Marechera’s little Pattison

It is not just that the British critic  Pattison and the African writer Marechera are not in the same intellectual league at all, that irks me most about P’s critique of M. Rather, it is that they are not in the same psychological league. It is clear from P’s points of reference — the importance he attaches to civility at all costs, to propriety in terms of giving proper lip-service to one’s parents, and to never plumping up ones resume by claiming that one was doing something for a reason other than the one you really had — that P’s life has been relatively easy, and free of the kinds of storm clouds that could produce real moral dilemmas.

It is Pattison’s vulgar tendency to posture that one proves one’s sanity by abject conformity to the unexamined mores that P, himself, holds dear, that really proves that P and M are not in the same moral league either. M had empathy for those experiencing hard times — and was honest about those situations where his instincts drew a line, cautioning him against any further engagement. Pattison goes in entirely another direction for he demands a purer degree of social compliance from those whom he has hardly known. It seems that the issue of holding onto one’s sanity by unlikely means — by avoiding situations that unsettle it, for instance — does not satisfy P at all. He does not seem to be able to tolerate the fact that somebody who would have been driven crazy by his circumstances found a way to survive them, despite socially systemic pressures that would have floored a poorer mind (or, even more commonly, driven the poorer mind into dull resignation, an unconscious commitment to slavery of the spirit). No. Pattison wants the purest form of social compliance there is — the kind of compliance that takes a job at the Ministry of Information and is so simple of heart and mind that this suffices as life, driving the embattled subject into a deeper and pervasive madness that is purer in its form for being abject, absolute and finally irrevocable.

Pattison hankers for the purest kind of madness that is available to raw humanity. He presses in for his reward —  to bring into abject conformity every aspect of the wild human spirit.

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