Accepting you have become corrupted and recovery

Let’s Spread the Word: Wetiko | Reality Sandwich:

‘via Blog this’

An article, linked to above, worth reading.  It may come across as New Age, but I also arrived at the same conclusions through my careful, far more academic study and observation.

I also concluded that the patriarchal religions perpetuate this deformed state of consciousness, by encouraging men to project their darkness onto women.

Intellectual shamanism reverses this process by insisting that one develop a relationship with oneself.  As the article says:

[The pathological person’s] will becomes dedicated to hiding from the truth of what they are doing, a truth which endlessly pursues them, as they continually avoid relationship with themselves.  [Emphasis mine].

My intellectual shamanism is concerned with the structuring of the human psyche and with remedies through restructuring and forming a relationship with other parts of yourself, that may have become alienated from the whole.  Accepting one’s dissociated and split state, one goes looking for them.  This does not involve blind searching, but active and reasoned looking.

The moralistic tone of the article, especially where it suggests that “excess” or boundary-crossing are always “evil” reveals much of the limitations of New Age psychology.  Whether these are “evil”, or corrective of pathology depends on how you use them.  Otherwise, it’s like saying that dynamite is bad under all circumstances — because it causes destruction. Few things are intrinsically bad in and of themselves — and sometimes a degree of destruction is necessary, in order to recover full health.

Clarifying some concepts of INTELLECTUAL SHAMANISM

My use of psychology is totally abnormal … because what I am stating is that when you lose touch with conventional reality, because of hardship, or pain, you go on a journey to find a better reality and you come up with one
can the external condition be an agent or another being of some sort or its just a deformity created by extraordinary conditions
especially Perkinson’s text on shamanism as a black American identity and Taussig. My view is closer to Taussig’s
conventionally it is a deformity, but I don’t think this is what it actually is
Does intellectual Shamanism manifest only through the affected person’s ability to engage intellectually through works such as writing?
I think there are reasons to think, in the case of Bataille and Nietzsche, and others, that it enhances self awareness
Not just writing, but self-awareness
Marechera, to a reasonable observer’s POV, exhibited strong evidence of being mentally ill or mad.
… so despite that, he was more self aware?
It is also a feature of aspects of Bataille and Nietzsche’s writings — they are seen as mad philosophers
That is exactly what I’m saying, although I also allow that the cost of being self-aware can be a painful sort of madness
Like Nietzsche said, Hamlet was mad because he was certain of the truth
One would find it hard to give one’s child Marechera’s children’s book!
and yet what he advises kids is naked truth which is normally not told to kids directly
Yeah, yeah, that is what I see, too
actually, to know the truth about power relations could send most people mad. They don’t want to know it
I am more convinced that most of normal life is false and the life Marechera saw and experienced was the truth … and living, walking and talking it appears abnormal
We have a god intoxication, or an idealism intoxication, in that we believe in hidden purposes, or that life is a training ground for morality.
To see that this is not the case is difficult
It would wreck the psyches of most people
I agree … and so lies seem to normalise life … and make morality seem sane??
In a way. It’s not so much lying, but idealism, which is a milieu we’re born into. It’s a kind of lie, or distortion, but also a form of adaptation
It’s not like it’s morally wrong not to have a morality, if you know what I mean.
Or that it’s morally right to have one. You are standing outside of morality
You talking to someone who is not technical in this subject – more of a novice and so my language is not very good
OK, I meant Nietzsche, Marechera and Bataille are standing outside of the idea that there are hidden moral principles in the universe
Yaah, I understand better when you say “standing outside morality”, which is a perfect context for most of what Marechera did and say!
But I think you understand it
Well, because most people think there are hidden principles governing outcomes, when there are none
There is no principle that assures that if people do the right thing they will have good lives. They will more likely be serving others without realizing it
I remember reading where Marechera wrote something along the lines “don’t listen to what your parents and all adults say, because they all lie to you and all other little children”
Yeah, yeah. It’s idealism
Nietzsche called it the ascetic ideal
I don’t fully understand what idealism is.
It’s a bit hard to explain
The question is to whom should little kids listen to … Marechera seem to tell kids to just do what they want
Yeah, good point
Well he thought kids had a better capacity to live a meaningful life than adults
is this not anrachism?
I think it differs from anarchism although it is compatible
How does it differ?
Well, the idea that kids are in tune with nature or the universe in a way that adults have lost touch with
So, if adults get in touch with what the kids still have, they will live more meaningful lives
…which is also the benefit of going mad
because you get back into that childlike condition of receptivity
being in tune with narture, I hope is not equivalent to extreme form of limited experience and knowledge – which is what little kids have.
ha. Well, that is the other side of the paradigm. I had to do battle with that one, because it is the bourgeois perspective
But the idea is the quality of life, not the content, or in other words, ontology, not epistemology
“bourgeois perspective” – no idea what it is.
Um…it’s kind of the cynical view that there can only be one sort of order and that is the one we presently have
For instance, that to be adult you need to conform to existing mores, have a full time job, etc
By quality of life do you mean, in a child’s case, the perfect state of bliss, lack of care and worry, built on a foundation of no knowledge of what might or might not be?
not really.
Actually, if you look at Georges Bataille, who was a French philosophical writer, he says that this “non-knowledge” involves the embrace of terror in the immediacy. So instead of trying to postpone our terror of death, we encounter it directly, without mediation.
But this gives us quality of life, because then we start living it as it really is and don’t postpone it
For Marechera, I wonder whether there was a way of his viewing the world that did not accelerate his physical discomfort or destruction
We can even live it on our own terms, because we know that there is no truth outside of ourselves of the sort that really matters in an eternal or infinite way
I think it did accelerate his destruction
Morality, even though it is false, is mode of self-preservation
I wonder where if the sense of self-preservation or is this state also invalidates self-preservation?
Nietzsche seemed to think that it was both
Your preserve something, but you also lose something
Oh I had not seen your last sentence on self preservation.
I hope this makes sense
Nietzsche thought that those who wanted to seek beyond themselves would sacrifice themselves to their best qualities
Sorry. “create”beyond themselves
It does not because nature itself if left to operate will establish brutal rules such that non-conformance will lead to one destruction … rules of nature must be obeyed in most cases unless one craft strategy to postpone their repercussions.
What are the rules of nature?
any that can natural befall matter
Still don’t quite understand what you are saying
what your objection is
anything that naturally happen does so by force of rules of nature
Kind of, but nature is also pretty random
yes but the randomness is systematic
which makes it the rule
Yes, it tends to be systematic in the broader picture and random on the micro level
What is your objection concerning “nature”?
there are times what I see order in randomness
yeah, there is order in randomness, indeed.
My view is that being close to nature does not lead to quality of life
Yeah, being close to nature, as in being subjected to it, is not good
so it probably does not explain Marechera
But one does not subject oneself to nature as a necessity, but only by way of an experiment, and on one’s own terms.
a matter of terminology
also I don’t quite understand what your objection is, but I think it is to the term, “nature”. But one need not understand it in terms of the grass and trees
Being wild, living under the hibiscus bush
a temporary immersion in an unmediated reality — that is what I meant by “nature”
To me nature is both what you say AND also interacting with the elements
Ok. Yes, probably. I think the key is to get away from the mediation of civilizing meanings
“unmediated” – means in both the virtual and the physical
To destroy your civilized mind with drugs and alcohol
thats probably not the only way … there may be more ways to achieve it 🙂
of course!
So we will talk later
I believe living purely and normally can also achieve it in the manner that people like Ghandhi may have done
I think that is a way to live morally, but it doesn’t touch on the kind of realm of experience that Nietzsche, Bataille and Marechera did
Can any one really seek this?
Answer next time
I think they tend to be thrown into it by force of circumstance, but that they find something beneficial in it
I don’t think you seek shamanic initiation unless your life is already hellish and it seems the only option 

