Origins of my character

I’m able to make sense of some of my character in relation to how actual events occurred.  For instance, I consider how I was my mother’s strong support system whilst my father was at war.  He was often away on call up from the time I was born.

So I learned to see the ability to have the correct emotional response to every situation as a matter of life and death.  I consider emotions very, very important — but also, and above all, the non-expression of emotions if someone looks like they are flaking out.  I can distance myself very, very quickly when that happens — and always do so.   I don’t experience my emotions, using that method — but, above all, this is an act of charity, trying to prevent another person from experiencing their negative emotions.

So, stoicism is very deep in me, and it is also deep in Mike, who must have learned the same technique when he was five and his father died, crossing a road.

We both consider emotional management very important because it limits the damage that we could have caused our parents if we had not had strict control over our emotions.

I’m suited for a crisis — as is Mike.   But I’m not suited for everyday situations.  If a child cries, and it is not a matter of life and death, that doesn’t interest me.  I’ll wait until it is one, or I’ll let someone else take care of it.  I don’t have a subtle variation of emotional nurturing patterns.   It’s kind of boring.  But life and death issues pull me in.

To understand this is important, because I know I just react to emotional input differently from people who were not brought up in similarly pressing circumstances.  I don’t diagnose myself as having a problem I ought to set out to fix.  Rather, I see myself as having the capacity to adapt to extreme circumstances, but not to those where subtle and measured responses are required.   I have a character, not a pathology.

And, I think that is useful to know.

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My memoir and the theory behind it

An interview with Allan Shore

QUOTE:

His training as a psychoanalyst was critical in highlighting the importance of the relationship between the mother and the infant. But there was a struggle within psychoanalysis – in particular between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein – about how much was really a creation of the infants mind., a phantasy. Bowlby began to fervently argue and bring in data from other disciplines to show that the real relationship, that the real events, not only were there but they were indelibly and permanently shaped there in a way that would affect the way that the personality would develop over the lifespan.  [EMPHASIS MINE]

This is precisely what I was interested in studying when I wrote my memoir!

 

After the Chimurenga

 | Clarissa’s Blog

People have tried to change me ever since the end of the Second Chimurenga, in 1980.  Both political leftists and political rightists have tried it for reasons best known to them.

This eventually caused me layer upon layer of traumatisation.

Once you get pulled into the power of evil people, the effect of their force field is hard to resist.  Other people won’t let you get away. I’ve even had people imply that because I was in such a hard place that I tried to accommodate all the demands for change, this meant I had an unstable sense of self.  If you try to give people what they’re forcing you to give, it means you had something wrong with you from the start.  The ideology of dominance and submission typically reverses cause and effect.   “If you comply with me, I will prove you are evil!” is the ideology of evil and self-hating people.

The good news is, I’ve finally found a way through — by giving up.

You know, if an assailant has you in a bear hug, you can find that difficult to resist, but if he grabs you when you have a lot of air in your chest, you can suddenly let all the air out and make your body go limp. You can then drop to the ground and escape.

This is what I’ve finally managed to do on a psychological level, because I had learned over the years that the more I resisted, the worse it would become for me.

Restoring lost things

People have said to me in not precisely these words, “How dare you go on about the same thing, this African thing?  Why not give it up?”

The answer has always been: “No! Impossible.  One cannot mingle mechanically in the realm of things and systems when there are those lost items missing.”

Now I understand — although I didn’t then — why I was hell-bent on recovering lost facets of reality; how this task preoccupied my every waking moment.   To recover lost possibilities — that was the meaning of my memoir and forms its basic structure.   These experiences were primarily those of my father, who had lost everything.

My allotted task, whether I denied it or not, was to be a better mother to my father than his mother had been.

That is why I had to find these missing items, which were facets of experience.   Once I found them, I would not only understand my task better, but I would be more effectively equipped for the main task.

The attempt to understand unconscious processes through writing led to the absurd result that I ended up writing a memoir that wasn’t really about me, but about “my task”, and if asked, even up to a couple of years ago I couldn’t define it.

“Restore what was lost.”  That is what my father had communicated to me via his subliminal language.

Something was very much lost and I had to find it.   Finding it would make things good again.  Find the lost elements; the lost facets.  Then you can restore everything.

My father’s lost childhood, then his lost brother, then his lost war, then his lost home from the backdrop to my writing.   Everything lost.

When I finished writing the book, I felt that I had begun the restoration process, which was far from finished. I had at least established, “things were lost”.  But then people confused me.  They said the book was about me, when I didn’t see so much of myself in the book, but rather my overwhelming project, the project that preoccupied me night and day, and made me feel on the verge of failure. I was getting older and still hadn’t found “it” yet.  That made everything seem more urgent.   Every email sent to me might have contained a clue.

I realize now, the sense of urgency I had come from the role of mother I’d been allotted.  The mother saves.  Only she didn’t.  She deposited her child in boarding school and left him at the mercy of his cold, adoptive father.  So, now I was given the task to save my father, part of whom had been left in boarding school, and part back in Rhodesia.   Yet, my father made me mad, very mad, and angry.

He was an unpleasant fellow to be around, viewing me very hazily as if I had been some ephemeral ghost, whilst making gender-stereotyping pronouncements.  He had a short fuse, and responding in unconventional ways to anything would be enough to set him off.

He liked to see everything about the world only in one way.   In this perspective, there were no problems or difficulties.   If you brought a difficulty to his attention, it was because you were being an undependable child, showing a lack of faith and trust in something higher than you were.   You were trying to tear down the social system with your little issue.   I deserved the severest censure, and no reprimand could be harsh enough.

My father also demanded that despite being worthless and a failure, it was still my job to save him.   I had to save him from his worthlessness and sense of failure, which was actually an emotional state.

My thesis was, in a way, trying to save him; my memoir, definitely so.

But then people said I was writing it about myself, and that confused me, since I couldn’t see where I appeared in this.

Bullying, narratives and ideology

I’ve just read an article on Huffington Post regarding thick and thin skins. The writer was, perhaps inevitably, of a religious persuasion. He counseled prayer and dependency on “God” as a solution to stressors.

I’m inclined to think that those who differentiate between having thick or thin skins oversimplify a great deal.

For instance, there are people who do not know their own stories, and who thereby become “thin-skinned”. Their histories have been erased and they are desperate to learn their story from anyone who will give them a hint.

A fifteen-year-old Canadian girl recently committed suicide after being bullied at school and online. It seems her story was hijacked to make her look like something she was not. Since the story of the bullies became psychologically bigger than her original internal narrative, she committed suicide. She had learned from her bullies that she was a bad person. Her understanding of what sort of person she actually was had not developed sufficiently for her narrative to be the dominant one.

Being thin-skinned is a necessary part of the process we all experience in order to learn about ourselves from others. Those who are capable of the greatest learning might be the thinnest skinned of all. If their educators are ethical, educated and wise, these people can learn magnificently. If not, they will be cast onto their own resources, which may be few. They may be overwhelmed by the narratives of others, which may be false or misleading.

Being able to know how much of what others say ought to be taken to heart depends on already having a good level of knowledge about oneself. One is not born with that knowledge, and many of us are still growing and learning. We are, at least, not stagnant.

The Marecheran genre and the importance of history

Imagine if you had begun your life in a country which began a civil war when you were in primary school. You were exceptionally smart, but “civilization” was identified as the capacity to speak English and act in a British way, whereas liberation was identified as the ability to renounce British values, including the English language? Imagine your parents were on the side of the “liberation”, but to be on that side meant you couldn’t liberate yourself personally from a state of extreme poverty and repression, since the only means to do so was by getting an education in a missionary school? The psychological conflict this would produce would be tremendous. It would probably tear your mind apart.

