontological structure of reality, and the political and social implications of his findings. Marechera’s writings certainly cross the boundaries of race and gender, in such a way as to get us to reconsider these categories in the light of his revelations. From his shamanistic perspective, they seem anything but stable.
A shamanistic consciousness is not just one that is capable of traversing lateral categories of identity, but is rather, from a psychological point of view, one that appears to remember more about his ontological origins that most people do. * The severing of oneself from the old order is experienced as trauma, as I’ve stated, and in accordance with this, the shock produces forgetfulness, or in more Freudian terms (referencing the Oedipus complex) – “blindness”. The shaman, however, is capable of remembering this world of primeval unity with the mother as a stable and idyllic state of being (a remembrance of the womb, even prior to an encounter with the mother, and before the violence of atomised and separate identities took hold of us.) Even to the degree that such a unity with one’s origins is frightening, the shaman has adapted his psyche to be able to wrestle “truth” from his engagement with terror, as Marechera explicitly does. [bayonets] It is always to the realm of his ontological origins that the shaman returns, as he “journeys” in order to find spiritual and creative nourishment. It is also the loss of this world that all of his writings implicitly mourn. This cross-referencing between the two psychological positions is central to the psychology of shamanism.
Another shamanistic trope that appears in Marechera’s life is his experience of initiatory madness (in the form of depersonalisation and derealisation). This experience relates to a more mature stage of the authors life, which was marked by the intervention of trauma (at the age of 14) with the death of his father in a road accident; the oppression of the “ghetto” of Vengere Township, the madness and hallucinations that inducted him into the “sink or swim” test that is shamanistic initiation. [The House of Hunger]
It is clear from the trajectory of psychological development depicted in the novella — The House of Hunger — that Marechera’s recovery from his mental illness took him towards a shamanistic — or “magical” — way of seeing the world and of attempting to deal with its political problems. The books he was reading around the time that he consolidated himself as a writer were on the occult and psychoanalysis. The consolidation of a shamanistic way of seeing the world as a form of turning the tables on his madness and on the “spirits” (psychological and political) that had dominated him is expressed in The Black Insider, and in a more urbane form – playfully depicting the nature of a shamanistic journey as initiatory experience in Black Sunlight. The writing of these books roughly coincide with a time after he was expelled from Oxford, and spent time in Britain, overstaying his student visa.
The acquisition of knowledge as power, especially in terms of an awareness of how things work beneath the surface of consciousness (as apart from how things merely “seem” to be) is also a central trope of shamanism. This orientation towards developing knowledge of the subterranean of “unconscious” aspects of existence is reflected in a number of his works. The knowledge of shamanic journeying through trance is very evident in Black Sunlight, as I’ve noted, not just in terms of the drug references, but in relation to the purposefulness of the journey, which is signified by the fatigue and resignation of the author/persona at the end of the book. Both “A portrait of a Black Artist in London” and “Throne of Bayonets” reveal a shamanic structure that seeks to influence the shape of everyday political reality based upon knowledge that is generally concealed from consciousness, as it pertains to unconscious social and psychological structures, or, in traditional shamanic terms, to “the spirit world” (and “spirits” are in fact aesthetic expressions of these psychological facts in Marechera’s works.) The Black Insider portrays an acute sense of what might happen to the new country that had just become Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, and expresses knowledge of the underlying psychological structure of that society, at that time, in a way that pits a warlike faction against a faction of those who seek intellectual and artistic knowledge and social progress. Other works also exemplify the idea that there is a “spirit world” that is visited by the oppressed and a real or in Bataille’s terms, “profane” world that is oblivious to this other level of experience.
Another shamanistic aspect that is particularly relevant to Marechera’s life and how he lived it also relates to the very different psychological structure of the shaman’s mind – for, if he represses less than others and remembers more of his own origins than the rest of us generally do, he also pays a high price for this in straddling the fence between the realm of “spirits” (the realm of the social and political unconscious, as well as his own personal unconscious) and the realm of surface appearances (that which we take for everyday reality). The shamanistic struggle for psychological equilibrium – which is a quintessentially shamanistic one — is most evident in Mindblast and Scrapiron Blues. In these collections of works, Marechera uses his survival skills and knowledge to attack the hollowness of everyday life in Zimbabwe (this is also true of his intent in “Throne of Bayonets”. Yet, he is also in danger of becoming depleted of psychological reserves due to his effort, and himself becoming hollow.
