I’ve virtually read every book in the house. That would be about 800 books. Mike had his collection, which he shipped over from the US in sea bags. I also accumulated mine, particularly as I wrote my PhD.
Mike’s books consist of heavy historical tomes describing and analyzing the nature of communism in the 20th Century and its shortfalls. My books tend to be by Nietzsche, Bataille, Marechera and assorted other African writers who give a historical context to my thesis. Mike’s literary interests include the Beat Poets and texts by classical Greek and Roman authors. My interests are more contemporary, although I don’t read literature these days. I stopped reading literature after Black Sunlight blew my mind. Now I rarely read theory, either.
Theory has always held a fascination for me, but now I think I’ve reached it’s outer limits. In truth, I felt that I was suffering from all the G-force I could take from theory as I approached the completion of my thesis. I was applying my version of theory to go beyond my limits, opposing my own superego with all the force my mind could muster. My emotions began to shatter as I made headway into the stratosphere. My emotions and my will power became counter to each other. I could barely keep it together as the external shell of the shuttle of my being began to quake.
Part of the reason was de Sade. I say this now with some degree of certainty, having pulled his tome of collected works off the shelf. I’d had to do battle with his elements in Nietzsche and Bataille, by trying to formulate a different attitude and solution, as per my “intellectual shamanism” than the woman-hating that the Nietzschean chain supplies. Immersing oneself in the intellectual logic of woman-hating writers in order to understand them, and then attempting the difficult task of self-extrication from their zeitgeist, with a surge of woman-hating trolls forever on one’s back was not easy. I determined, finally, that Marechera did have more insight into the psychological repercussions of woman-hating than either of these earlier authors. In “The Alley”, a short play, he portrayed how wartime contempt for women made the self-image of the soldier as a valiant protector of women and children into a farce.
Marechera has a kind of combativeness that uses psychological insights in order to overthrow attitudes he finds contemptible. Hierarchical domination is precisely disliked. One must be honest about one’s psychological states and not pretend that they are other than they seem to be, otherwise one does not face the fact that war inflicts trauma that requires healing. Of course, the use of psychologically informed political tactics is not new, for they also form a large part of Bataille’s writing. His predominant trope of facing death, for instance, is a double-edged sword, intended to push individuals to more extreme limits, beyond the circumscribing limits of bourgeois morality. In Nietzsche’s writing, he offered that the noble elements of European culture were those most accepting of the need to sacrifice themselves; that is, those for whom “the preaching of death was most at home”. The other edge of the sword is that the subjugated classes would become ungovernable if they effectively (in my terms) “shamanized” and had strange visions. They could overcome their fear of death and therefore fear no punishment for their behavour.
If Nietzsche was defender of the aristocracy, Bataille wanted revolution for the working class. Marechera was in some ways more extreme than either of these writers, more aligned with the lumpen proletariat, at least in terms of choice of lifestyle (vagrancy, petty crime). For all that, Marechera was more deeply shamanistic in his insights — that is, more aware of the degree to which psychology can be used to manipulate political perceptions. He was also a master of disguises in his own way. He thought that one could simply become what one imagined being, for instance a Fleet Street photographer (you just need to wear a number of cameras around your neck and pass yourself off as one).
Marechera was also the least sadistic of the chain of writers. He had no stake in maintaining any form of social hierarchy whatsoever, so there was no need to try to distort perceptions in any way. He just had to show up the aspects of the psychologies of groups that they were trying to hide. For instance, the cost of going to war is that one must live with the knowledge of what war does to women.
Although the European writers mentioned are sadistic, Marechera’s writing isn’t, at least it’s far from being so at bottom. Despite this, his style finds its place in a historical continuum with Bataille’s perspectives. That is, he uses politically motivated psychological writing in a surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness form. His writing has the effect of making one feel like one has entered a privileged realm where one is aware of the glorious fragility of life and its sacred nature.
Even if you are atheistic, you can be in awe of what it means to live and breathe and have existence — life may be being squeezed out of you, but you are still here, to watch it and record it. At this most reductive level, which is where Marechera takes you, there is the quintessence of life.
Such is the author’s shamanistic propensity, that we can eschew sadism from our psychological vocabularies, and still be sure to have adventures and dare ourselves. Read, for instance, Black Sunlight.