And then, someone comes along and presumes to analyse your psychological torment in relation to your comments about how your mother had become a prostitute to support the family. “What a terrible thing to say about one’s mother!”

Well, this is to suppose that the writer was just alleging prostitution and that his mother hadn’t actually needed to make money in this way. Why doubt the writer? It must be important to make it seem like all of his psychological torment was a result of having “mummy issues”, but why does a critic need to see it that way?

Psychoanalytical theories and perhaps especially academic versions of those, do not take into account political and social issues. They make those who have used every amount of ingenuity to survive tremendous waves of upheaval seem like blathering idiots who brought their problems on themselves. The same applies to my memoir, which is in the Marechean genre. One cannot separate the individual from the historical and social context of the times without losing meaning.

This is partly a response to the following post, which I endorse:

http://clarissasblog.com/2012/10/10/is-obama-a-narcissist/

Rhodesia and I

Even as an adult, I was often very insecure about my knowledge of the world.  That was  because everything I’d grown up with had been defined in extremely patriarchal terms.   Both men and women had authority in every aspect of life in my childhood.   Women’s authority was on a par with that of their male counterparts.   The only difference was that men knew about politics in a way that women didn’t.   The men went to war and it was forbidden to tell the women back home everything they had experienced.   To this degree, women were on a par with children — although they were authoritative in public life, they were not expected to carry the emotional burden of war.

The structure of colonial society was hierarchical in terms of knowledge.  As it seems to me now, there was a cabal who knew what was really going on with regard to the war and the likelihood of winning it.  Then, there were those like my father, who went along with the program because it was the decent thing to do.  As in the second world war, the lack of men around the place meant women had fairly high status, being those who were able to manage the running of institutions with an old-fashioned whip-hand.

They had greater power than women have today, when men are present and competing with them (which leads to gender war and psychological strategies to demoralize the other).  Despite this, they did not speak of the war “we” were prosecuting, and indeed, in the high school I attended it was forbidden to speak of it.

That was how it came about that my peers and I grew up with a traditional British education, but remained wholly naïve about politics.  We studied the history of Europe but we did not study recent, colonial history.   When “Rhodesia” became “Zimbabwe” and an uncensored version of “The Herald” began to appear on the library lectern, we sometimes used to flip its pages with a sense of fascination and complete incomprehension.  The tactile sensation of flipping the pages and observing the strange imagery in the late morning sun was enough for me.

Children were a step below “women” in the Rhodesian hierarchy, so we occupied a world of our own.   We were not to know anything at all, but to be protected from it.   That was the role of the strong Rhodesian male — to protect the (white) women and children from too much knowledge.

The structure of the antiquated society explains everything about my attitudes as I became an adult and understood that I was suffering from a knowledge deficit.  I had a number of strategies to try to cope with this, most of which failed me.

One was to try to get adults to tell me what I was missing — to fill in the gaps that comprised my knowledge failures.   This was a wholly failed strategy.  Whenever I went to see a psychological counselor of person of that nature (which I did sporadically, at various points in time), I generally wanted to draw from them the knowledge I’d been lacking.   I had a feeling that if I could get the knowledge I didn’t have, I’d be able to piece together all sorts of aspects of my reality that didn’t make sense before.

Needless to say, the psychological counselors I saw were not trained to fill in the gaps of your missing knowledge and it was hard even for me to try to gauge what knowledge I had to get to make reality into a coherent whole.   A lack of substantive knowledge can become a psychological problem, interfering with one’s way of interacting with the world, but contemporary psychology doesn’t recognize this as a fact.  I would inevitably talk at cross-purposes with such helpers — and then leave feeling that I hadn’t obtained much of what I’d hoped for.

The problem was:  I never had a psychological problem so much as a deficiency in understanding, which made me seem like an idiot, walking into walls that others already seemed to know were there.  I’d tripped up on too many barriers due to my worldly ignorance (which also related to sexual matters).

Much of what had led to this was that my Rhodesian engendered superego defined my limits.   I couldn’t do the work to find out what was “out there” because to be quiet and accepting of all sorts of boundaries was my acculturated norm.

To “transgress” authoritative boundaries, whilst defying the superego, became my means to escape from the Rhodesian cultural identity that had failed me.

Tricks designed to get you laughed out of school

Patriarchal types always complain that nobody ever manages to explain to them in a logical or coherent way what patriarchy is and why it must be abolished. Some of those more contemporary ones may in fact read the words of feminists, but these words have no meaning to them, or if they do, the words seem “hysterical”, “crazy”, “emotional”, “reactive”, “oversensitive” and “exaggerated”.

In every one of these descriptions, we have precisely the patriarchal perception of WOMAN.  Patriarchal readers, some of whom may be women themselves, are unable to register any range of experience that is not already part of their conscious self-identity.   They wish to identify themselves with the opposite characteristics to those listed above.   Those opposite expressions to this are what patriarchal people view as “masculine”.

When a patriarchal fellow is unable to understand the substance of the words he is reading, but instead finds himself tripped up by pejorative expressions that enter his mind, guess who is tripping him up?  He is responsible for reading the characteristics he doesn’t want to be identified with into the written word, to the extent that he cannot make coherent sense of what is written, but keeps asking for another explanation.

Such a fellow has no doubt already been told many things by feminists, but he cannot remember any of them, because he has been so intent on projecting the qualities he considers to be negative out of himself and into the text he has been reading.  After that, he can feel disgusted with the text, but not disgusted with himself.   So far as he is concerned, he is empty, free, an undefined essence floating above everything.   Nothing moves him. He is a human being without emotion, without physical body.

Such is the nature of patriarchal projection.  Patriarchal people have been rendered insane by their ideologies, but it is always a woman who are viewed as being “mad” whenever a patriarch cannot digest her words to him.

What is projected into women by the patriarch is actually and precisely the insanity engendered in the patriarch’s mind as a result of his patriarchal ideological training.

Utterly fundamental to understanding shamanism

1.  Shamanistic usages of language

Shamanisms learn to speak very indirectly about reality.  As Georges Bataille points out in his Unfinished System of Nonknowledge  verbal communication sets itself at odds with the physical body and its vicissitudes.   To communicate completely, one does not communicate with language, but non-linguistically.  “We feel each other through our wounds,” he said, thus suggesting shamanic access to  another dimension of knowledge, not through suffering as such, but through the internalization of knowledge as a result of wounding.  To draw a distinction here between two levels of communication is vital.

Crude psychoanalytic interpretations would tend to make out the shaman to be one who whines about wounding whilst justifying false ways of seeing the world, to make himself feel better.  So, psychoanalysts may set out to defeat what it sees as a competing system of interpretation of the world, by distorting its claims.  The willful nature of this misunderstanding is obvious because it does not distinguish between a wound and the person who has it.  Whereas psychoanalytic distortions would have the wound seem to speak for and on behalf of itself, in shamanism, the shaman masterfully speaks on behalf of his wounds and furthermore uses his incidental wounding and the understanding it brings to heal others.

In the case of Bataille’s form of shamanism, the “wounds” are the sexual organs, which he considered a wound to language itself, as a system that aims to be closed and complete, capable of accounting for everything and making all of reality seem rational.   The physicality of the body itself  prevents the formal dimensions of language to close the circle of meaning, in terms of giving a full account of everything in the world.

This suspicion of language is expressed in all forms of shamanism, which attempt to address the problems associated with the body in a more direct way than via language.   To the end of addressing the body and not the mind, language may be “twisted” so that the shamanic seer can use it to “look around corners”. Marechera uses this expression in The Black Insider, where he criticizes logical formulations for degrading the more human dimensions of reality.

