For Lacan, everybody is sick, without exception. You are either a neurotic or a psychotic or a pervert. To conform to the system means to adopt an impersonal identity — but nobody can do this completely, without making themselves mentally ill. Hence, we are all emotionally unsound and poor conformists. Bataille is a more complex version of Lacan, since whatever Lacan states in cynical, psychoanalytic terms, Bataille states in Nietzschean, paradoxical terms.
Bataille’s conception of sacrifice makes clear his own view of the overwrought nature of the human condition — at least as he and Lacan experienced it in 20th Century France. Conforming is always a concession to impersonality, in both Bataille and Lacan. Conforming preserves the bourgeois person. The cost is impersonality; the benefit is preservation of oneself via creature comforts, bourgeois status and (impersonal) identity. The practical opposite to this norm of bourgeois conformity is personal self-actualisation. Herein is the Nietzschean paradox (and it also depicts what I call “intellectual shamanism”). To self-actualize is to give up the benefits of self-preservation:
I love him who reserveth no share of spirit for himself, but wanteth to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus walketh he as spirit over the bridge. (Nietzsche)
Bataille takes up a Nietzschean perspective when he associates self-actualization with sacrifice. He is also Freudian (and was used by Lacan to develop his perspectives), for he views sacrifice in terms of psychological deviance, on the basis of one’s circumstances being untenable (the need to represent impersonality in the workplace leads to an opposite, reactive attitude, once one has time to oneself). In his essay in book form, Theory of Religion, Bataille portrays the worker in a state of destructive reverie. Bourgeois form and sobriety are sacrificed to despair. This structurally determined polarization of the worker’s consciousness is between the profane (one’s experience of work) and the sacred (one’s experience of free time, expressed as a frenzy of destructiveness.) Free time and money to spend purely to satisfy one’s appetites are the worker’s accursed share.
The Freudian influence on Bataille renders this reading of the worker and his behavior as pathological — although, like Lacan thought, necessarily so. Civilization is not experienced by organic and instinctively driven human beings as a natural condition, thus it necessarily produces its discontents. Bataille’s point is that society structures the psyche of the worker in terms of polarizing his consciousness, so that it swings between conformity and destructiveness. Bataille’s views are also Marxist.
Nietzsche’s views are not at all Marxist in any way. He expresses his views in terms of evolutionary proposals. He expresses his ideas in terms of Darwinism.
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an OVER-GOING and a DOWN-GOING.
This is a tragic view of the world — that in order for humanity to make progress beyond its apelike origins, many who aspire to do something great will fall along the way and not meet their goals. Their failures, however, are necessary, because they offer the basis for others to learn and thus succeed.
Thus for Nietzsche, sacrifice for the benefit of humanity is achieved by those who attempt — (and perhaps fail) — to self-actualize: a “down-going” is also an “over-going”. A failure to do all that one had wanted to is nonetheless also transcendence of humanity’s existing ape-like condition. One advances human evolution through one’s attempts. One sacrifices oneself to the future of humanity, rather than sacrificing the future of humanity to one’s self to the degree that one departs from the script of an impersonal conformist who wants everything to stay just the same.
Object relations psychoanalysis teaches us that as humans we keep many of the intra-psychological devices concerned with ego self-regulation, from our early childhood. As adults we defend our place within society by projecting, for instance, the qualities of masterliness upwards within a hierarchy, so as if to perceive our social context as if our own superior qualities were emanating from elsewhere, from those in the strata of social hierarchy above us.
Bourgeois ideology creates the basis for postmodernist consciousness. The reason is its mind-body dualism. To have a real identity, within the bourgeois system, is the moral and phenomenological equivalent of being caught loitering. The body is the concrete aspect of the self that is capable of giving us a real sense of being. However, under bourgeois ideology, the body is necessarily divorced from the mind.