Shamanism and the reworking of memory

The shamanistic view is different from the psychoanalytic view that holds that psychological projection is an anomalous attitude of reprobates.   In terms of shamanism, absolutely everything one sees, hears or encounters is a projection.   Neurology makes it clear that perception is a function of the brain’s incorporation and rearrangement of data.  According to Atul Gawande:

Richard Gregory, a prominent British neuropsychologist, estimates that visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals.

The information we take in from our ears and eyes is not the same as what we experience.   The brain takes a huge amount of information from the senses and then rearranges it in such a way that a human being can gain advantage from it.  We see what makes sense to us, often by adding to incomplete information by producing information from memory, so that we often encounter precisely what we expect to see. We are the creators of our own realities.

 To go a step further, we don’t visually experience the far sides of the color spectrum that beetles and bats may do.  But, had we the needs and desires of insects, our brains would have learned to give us a different range of information.  We would have learned to sense a far wider spectrum including infra-red and ultra-violet.  Becoming aware of these light waves perhaps does not serve us as humans, since this may not give an advantage in indicating  food or sudden danger.

Humans and beetles inhabiting the same space will nonetheless experience different qualities to their environments.  What comes to the foreground and what pales into insignificance will not be the same aspects of the terrain.  A friend tells me that on taking LSD one hears all the background noises to life that would ordinarily be filtered from awareness.

 To  have the benefit of vision  enables us to navigate our human worlds effectively as humans.  A parallel world may exist for other species.  Each takes from the sensory environment what will nourish it in terms of what it is.    Taking in too much of reality would obstruct us in our normal activities.   We do well to leave a lot unnoticed.

 On the basis of being separate peoples and cultures, we also automatically impose filtering mechanisms.   I see what I need to see to nourish myself according to my particular needs, desires and capabilities.   I am convinced that others who enter the same environments would not see or experience the same network of meanings that are available to me.  I switch off when confronted with young children, for instance.  I can’t focus on them and my brain attempts to block them out.  I’m learning to notice social tensions, but they don’t intrinsically interest me, so they are about the last thing I recognize when I enter a new environment.

 When I began my life in Australia I didn’t “see” social relationships — only natural ones.   When I began a new job many years ago, I didn’t “see” institutional relationships.  I saw only postmodernist metaphysics, by virtue of which I had been trained to see the world.  I began reading Marecheralater and had to get rid of a lot of postmodernist assumptions to understand him.

 Contemporary humans get to move through their environments by throwing off one reality to enter another.   Shamanism enhances the process of gaining knowledge of our worlds by encouraging us to switch off from what we think we know, which is just a neurological projection however useful.   We can’t enter another environment so long as we are certain of what we know.   This is only possible by entering a state of uncertainty.  As Bataille says of Nietzsche, out of this striking moment of dissolution a philosophy is born:

Let no one doubt for an instant! One has truly not heard a single word of Nietzsche’s unless one has lived this signal dissolution in totality; without it, this philosophy is a mere labyrinth of contradictions, and worse; the pretext for lying by omission (if, like the fascists, one isolates passages for purposes which negate the rest of the work).

In terms of what I have described of shamanism, Nietzsche’s way of writing, whether intentionally or not, actually invites a radical rewriting of consciousness on the basis of a fundamental dissolution of reality.  By means of such shamanistic reworking, one’s existing projection gets dissolved and is replaced by another, superior reality.  This would be a result of  including a different network of memories in one’s perspectives. This adjustment in seeing, however, leads to handling life more effectively.

The self and ego

I  agree with this: “I believe that it is important to listen to your body when it tries to tell you through sickness that something is not OK instead of trying to shut it up with pills and potions.”Completely Open Thread « Clarissa’s Blog

I would be working a job that was entirely wrong for me, not be in a relationship, and identify with a defunct ideology, had I not listened to my body. Listening is vital,  but this implies developing a different sense of identity from the one that remains resolute in one position, as if rigidity were a sign of strength.


To the despisers of the body will I speak my word. I wish them neither to learn afresh, nor teach anew, but only to bid farewell to their own bodies,—and thus be dumb.

“Body am I, and soul”—so saith the child. And why should one not speak like children?

But the awakened one, the knowing one, saith: “Body am I entirely, and nothing more; and soul is only the name of something in the body.”