The tyranny of straightforward things is more oppressive and more degrading than such idle monstrosities as life and death, apartheid and beer drinking, a stamp album and Jew-baiting. One plus one equals two is so irrefutably straightforward that the unborn child can see that even if man was wiped off the face of the earth one plus one would always and forever-equal two.

The “unborn child” is one who cannot yet speak, who can be readily victimized by narrow forms of logic that would easily be able to erase humanity.  The “unborn child” is also the non-rational state of the shamanistic seer.   Huge aspects of reality are more readily observable when one has learned not to depend on language.

2.  When shamans work with “energy fields”, they are referring to the ability one needs to have to defend oneself against projective identification.  This term has gained meaning in psychoanalysis as implying that someone has injected their own needs and values into another person to get them to play a particular function on their behalf.   These functions are to express emotional attitudes that area already in another person but which he doesn’t have the confidence or the courage to express.

Shamans work to develop a strong “energy vest”  for the one who has become ill, to enable her to resist future attempts to control her.   A shaman’s incantations are sung to create a sense of wholeness about identity, defined as integral bodily sensations. Future assaults against the integral wholeness of the victim will from now on be understood by her in terms of what they are, and not being unconsciously accommodated.

Having developed a sense of energy fields, one is cured, since one now understands when one’s own energy field has been violated.   Should a “dart” be fired in one’s direction, one can choose to ignore it, or to return the dart to the original owner.  There is nothing mysterious about the fact that darts and energy fields exist, except for the terminology.  The means by which assaults take place, as well as their psychological meanings,  can be accounted for in the earlier mentioned term of projective identification.

Shamans take knowledge of energy fields a step further than others do in psychoanalysis, however.   An advanced shaman will conduct effective ideological warfare by observing another’s energy field and sending “darts” into the field of another to disrupt their mental ability to work. It was said that shamans used to lob mountains at each other.

Don’t try to mold others

Clarissa’s writing yesterday got me thinking.  I hadn’t realized it was possible to suffer from formlessness.  I may have suffered from it in my early twenties, when I craved a rite of passage to test me, teach me the lessons of adulthood and what society means and how it works.   That was a period in my life when it would have been good for me to begin learning martial arts.  More generally, though, she and I are polar opposites. Whereas she agonizes over formlessness, I have had to try to find ways to escape the imposition of too much form.This is why people who come along and try to shape me for any reason earn themselves the status of my mortal enemy. I have my own internal structure and I’m capable of reaching a fever point in self-discipline.   What I don’t need is someone coming along and arbitrarily trying to impose some structure on something they can’t see.   What I need is to extract the heat, to take off some of the pressure of being fully formed and to be allowed for moments at a time to enter formlessness.I have nothing to fear from formlessness, unlike the fear I have of too much structure, especially when the new structures imposed are unrelated to my existing structures.   To calculate multiple opposing principles and conform to all of them means the temperature rises to the point that I can no longer think. I need simplicity and clarity in order to continue to achieve my tasks.

Psychological structure  has always been a part of my life to the extent that I’ve internalized a sense of structure fully.  I never have to fear losing control or devolving into a state of formlessness, because my early childhood life had more structure in it than I’ve experienced since.   Above all, my primary school had an extremely military structure.  We marched everywhere in single file, recited our times table and greeted our teachers by standing up whenever one entered the room.   We were yelled at, threatened and sometimes subjected to corporal punishment — a ruler on the knuckles for inattentiveness.  That was how I grew up, by internalizing the necessity for such discipline.  Should I drink alcohol or move away from places where form is directly imposed, I still retain this form within myself.

But impose yet another layer of form on me that takes no account of my early training, and I’m in danger of losing my cool.   I have a form of my own and I don’t need two or three more layers of someone else’s necessities imposed on top of that.  A Christian cultural tendency for strangers to come along and morally shape others I find reprehensible. Let people be as they are and function according to their identities.   Don’t come along and try to mold or rearrange them!

Freud, Christianity and Patriarchal illogic

The following extracts are from « Broken Daughters, starting at part 7 and working backward.  I selected them because they reveal the internal logic of patriarchal thinking.  One sees this kind of thinking in Freud, in secular authorities and in many systems of religious beliefs.  They are not restricted to fundamentalism, although in that case they become more obvious, less dilute.

1.  Love. Love isn’t an emotion. Our hearts are evil. They are so inexplicably evil that you should never, ever, under any circumstances, trust it. If your heart says left, you better go right.
“Love” in a fundamentalist sense means that you submit to your husband fully. You put up with him abusing you. That’s love. You put up with him not making enough money, having his babies every year, cleaning his house and washing his laundry, cooking his food and fulfilling his sexual needs not because of affection but because of “love”, the love that doesn’t know affection for each other, only duty and submissiveness to an authority.

2.  Why did [my father] not give [my mother] praise then? I stumbled over yet another idea. My mom might not be submissive enough. …..

3  Another suggestion of the book [To Train Up A Child by Michael Pearl] is that spanking produces happy, cheerful and content kids. In reality that means: If your child has a bad day, is grumpy and whiney, spank it until it laughs again. I don’t know if that makes sense for you, it certainly doesn’t for me.

 4.  My mother read a lot about raising children God’s way. Though I was spared by the horrors of “To train up a child”, the Pearl’s guidebook to send your child through living hell at this point in my life, my parents were defenders of spanking. A lot, and early. Sin was a child’s nature and you could only get rid of it by beating it out of your kids. I was a nice baby, but that changed soon enough. At a few months age, I apparently started showing signs of terrible sin. I was crying – a lot. I didn’t sleep through the night anymore. My mother was helpless. At that point, my mother was a few weeks pregnant again. I did not stop being a bratty baby. She had a miscarriage a few weeks after I started this “sinful behaviour”. My mom was devasted. He and dad met up with a few elders of the fundamentalist church we went to to get council. They concluded that my sin had brought evil into the house and the Evil One had caused the miscarriage.

Let us work out how these patriarchal principles reverse cause and effect and obfuscate logic.

1.  In the first passage, logic is obfuscated by the idea that your internal coordinates are all wrong.   Whatever you have a natural inclination to do, you should do the opposite.  That is the only way to rectify evil.  Personally,  I once acknowledged that I could tell what would be beneficial for me to do in life by what a particular fundamentalist Christian strongly demanded I ought not to do.   My life has come out very well as a result of using my own instincts and accepting that I had to read his injunctions in the reverse.

2.  The second passage.  We can see once again a reversal of logic so that it flows in exactly the opposite direction it would naturally flow.   If the appointed leader isn’t do his job look for the answer in those he has power over.   The powerless are to blame for those having power not expressing it appropriately.

3.   Violence produces happiness — this is expressed as an explicit principle of life.   If someone is having problems, if they are down, it is possibly because they haven’t been kicked enough.  Kick a person enough when he is down and he will rise up again, and thank you for it.

4.  Children are inherently sinful and their sin is a disease that can spread to contaminate the whole family, causing misfortune to their parents.  Children really are that powerful.  By comparison to children, parents seem to have no power at all — the exact opposite to what we all know is actually true.

I hope I have elucidated the outrageous and calamitous nature of patriarchal reasoning and how it reverses cause and effect necessarily and consistently.

From my own experiences having been brought up in a Christian household, and from ongoing experience and studies, I have concluded that patriarchal ideology of any sort is wholly dependent on turning things back-to-front, to make reality look inside-out — the opposite to what it should.

I’ve also discovered that this way of thinking is so widespread that often we invoke patriarchy’s back-to-front reasoning without even realizing it.  Many secularists are as guilty of this as their raging fundamentalist brothers and sisters.