In my view, the key characteristic of someone who is NOT being bourgeois is the ability to be at odds with oneself, or in opposition to oneself. What this implies is that one part of the self is capable opposing another part. Despite proclamations by postmodernists that capitalism has taken all the fun and wind out of transgression, I maintain that there is an overabundance of possible situations in which one can find something within oneself to oppose.
There had been no overt terrorist activity since the Mashona rebellion. The country was very British with cultural connections to South Africa. But there was an underlying awareness that once the blacks became more nationally aware, they could wipe out the whites in no time at all. We were Rhodesians, but we hadn’t declared ourselves independent at this point. There was a feeling that the administration from Britain was heavy-handed and biased. They were predisposed to see us as a tyranny, meaning we ill-treated the people we were in charge over. If you took together all the incidents, it could look that way. The locals were fundamentally quiescent and well-behaved, but poverty made their lives tough. They were interested in listening to reasons to start an uprising.
The British newspapers were always severely against the Rhodesian establishment. In the centre of Salisbury was Cecil Square, a couple of hectares surrounded by shady trees. It had become traditional for the local populace to take their lunch to this park and lie on the grass to sleep it off. Some enthusiastic photographer looking for trouble took photographs of this and they appeared in the times newspaper under the heading massacre at Cecil Square.
Instances of bias by British newspapers are too many to enumerate. On another occasion, a terrorist group abducted three hundred school children and marched them off into the bush, never to be seen again. The army managed to keep pace with this group, using helicopters. The British press were whipping up a storm of publicity sympathetic to the black nationalists. Epworth mission was the school and initially there was an uproar against the terrorists because of this, but as it reached its peak, the British press proclaimed that the Rhodesians had committed a My Lai type massacre in Mozambique. We didn’t do it. We did eventually go into Mozambique later on.
The Selous Scouts went in there that time and they were all painted up to look black. One of the African women walking by saw a little bit of white uncovered by camouflage. She started calling out, “white!”. At this point all the others in the camp showed up and the Selous Scouts opened fire and killed six hundred. That was an incident that was just waiting to happen. Those on our side were too ready to fire and the others were too ready to mob. Once the soldier’s cover was blown and the element off surprise taken out they would have been at the mercy of the guards in the camp.
A shaman doesn't regress because he or she is intrinsically "sick". To the contrary, shamans are more likely to be those of intrinsically strong minds if they do turn out to be shamans after all (ie. if they recover).
According to Anton Ehrenzweig, a lack of access to consciousness where the ego is de-differentiated signifies schizophrenia. One must be able to dissolve one's stress by temporarily de-differentiating the ego from the field of one's being, so as to regroup with creative resources, rather than pathologically splitting and projecting.
Here is the key to Marechera’s shamanism: It is to be found in his ability to gain astounding insights whilst cognitively undergo a level of ego deflation (which, of course, emerges from a state of mind moderated by cognitive maturity). This is a useful state of mind employed by artists, that Anton Erenhzweig terms “dedifferentiation” (and which pertains to the pre-oedipal field) -- whereby one thing melts into another, whereby male and female, black and white identities no longer seem to exist.
According to what is considered psychologically normal, from a Jungian perspective, the pre-Oedipal self (which stays with us as a layer of consciousness into adulthood) and the ego (a later, more mature development, enabling us to come to terms with reality) should work in tandem, with neither aspect of the mind dominating the other one. Certainly I think that this is the norm for black and white Africans in Zimbabwe, for the most part.
I sometimes enjoy a precarious dance between the traditional ideas about the shaman and an idea of the modern, 21st century shaman. So, when I say that Marechera "heals", I would say that he often does so violently -- in the same sense that a surgeon is violent. This may not be the soothing impression that most ppl want to maintain about a "healer", but there it is.
I now understand that the problem I wanted to solve through writing my autobiographical thoughts was solved through shamanistic methods and strategies of recapitulating the past. It was not enough to write the thoughts down, but I had to eventually reach the point where I would be able to see myself objectively — that is, to see myself from the outside. Up until this point, the memoir wasn’t completed, at least not in my mind.
