Marechera’s Black Sunlight is the most shamanistic of all his writing. The book invites us to undergo, with him, a recapitulation of the past – meaning the specific historical past of Rhodesia, and the psychological states that were common to it during the time of the bush war. The term, “recapitulation”, has a specific meaning in terms of shamanism (a term taken from Carlos Casteneda’s books).
To recapitulate one’s past, one must first have a need to do so. This is not to say that all traumas can be recovered from, since some cut too deeply for the one who desires healing to be able to benefit from a recapitulation. Black Sunlight is a novel that invites us to go along with the author as he re-experiences traumatic past events. The book expresses his mental anguish, as it relates to the anti-colonial revolution in Rhodesia.
Marechera invites his readers to go on this highly subjective inner journey, where everything that we would hold to be true and fixed and objective about the world seems to melt into the air, and we are left only with a feeling of complete immersion in the emotions of the time, increasing to an ultimate sense of paranoia and terror as the reader is positioned on the side of the anarchist revolutionaries against the encroaching Rhodesian security forces.
The recapitulation is highly effective – for his psychological approach and aesthetics force us to confront ourselves in “immanence” – meaning in terms of the dynamics of an infant’s early consciousness, before a reality-based ego had been developed. (In terms of Kleinian theory, this is a return to the very early part of the consciousness relating to infancy, which can be understand as a “paranoid-schizoid position“.)
It is hardly surprising that shamanic journeying leads to insights about the psyche and how it can become better grounded. One risks living too much on the surface of reality if one overlooks the engulfing side of nature; the possibility of the loss of self. It is the character of “Susan” who represents the dangerous side, rapacious and engulfing. (We are later to understand the encounter was as a result of having taken the protagonist’s drugs.)
Self-knowledge comes from understanding and accepting that life has two aspects: nurture and aggression. We, ourselves, embody both sides, and accepting this fact enables us to go on towards psychological freedom.
The author’s self-revelation in the final passages of the book, naked and wet, triumphant from his fight with nature but entirely despairing of his negative experiences — reveals to us once and for all, that it is impossible to overcome the fact that reality and nature have two opposing sides. Also: Marechera finds a model for postcolonial metaphysics that is based on something other than blind revenge. It is a very peculiar motion, if you read his novella, BLACK SUNLIGHT. He starts of with blind revenge and ends up with shamanistic catharsis. It’s very strange to experience this transition with him.