Even Freud is not devoid of mental gymnastics, in contempt of plain logic.   I believe I have finally understood the core Freudian notion of the Oedipus Complex as a prohibition against following your heart — for you will surely f*ck your mother and kill your father, if you do so — the worst outcome possible and the most evil.  Priestly reasoning illogically enjoins one to follow the opposite of what one’s heart dictates, or at least submit to the priest and his form of “reason”. Failing to submit to patriarchal authorities (who obfuscate logic), you will only end up physically proving how evil you actually are. Herein lies the quintessentially patriarchal double-bind.

The destructive effect of the gendered division of mental labor

I made this exploration in my memoir — how was it that I came to be so divorced from so much of practical reality? Well, we can investigate that as an imposition of social norms. But don’t forget, whilst you are investigating it, to investigate the suffering this produces. And the confusion. And the immature status this imposes on both men and women alike, since where nobody is a complete person because everybody accepts a different division of labor, nobody can make rational, adult judgments about anything at all — and this includes men, too.

If “rationality is male” according to a division of labor, then men are deprived of their full humanity and are not so much rational as wooden, devitalized, robotic and insane.

How can you even test reality to work out what is there if you require another person to be a function for you, in order for you to be whole? You can’t do any trial and error because the other part of you — either your emotional function or your rational function — is somewhere else.

Because I was the eldest, but also because my father had a lot of mistreatment as a child as well as abandonment issues, I was allocated to:

1. express the emotions he had because of his anger at the world for being abandoned early on.

2. express his sadness and anger for the demise of Rhodesia after the government capitulated to outside demands.

3. act as the whipping girl on a practical/emotional level for everything that went wrong in his later stage of life, when he began to succumb to his lifelong traumas.

4. Accept the blame, publicly, too, for women are “the weak ones”, not men.

5. Act as “the good mother” (or else) and teach my father how to operate within the culture we had entered as migrants.

6. Accept the guilt of “the bad mother”.

* The problems I have had with my father have been endless and only ended with his stroke, which destroyed much of the creative/intuitive/emotional side of his brain. I’m sure he is also thankful for its removal of his trauma, even though it has left his with a severe disability.

He can now speak logically, rather than manipulatively, about what went wrong in his life. For the first time, we have a good relationship, where he isn’t trying to sabotage me all the way.

What one is

In my last post, I wrote about the sacred and what it means to me:

 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, right there is the quintessence of life itself.

A philosopher might describe it only slightly differently, as the miracle, the strangeness of consciousness and the fact that it exists at all.  It’s not what consciousness “can do”, but the fact that it “is”.  “Be still and know that I am god.”   One must get rid of the mental clutter for the amazingly factual nature of consciousness to appear.

Consciousness is astounding and it should be sufficient for us as an object of religious worship.   Everything I’ve written about shamanism is just a statement in awe of consciousness.  When consciousness goes, we die.  Here it is today, and gone tomorrow.   All the meaning that the person had in them also goes — but for a moment, they were shining very brightly.

There is nothing transcendent or clever about denying the importance of consciousness.  You are free to deny that your consciousness has any importance or value to you — in which case, I’ll agree that you seem to have little value.   It’s better not to deny the essence of what one is and there is much wisdom in glorifying and embellishing what one is — for, tomorrow, we die.

So far, I have described to you my atheistic philosophy, which is my religion.

I don’t “believe” in a shamanism any more complex than this. I don’t, for instance “have faith” in it, any more than I have faith in the imagination.

I do, however, have faith in the imagination.

questions, questions, questions

My father’s madness involved a reversal of typical parent-child relations, where I was held responsible for all sorts of things that seemed to have gone wrong, in the eyes of my father.   I didn’t know what these things were.  It has taken me about twenty years to find them out.

This short paragraph encapsulates the issue I kept trying to ask authorities about, including anyone older than I, or more experienced.  I didn’t have a way to articulate the nature of the problem then, because I hadn’t studied enough psychology or heard enough of the facts, to be able to piece everything together, until after my PhD.

Basically, I wanted to know what was the dimension of emotional meaning that would make sense of the experiences I’d had in my life, in particular in relation to my father.  Even after writing my memoir and sticking plainly to the facts, without attempting very much direct interpretation, or going beyond what I knew at that time, I was unable to articulate the core of the matter I was trying to describe — which is now outlined neatly above.

There were all sorts of questions I wanted answered.

1.  Was/is my father mad?

2.  What went wrong?

3.  Specifically what was I being held responsible for, in terms of what went wrong?

4.  How does that “work” anyway, that I’m blamed for things that happened before I knew about them taking place?

I now have satisfying answers to all these questions.

With regard to number one:  Yes, my father suffered from an accumulation of traumas, very closely related to the history of Rhodesia and its past.   Thus that he did go mad, and blame me for things I never could have done.

2.  What went wrong was related to my father’s very early childhood experience and ongoing sense of abandonment by his parents.   His father was killed in WW2, and due to the pressures of patriarchal society and the need to remarry, his mother had to marry too soon, and into unfavorable circumstances.

3.  Specifically I was held responsible for giving my father the unconditional approval he had lacked from his parents.   When his unconditional trust for his country’s authorities backfired, and he was left in the lurch, he blamed his mother for making him unconditionally trust an adoptive father, whom he never really liked in the first place.  As I was the eldest, and female, I came to represent his mother to him, and above all her “poor choices”.   So, he blamed me for the demise of Rhodesia, after he had been led to believe the country would not be overturned.

4.  How does that “work”?   It works through early childhood psychological dynamics, where the mother and child share the same psychological unity and interact as one entity.   My father had unfinished work to do at this level, because his mother had been suffering from bereavement trauma and associated denial, so seems not to have brought my father to full emotional independence.   He blamed me for what went wrong in his life, because he blamed his mother for what went wrong in his life.   Blaming others is a primitive way of coping, under extreme stress — and one woman (me) is the same as any another woman from the perspective of such a one who feels everything has turned out badly.  Thus I became the one to blame for emotions (both familial and historical) I had not been in a position to understand.

This was why I kept trying to ask those whom I thought might have been better positioned than I, to read and understand my father’s strange behavior, what his behavior meant.

Unfortunately, because we have a misogynist society, those I tried to ask suggested that I had actually been the cause of my father’s emotional distress, since the logic of cause and effect pointed in my direction as the “cause” of all these problems.

More logically, though, a child of fifteen cannot be the cause of parental trauma.   That’s getting things back to front and twisted.  It also has too much about it of the Judeo-Christian ideological residue of “women as eternal sinner”.

Why I took the path I did

What attracted me?  Quite precisely, it was that the colonial way of life I’d been bought up to experience as normal was no longer viable for me. This is, to sum it up, what attracted me. Beyond this, also that I was brought up to have a colonial feminine personality. My superego was very badly formulated, that is, it was formed to suit a very different culture, which was also now defunct. It also made me subservient to men — my superego. This was all very, very bad for me. I’d reached a dead-end so far as my psychological survival went. So, I got into this mode of “facing death” for renewal. I discovered this method originally through Nietzsche, but it is also highly prevalent in Bataille, and one can see the death and renewal motif in Marechera’s writing, especially THE HOUSE OF HUNGER, although his is the most anguished of the three.  I suspect that psychological pressures from home, also accompanied by an extreme sense of the social and cultural frameworks shifting, brings about an existential crises that can lead to a beneficial reappraisal of one’s purpose and state of being.

This solution has turned out to be very, very useful to me. On it’s basis, I have an extremely viable marriage/relationship, I only do the work that fulfills me, I have found deep companionship with many black Zimbabweans (which my superego had later drawn limits against, post-migration). I go against the grain that has been established for my peers, many of whom are housewives. I do kickboxing. I have a high (no longer repressed) sex drive. And so on.

