My orientation to the world before now was strange indeed. I now understand the origins of that orientation and why it was misunderstood by others, who could not have understood the origins of a profound drive in me I did not understand myself.
It comes back to my father and the way he used to speak to me on two levels, simultaneously. On the one side, he spoke to me as his angry, rejecting step-father had spoken to him. “You are no good. You don’t belong. You have to conform to the capricious expectation of every stranger, or else you are unacceptable.” This way of speaking to me filled me with shame. Being unacceptable, one does well to hide oneself from the world. At the same time as he spoke, he spoke in an opposite voice. This voice said, “Watch out! Don’t listen to the angry father, who was my step-father. Submitting oneself to the arbitrary will of others leads to a hell that I’d like to see you escape. Don’t really listen to the words I’m saying, but to the emotional tone underneath: I’m warning you about what not to do, if you want to be happy.
I am certain — not just on the basis of logic, but on my father’s testimony — that had I listened to the overt voice, rather than the subtle and implicit tone of his disavowal of his angry father, my life would have been ruined. One must ignore authority and go one’s own way, he was trying to tell me.
How does one take from this mode of communication a meaning by which one can live one’s life? Clearly, the child that remained in my father was asking for much by way of protection from his vicious step-father. This was a request for redemption — and it became my quest to find the key to redemption of the historical past. My memoir was in aid of this. My thesis, even more so. I had to find a way to address the request for help. Otherwise, the angry father would keep screaming and screaming. The child would be continue to be hurt forever.
My ultimate construction of a system of “intellectual shamanism”, was a way for me to solve the problems I’d inherited through my family. I had to address my father’s childhood trauma, because if I didn’t, I would still know about the emotions he’d experienced, which were unresolved. One does not walk around expressing an attitude that problems are resolved when they are not so. That is to fall into trap set by a step-father who demands outward conformity without regard to inner emotional states. That was what my father had warned me against — the path that leads to unhappiness and emotional self-destruction.
What the three writers who predominate in my thesis have in common is insight into this thinly expressed understanding that I gained from my father. For Nietzsche, to engage in any activity without the cooperation of one’s heart and soul was a “recipe for decadence”. For Bataille, “inner experience” was paramount. And, Marechera considered it more laudable to sleep under hibiscus bushes than to submit oneself in any way to an authority’s draconian designs. In pursuing a path to inner experience, I was fulfilling a request I had received from my father. I was to redeem history. Although I didn’t understand it at that time, this became my imperative. I put everything I had — all of my intellectual and emotional resources — into solving the problem. I seemed to conclude that the “child”, the double of the angry step-father, had to cross a bridge back to his emotional self in order to restore his state of being. He lacked the emotional strength for the task, and I had been baptized into this role in his stead.
A shaman restores the state of well-being by “facing death” on behalf of others. So, I defied, relentlessly, the will of the angry step-father. Each time, I regained a bit of ground for emotional use. Each time, the principle of conformity died with me. The terror entailed by disobedience to the primeval law increased.
Finally, I was exhausted, but I had fulfilled what was necessary for me to do, by defying the primeval law and opening up the space for intellectual contemplation of emotional issues and matters previously hidden.
I still feared the strangeness of my father and his unpredictability, but I took immense pride in the fact that I’d tried with all my might to bring redemption to the situation.
A few months later, my father had his stroke. Intuitively, many of my family felt that he’d been holding onto life by such a slim thread anyway, that he should be allowed to die. They saw nothing but a linear continuity of life, where character remained the same or worsened with each blow. I had been studying shamanism, however, and was convinced by now that brains were quite adaptable.
We held his one hand for the next few weeks. The other side of his body was immobilized by the severe damage to the right side of his brain. I told him he had brought me up well — which was certainly not a lie in relation to the early years of my life. The specialist said the best case prognosis would be that he would be able to speak “a few words” (which somehow I took metaphorically, rather than literally) and would walk with a stick. Nowadays, he speaks fluently just as before, but is far more forthcoming about the nature of his experiences (due to less right brain inhibition). He also walks and jog and can use his left side, although sometimes awkwardly. He expresses a great deal of gratitude and jokes a lot, but I haven’t seen him angry.
Once again, this is the reverse of the prognosis that he would become deeply depressed, frustrated and angry due to his disability.