Anti-colonial knee jerks

I was one who was born in Rhodesia, and was forced to emigrate whilst still a child (as this was my parents’ decision, not mine). Regrettably, I found my ‘welcome’ into the First World to be anything but. To this day, I keep up that the general level of moral reflection and self-discipline among much of the populace in my current milieu are frighteningly low. I wonder if it could cross the minds of some of the moral ideologues on the evils of colonialism that acting upon their unchecked assumptions about colonial whites could give the colonial white immigrants, to whom some denizens of the western left are pleased to give short thrift, imputing to them collective guilt. This only leads to the blindsided newcomer learning complete contempt for those who wish to punish us for nothing we had done wrong. To act to punish without even the preliminaries of an introduction to the person whom you are punishing is quite without morality or decency, in my view.

Ashis Nandy, the Indian post-colonial theorist and intellectual cautions us against making monsters out of the ex-colonials. To do so, he says, is to reinforce colonialism as a psychologically potent force. These disempowered colonials as victims of Modernity, dwarfed in relation to the gigantic mechanisms and devices of modern warfare.

Nandy’s position on colonialism lends itself to a psychological appraisal of the colonials, who and what they were, and how they are really in relation to contemporary manifestations of power. The children of the white colonials are particularly vulnerable, even compared to their uprooted parents. My generation is also the victim of colonial secrecy about what went on, and religious shame, which prevents free communication, and makes us victim to both right-wing and left-wing propaganda.

A simple-minded anti-colonialist position, by contrast to Nandy’s more enlightened perspective, only contributes to a highly unethical and destructive blaming of the generation of the white colonial’s children, who did not play any part in the politics of the era.  Identity politics theorists who have a reflexive need to condemn the colonialism of the past, whilst not looking at the issues of the present, are reinforcing the violent psychological legacy of the colonial era, and is creating more of the anguish which the astute Zimbabwean writer, Dambudzo Marechera, railed against:

“We are refugees fleeing from the excesses of our parents,” he said.

Marechera, hardly a partisan for the order that preceded colonialism, went on to say, “Tradition, on closer examination, always reveals secrets we prefer to flush down the toilet.”


My memoir and the theory behind it

An interview with Allan Shore


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

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


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 

After the Chimurenga

 | Clarissa’s Blog

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

This eventually caused me layer upon layer of traumatisation.

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

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

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

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

Dead Man (1995) and BLACK SUNLIGHT (1980)

IMDb :: Boards :: Dead Man (1995) :: Symbolism and Metaphors…Help?

The more I go into this movie, Dead Man, the more I understand that its shamanism parallels that of Marechera’s short, episodic book, Black Sunlight.

Some precise parallels:

1. The extremely choppy, episodic nature of the filmic (Jarmusch) and written (Marechera) texts. This speaks to the way the mind sleeps, then wakes up and continues on its narrative. It’s the shamanistic movement between the rational daytime awareness and irrational  sleep, a dialectic necessary to keep life going. This is faithful to the way we actually experience our lives: by going to sleep and the next day necessarily recreating the original narrative of the path on which we’re bound. This pertains to the functions of our deep subjectivity and to natural bodily rhythms.

2. The encounters with extreme violence and death as a poignant and mesmerizing aspect of life. Society is changing order and there is violence all around. In Marechera’s narrative anti-colonial riots, anarchy and war relentlessly assault the psyche as expressions of violence and resistance.

3. To be blind or without normal vision is represented as a different way of seeing more clearly. Lacking vision, one is dependent on the visceral senses. Instinct then predominates, after it has learned how to exert its intrinsic force. In Black Sunlight, Marie’s blindness represents a shamanic way of seeing. Death presses in more viscerally, in that it reaches on through the faculty of smell, rather than knowledge or visual perception. In Dead Man, the Indian guide Nobody suggests that his charge would see better without spectacles. This turns out to be true, in that he can use his pistol more effectively without clear vision.

4. The episodes show nothing more than several consecutive plunges into a state of greater proximity to death, matched with a greater awareness of the immediacy, strangeness and fragility of life. This polarization of the distinctive elements of life, highlighted the contrasts between life and death, is a key feature of shamanistic doubling.