I had, for a while, a wish that others would complete it for me. My expectation was based on my social and cultural conditioning, which had been extremely idealistic, in the sense of believing that knowledge and power and goodness were absolute, and that I had only to keep struggling to be rewarded with the jackpot.
Looking back, I had anticipated that others generally knew more than I. For instance, I presumed I had only to mention a theory or a concept to any lecturer at university, and they would immediately be able to become a fountain of knowledge, filling me in on the aspects of meaning I had missed. I assumed, in short, that I was missing strategic bits of knowledge that others probably had.
This wasn’t an issue of self-esteem, since I also knew that I had a great deal of knowledge in specific subject areas, which gratified me a great deal. Nonetheless, it vexed me that I seemed to be missing some parts of emotional and historical knowledge. It perplexed me even more that I couldn’t figure out what these were.
This something essential being missing made my paragraphs seem awkward as I had to somehow cover over the elisions with words I thought probably approximated my intentions. Most of what I said I was entirely certain about, but there remained nonetheless some missing bits of knowledge — aspects of meaning, and a sense of the likely impact of my words, of which I was uncertain.
Having to take a hit or miss approach to meaning unraveled me. I had to recover knowledge about what I didn’t know — but above all, I had to find out specifically what is was I didn’t know.
I finally found out that a particular paradigm resonated with me deeply. There were others who had a similar goal and purpose in life, and were pursuing it in ways that made a lot of sense to me. Peculiarly enough, I also found that those who couldn’t understand the meaning and value of this project intuitively could not understand it at all.
Misinterpretations of Nietzsche, Bataille and Marechera are common — for instance, in the idea that they were simply acting up. I perceived that they were in search of their emotions to recover them. I was doing the same. The fact that I had missing bits of awareness deeply bothered me. I had to work my way deeply into the reality I had come from to learn what these pieces were. This process was constituted by writing and researching my PhD.
My PhD research finally brought me to an understanding of a paradigm that would facilitate my task. Descent into the past to recover one’s identity is what I came to term “intellectual shamanism”. The concept of Eternal Recurrence that is at the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy is also concerned with recovery of one’s self from one’s historical accidents.
I also understood what defines and separates writers like Nietzsche, Bataille and Marechera from other sorts of writers is that they are writers who have some early trauma. In the case of Nietzsche, it seems to relate to his father’s early death. Bataille’s father used to beat him. Marechera was born into a war zone, and I entered one, psychologically, when my family emigrated from a war zone. The logic of intellectual shamanism is in the recovery of the parts of oneself lost to trauma. For those who do not have to face this task, this shamanistic paradigm will make little intuitive sense. The ability to restore one’s sense of one’s life into a whole, that one approves of, is the basis for Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence: until one can effectively manage this, one keeps reliving the original trauma.
The effect of trauma is the numbing of emotions — hence the loss of aspects of oneself to the historical past. To feel one’s emotions again, whilst recreating the historical context in which they had become numbed, is to restore one’s full sense of self, so that nothing is missing. The emotional and intellectual knowledge I’d been lacking due to episodes of numbing were restored substantially.
Still, I had not seen myself from the outside yet, which meant I retained a feeling of vulnerability in terms of overall self-knowledge. In the back of my mind I feared that there was something strange about me — a feeling confirmed by the fact that many others could not understand my sense of the issues Marechera, Bataille and Nietzsche were trying to address through their philosophies. All three of these writers have come under intense fire by moralists who thought they were engaged in nasty practices. The bourgeois moralists considered Marechera simply and straightforwardly undisciplined, Bataille as having a meaningless, but not redemptive attraction to violence, and Nietzsche as being simply ideologically fascist. In my experience, these writers were my salvation, instructing me how to repair damage to my psyche.