Language and recovery

The difficulty of relating to others about what I have called “shamanic experiences”  (more specifically those described by modernist intellectuals)  is that these involve changes that are not necessarily able to be related through language.   When we are children, we have a certain arrangement of experiences, including those that are common and/or significant for us, and we end up associating these with certain words.Thus language expresses emotional values and meanings for us.   That is why it is difficult to try to resolve some kinds of emotional issues with the assistance of therapists.  If the therapist does not attach the same emotional meanings to words as you do, you will end up effectively speaking a different language.  You will become tied up in language, as generally happens to me when I try to get into any depth about emotional topics with most Western people.

 

Cultural differences are extremely significant.  There have been women who have tried to get help from Western authorities, such as the police, because they saw that they would become victims of a culturally driven “honor killing”.  The police may not necessarily believe the future victim, as she does not use the words that are emotionally loaded, in Western cultural terms, to imply genuine and significant danger.   The future victim is dismissed as being merely “manipulative” and ends up in a suitcase, dead.

 

Emotional meanings and the way these are associated with language are different in every culture.  Thus, language can obscure, rather than reveal meanings, when one relates in a cross-cultural situation.

 

Shamanism, however, is the means by which one exits language.  One resolves one’s emotional issues independently of language — and then, the issues having been resolved, one re-enters language.

 

The difference in the initiate has to do with the degree to which one can now experience oneself as a whole, rather than as fractured parts.  These are differences concerned with inner experience and have to do with the capacity to speak more confidently about one’s inner experience. That this difference is not easy to relate in language is to do with the nature of language itself.  As Nietzsche says:

 

Ultimately, what does it mean to be ignoble?—Words are sound signals for ideas, but ideas are more or less firm image signs for sensations which return frequently and occur together, for groups of sensations. To understand each other, it is not yet sufficient that people use the same words; they must use the same words also for the same form of inner experiences; ultimately they must hold their experience in common with each other. That’s why human beings belonging to a single people understand each other better among themselves than associations of different peoples, even when they themselves use the same language; or rather, when human beings have lived together for a long time under similar conditions (climate, soil, danger, needs, work), then something arises out of that which “understands itself,” a people. In all souls, a similar number of frequently repeating experiences have won the upper hand over those which come more rarely; people understand each other on the basis of the former, quickly and with ever-increasing speed—the history of language is the history of a process of abbreviation. On the basis of this rapid understanding, people bind with one another, closely and with ever-increasing closeness. The greater the danger, the greater the need quickly and easily to come to agreement over what needs to be done; not to misunderstand each other when in danger is what people simply cannot do without in their interactions. With every friendship or love affair people still make this test: nothing of that sort lasts as soon as people reach the point where, with the same words, one of the two feels, means, senses, wishes, or fears something different from the other one. (The fear of the “eternal misunderstanding”: that is the benevolent genius which so often prevents people of different sexes from over-hasty unions, to which their senses and hearts urge them—and not some Schopenhauerish “genius of the species”!—). Which groups of sensations within the soul wake up most rapidly, seize the word, give the order—that decides about the whole rank ordering of its values, that finally determines its tables of goods. The assessments of value in a man reveal something about the structure of his soul and where it looks for its conditions of life, its essential needs. Now, assume that need has always brought together only such people as could indicate with similar signs similar needs, similar experiences, then it would generally turn out that the easy ability to communicate need, that is, in the last analysis, familiarity with only average and common experiences, must have been the most powerful of all the forces which have so far determined things among human beings. People who are more similar and more ordinary were and always have been at an advantage; the more exceptional, more refined, rarer, and more difficult to understand easily remain isolated; in their isolation they are subject to accidents and rarely propagate themselves. People have to summon up huge counter-forces to cross this natural, all-too-natural progressus in simile [advance into similarity], the further training of human beings into what’s similar, ordinary, average, herd-like—into what’s common.

Whereas therapists tend to try to bring you in line with what is experienced by the rest of the herd, shamanism invites you to experience your subjectivity in non-linguistic ways.   This doesn’t mean you lose your capacity to speak — only that problems are resolved far away from the purview of the crowd.

Handling it on one’s own

After migration, there was an  issue of weird and confusing stereotyping, which fed me the wrong sort of information.  I have since been led to understand that PROBABLY a cultural stereotype was at work, as well as most certainly a gender stereotype.  This information I received, fundamentally another culture’s stereotypes about my identity, made it very difficult for me to get the information I needed to make the necessary cultural adjustments.

It didn’t help too much that I spent the first few post-migratory years not communicating, and then when I did, I spoke about my problems, which had become substantial by then.  I couldn’t understand things fundamentally.  That was my most significant issue. I hadn’t been brought up to understand the world I’d been transferred into.   I spoke English and was white, so I didn’t look like I should be having cultural problems, yet I was.

Ten years down the track and it was becoming clear that I was out of step with all sorts of cultural expectations.   Actually, this may or may not have been true, but it was my sudden analysis, bought on by a heavy episode of dysfunctional workplace exposure.   My project to adapt and adjust, in order to “save myself” became extreme — my motivations became extremely energized.  I looked around for all sorts of advice. I mean, how does one stop the abuse?  Is there some form of conformity that assures it comes to an end?

People told me that there surely was:  I had to get off my high horse and stop being so “sensitive”.   So I took that lesson to heart.  I developed a rude and abrasive manner.  I also tried not to feel anything much at all, unless it was the anger and aggression that had been building up over a number of years.   I sought the ideal solution to defuse this anger and aggression, by joining the army.  I would blow up people, and then the anger and aggression would be out of me and into them.  It was uncomfortable to have so much rage building up, but if I got off my high horse and mixed it with the worst of them, I would surely find a way to move beyond such an uncomfortable inner state.

I learned a great deal from this period of time how it is possible to be extremely calm whilst enduring a state of rage.  I had a bomb ticking inside me and I had to find a way to manually defuse it.  If it did harm in a socially acceptable way, I was fine with that.

I also found it was quite possible to be comfortably alone with my inner state, with no sensitivity at all.  I could respond to people and at times present outward emotions without feeling any inner change at all.

I never forgot, even for a moment, that I had only one goal — and that was an issue of my life and death — to defuse this inner dynamite in the safest way possible.

The trope of re-training

As you can read in my recent posts,  I have become much more aware of the nature of reality and less bedazzled by the promises of benefits in “fitting in”.

To recap:   It was the project my father place on my shoulders, when I first alighted from the plane as a new migrant.   Your task is to “fit in” and to show delight and approval at anything you see, because that’s what people want to hear from you.

So, I was led to understand that I could not express my genuine reactions to anything, because that would jeopardize the all-important, overarching project, which was to appear to conform with everybody else.   Note that I never had an emotional need to “fit in”.   I always strove for independence.   However, I believed  I ought to obey the advice entailed in my father’s stratagem.   I’m not sure why I took his advice so literally to heart, but probably it was due to the absence of other forms of advice, and probably because I am my father’s daughter, and neither of us would bother to fit in too much, unless we were commanded.

City culture had no appeal to me — especially the culture of the eighties.   I didn’t strive to fit in for the first ten years after my arrival.  Instead I often pursued an avoidance strategy.   I tried to grasp little moments of country atmosphere as much as possible, and sought — and failed — to find excitement in art.   (Even art had been tamed into “graphic design” in my new social setting.)

I constantly pursued those things I had already known from my African experience, and tried to expand on those — first by running around the oval field twice a day, then horse-riding, then SCUBA diving.  Martial arts, belatedly came next, and then sky diving.   All this time, I was trying to recapture my earlier relationship with nature as a source of danger and adventure.