5. One moves from a world of logic and violence to a world of flowing organic unity. In the Jarmusch movie, one moves from a failed attempt to integrate with socially-defined reality in a town called Machine. Since one cannot become part of The Machine, one is compelled to die. In Marechera’s novel, Chris joins with other social drop-outs at Devil’s End. Jarmusch’s protagonist, William Blake, meets his Indian protector, Nobody, only after receiving a bullet close to his heart. Thus, a shamanic wound sets the protagonist apart from the rest of society in each case. He starts to see reality differently, above all historical reality, through his wound.

6. In Jarmusch’s film, Nobody gives Blake the initiatory drug, Peyote. After this, Blake sees the effects of the colonial war against the Indians all around him, but the violence cannot touch him as he is impermeable. In Black Sunlight, apocalyptic shamanic visions at the climax of the novel. They are later explained, as if denied, by the protagonist, who had become the double of himself, Christian, having taken “Chris’ psychiatric drugs”.

7. Marechera’s protagonist is represented early in the book as a court jester, hanging upside down in a chicken-coup due to having offended the Great Chief. This is political satire, but is also a way of depicting the state of the uninitiated soul with his own superego. The author views himself as being condemned to be tortured and the source of this condemnation is political. The refrain of “stupid white man” expresses the political irony of Dead Man.

8. In Marechera’s novel, the protagonist-author, reunited with himself finally, as one, ends up showing the whiteness of his bones by effectively releasing all the words out of his body through his wrists. Rain pours down as overabundant meaning. Everything is liquefied  This is indicative of shamanic ritual in facing death and finding unity with oneself through resignation. In Dead Man, Indians dress up Blake’s dying body after he has been shot a second time, so that he can complete his journey on the other side of the mirror image of reality he has entered. This signifies that he can become one with himself again, on the surface of liquid (unconscious) (mental) processes.

9. Both texts suggest solutions to political and social problems (colonial domination and machine-like attitudes) by going more deeply into death. This is a means for detachment and shamanistic dissociation, by virtue of which, one sees historical reality more clearly.

10. In both texts, transgression of the normal social law is a result of accident, not deliberate. Blake’s killing of a member of the Town of Machine (a mechanistic world) is an act of self-defense. In addition, his being framed for the murder of another member of the town gave him an outlaw identity that was incongruous with his inner attitude or intent. Marechera similarly shows how his protagonist becomes a revolutionary despite himself, because he has been driven mad by social norms. Shamanism is thus shown to be a state of primeval (but not historical) innocence, in the face of attributed social and political guilt.

Utterly fundamental to understanding shamanism

1.  Shamanistic usages of language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t try to mold others

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

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

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

Draft Chapter 14: my father’s memoir

I was determined always to stay in Africa.   I just thought I’d gradually come to fit in Africa.  By the time I was a young adult,  all the things I loved were in Africa.  The untamed wildness appealed to me, because I grew up when Africa was darkest Africa.   Darkest Africa was because nobody knew what was going on there.  All the missionaries went out there to answer the questions.  Livingstone went out there and he and his ilk wrote books about it.

My grandfather set out to write a book.  I have no idea where it is now.   It was written in ink on flimsy sheets of paper.   It was about early days in Rhodesia.  His name was de Smidt.

I was born in Africa and so I felt like I fit,  but I didn’t fit all the time.  There were lots of occasions in school days that I didn’t fit, which I have already spoken about.

What I loved was the whole mystique of the place.   On one occasion I was sitting on a rock and a cat or something got on the rock next to me.  I think it must have been a servile.  I just remember sitting on a rock and being aware something was next to me.  I turned around and there was a big cat with spots all over it.  I looked at my mother in the hope that she would look at me and see I had this thing next to me,  but she didn’t.  Afterwards when I spoke to her she was very offhand.   She must have thought it was just any cat as she didn’t seem to hear me.

Mother was always away on a planet of her own.  She did her job and looked after us but she wasn’t very perceptive.  But then it was quite good because I would do the same.  I would take off on my bicycle and just go and see someone.  One day I didn’t come back until after dark and my mother was very upset with me.  When she was I’ve that she would just keep talking about how I must be careful.  We hardly ever got spanked but she would let fly with her right hand and smack you on the head.