The body is a big sagacity, a plurality with one sense, a war and a peace, a flock and a shepherd.

An instrument of thy body is also thy little sagacity, my brother, which thou callest “spirit”—a little instrument and plaything of thy big sagacity.

“Ego,” sayest thou, and art proud of that word. But the greater thing—in which thou art unwilling to believe—is thy body with its big sagacity; it saith not “ego,” but doeth it.

What the sense feeleth, what the spirit discerneth, hath never its end in itself. But sense and spirit would fain persuade thee that they are the end of all things: so vain are they.

Instruments and playthings are sense and spirit: behind them there is still the Self. The Self seeketh with the eyes of the senses, it hearkeneth also with the ears of the spirit.

Ever hearkeneth the Self, and seeketh; it compareth, mastereth, conquereth, and destroyeth. It ruleth, and is also the ego’s ruler.

Behind thy thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage—it is called Self; it dwelleth in thy body, it is thy body.

There is more sagacity in thy body than in thy best wisdom. And who then knoweth why thy body requireth just thy best wisdom?

Thy Self laugheth at thine ego, and its proud prancings. “What are these prancings and flights of thought unto me?” it saith to itself. “A by-way to my purpose. I am the leading-string of the ego, and the prompter of its notions.”*

The Self saith unto the ego: “Feel pain!” And thereupon it suffereth, and thinketh how it may put an end thereto—and for that very purpose it is meant to think.

The Self saith unto the ego: “Feel pleasure!” Thereupon it rejoiceth, and thinketh how it may ofttimes rejoice—and for that very purpose it is meant to think.

To the despisers of the body will I speak a word. That they despise is caused by their esteem. What is it that created esteeming and despising and worth and will?

The creating Self created for itself esteeming and despising, it created for itself joy and woe. The creating body created for itself spirit, as a hand to its will.

Even in your folly and despising ye each serve your Self, ye despisers of the body. I tell you, your very Self wanteth to die, and turneth away from life.

No longer can your Self do that which it desireth most:—create beyond itself. That is what it desireth most; that is all its fervour.

But it is now too late to do so:—so your Self wisheth to succumb, ye despisers of the body.

To succumb—so wisheth your Self; and therefore have ye become despisers of the body. For ye can no longer create beyond yourselves.

And therefore are ye now angry with life and with the earth. And unconscious envy is in the sidelong look of your contempt.

I go not your way, ye despisers of the body! Ye are no bridges for me to the Superman!—

Thus spake Zarathustra.


*  Note the shamanistic doubling in the form of the self and ego.  The self observes and judges one’s behavior as a whole.  One’s ego would do well to listen to it when things start going wrong.

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.

Nietzsche,epistemology and shamanistic texts

 Due to the nature and intensity of opposition to the intellectually shamanistic paradigm, I understood there is a formidable amount of emotional investment in the view that both morality and knowledge have predetermined structures.  These are thought to be made known though the inspiration of certain wise men, whilst being inaccessible to women.  Nietzsche, too,  can be read as promulgating a foundationalist position in the pattern of old testament prophets whose oracles were only decipherable by those of the greatest spiritual elevation. Many of his contemporary readers believe that belonging to the generic category, “men”, suffices for one to understand Nietzsche’s works.Shamanistic literature is much more evasive than foundationalist texts about who has the right to understand it.  Nietzsche’s naming of one of his works as Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None is very much within the shamanistic tradition, which appeals to a heightened subjectivity.  If the book appeals to you, it is “for” you, but otherwise it isn’t.In contradistinction to this are the quintessentially patriarchal texts of the Christian God and Allah.  All foundationalist texts seem to fall from the sky already formed but in actual fact are the products of much prevarication and revision.  Given that none of the patriarchal texts lie on a firm foundation, despite the vigorous promotion of the opposite idea, monotheistic religion does not have a better leg to stand on than shamanistic texts.  The idea, “these texts are true because they have an authoritative source”, does not seem to hold up where patriarchal authority is shown to be multiple, historically variable, subject to the political climate and ultimately devoid of an actual God to assure the authenticity of all interpretations.Herein lies the advantage of shamanistic writing, in that it does not require one to first believe in anything in order to gain benefits from it.   One can read Carlos Castandena’s Don Juan without any concern as to whether it is a reliable text.   If Castaneda was in a sense Don Juan himself, having made up all the information and advice, the value of the text remains unaltered.   Psychological trickery is fundamental to shamanism, just as it is a means by which its wisdom can be communicated.    Nietzsche adoption of the tone of an old-testament prophet, despite being nothing of the sort and indeed inimical to the aims of religiously inspired persons, is a concession to the shamanistic spirit of mockery as a means for communicating wisdom. So if you come to the ultimate conclusion that you have been “had” by a shamanistic text, perhaps this is the principle lesson of life you needed learn all along: the meaning and value of skepticism.

According to the principles of shamanism, what one says doesn’t have to be True, but it has to work.   By contrast, patriarchal reasoning demands that something has to be true when it is based on authority.  However, it can neither show that its principles work, nor produce its authority.  One may not be better off with shamanistic texts, but at least one is not worse off.

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!

Shamanic double vision & Nietzsche

Temporary physical injury and blindness are essential to a shaman, for they ultimately enable him or her to see better.

Shamanic injuries lead to a compulsion to cross a bridge from one side of consciousness into another and in effect to join two opposing levels of consciousness together.  Traditionally, shamans seek to retain the injurious darts in their bodies in order to keep hold of magic power.  Whereas shamanic injury leads to a darkening of normative perceptions, it enhances others.  Blindness forces one to rely on senses other than vision.   Needing to function without sight or health, one develops aspects of one’s awareness that would otherwise never be developed.  Nietzsche is typical in this pattern, as is his 20th Century French protégé, Georges Bataille.  The result is a “double vision”, whereby two levels of reality can be compared and data extracted from combining their vectors in much the same way as the brain combines information from the left eye and the right eye to produce a third level of consciousness — depth perception.