There is also one more shamanistic trope that is related to the psychology of shamanism as I have described it and is an essential part of Marechera’s overall style and his mode of political criticism. This is the feature of the shaman who engages with us as a trickster. A master of ontological disguises which set surface appearances against what lies underneath, the shaman as trickster will attempt to “deceive the spirits” — (that is in this case of Marechera, the psycho-political forces in society at large) — in order to control them, whereas the “medium” purports to merely channel them, so as to deliver their messages to the world of the living earnestly and sincerely. There is also the aspect of the shaman’s capacity to bring back to his physically embodied life, new vitality, from the world he enters in a trance. This also indicates a shrewd survival mechanism, drawing deeply upon one’s own resources
[footnote: Marechera’s forgetting of the date of his father’s death, or how old he was at that time and how it happened, can be read as an attempt to “deceive the spirits” as to the impact of this experience on him, by recreating the time and place out of his own mind. ]We can now consider a few more points as they relate to the way that a shaman, as one who is psychologically structured differently from others, engages with the world in a way that promotes his own survival and creative functions:
1. autodestruction and regeneration of the self
Destruction is linked to regeneration as its natural prelude: “Ready must thou be to burn thyself in thine own flame; how couldst thou become new if thou have not first become ashes!” [XVII. THE WAY OF THE CREATING ONE] Both Bataille and Nietzsche use the concept of awakefulness to point to the desired human state. Mythically, the recovered state can also be viewed in terms of restoration of “soul parts” that had become traumatically separated from overall consciousness, leading to an inability to be fully present to the present. What is freed up, in becoming new, is creative energy, and capacity to live in the moment. However destruction of conventional modes of thinking and feeling are necessary first, if one is to become “shamanised”.
2. the use of imagination to supplement reality (tragic sense that life is in need of repair) – this is related to an acute awareness of the implications of the “depressive position” according to Kleinian theory.
3. rebirth through shamanistic initiation to become no longer the child of one’s parent/s
(anti-oedipal/self generating/not socially prescriptive creativity)
This refers partly to the many forms and “guises” of Marechera listed in The Handbook. His “plasticity” [Freud/Nietzsche--BGE] enables him to be his own person, gaining energy from a non-conventional approach to life (ie. not by conformity).
Marechera’s writing often evinces a strategic opposition to the “participation mystique”, which is an anti-oedipal intellectual tactic.
4. the doubling of the self (this is also a literary device, for Marechera, which is based upon the inherent psychological structure of shamanistic practices – that is that there is a self that remains in physicality as well as a self that crosses over to the spirit world in trance). Sometimes these two types of self are aesthetically merged or multiplied as in Black Sunlight and as in the following from traditional shamanism. It also relates to the dualism of shamanism – the two-sided nature of experience per se (“spiritual” and “real”). Yet even this formulation, whilst useful as a model for our understanding, oversimplifies the nature of shamanism and its use of doubling or multiplying the self. One of the purposes of shamanic doubling is not to multiply the self, but to facilitate communication between aspects of the self that predominate and aspects of the self that suffer repression – for instance, even at the hand of another version of the self. The shaman doubles or triples himself to “know” what has been repressed. Yet from an outsider-view, the meaning of this internal communication system may not be automatically self evident. Tragic self-knowledge (and comic relief), however, is shamanic:
Ram Rai burst into tears. These were not the tears of Laladum [the wood nymph with back to front feet], but the tears of a man, who re-emerged at that particular moment. But this too is part of the ritual. It is not an anomaly. It is simply the irruption of a new fragment that makes up the shamanic ritual’s complexity, providing for the fact that, among the various actors taking part on the stage, besides the gods, there may also be the “man-shaman”.
The shaman’s body always projects a double shadow on the ground. A subtle tragic vein seems constantly to underlie every shamanic ritual performance. Just so. Without leaving any way of distinguishing between the faces and the masks. [From "shamanistic solitudes" p 87] This “doubling” explains how, for example, Marechera could both represent AS WELL AS transcend his culturally-based, sexist viewpoints. His shamanic/spirit self and his fleshly self are far from being entirely one. . [From "shamanic solitudes" p 87]
5. Developing visionary perspectives: the sense that one is a tenuous bridge between the ‘here and now’ and ‘the spirit world.’ [similar to mediumship, yet neurologically rather than overtly culturally facilitated]
*(This makes sense if we consider the developmental process in a Lacanian psychoanalytic way, whereby taking a developmental step implies a traumatic letting go of one’s previous way of relating to the world. So, one lets go of “nature” and a sense of unity with the mother figure in order to embrace the mores of civilisation, but only at a traumatic cost to the psyche.
It is in recognition of the traumatic nature of this letting go of the past ontological order of things that Lacan thought to label the process I’ve just described as “castration”. Also, it is worthwhile to note that the process of remembering is probably facilitated by shamanic initiatory madness.)