On one occasion we had visitors and I walked up to ask her a question.  She said say good afternoon.  I just stood there.  She said say good afternoon or I’ll hit you around the head.  She had a pair of secateurs in her hand.  One day the same thing happened and she had a carving knife in her hand.  She said say something or I’ll clobber you.  I thought I wasn’t going to put up with that so I ran away and was away for at least half a day.  When I apologised me father said to my mother,  well there’s your reputation reinstated.  If I had run into a neighbour and said my mother was going to hit me with a knife,  that wouldn’t have gone over well.  But it’s not a good feeling to think your mother might have hit you with a knife. If the knife had been a stick,  she would have hit me with it.

She was babysitting for her sister one time.  Evonne had two kids, graham and Raymond.  Graham was an undisciplined little bugger, so she whacked his bum.  According to that,  it fixed everything.  She’d cured the little bugger.  That was the story she used to tell.  I thought that’s typical mum.   If you upset your sister and you keep seeing her,  you have to deal with that all the time.   Granny was an embarrassment to grandpa because she was so loud.   She would call out to grandpa in public,  Jack,  Jack.  She didn’t worry about what others thought about anything. In their own way, they were all wonderful people.

Blinded trust

Our early cultural experiences count for something right until we die. Sometimes we get our sense of normality from them and sometimes we rebel. I think I’m very different from my sister, who tends to lean toward community and feel defined by it. My character has always been structured in an asocial way — in a sense of wanting to sniff the air and catch its vibe, like a dog with its head out the window of a car going as fast as possible.

My migratory shift from an exciting situation of war and freedom to one where citizens were genuinely law-abiding was the worst experience of my life. To me, the move from Zimbabwe to Australia was from an adult state to an infantilized one, where nobody actually trusted themselves to make their own decisions, but instead looked to the law to tell them what to do. I’m sure much of the problem was private property. You couldn’t camp just anywhere you wanted to. You couldn’t build a fire and be trusted to put it out again afterwards. You weren’t allowed to do a great deal. Also, the TV news was extremely dumbed-down compared to the very serious news we had been used to experiencing, which concerned war and death and stoicism in the face of enemy hostility. Instead, we learned that somebody’s dog had gone missing, but had been returned.

The spirit of lawlessness still prevails in Zimbabwe, thankfully. One takes the responsibility for dealing with one’s own safety and is entirely responsible if the outcome isn’t what you’d hoped for. One would never blame others if a project one had set out to complete hadn’t worked out. In Australia, they do, though. It’s second nature. “If I obey the laws that are in place to protect me, society has to make sure everything goes according to my plans, otherwise heads will roll! (I will find someone to blame).”

I find this more civilized Australian attitude to be incomprehensible. It seems to imply the desire for a social contract based on blind trust.


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.

Feelings, emotions and traumatic residue

These days I have a certain problem with coffee. In effect, it makes me insane — although there may be a benefit in going deeply into this madness it produces. Unlike so-called “depressants” like alcohol, which take you lower into the self and the emotions, a stimulant like caffeine acts to block my emotional awareness. This is not at all a source of jubilation, as when I cannot access what I am feeling I suspect that certain aspects of my environment are out of my control.

The horse beneath my seat may be walking, trotting, cantering — but I have no sensation of the reins, hence no control over my decision-making processes. I wouldn’t know if I were pulling too hard or not at all. I’m not quite sure what I’m feeling about anything. In times like this, I exercise perfect control and say nothing at all. I won’t be able to tell until the caffeine wears off and the flood gates allow my sensations to pass through again.

Caffeine triggers a traumatic center in my brain. Since I am unable to draw sufficiently from my emotional memory, I jump to the most negative conclusions about the-nature-of-reality-itself. It all seems very sordid, rather scary, deadly and refusing to reveal its layers.

An occasional drink of wine, on the other hand, is not just beneficial but practically essential for my health, for otherwise, with caffeine or no caffeine, I tend to lose touch with what I need to recognize in order to maintain my mental well-being. I can reintegrate my emotions by going deeply into them in a positive way, whilst building plans and formulating my ideas. This is what a glass of wine achieves for me. Not engaging in this bi-weekly ritual, however, returns me to my early-adult self. My 16-20 year-old self had repressed everything to do with emotion and feeling. This was the effect of post-migratory trauma; also of the tactics I’d developed from a very early age to deal with emotionally confusing and disturbing experiences. I switch off.

It has taken me years to realize the damage I was doing to my health in not maintaining emotional awareness. I had no idea I was so impersonal and detached from everything, until a crisis made me realize I had been repressing a huge amount of sadness and anger. I made a tremendous effort, from then on, to switch on to my actual emotional states. My physical health immediately improved with my self-understanding.