In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche writes:

Even my eye trouble, which at times approached dangerously near blinding, was only an effect [of general exhaustion] and not a cause; for, with every improvement of my general bodily health came a corresponding increase in my power of vision. An all too long series of years meant recovery to me. But, sad to say, it also meant relapse, breakdown, periods of decadence. After this, need I say that I am experienced in questions of decadence? I know them inside and out. Even that filigree art of apprehension and comprehension in general, that feeling for nuances, that psychology of “seeing what is around the comer,” and whatever else I may be able to do, was first learnt then, and is the specific gift of that period during which everything in me was subtilized-observation itself, together with all the organs of observation. To view healthier concepts and values from the standpoint of the sick, and conversely to view the secret work of the instinct of decadence out of the abundance and self-confidence of a rich life-this has been my principal experience, what I have been longest trained in. If in anything at all, it was in this that I became a master. To-day my hand is skillful; it has the knack of reversing perspectives: the first reason perhaps why a Transvaluation of all Values has been possible to me alone.  (2)

Just a bit later on, he says:

This double series of experiences, this means of access to two worlds that seem so far asunder, finds an exact reflection in my own nature-I have an alter ego: I have a “second” sight, as well as a first. Perhaps I even have a third sight. The very nature of my origin allowed me an outlook transcending merely local, merely national and limited horizons; it cost me no effort to be a “good European.” (3) [emphasis added]

As we can see, the representation of “two worlds” of consciousness that have to be bridged by virtue of a necessity stemming from sickness leads to the  sense of having a “third sight” — implicitly a mystical level of vision.

Contrast the use that a shaman can make out of his constitutional blindness with the normative blindness of the one who sees only one world, that being the vision circumscribed by the felt necessity to conform:

One used to fly by vision and now one flies by radar — blindly, as it were. That is the destiny of women within patriarchal societies – to have to rely upon a set of “civilising” values. That way, their navigation systems can always be jammed if they become too vocal. Women who have been “translated” into beings with now ‘ Civilized’ as opposed to Natural demeanours, have been taught to rely only upon those forms of communication that have been narrowly defined as “sensible” according to expectations which are starched, formal and conservative. How does one live within patriarchal society as a woman? Blindly, and disregarding of one’s own experiences, lest they puzzle and derange one enough that one finally takes action. Women are born to be castrated, according to some.

Next:  Bataille’s non-knowledge as a form of shamanism


The capacity for intellectual shamanism is based on having superfluous energy to spend on exploring inner, psychological dimensions.   The prerequisite for engagement puts intellectual shamanism at odds with many, perhaps most, other philosophies of life that demand one’s time and commitment in other ways.  Even holding other implicit philosophies, such as a prevalent one of our age — biological determinism — moves one several steps away from understanding how intellectual shamanism is expressed.  Those whose purpose in life is sex and reproduction will not find anything of value in this paradigm.

Somebody whose life is guided and determined by biological imperatives would experience intellectual shamanism as only threatening to take them away from their allotted tasks.   A typical misunderstanding I have found in those who read Nietzsche is in the idea that one can use one’s reading as a means to gain the kind of “wisdom” that would enable one to fully express one’s innate biological urges.   Yet, the desire to move in a direction that fulfills one’s needs as a creature of one’s biology is exactly opposed to the desire to further one’s knowledge about subjectivity and inner worlds.   To follow a biological deterministic path requires a calm and yielding disposition.   Any emotion or sensation that is not in this vein is a threat to one’s determined destiny.

By contrast, with regard to shamanism a lot of actions may be done and a lot of words spent, which have no biological purpose whatsoever.   The meaning of looking into one’s inner worlds is not to lament anything, but simply to look around at one’s leisure.  There is nothing to win or lose here, in terms of any sense of necessary or inevitable destinies.   One has all the time in the world to waste and no purpose to achieve except that intrinsic to looking.  One can scream and shout all one likes.   This is actually encouraged.

At the same time, those in a hurry to take things in the opposite direction will, of course, not find anything here.


The magical allure that is undoubtably present in Nietzsche’s writing is shamanistic. It is that which enables him to play the pied piper and to attract a following. Yet the shamanistic mode of logic — although present — is not as deep as it ought to be, were one to be truly faithful to the principles of shamanism. In precise terms: although the notion of plasticity of identity and self transformation is trumpeted, the degree of plasticity that is potentially available in each human being is portrayed as being much more limited than actually it is. Whereas changing genders is the ultimate expression of the logic of shamanism, Nietzsche’s views that the gender roles ought to be fundamentally unassailable is directly in line with the logic of patriarchal priests throughout the ages.


And yet he uses shamanistic structures of thought — which have a natural voluptuousness and sense of joyful celebration of the here and now — to sell us on this gloomy patriarchal priest’s ideas.


This is the contradiction within Nietzsche’s work. Shamanism would totally free its initiates the constraints imposed by guilt, if not from guilt itself  — but Nietzsche wants a certain amount of freedom to be permitted, and no more.


He is like a wine merchant who has decided that his product isn’t going far enough — and so he dilutes his wine with methylated spirits.


But methylated spirits — the priestly complex — is actually poison. Specifically, it is a poison in the eyes of this particular wine merchant.


So how did he go wrong — to mix in so much priestly doom and gloom into what were, and ought to have been, liberating ideas for his time?


UPDATED:  Nietzsche once wrote, “Apart from the church, we too love the poison [of ascetic ideas].”

It seems that both Nietzsche and Bataille mixed their knowledge with a certain amount of religiosity — poison — in order to reach the widest possible audience.


The case for Nietzsche as shaman

Shamanic “doubling” appears quite clearly at the end of sequence of books, in Ecce Homo, where Nietzsche speaks of having a privileged understanding of what constitutes health, due to his tendency to become ill.