The idea that I ought to “fit in” had not yet become a serious project.   That only took on a life of its own after I came to the shocking and traumatic conclusion that the language I’d been speaking to those in the workplace had a different meaning in their ears to the ones I had expected and intended.   I realized I’d better learn to understand how others understood me, otherwise I’d face a tremendous amount of aggression for the rest of my life, and I’d never understand why.

I must say, the sense of humor I still have today is not all that peculiarly African.   At the gym today, I washed my hands, as usual, after training, since we must shake hands with everybody in the class, and this is how colds and ‘flus are spread.   There’s another guy from the class, who always meets me at the basin.  We know we look a little bit aloof, washing our hands, after shaking them with everyone, so we make jokes acknowledging this fact.   “Gotta get those germs off!” we say glibly.   We imply, with our sly smiles, that others are the carriers of all sorts of diseases we don’t want.   After today’s class, this guy smiled and said we had to “remove the gangrene”.  “Yes,” I said.  “We don’t want that slime!”

So it goes, every week.  It’s easy to joke around with someone with whom you have exchanged some sparring blows and demonstrated stoicism and restraint.   These kinds of experiences build trust and an underlying understanding.   By contrast, joking around when one still has the status of “a foreigner”, moreover from a politically dubious country, leads to different effects.   Then, one is retained in quarantine and has to continue to show restraint and seriousness for many years.   Trust has to be earned, my masters taught me, and it doesn’t come that easily.

Along with ongoing trial and error, I learned never to relax and take it easy.  My status was always probationary, and tenuous trust would be withdrawn at a moments’ notice, on the basis of just one error of judgement — for instance, being humorous when seriousness was implicitly required.

Walking on eggshells doesn’t begin to describe my sensations.  I was deeply traumatized by my inability to find a situation where I could simply let down my guard, be myself and expect reciprocal trust.

Then there was the aspect of those who wanted to “shape” me for the kind of clerical position I had entered. I’ve since understood that “to shape” means to break down somebody’s character, in order to form it differently in a way that is more subservient to the structure of the organization one has entered.   I understand implicitly these days what “more training” means, especially when the goals of such training are not overtly or clearly stated:  someone requires and expects the restructuring of your character, and this is not achievable without first breaking down the character in order to make it different.

I’ve studied very hard this sado-masochistic dynamic of contemporary culture, and although I believe I understand it theoretically, I could never find a way to bypass it, to get around it adequately, in order to “fit in”.

Therefore, I’m giving up the project after twenty years, and casting caution to the winds.  I can’t make sense of all these barriers, but that’s because I’m not supposed to.  Or, it doesn’t matter.   Or, my life simply consists upon a different plane.   In any case I won’t be “fitting in”.

Shamanistic learning: my stages of progress

Often I’ve been my own worst enemy in life, because of my intense need for the world to simply make sense to me.   When we are in situations where we are really vulnerable, as I was for a long time as a new migrant,  we have one primary need, that is the need to understand how things work.   To have no control over one’s circumstances whatsoever is extremely frightening.  To have a little control, through understanding how things work, can often mean the difference between keeping one’s head above water and the sensation that one is sinking rather dramatically.

Thus, one tries to read purposes and reasons into people’s actions when one can’t directly make sense of them.    That way, one feels a little “in control” even when the reasons one furnishes to explain the negative situations are themselves of a negative nature.   At least, now, there is an internal logic to the situation, even if the logic one is able to discern seems to be acting against one’s well-being.  Making sense of reasons means one can work within a situation that would otherwise simply be too shocking — not just for its hostile character, but for it unintelligibly.

Reading meaning into situations where one is not really sure of what the situation means, because nobody has  explained it to you, has a downside.   One ends up making people’s hostility seem more logical than it is.   I realize that as a white migrant from Zimbabwe, I attracted a lot of politically motivated hostility.   The trouble was I couldn’t see it for what it was — an abstract style of aggression against someone of my origins.   Instead, I tried to find a personal angle, because if it was related to something I was doing personally, I could  correct that.    To see things in a personal light meant I had more chance of taking control.  And I needed that sense of control more than air itself.

My habit of trying to discern reasons, where there were none, began out of this original state of migrant trauma.    Somehow, my capacity to generate reasons generated a very positive outcome.  I began to see the world as being much more intelligent than it was.  Indeed, everything I encountered seemed to be animated by a very high level of intelligence.   Barring the moments when someone lets you down by failing to live up to the wonderful expectations of high intelligence, the world seemed to reverberate with a sense of living being.   As I was becoming more aware of everything around me, I was projecting my own intelligence and being into things.   Those things radiated back to me my own intelligence, in a way that made all sorts of actions seem to be noble, and striving for something higher.

I still didn’t have explanations for some forms of behavior I’d experienced in my past, but now almost everything seemed to have a logical reason and purpose behind it.   That I was the originator of my sense of  there being reason and purpose in all things escaped me.

This changed as I completed my thesis, and learned about the wide variations of experience that come from altered states of consciousness.  We experience the world as we are, not as it actually is.   Of course, this doesn’t mean good or bad experiences originate from us, but rather that we can develop different ways of coping with those aspects, be they good or bad.

Nowadays, I’m inclined to withdraw my intellectual projections from the world at large.  I see it more as it is — that is, there is a lot of randomness and a lot of people rushing around who sometimes make errors of judgement, since the world obeys no metaphysical principles, as such.

I’m not sure what intellectual shamanism has taught me. I know myself better — but that self is always subject to change.   More generally, I’m not threatened by anything anymore.  I realize that what I was most threatened by before was (1) not understanding anything (2) my own intelligence, projected into others, that then began working against me.

I consider I’ve made satisfactory progress for my age.

Gaining independence from an early age

In attempting to fill in the areas of psychology that Freud left blank, Samuel Slipp considers the writings of those who came after Freud, who are concerned with very early childhood psychology and female identity as other than a form of deviance from a putative “normative” masculinity. The attempts by Nancy Chodorow and others to formulate a “psychology of the feminine” are presumably well-known.

Unfortunately, these efforts end up essentializing gender, since they deny, in their calculations, any variables that could influence childhood development apart from the basic binaries of “male and female”, which they take for granted.   The polarities of physics are seemingly invoked in the idea that there exists a stronger repulsive force of the male child with his mother than in there is between the female child and hers.   Separation is hard, apparently, if you are female.   This is a categorical oversimplification, all the same.   There are many other factors, apart from those relating to biology, sexuality or anatomy, that could lead to results other than those assumed.   My experience was of having to get away from both parents, because they often fought, in front of me, about what perceptions they were causing me to have, and how I should be raised.  I was extremely alert to the contradictions that came as reversals – the noisy resolutions that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.  First it was not okay to sit on a wall marked private property, and then it was necessary to do so, so that I could have my photo taken.

I learned to escape my parents control whenever  possible.  Both were too full of tricks and told me little of what I needed to know.   One may also want to escape from painful emotional contradictions, such as hearing what’s not allowed without a doubt, and then trying to understand how the idea of what’s permitted was turned on its end.  Within two painful minutes,”expressly forbidden” had become “necessary and compulsory for you.”

Having very young parents who weren’t quite sure what “impression” they ought to create for me, who thought it important to build one, and who nonetheless vastly underestimated my capacity to watch and understand their vacillations, meant I sought freedom from control whenever possible.   I became a loner,  quite happily involved with my own games.