My ongoing tendency is nonetheless to switch off and thus to become a mystery to myself again. I hold my breath and hope nobody asks me what my motives and intentions were, because likely as anything I will not be able to know — until I have consulted with myself. And, who knows how long or short such a consultation with one’s inner being might be? It could take forever. Or a very limited time. Still, one has to begin the query first and then, wait and see.

Because of an inclination to hold my breath, I sometimes need to learn what I’ve experienced retrospectively. I haven’t really been taking it all in. I’ve been waiting for someone to be an ass — and then I’ll deal with it. I handle crises of most sorts and people behaving like asses very effectively — because it’s this I have been waiting for. I can think extremely logically and unhindered by any emotion or doubt, once I’ve decided to take action. My views and values become sharpened, clearer, in a crisis — and this is really paradoxical because it’s just the regular stream of life where I often can’t get enough emotion to flow through to think clearly. In a situation resonant of my trauma, it is difficult for me to “be myself”.

I retain an odd, Rhodesian personality — which I have modified to some degree.

I take time to decompress, to feel what I have been experiencing. I have developed a much higher capacity for emotional integration than I had in those early days of post-migratory trauma. Despite this, I’m never going to be an “emotional person” or even a very personal person, because focusing on feelings in their own right, rather than as building blocks of culture, puts a huge strain on me. I genuinely can’t understand the importance of having emotions that don’t supply substance for analysis.

It’s the resulting analysis that counts, which is the source of every deeper pleasure.


Communism flirting on our borders

I was supposed to be an extremely conservative young lady, very oriented toward the family and warm and deferential — conservative.  Oh, and dutiful.   I have the opposite personality, which would have meant trouble enough, except that my parents (especially my father) also attached profound importance to bringing me up all Bible reading and unreasoning.   I’m convinced this was because of the war and what it cost him.  This was how the war has started:

“We have struck a blow for the preservation of justice, civilization, and Christianity; and in the spirit of this belief we have this day assumed our sovereign independence. God bless you all.”

So, Christian belief and a certain idea of “civilization” became a huge factor in my parents’ consciousness, whether they were aware of that.

When we migrated I was fifteen.  That was when the battle started to keep me on the straight and narrow.  I had entered a society that was much more liberal in many ways, and I’m sure this represented the “communism” my father had fought against, in the war, to keep outside of our borders.

As a funny aside that confirms my thesis, about five years ago, I came across a badly written  blurb on a free publishing site a while back.   The writing was by an ex-Rhodesian, who spoke of “Communism hovering on our borders”.  Actually, the phrasing was worse than this, something more clumsy and funnier.   So amusing was it that I used the sentence in my Facebook update and immediately some guy living in Johannesburg (in exile from Zimbabwe’s poor economy) popped up in chat and said, “It’s me!  I’m the communism lingering on the border!”   This was how I got introduced to the members of the Zimbabwean Revolutionary Youth movement, who turned out to be two in number.

It seemed to some people, including myself, that I may have become the betrayer of the war and everything “Rhodesia” stood for, the more I adapted to liberal ways.  My parents waged a really strong psychological battle against me.   It was quite extreme, involving physical “discipline” at times, but mostly chasing me around and attempting to undermine my self-esteem by telling me I was “grotty”.

Such is life.