To view healthier concepts and values from the standpoint of the sick, and conversely to view the secret work of the instinct of decadence out of the abundance and self-confidence of a rich life-this has been my principal experience, what I have been longest trained in. If in anything at all, it was in this that I became a master. To-day my hand is skillful; it has the knack of reversing perspectives: the first reason perhaps why a Transvaluation of all Values has been possible to me alone. [my emphasis]

In Gay Science, Nietzsche also speaks about the basis for self-overcoming, though sinking into the depths of despair and learning to think more suspiciously about the structure of reality:

Only great pain, the long, slow pain that takes its time—on which we are burned, as it were, with green wood—compels us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths and to put aside all trust, everything good-natured, everything that would interpose a veil, that is mild, that is medium—things in which formerly we may have found our humanity. I doubt that such pain makes us “better”; but I know that it makes us more profound.

Such a descent into pain, along with exercises in mistrust of how things appear to be,  make a thinker more profound.  We become more profound because we become suspicious of what we used to “know”

— i.e. “things in which formerly we may have found our humanity”. One, in effect, sinks to the underworld and then comes up transformed.

This is one direction of the Nietzschean dialectic:  the underworld of experience in relation to normal life. Nietzsche points out in Ecce Homo that dialectics are a sign of decadence, but nonetheless a person who is healthy overall turns even injury into an experience for learning. This is as per the historically recurrent motif of “shamanic wounding” — but one must be strong enough to begin with for any suffering to be able to yield genuine insights, rather than merely pathological notions about the world.

This “down-going” or “going under” relates to an age-long shamanic notion of the underworld (met by facing death, first figuratively and then literally).  It is also indicative of Darwinian advancement of humanity.  One succumbs as a herald to “better players”.  For the individual who must “go under”, though, there is a sense of sacrifice and evocation of the sacred in relation to the whole of humanity.  One descends into an underworld of non-being, so that humanity might have its chance to progress.

A middle level of experience comprises the everyday world.  More interestingly, in shamanic terminology there is also a realm of the heights..   To reach one’s inner heights, one transcends oneself.  This has the structure of tactical self-doubling.  Thus Spoke Zarathustra describes the nature and meaning of self-transcendence; a particular Nietzschean motif (Bataille contrasts it with immanence, which he logically prefers):

One day wilt thou see no longer thy loftiness, and see too closely thy lowliness; thy sublimity itself will frighten thee as a phantom. Thou wilt one day cry: “All is false!”There are feelings which seek to slay the lonesome one; if they do not succeed, then must they themselves die! But art thou capable of it—to be a murderer?Hast thou ever known, my brother, the word “disdain”? And the anguish of thy justice in being just to those that disdain thee?Thou forcest many to think differently about thee; that, charge they heavily to thine account. Thou camest nigh unto them, and yet wentest past: for that they never forgive thee.Thou goest beyond them: but the higher thou risest, the smaller doth the eye of envy see thee. Most of all, however, is the flying one hated.

Self-transcendence is fraught, as it involves being aware of the contemptible aspects of one’s self and moving above those cowardly elements.   Consciousness is thus doubled in the process of moving between what we are and what we will to become.   This doubling implies painful self-knowledge, which nonetheless one must accept if one wishes to explore a higher realm.

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.

The shamanistic method and science

How I speak in terms of shamanism’s altered states of consciousness may seem misleading on the surface of it.   Looked at superficially, it seems that I’m inviting people to go mad.  Altered states of consciousness are, to varying degrees, states of madness, insofar as they depart from everyday waking states.  Madness, intoxication, altered states of consciousness, have all received a bad rap.  Nonetheless, according to Nietzsche:

For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.

The means by which shamanism becomes a creative source is thus made clear:  altered states of consciousness are states of intoxication, which are conducive to creativity.  Perhaps this can be grasped intuitively, or ought to be self-evident.   Nietzsche is merely pointing out that it is not some higher power, or some form of inner genius that gives birth to creativity.  The prerequisite is intoxication.  (Certainly, one can also be “intoxicated” on all sorts of “normal” things, for instance on life, on hormones or erotic feelings).

This much is clear.  But it is not the key point.  “What is the key point?” you ask, breathlessly and excitable.

Where does a shaman’s wisdom come from — presuming that he actually has any, and is not just bent on finding a delightful name to call his psychosis?

Altered states of consciousness are potential sources of wisdom, and that is because they offer opportunities to follow the scientific method and to engage in mathematics and physics.

To experience one state of mind is to create a vector.  To experience two states of mind is to create another vector.   One vector is the path followed by the left eye.  The other is the path followed by the right eye.  The brain puts them together, and suddenly one has depth perception.

Similarly, one creates “controls” (in memory) when one moves away from normal consciousness and re-enters it again.   And, that which one experiences in the movement away from normal consciousness modifies the perceptions one has upon returning.   One does not see the same reality in the same way after engaging in shamanistic dialectics.  Hopefully, one makes progress.  Although progress is never assured through any kind of shamanistic engagement or technique, the methods necessary to improve self-awareness are, however, built-in to the structure of the shamanistic experience.

Nietzsche’s quintessential shamanism

“He enjoys the taste of what is wholesome for him; his pleasure in anything ceases when the bounds of the wholesome are crossed; he divines the remedies for partial injuries; he has illnesses as great stimulants of his life; he knows how to exploit ill chances; he grows stronger through the accidents that threaten to destroy him; he instinctively gathers from all that he sees, hears, experiences, what advances his main concern—he follows a principle of selection—he allows much to fall through; he reacts with the slowness bred by a long caution and a deliberate pride—he tests a stimulus for its origin and its intentions, he does not submit; he is always in his own company, whether he deals with books, men, or landscapes; he honors by choosing, by admitting, by trusting.”

“[H]e is strong enough for everything to have to turn out for the best for him” [Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.]

The link between Nietzsche and shamanism is apparent above. Wounding is a stimulus that leads to strengthening.  If only the individual is already strong enough to withstand the wounding, she can learn from that. Accidents are of benefit because they push one onto alternative pathways. One can learn from those as well.  The quintessential definition of the shamanic type, from all my readings, is “one who has been wounded and has developed insights, creativity and psychological strength from the injury.”

I have nothing more to say about the shamanic type that isn’t entailed in that definition.

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.