Just a few days ago, I finally saw myself from a detached point of view as a result of continuing to pursue self-knowledge. Thankfully, there is nothing wrong with me — except one thing: I do have a tendency to psychological numbing. I’m not always entirely present, although never out of control. At the moment of reliving an earlier trauma, I am intellectually and emotionally absent. This tendency is deeply ingrained, conditioned from childhood. The consequences of this early conditioned form of emotional self-defense is that I lose details from the present, very easily, if under stress. When my emotions temporarily switch off, I am no longer present. This in turn leads to another problem in that I’m not sure what the proper emotions or observations would be in relation to a particular situation, since although I was there, I didn’t really experience the situation fully.
Intellectual shamanism helps me to overcome this tendency to emotionally switch off. One has to face “death” in accepting the fact that all is finite. By means of fearlessly “confronting death”, one encounters reality in all of its unmediated immediacy. Shamanistic techniques thus manage to reawaken socially traumatized people’s connections with reality — which are then experienced as spontaneous flows of life.
Consumerism determines what is both normal and what is considered moral these days. Even the concept of masculinity, whatever it was before, of which we ought to be unsure, has altered into a mere demand for the right to consume only quality feminine goods. Bravery and stoicism no longer are retained as "masculine" ideals. To be masculine these days is to consume more opulence.
The rest of the world might have move on without us, but I didn't know that.
"Shit man get a load of that!" my school friend, Helen, proclaimed, newly returned from a vacation in Europe.
"Why are you talking like that? I said. "Everyone in Europe swears," Helen said proudly.
"Shit, its common practice now." I decided to steer clear of Helen and her newfound sophistication.
Lynette was my appointed as my mentor and "friend". It's hard to feel much of anything when even your friends are appointed for you. In a way you could stretch out your arms and poke right through her, because in a way she didn't actually exist. I'd been poked towards her by insipid fingers of the Rhodesia Association. These were the remnants of our former civilisation, the soft-hearted ones that felt no other recourse was possible other than starting their own version of the salvation army.
There was no welfare system in the Southern Rhodesia of the 40s, so you had to be able to survive by wits alone. For men that meant being prepared to innovate, accepting guidance from authority, and if you were lucky enough to secure a foothold in commerce or government, doing as you were told. For women it meant retaining one's virginity until…
Today, I came across a critical review in an esteemed journal, wherein the author emoted that whereas Alexandra Fuller pleads that she and her parents don't go to the dogs tonight, it would be better if they did. Even today, it is considered the height of good taste and a well-rounded political constitution to emit a tone that suggests "simple destruction would be too good for you!" I'm aware of the difficulties of conveying the realities of my own lived experiences -- the main one being that a wall of hatred quickly obscures the perspective I am trying to convey.
I am taking a somewhat Freudian approach. And I am considering Bataille and shamanism.How it seems to me is that we humans have a certain propensity for destruction. Let us call it Thanatos, as Freud does.
What that means is that we have an instinct that will out. Now the old cyclical view of life — the pagan naturist religions and Dionysian sects — used to allow for a certain period of acknowledging and engaging in destructive processes.
The mistake I've made before, in the field of knowledge, was imagining other people's ideologies were grounded in some form of reality rather than in self-serving ideology. I think this overestimation stemmed from my own needs and desires: I wanted it to be true that others -- all others -- knew something that they could impart to me by way of knowledge.
There are some rules of the game for participating in bourgeois culture. I came across these as a newcomer to bourgeois fun and enjoyment.
1. You must take all comments as neutral. Everyone is just expressing themselves liberally. Comments are rational.
2. If you raise an issue, you are individually responsible for bearing the burden of that issue.
3. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
4. (Trans. Observe nothing, hear nothing, speak nothing.)
5. Power=> truth. First get power, and then what you say will be deemed True. Truth never leads to having power, but having power means what you say will be deemed to be True.
6. Acceptance = sobriety. Accept everything. It’s a sign of personal sobriety and good moral judgment.
7. Lack of power is a deficiency requiring heavy handed morality to correct it.
8. History has no meaning.
9. Experiences have no meaning.
10. Language has to confirm the pattern Truth=Power=Integrity or otherwise it fails.
Ah! for me to learn to believe in your “conscientiousness,” ye would
first have to break your venerating will.