I never had any doubt that my parents deeply cared for me. Apart from these troubling moments, I felt very secure.  I remember my father walking ten or eleven paced behind me shouting, “She’s getting away, she’s getting away!”  Even if I succeeded in running away from them (which they literally tricked me into thinking I was doing on the beach at Beira, aged about 2),  I felt sure I would end up somewhere interesting and safe.

Neither my biology nor my gender caused me to seek independence from my caregivers, ultimately. That was down to  the positive and negative aspects in my upbringing.  These feelings and support fired my quest for freedom at a very early age.

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Patriarchal power has been normalized to date, and not critiqued by the important figures of Western intellectual culture.

One reason for this is suggested by writer, Samuel Slipp*, who holds that it was because Freud had abandonment issues with his mother, which prevented him from viewing his relationship with his mother in a logical, correct and consistent way. Due to his unstable connection with his mother, he was unable to make any inroads into “feminine psychology“.  Perhaps “human psychology as it pertains to women” would have been a better term.

In any case, from a young age Freud’s psyche was split between seeing his mother in a wholly positive and wholly negative light. He would have had to understand his own psychology in relation to his mother to make sense of hers, but the “light” kept changing on him, due to early developmental issues.

As an important side note: It is my considered view that “feminine psychology” is a practical outcome of patriarchal power dynamics. In my view, an understanding of social dimensions and their changing nature is vital, or else one ends up with the metaphysical postulates one had started with. If women are necessarily “passive” — so be it. That is a fundamental truth of metaphysics. If one has accepts this, one will not be able to turn up any evidence to the contrary, no matter how widely one may look. It is of vital importance, therefore, to differentiate metaphysics (with its religious basis) from genuine science, which is always alert to measuring the changing world “out there”.

But, patriarchal approaches to psychology have ruled supreme, even up until today. What this means is that a certain degree of pathology — including Freud’s own, indicated by a lack of knowledge of “the psychology of the feminine” — has become normalized. Patriarchal dynamics, insofar as they exert a negative and pathological effect on those who come under them, have not at all been understood. Although feminists and sociologists are well aware of the negative outcomes of power as suppression, psychologists, in my experience, lag behind.

I have already written broadly about my father’s experiences with his mother. His father had been shot down in a plane over the ocean, during World War Two. I’m uncertain of the details, except that he was a radio-man in the back of the plane and was fighting on the British side of the war. My father grew up to hate his mother, due to similar abandonment issues to those Slipp describes with regard to Freud. Only, my father’s abandonment issues were more extreme. He also dealt with them differently from Freud. Rather than retaining an unconscious (that is, not intellectually integrated) ambivalence toward his mother, he developed contradictory principles to live by.

The first principle my father internalized was that one must, unconditionally, obey authorities to gain permission to thrive. This was a message from his mother, whose marriage of convenience had allowed my father to have a source of financial sustenance. She had obeyed the patriarchal principle of finding a male breadwinner, in order to support her child, my father.   There was no social security system in Rhodesia   Consequently, he had to also learn to obey this principle of necessity unconditionally. “Even though this new power over you is arbitrary and alien, you must obey it unconditionally.”

The second principle my father had internalized was that unconditional obedience leads to pain, abandonment and a life where one doesn’t get to decide the final meaning of anything. It’s inadvisable to follow this path. My father, in many unguarded moments, made it extremely clear to me that the path of unconditional obedience also leads to relentless, inescapable misery.

My father’s subconscious communication to me has always been in terms of two opposing principles: I command you to submit to all authorities without condition. I also caution you that this path leads to the most extreme form of unhappiness there is on Earth. If you do accept this formula for living, be aware that you will be extremely miserable. Nobody can help you here.”

So I learned a great deal from my father about how not to conform, under pain of risking my very sense of being.

My father’s principles were tricky, though. He’d placed a great deal of emphasis on the side of unconditional obedience. Indeed, he’d label any difficulties in life as being related to an inability to unconditionally trust.

Thus, when I faced some problems in my life, due to taking others at their word too much, which is related to my right-wing culturally conditioned naiveté,  he would always label the problem in the exact opposite terms. “You’re not trusting enough! Your belief in authorities is too conditional.” I learned that this wasn’t so when my father tried to break down my sense of independence, to teach me to “trust”. Once again, it was a contradictory message: “If you give up your power to authorities, you will lose the pain that’s brought about by separateness.” The addendum was: “Only — from experience, I can tell you that this solution to your problems will induct you into desperate and suicidal misery!”

Of course, I decided not to trust my father on this. It was not only his logical consistencies, but his emotional urgency that persuaded me against developing too deep a trust.

Still, there were people who could not help but see things entirely his way. They were people who thought they were on his side, but were actually working against him, because they sided with unconditional trust of all authorities, no matter who they were. That is, they supported the idea that no matter what troubles it had already bought us, the patriarchal structure of paternal authority was correct.  Thus they made the faith-based assumption that if I conformed to my father’s requirements, all would be well. But his own experience, as it had become semi-articulate, had warned me against this.

To trust unconditionally is to cast one’s fate to the winds:  It is to open oneself to any violent storm that may be passing. My father’s integrity had designated this a bad option. I also couldn’t side with unconditional acceptance. This was a demand that came from my father’s would-be allies. Their demands nearly undid me. I had to fight was so fiercely to keep my sense of self.

There are those who read my memoir and decided that my fight for independence from authoritarian control was all wrong. I’ve had those who, in opposition to my father’s semi-articulate plea not to trust the formula of all-acceptance, have demanded that unconditionally I accept a new way of life in Australia. There are also those who cannot understand why I will not conform to my father’s requirements to become his unconditionally accepting mother. I should be the punching bag against which his desperate emotions raged.   It should be clear to them that any child is not equipped to be their father’s mother — to unconditionally accept them, so that they can move beyond the early childhood stage of confusion into adult maturity.

Those who would lay on me the heavy burden of being my father’s mother, correcting the past through controlling the present, have no idea what they are doing to me. A child cannot accept an adult’s burdens — and the story of my memoir is how I had accepted them for too long.

There are all sorts of situations that disturb me profoundly because they seem to be demanding of me, as a woman, that I give my trust and approval to them without nuance or critical distancing measure. I am to accept any authority without questioning or investigating whether it is good or bad.  These situations paralyze me with a threat of annihilation. I can’t engage emotionally with such demands. I’m overwhelmed with numbness.  I disengage.

For my whole life, there are those who have tried to force me to become the pre-Oedipal mother of my father, in the belief that “father knows best” and submitting to authority without question is the norm. In response, I’ve feared every situation that demanded I give my trust, without restriction. Not giving my trust in this way has been the only measure between me and my absolute destruction.  I have often saved my life that way.

Others like to assume this disengagement is related to my ego. I must have such a gigantic ego that I can’t engage with people who demand my absolute acceptance.

The opposite is the case as I am preserving my ego when I disengage. I can’t deal with being anybody’s early childhood mother, or with giving them my wholehearted trust, regardless of their real behavior.

*  Samuel Slipp’s book, The Freudian Mystique, usefully suggests why the psycho-dynamics of patriarchal family structures did not come under scrutiny via Freud.

 

torn apart left and right

What Rhodesian culture was is very, very, hard to understand. Even I had a hard time understanding it, because I grew up in it but didn’t recognize what either the Rhodesians or the rest of the world were reacting to. The civil war has already started by the time I was born. Then it finished when I was 12 and I emigrated to Australia with my family when I was 16. Once, I emigrated, it was the start of another war, only on a psychological level. My parents wanted me to be staunchly right-wing, but Australia was a more liberal culture, especially the university system. My tendencies were left libertarian, although I didn’t have a name for it at that time.