Nietzsche’s shamanistic propensities


Many blame Nietzsche for the nihilistic sensibilities of the present age. Stanley Rosen presents such a case. Rosen disagrees with Heidegger on Nietzsche’s failure and with Rorty on Nietzsche’s value as a philosopher. Rosen believes that Nietzsche succeeded in his break with Western metaphysics, a feat that should be anything but celebrated. “In my opinion,” writes Rosen, “Nietzsche has no ultimate teaching of a theoretical, constructive nature. The riddle to Nietzsche’s consistency cannot be unlocked because it does not exist.”[11] For Rosen, Nietzsche’s teaching has the same outcome for which Nietzsche blames Platonism and Christianity: “it empties human existence of intrinsic value.”[12] Nietzsche’s teaching is not only contradictory; it is disquieting and dangerous. Rosen believes that even Nietzsche’s Yes-saying magnum opus, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “implodes into chaos.”[13]Rosen’s analysis derives in part from his recognition of the problem of nature in Nietzsche’s writing. “The term nature thus plays an ambiguous role in Nietzsche’s thinking,” writes Rosen.[14] “Nietzsche advocates a return to the natural order in a sense, but not in a Platonic or Aristotelian sense.” For Nietzsche, “nature is power and, still more fundamentally, chaos.”[15] Rosen, unlike Heidegger, does not see Nietzsche as having an affinity with Aristotle and dismisses such nonsense. For Rosen, the result of the two views of nature in Nietzsche’s works is nihilism. Yes, nature is the standard for values, but if nature is chaos, as it is in Nietzsche, then all values are relative to man’s will to power.

I almost feel that any statement I could make to elaborate on the role of nature in Nietzsche’s philosophy has already been stated in terms of Rosen’s views.   Nonetheless, it has not been made apparent nor understood.  Here is more about Rosen’s take on Nietzsche from this excellent essay of Prof. Steven Michels:

For Rosen, Nietzsche’s teaching is an appeal to the highest, most gifted human individuals to create a radically new society of artist-warriors[,]…expressed with rhetorical power and a unique mixture of frankness and ambiguity in such a way as to allow the mediocre, the foolish, and the mad to regard themselves as the divine prototypes of the highest men of the future. A radically new society requires as its presupposition the destruction of an existing society; Nietzsche succeeded in enlisting countless thousands in the ironical task or self-destruction, all in the name of a future utopia.[my emphasis]  

I have written quite a bit on the motifs of destruction that are present in the work of Nietzsche and Bataille, who proclaimed, “I am Nietzsche”, and from this I consider that although Rosen’s view is plausible, it lacks in psychological depth and complexity.   Rosen, rather than allowing for the possibility that Nietzsche’s work was deeply psychological not politically manipulative in the manner of the Chicago School of political thought,  views Nietzsche narrowly as a shrewd political manipulator.

Certainly Rosen ascertains that Nietzsche writes with a certain degree of ambiguity about “destruction”. Bataille also retains that ambiguity, as he wants to speak to the broadest range of people, each at their level of development.  It is apparent in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, that Nietzsche considers there are some who need to obey in order to achieve their full capacities, whereas some can transcend obedience.  Similarly in Theory of Religion, Bataille writes about “destruction” both in a very direct, concrete way and in a more suggestive, metaphorical way, simultaneously.  The ambiguity is maintained because different people have different roles to play, not because Nietzsche was trying to clear the debris through political manipulation of people’s consciousness.

Where I differ very much from Rosen is that I see Nietzsche as a psychologist, not a politician.   It is certain that Nietzsche viewed his project in a Darwinist light, but there was no intention of political manipulation on his part.   No trick was involved.  Rather, he sought to bring about a new society on the basis of each person testing themselves purely in relation to themselves.  To encounter “nature” as described in the first quote, above, is to encounter reality in its most direct, unmediated form, without the softening effects of the meanings furnished by society and it’s organizing principles, based in metaphysics.

To encounter the lack of meaning by daring to face the negative, dark or destructive aspects of life is to face the possibility of shamanistic initiation:  one either becomes stronger as a result, or one is overcome and fades away.  In either case, life becomes vastly more interesting than if one does not face this encounter. An encounter with the void is nearly always intrinsically interesting in that if one resolves one’s experience successfully, one’s vitally it multiplied.

There is no “trick” to this — no political purpose or manipulation, apart from giving an orientation to experience that is different from predominant moralistic and/or theological world views.

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.


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.

Shamanistic flows of life

I now understand that the problem I wanted to solve through writing my autobiographical thoughts was solved through shamanistic methods and strategies of recapitulating the past. It was not enough to write the thoughts down, but I had to eventually reach the point where I would be able to see myself objectively — that is, to see myself from the outside. Up until this point, the memoir wasn’t completed, at least not in my mind.

I had, for a while, a wish that others would complete it for me. My expectation was based on my social and cultural conditioning, which had been extremely idealistic, in the sense of believing that knowledge and power and goodness were absolute, and that I had only to keep struggling to be rewarded with the jackpot.

Looking back, I had anticipated that others generally knew more than I. For instance, I presumed I had only to mention a theory or a concept to any lecturer at university, and they would immediately be able to become a fountain of knowledge, filling me in on the aspects of meaning I had missed. I assumed, in short, that I was missing strategic bits of knowledge that others probably had.

This wasn’t an issue of self-esteem, since I also knew that I had a great deal of knowledge in specific subject areas, which gratified me a great deal. Nonetheless, it vexed me that I seemed to be missing some parts of emotional and historical knowledge. It perplexed me even more that I couldn’t figure out what these were.

This something essential being missing made my paragraphs seem awkward as I had to somehow cover over the elisions with words I thought probably approximated my intentions. Most of what I said I was entirely certain about, but there remained nonetheless some missing bits of knowledge — aspects of meaning, and a sense of the likely impact of my words, of which I was uncertain.

Having to take a hit or miss approach to meaning unraveled me. I had to recover knowledge about what I didn’t know — but above all, I had to find out specifically what is was I didn’t know.

I finally found out that a particular paradigm resonated with me deeply. There were others who had a similar goal and purpose in life, and were pursuing it in ways that made a lot of sense to me. Peculiarly enough, I also found that those who couldn’t understand the meaning and value of this project intuitively could not understand it at all.