Draft chapter 13: my father’s memoir

My experience with the military began as a baby, sitting in the sandpit and watching aeroplanes going overhead. These planes used to make a lot of noise as they were on training flights. It was near the end of world war two. My aunt used to take me for walks though town and lecture me on pronunciation. I can hear her saying not motee-car, Peter. Motow-car. I frequently used to see platoons marching though town. Also nuns, who seemed to be marching as well. Then suddenly I didn’t see them anymore. It was very common to see people in uniform walking about.
Uniforms belong to a previous life. Right from a baby, I was brought up with uniforms. My step father was in the police reserve and used to go out on night patrols. He wouldn’t get in until ten or twelve at night. I went into the police reserves myself quite a bit later.
Once in a while, the army would put on a reunion for the people who had been in the war, and my mother would take me along to it. Seeing all the people in dress uniform made me feel a bit spacey because I knew it connected to my father, but I couldn’t see the nature of the connection.
Then I got to high school and, at that time, the British empire was held together by the thin red line. The problem was that I was growing up in a colony where whites were outnumbered more than ten to one. So the realization always was that we could be outrun any time, so we had to have as many people capable of firing a gun, as possible. So at the age of fifteen I was required by the state to enroll in cadets.
This involved putting on uncomfortable clothes and spending hours marching up and down. Part of the uniform was army boots with steel studs, with hose tops and putties. Our kit was inspected every Friday, which meant we had to spend hours of preparation. Our broad-brimmed bush hats had to be flat up on one side. To make the hat stay in that shape we had to mix up some water and sugar, then iron it through a handkerchief and dry it flat. In one occasion in the rain, I tasted the sweet stuff running into the corner of my mouth. Then I realised it was from the hat.
We had to spend quite a lot of time in doing dummy combat. We used fixed bayonets. It’s amazing more people didn’t get hurt. We also had a band. I can hear the bagpipes playing to this day. The band went to England and won prizes. They must have spent a lot of money on that band.
We’d also do regular camps. It was nothing special except in winter Inkomo barracks was a horrible, cold place. They would take you to the firing range and train you to fire a rifle. Each of us had to fire 35 rounds. For a young boy, that was quite an undertaking, as that rifle had a kick like a mule. It was a 303 Endfield.
Some people came back from the range with bruises all over their shoulders. At the rifle range I learned I was never going to be able to fire a rifle. My eight inch group wasn’t up to par. What I most remember about those days on the range was nothing to drink. You took a water bottle with you but that didn’t last long. You’d have to spend at least a whole morning there. You also had to do butt duty. The place where you fired to is called the butt. It was like being in a trench. The noise was horrific. By the time the bullets get over your head, they’re breaking the sound barrier. If you’re in the butts when someone is firing the machine gun, that’s very loud. One time, we had a very bad-tempered staff sergeant and we said we’ll get him. We shot directly at the top of the bank rather than into the bank, so all the gravel went up toward him. We got him. It made him more bad-tempered than ever.

Object relations and shamanism: two theories of a kind

If Marechera’as self-exile from the world of conventional mores had a reason, then that reason was to repair an internal sense of loss. According to Alan Collier Ostby, H. Ellenberger (The Discovery of the Unconscious, 1970) says traditional healers saw psychological problems in terms of “soul loss” (Otsby p 166). Contemporary object relations thinking of the psychoanalytic school speaks, instead, in terms of “object loss”, however the qualities of sickness they are describing are, in phenomenological terms,  similar, one presumes, apart from the obvious cause of cultural differences, which contextualise this inner sense of loss in different ways. To place oneself into a mode of temporary exile facilitates an opportunity to recover the lost “object” that is experienced as a lost part of one’s self. The partially regressive return to the “womb” — that is to a state of mind where reality is dealt with on simpler terms than those on which a healthy adult would normally be inclined to deal with it — can facilitate healing. Restoration of the lost object would restore one’s hope in humanity, enabling re-integration into the social realm of everyday human relations.

Such psychological regression turns toward the psychologically receptive mode of the pre-oedipal field, wherein reality appears to be defined less by society and more by one’s internal object relations. This state of being involves the apertures of the mind narrowing to limit the data taken in from the outside world, to emphasise the particular nature of the internal dynamics of love, hate and knowledge (ref. Bion) that give one one’s idiosyncratic design, thus make one who one is. Marechera’s refusal to adopt the mantle of social conformity, to fit into his society, was based on his need to continue his “soul journey” to find the lost parts of his being that would enable him to feel whole.

What were these parts in particular, that he felt he had lost? Indications from reading his book of Hararean exile, Mindblast, give the strong impression, through many different textual “clues”, that what he sought was to continue his life in a peaceful Zimbabwean society, from childhood on up, that would have nurtured him as part of it. The breakout of civil war (the Second Chimurenga), which began in earnest around 1966, around the time that Marechera’s father was suddenly killed in a road accident, destroyed the sense of normal everyday life for the teenage Marechera. This loss of internal security, a loss emphasized still more in his mind through the increasing intensity of war in the society at large, robbed him of the sense of security he required to feel “at one” with himself. Henceforth, he could no longer believe in “society” and had lost it as an object of love.