So, to be independent, I had to go against everything my parents had an emotional attachment to, in an ideological sense. It felt like a kind of acceptance of death — either mine or my father’s — when I eventually realized how hostile my parents had become toward me, when I reached in my late twenties. I had been bullied at work, for being from where I was from. This labour union workplace considered itself a left-wing social organisation. Someone there didn’t like me because of where I was from, and indeed I was rather socially inept in those days — too much so to see it coming or to defend myself. I had suffered from war trauma, not really my own, perhaps, but that of my father. He had been traumatized by war all of his life — first the second world war, which robbed him of his father just after he was born, and then the Rhodesian civil war, which robbed him of his younger brother and sent him on call-up duty, six months in, six months out.

After all this sacrifice and ideological indoctrination against the infiltrating “communists” (the guerilla groups were trained by USSR and China), my father hated anything remotely “left-wing”. It’s not that he took the time to understand it. He had to immediately assimilate to an entirely different culture starting from a very low status position. He had previously been a lecturer at the Polytech. So, he became even more traumatized.

It seems he attempted to solve the problems of his profound, underlying trauma from childhood and beyond and his ideological confusion by lashing out at me. His mother had always been insensitive to him, throwing him into the deep end of every new experience, and allowing others to treat him sadistically at times, without intervening. So, my father developed the view that I was in some sense his mother. He became the frightened infant lashing out at her for her insensitivity to his needs.

Needless to say, this was extremely frightening and confusing to me and made it much more difficult for me to re-orient myself in Australian culture. I’d come from a rural, tribal culture and very little about modernity made any sense to me. I found it extremely inimical.

My failure to adapt also very much angered my father. He saw his own failure (in his parents’ eyes) in me and my behavior.

However, I couldn’t adapt because I was becoming more and more traumatized. People were treating me like I was a racist and uppity, when I was just extremely shy and didn’t actually know anything about people’s subjective values or beliefs.

So the right-wingers were attacking me for adapting and the left wingers were attacking me for daring to migrate to Australia. And people were still very angry, even ten or fifteen years after the war. Family members had been killed in the war, and many Rhodesians wanted to kill anyone who expressed any left-wing tendencies. This was a primitive rage.To leave the conservative culture of Rhodesia is akin to trying to leave the Aum Supreme Truth Cult. Leftists in demand of their pound of flesh make this almost impossible to achieve. If anything, the loss of the war made my emotions of betrayal even stronger. How could you leave a situation when it was so frail and in need? The war and been tribal and personal as much as it had been ideological.

I developed chronic fatigue syndrome — which took me many years to recover from. My body had totally overheated due to this stress.

Most of the onlookers must have believed that this form of suffering was necessary and good for me, for they took the side of anyone who judged anything against me.

 

Why I write

My feelings, my emotions, like sheep, had gone astray and I had no idea where they were or what they were up to.  I was in my late twenties at this time and I knew something was wrong.   My life was dominated by attitudes of duty and hope for a better life if I pleased the correct authorities.   And I had every intention of pleasing them with all my might – so much so, I was coming apart at the seams.  I had no concept of pleasing myself.

I realize that many people would consider the attitudes I describe above to be ideal ones for a young female.  This was far from true.  My health was suffering and I would catch viruses much of the time — signs indicating that I’d become a spiritual anorexic.

So, I began writing to feast on my own lamb stew or in Jung‘s less malicious prose, “to water one’s own garden”.

All of my writing has been an attempt to track down and reintegrate my emotions.

This is why there are certain modes of critiquing any of my work that are wholly wrong.  My writing is not, for instance, inherently emotional.  I worked hard to get this feeling effect.  Also, I don’t need to be told to take a good, hard look at myself to figure out what, from a right-wing perspective, I need to change.  It should already be obvious, not least on the basis of good manners — I really don’t need to be told to go ahead and do what I’ve already been doing over all these years, to find out what needs to change.    I’m also not a female stereotype, pent-up with emotions that just want to come pouring out at the slightest touch. If that had been so, I would never have chosen the self-discipline of learning to write.

A friend from a similarly repressed culture recently told my of her disappointment in viewing a movie, Diary of a Geisha. She observed that the book had been very poorly rendered into film because the character seemed like a “Western girl”, very emotional.

“At that age,  she would not have known what she was feeling.”

 

Identity formation as political imperative

Identity formation is really, really interesting. I studied it a great deal in my thesis, most particularly the political nature of identity formation through projective identification. I came to believe that this is the most decisive way in which our identities are formed, because it is really almost impossible to resist a particular identity if a large mass of people are projecting that identity onto you. In effect, they are requiring you to play a certain role for them — and my memoir is an exploration of this. For instance, in terms of white, Western culture, I am the dishonourable “colonial”, whom others can automatically use to mark their own superiority. For my father, who was bound to extremely antiquated and rigid standards of masculinity, I was his “emotion” and means of coping with his loss of his country. And then there are the secondary levels of interpellation and distorted interpretations, whereby my efforts to explain this situation is also seen to be a confirmatory sign that I am merely “whining”, for that is what women do, unless they are happy with the status quo, which makes them unhappy.

I am now resigned and happy that at least I understand it and that these ebbs and flows of political emotion have nothing to do with me. I ultimately disowned my subjective connection to the identity depicted in my memoir by means of an extreme kind of mockery of it at the beginning and in sections of the last few pages.

This was my intention: to rupture and a break from the past through an act of destruction: shamanistic destruction involves destroying the identities that others have projected onto you, in order to be more fully yourself.  I do not destroy the fundamentals of my experience by shamanistic destruction, but rather the false meanings attributed to those experiences.

The subject matter of colonialism clearly remains too emotionally raw for most people to address impartially. Nonetheless, I have quite a lot of confidence that in greater historical perspective,  it will be much easier to see that I am making fun of the ridiculous ideas of my identity that had been projected onto me, rather than quoting them because I thought they were true.

Facing death

Born into hierarchical societies, our minds naturally take a shape that reinforces those societies and their values. We ‘fit in’ in order to get along and primarily in order to avoid the extreme kinds of censure that lead to death. A shaman, however, upon “facing death” destroys his or her hierarchically conditioned psyche. The subconscious drive to conformity, engendered during childhood when one necessarily had to submit to much bigger adults, was based on a superstitious (although, at other times, entirely realistic) need to fend off the threat of destruction.

 

Shamanistic literature or moral dichotomies

Shamanistic literature is open to the accusation, “there is nothing there” (so far as content goes), or else the writing “is all about the author” (that is to say — nothing more).  This misunderstanding is the result of the influence of ideologies throughout the ages, which makes dichotomies out of experiences, so that it seems as if something that is “about me” can never be of any service to others.

 

Nietzsche’s shamanistic methodology does away with this epistemological dichotomy by using material that would otherwise be “just about me” as a means to understand cultural wholes. Even the imagery he uses — namely, the “ladder of experience” – is shamanistic.

 

He describes the process of self-understanding as follows:

 

Whatever state you are in, serve yourself as a source of experience! … You have inside you a ladder with a hundred rungs which you can scale towards knowledge. Do not undervalue the fact of having been religious; appreciate how you have been given real access to art … It is within your power to ensure that all your experiences — trials, false starts, mistakes, deception, suffering, passion, loving, hoping — can be subsumed totally in your objective. This objective is to make yourself into a necessary chain of culture links, and from this necessity to draw general conclusions about current cultural needs.*

 

This method is to create a link between one’s own evolving state of mind and the broader cultural needs of the community.

 

Thus, for the shaman, so called “self-involvement” is absolutely essential as the means by which the community is served. There is no moral dichotomy here: no moral schism that definitively separates the self from others.

 

*  The ladder, by means of which one ascends the heavens, is part of ancient shamanic tradition.