Misinterpretations of Nietzsche, Bataille and Marechera are common — for instance, in the idea that they were simply acting up. I perceived that they were in search of their emotions to recover them. I was doing the same. The fact that I had missing bits of awareness deeply bothered me. I had to work my way deeply into the reality I had come from to learn what these pieces were. This process was constituted by writing and researching my PhD.

My PhD research finally brought me to an understanding of a paradigm that would facilitate my task. Descent into the past to recover one’s identity is what I came to term “intellectual shamanism”. The concept of Eternal Recurrence that is at the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy is also concerned with recovery of one’s self from one’s historical accidents.

I also understood what defines and separates writers like Nietzsche, Bataille and Marechera from other sorts of writers is that they are writers who have some early trauma. In the case of Nietzsche, it seems to relate to his father’s early death. Bataille’s father used to beat him. Marechera was born into a war zone, and I entered one, psychologically, when my family emigrated from a war zone. The logic of intellectual shamanism is in the recovery of the parts of oneself lost to trauma. For those who do not have to face this task, this shamanistic paradigm will make little intuitive sense. The ability to restore one’s sense of one’s life into a whole, that one approves of, is the basis for Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence:  until one can effectively manage this, one keeps reliving the original trauma.

The effect of trauma is the numbing of emotions — hence the loss of aspects of oneself to the historical past. To feel one’s emotions again, whilst recreating the historical context in which they had become numbed, is to restore one’s full sense of self, so that nothing is missing. The emotional and intellectual knowledge I’d been lacking due to episodes of numbing were restored substantially.

Still, I had not seen myself from the outside yet, which meant I retained a feeling of vulnerability in terms of overall self-knowledge. In the back of my mind I feared that there was something strange about me — a feeling confirmed by the fact that many others could not understand my sense of the issues Marechera, Bataille and Nietzsche were trying to address through their philosophies. All three of these writers have come under intense fire by moralists who thought they were engaged in nasty practices. The bourgeois moralists considered Marechera simply and straightforwardly undisciplined, Bataille as having a meaningless, but not redemptive attraction to violence, and Nietzsche as being simply ideologically fascist. In my experience, these writers were my salvation, instructing me how to repair damage to my psyche.

Just a few days ago, I finally saw myself from a detached point of view as a result of continuing to pursue self-knowledge. Thankfully, there is nothing wrong with me — except one thing: I do have a tendency to psychological numbing. I’m not always entirely present, although never out of control. At the moment of reliving an earlier trauma, I am intellectually and emotionally absent. This tendency is deeply ingrained, conditioned from childhood. The consequences of this early conditioned form of emotional self-defense is that I lose details from the present, very easily, if under stress. When my emotions temporarily switch off, I am no longer present. This in turn leads to another problem in that I’m not sure what the proper emotions or observations would be in relation to a particular situation, since although I was there, I didn’t really experience the situation fully.

Intellectual shamanism helps me to overcome this tendency to emotionally switch off. One has to face “death” in accepting the fact that all is finite. By means of fearlessly “confronting death”, one encounters reality in all of its unmediated immediacy. Shamanistic techniques thus manage to reawaken socially traumatized people’s connections with reality — which are then experienced as spontaneous flows of life.


My PhD as rite of passage

I started my PhD because there were too many mysteries out there for me not to investigate them. How could I sit in an office and do anything at all when there were mysteries out there?

I continued it because the plot thickened. The mysteries became more psychological, rather than aesthetic in nature, and they made my mind ache.

I found socializing to be a huge strain in the middle of my PhD, because it took away energy I needed to crack the problem that was at the core of my thesis. It could be framed in the simplest way as “how can madness be productive?”

At one stage, I felt like I was going mad. My mind was galloping at a frenetic pace and all of the world seemed to have slowed down and gone stupid. Any part of everyday life that didn’t help me solve my problem got in my way. I couldn’t even explain the nature of my problem except in the most esoteric terms. It had to do with trying to look at the other side of trauma — at the generative side.

So many books seemed to somewhat support my thesis. Other journal articles only used part of my theoretical platform, but were more opposed to the conclusions I had drawn. Thus, I became perplexed as to how to use this more ambiguous material.

I continued to become madder and madder. I had too much information in my head and I had to make it all add up. I had read extremely widely. The literary material seemed to yield confirmation of my views in flashes of intuitive insight, but which I didn’t yet have the means to articulate. You certainly couldn’t point to the text and say, “There it is!”. Nothing was positivist about my views.

Eventually, I couldn’t look at my thesis, as I had looked at it so much, the words had stopped meaning anything. I began to wonder if in fact the words I’d written had no meaning. An old wound had started to open. My father’s words: “You’re a failure and you can’t even communicate properly!” began to resonate. I’d written the thesis to vindicate someone who also seemed to have been victimized by being denied communication — and now, the same was happening to me.

I was fighting my father through trying to complete my thesis. It was the ultimate superego battle — he didn’t want me to show him up through having an education, through not accepting a typical female role, and I wanted to complete my thesis without his interference. Yet, this battle was taking place entirely in my mind — a culmination of at least a 20 year long battle for my right to determine my own direction.

Writing my thesis was a rite of passage. The strain of going against the grain was intense. I engaged with a lot of ideas that would have been denied me had I taken the path I was supposed to. To engage intellectually with ideas of war, trauma and racism would have been one thing. I engaged with these emotionally, however, and this had been forbidden me, growing up. I wasn’t supposed to interact with the realities of the civil war surrounding me. Emotional access to these were related to age, social status and gender.

In engaging with new inner experiences, against the prohibitions that had been set up to protect me, I was destroying myself as I had been before.

The thesis became a means of self-destruction and renewal, through gaining forbidden knowledge into the interior of my cultural history.