Conscientious- so call I him who goeth into God-forsaken
wildernesses, and hath broken his venerating heart.
In the yellow sands and burnt by the sun, he doubtless peereth
thirstily at the isles rich in fountains, where life reposeth under
But his thirst doth not persuade him to become like those
comfortable ones: for where there are oases, there are also idols.
Hungry, fierce, lonesome, God-forsaken: so doth the lion-will wish
Free from the happiness of slaves, redeemed from deities and
adorations, fearless and fear-inspiring, grand and lonesome: so is the
will of the conscientious.
In the wilderness have ever dwelt the conscientious, the free
spirits, as lords of the wilderness; but in the cities dwell the
well-foddered, famous wise ones- the draught-beasts.
The key to intellectual shamanism is self-renewal, though defying the gods of one’s forefathers and the gods of one’s community. The above text, from Zarathustra, also forms a link between thinkers, Nietzsche and Bataille.
One could use words like self-renewal, personality restructuring, mental freedom and seeing through power structures, to describe the state that comes about through “break[ing] your venerating will”.
Whereas some might read the above text as if it suggested one should make a break from Christianity, the psychology of Nietzsche’s texts takes us deeper than this. The break is not from Christianity, but from the inclination to venerate, as such.
The issue, then, is with holding ideas, nations, values and positions in such high esteem that one does not have real independence of mind. We all do it. It’s the natural human disposition. We simply can’t help ourselves. As Freud reveals, our minds function on the basis of Superego. We tend to develop reverence for certain elements of life, based on our upbringing. We revere our nation, or our authorities, or certain traditions. We do so unthinkingly. To the degree that objects of reverence occupy their elevated position in our minds, we are unfree.
Unfree people attack others who are free. That’s in their instinct. They simply cannot help but do so. The cost of sacrificing spontaneity and pleasure to Superego gets too much. Out of their sense of unfreedom and emotional paucity, unfree people attack. They attack those who do not obey the laws they apply to themselves. Ultimately, they want you to pay the price for their desire to venerate things.
The shamanic type is the one who breaks the general human law of veneration. He or she transgresses (and temporary suspends) the spell that has been cast by Superego, which would cause them to sacrifice to the object of veneration. Superego always sends off a flair that if one transgresses against its laws, one will surely die:
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.Genesis 2:17
So, one must face the specter of death to reclaim life-force from it.
The encounter with death leads to a confrontation with Superego. One steals back one’s life’s essences by defying one’s fear of death. This is what Bataille means when he says he “transgresses”.
Temporarily, one does not venerate that which had seemed so important and vital in one’s youth. By refusing to venerate, one buys the capacity for a wider perspective — “the knowledge of good and evil”.
Thus, one goes more deeply into life and sees through many of the traps that Superego had set to make one worship all sorts of arbitrary things. Many of these are beneath one’s stature as a human being. One can become free only by challenging one’s own fears. One’s own fears tend to make up a large part of the personality structure itself.
When one challenges one’s fears, one challenges oneself. One also gets beyond immature ideas about the world, and finds the insight and intelligence to work towards something better than the goals one had committed to in one’s naive states.
In the first dream, I'm staying in a hotel or apartment that has structural damage. That's okay -- the accommodation is only temporary, however hot water is overflowing from someone's bath and is creating the likelihood of a collapse of the ceiling up above. I'm leaving that day, and remember just in time to tell the old man who will be staying there about the danger, and to watch out for it.
I am starting to question what that crazy shaman, Lacan, is really doing with his obscure and labyrinthine paradigms. Marechera, who gobbled down everything like a garbage bin, no doubt came into at least cursory contact with the ideas, during his time of English study in Oxford, Great Britain.
There are sections of The House of Hunger that strike a note almost histrionic, as if a great deal of intellectual padding was being imported in, to bolster the writer's intellectual credentials.