Having lost his belief in this object – society – he also lost his feeling of security that would have enabled him to be at peace with himself. In a shamanistic sense, Marechera was suffering from “soul loss”. His stint as a tramp on the streets of Harare was designed to simplify life in such a way that he would be able to focus his mind on finding something valuable and emotionally precious that would stand in as a replacement for that original loss, and would have enabled him to integrate himself more effectively into society.

In Mindblast, Harare is a “womb” for Marechera not just in the sense that it is the place with which he identifies as the core and origin of his Zimbabwean identity.  Like Orpheus, he is in search of his lost other half, and he hopes to find in the world of the dead. In Harare is both a place of psychical regression and a “hell” — where the author struggles with a sense of the ethereal nature of his art against a countervailing reality of middle-class lifestyles, devoid of meaning or depth.

The destructive effect of the gendered division of mental labor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

European and African shamanistic philosophers/writers

I’ve virtually read every book in the house. That would be about 800 books.  Mike had his collection, which he shipped over from the US in sea bags.  I also accumulated mine, particularly as I wrote my PhD.

Mike’s books consist of heavy historical tomes describing and analyzing the nature of communism in the 20th Century and its shortfalls.    My books tend to be by Nietzsche, Bataille, Marechera and assorted other African writers who give a historical context to my thesis.   Mike’s literary interests include the Beat Poets and texts by classical Greek and Roman authors.   My interests are more contemporary, although I don’t read literature these days.   I stopped reading literature after Black Sunlight blew my mind.   Now I rarely read theory, either.

Theory has always held a fascination for me, but now I think I’ve reached it’s outer limits.  In truth, I felt that I was suffering from all the G-force I could take from theory as I approached the completion of my thesis.  I was applying my version of theory to go beyond my limits, opposing my own superego with all the force my mind could muster.  My emotions began to shatter as I made headway into the stratosphere.   My emotions and my will power became counter to each other.   I could barely keep it together as the external shell of the shuttle of my being began to quake.

Part of the reason was de Sade.  I say this now with some degree of certainty, having pulled his tome of collected works off the shelf.   I’d had to do battle with his elements in Nietzsche and Bataille, by trying to formulate a different attitude and solution, as per my “intellectual shamanism” than the woman-hating that the Nietzschean chain supplies.  Immersing oneself in the intellectual logic of woman-hating writers in order to understand them, and then attempting the difficult task of self-extrication from their zeitgeist, with a surge of woman-hating trolls forever on one’s back was not easy.   I determined, finally, that Marechera did have more insight into the psychological repercussions of woman-hating than either of these earlier authors.  In “The Alley”, a short play, he portrayed how wartime contempt for women made the self-image of the soldier as a valiant protector of women and children into a farce.

Marechera has a kind of combativeness that uses psychological insights in order to overthrow attitudes he finds contemptible.   Hierarchical domination is precisely disliked.  One must be honest about one’s psychological states and not pretend that they are other than they seem to be, otherwise one does not face the fact that war inflicts trauma that requires healing.   Of course, the use of psychologically informed political tactics is not new, for they also form a large part of Bataille’s writing.  His predominant trope of facing death, for instance, is a double-edged sword, intended to push individuals to more extreme limits, beyond the circumscribing limits of bourgeois morality.   In Nietzsche’s writing, he offered that the noble elements of European culture were those most accepting of the need to sacrifice themselves; that is, those for whom “the preaching of death was most at home”.   The other edge of the sword is that the subjugated classes would become ungovernable if they effectively (in my terms) “shamanized” and had strange visions.   They could overcome their fear of death and therefore fear no punishment for their behavour.

If Nietzsche was defender of the aristocracy, Bataille wanted revolution for the working class.  Marechera was in some ways more extreme than either of these writers, more aligned with the lumpen proletariat, at least in terms of choice of lifestyle (vagrancy, petty crime).   For all that, Marechera was more deeply shamanistic in his insights — that is, more aware of the degree to which psychology can be used to manipulate political perceptions.    He was also a master of disguises in his own way.   He thought that one could simply become what one imagined being, for instance a Fleet Street photographer (you just need to wear a number of cameras around your neck and pass yourself off as one).

Marechera was also the least sadistic of the chain of writers.    He had no stake in maintaining any form of social hierarchy whatsoever, so there was no need to try to distort perceptions in any way.  He just had to show up the aspects of the psychologies of groups that they were trying to hide.   For instance, the cost of going to war is that one must live with the knowledge of what war does to women.