The foundations of intellectual shamanism

I used myself as a guineapig for much of my investigation into the realm of the psyche. My understandings were founded on the fact of my very strange subjectivity. That is to say, I found my subjective states very strange because they didn’t seem to match other people’s states under various circumstances. Most of the time, they were the opposite to other people’s expectations. For instance, where other people took situations very personally, I didn’t — I saw what I perceived as wrong behavior as being a consequence of larger social and cultural dynamics. I took very personally my inability to fully comprehend or come to terms with these dynamics. I would sequester myself from the rest of the world for hours — and days — on end, to try to understand the meaning of these broad social movements that led to the adoption of conventional subjective postures.

I remained puzzled for an inordinately long time. I’m sure I would have given up after a few years, had not my sense of having an alien subjectivity spurred me on.

My first break-though came about after reading an article by a Jungian, which spoke of “pre-Oedipal” states. There, I encountered, for the first time, the concept of “projective identification”. This concept suggested that we do not have permanent or fixed identities, but rather identities that are permeable by others. Another person may project into us parts of themselves. We subconsciously accept the projection, perhaps out of fear or love, but most often out of necessity, in order to feel we are conforming to societal expectations. Another book, written in the style of childish analogy, offered further elucidation of this extremely complex and sophisticated psychological dimension. This was Soul Retrieval, by Sandra Ingerman. As a student of literature and cultural studies, one learns to draw knowledge and information from all sources. One doesn’t necessarily interpret a book at the intellectual level of its typical reader: one looks for any commonalities it shares with other texts, and discards whatever isn’t useful.

Ingerman’s text outlines how one may form emotional attachments to others in a way that leads to losing aspects of one’s own identity in a fundamental sense. One can also leave parts of oneself behind in the past, if an emotional relationship with a location in the past is so great that it replaces the meaning of the present.

I immediately diagnosed myself with “soul loss” — having lost parts of myself to the past. My emotions had certainly not moved into the present, through no fault of my own. The rupture with the past had been so sudden that my sense of identity had become scattered. My problems were cognitive as well as emotional. I simply couldn’t understand the present, and my emotions, being scattered to the past, gave me no inroads into the present, as they were inaccessible to me.

The metaphor of looking for my lost soul made huge sense to me. I dedicated the time spent writing my PhD to this particular task. I saw myself as an intrepid hunter on its tracks.

My first breakthrough came with understanding that typical gender relations are most often a feature of projective identification. This finding was extremely relevant in terms of ongoing communication difficulties, where I’d often been intent on pointing out that some situations I was in were unworkable. I received gender-based responses, along the lines that my suggestions that any situation was untenable or had to be changed was simply unrealistic. I was left with the untenable situations. It was as if I hadn’t bothered to communicate my views.

I later understood that this non-responsiveness was a result of others viewing women as being primarily creatures of emotion and fantasy. Not only were we seen to be making up statements on the basis of nothing at all, we were deemed, in a sense, not to exist. This was a result of males projecting their fantasies and emotions onto women. We could no longer be taken seriously as a result of male projective identification.

The more I began to understand my experiences in this light, the more they began to make sense. I’d finally understood the way that gender was constructed in contemporary Western societies. I should have felt pretty self-satisfied at this stage, but there was still something awry. I sought confrontations in order to discover the lay of the land. For some reason, every disagreement I had with significant authorities ended with a sense of clarification of my identity. The illogical nature of reality was capable of being straightened out whenever an authority revealed his (or her) actual motivations. This was fascinating.

If I had lost a great deal of my “soul” to others through being brought up in a typical patriarchal society, I was now getting it back. Even the hostile responses to my inquiries about the nature of the world were extremely instructive. They allowed me to see more starkly the difference between other people’s perceptions of my motivations and my actual sensibilities. Thus I took back from hostile and antagonistic forces a little more of my “soul”.

In Western society, it is generally assumed that if one projects something onto others, this must necessarily be the ugly or unpleasant parts of one’s character, which one wishes to deny to oneself. In my case, I was unconsciously engaging in the opposite behavior. I was projecting all my goodness into those I deemed authoritative. My original society had been authoritarian, with some legitimately fearless and sincere authorities. I had no idea that I had internalized the cultural dynamic in such a way that I was losing my very center of gravity by projecting insight, knowledge and benevolence into certain others, whose help I could have used.

The fact that these others inevitably let me down through displaying a very high lack in all of these characteristics should have given me a clue. It was my typical experience to be let down by the authorities in whom I had invested my implicit trust.

It took me a long to realize what I was doing, mostly because the messages were so mixed. Projection is actually encouraged by this society, in order to reinforce hierarchical norms.  At the same time, people view any sort of projection or mixing of boundaries as pathological — although the fact is we all do it all the time. Our very societal structures of gender and many facets of social hierarchy are founded on the necessity of psychological projection. Without this, they start to crumble and are gone.

My advanced understanding of the inevitability of projection, as well as its political nature, gave me much of the basis for my theoretical platform of intellectual shamanism.

Paradox of the psyche: at sea

A shaman is one whose life has been ‘shipwrecked’.  The victim cast to sea, only to sink to the depths and find hidden treasure.  Who would believe in this treasure, or that the meaning of the shipwreck could have turned out to be something positive? It is this paradox that we are dealing with, for instance in terms of the productive power of Zimbabwean author, Dambudzo Marechera, who was a contemporary shaman, by necessity, and not by conscious choice.

There results a self that is somewhat of a tragedian, which laments the original sense of self and its feelings of security aboard a boat with definite direction and an already furnished life-purpose, but beside that self  is another “self” that has somehow triumphed, not despite of – but because of – the chaos. This is the doubling of the self that we constantly meet within Marechera’s work. The fact that the ‘tragedy’ of one’s life produced unexpected benefits is harder to speak of in direct, everyday language, since it goes against the grain of rational expectations. This knowledge pertains to the ‘shamanic” aspect of the self, which gives the subject access to a level of reality that is generally denied by those who are uncomfortable with being “wrecked” out of one’s wounds.

N.B.  Nietzsche  experienced traumatic awakenings when his father died suddenly, an event depicted by the image of the howling dog in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  He had earlier experienced such when his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, was poorly received, and when he succumbed to extreme illness and had to quit his professorial position. All these led to a sinking more deeply into the unconscious mind and resulted in aphilosophical deepening of his ideas.

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.


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.