Although the European writers mentioned are sadistic, Marechera’s writing isn’t, at least it’s far from being so at bottom.   Despite this, his style finds its place in a historical continuum with Bataille’s perspectives.  That is, he uses politically motivated psychological writing in a surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness form.   His writing has the effect of making one feel like one has entered a privileged realm where one is aware of the glorious fragility of life and its sacred nature.

Even if you are atheistic, you can be in awe of what it means to live and breathe and have existence — life may be being squeezed out of you, but you are still here, to watch it and record it.   At this most reductive level, which is where Marechera takes you, there is the quintessence of life.

Such is the author’s shamanistic propensity, that we can eschew sadism from our psychological vocabularies, and still be sure to have adventures and dare ourselves.  Read, for instance, Black Sunlight.

Living the moment of dissolution

I’m reading Nietzsche’s ANTICHRIST again.  I find it perfectly logical.  What can make a difference is the perspective of the reader.   It takes a while to develop the capacity to read it without the lens of contemporary ideologies.   I remember being very much enmeshed in some of the contemporary era ideologies that were invented to smash the left.  You were either on the side of “civilization” or against it.   This kind of reading distorts Nietzsche’s writing so that instead of making logical points, he seems to be taking sides in a political struggle.  To read Nietzsche as making psychological observations, not political ones, gives coherence and intelligibility to his whole approach.

When I consider his opposition to the anarchists, I can reflect from the standpoint of today that I have met many left wingers who seem emotionally weak.  I’ve also met their equivalents on the right.   Nietzsche thought that the disruptive people, who looked to undermine society, were intent to undermine a structure which they could not enjoy anyway, due to their dependent natures.    It wasn’t the society that had something wrong with it, but these agitators themselves did.   Psychologically speaking, I have found this is often true.  It doesn’t work to condemn all agitators as weak personalities, though, because to generalize in that way is only possible by invoking metaphysical — that is theological — principles.   That’s exactly what Nietzsche’s writing wants to avoid.  Rather it seems one should exercise intellectual caution and view everyone on their own merits.

From my point of view, I find Nietzsche’s commentary on those who want to overthrow the established order to have incredibly complex ramifications.   Consider that I had barely become an adult, when my own established order was completely overthrown.   Almost nothing remained, except for a small core of agitators for the extreme right and another skeleton group taking refuge in denial within the protective bubbles of their Christian ideologies.   For me, life itself, in almost every sense that I had known it, had been completely overturned:

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).[“will to chance,” Bataille]

I immediately saw through the ideological, defensive response, and I only considered the alternative — the hive of right-wing agitators — when the aggressive people of the left had begun attacking me too much.  Primitive emotional responses are common when a defeated enemy (me) is in your grasp.  They’re also common when the prior rulers realize they have been defeated and seek to take revenge for their humiliation.  I’ve experienced this aggression from both sides of politics.   Both have seen me, somehow, as their enemy — someone whom they need to pick on to score points, or prove themselves worthy of their particular political ideologies.

Undoing identity, undoing fascism

The primitive components of our brains are preoccupied with setting invisible boundaries that are defined by social inclusion or exclusion is .   Nationalism, sexism, racism and all other forms of social identity rely on this primeval mechanism of division and exclusion.

We can’t directly fight these aspects of our thinking, since they are part of our way of structuring the social realm. This part includes certain members socially by exclusion and scapegoating.  “Projective identification” creates negative identities  by scapegoating, whereby those who are perceived to be outsiders of the group are made out to represent the kinds of qualities the group doesn’t want to own as part of its identity.

Fear and pride predominate at this level of consciousness.

  Identity politics, which attempts to make us address our “privilege” has  failed on every level.   It has only led to infighting within the left, which has created a gigantic gap for those who are better organized on the right to perpetuate their agendas.  This they have done ever since the eighties, so that American society is effectively dominated by an extreme right-wing agenda.

Leftist identity politics is just like its right-wing counterpart.  It is wrong-headed because we cannot attack a part of our own humanity without failing.  It is better to understand the workings of the   primitive brain and use our knowledge to become more fully human, and not fight it as snooty moralistic ascetics.

Few people are aware that our brains create basic boundary divisions at an unconscious level.  More specifically, most people take the divisions they meet in the world as natural and logical.   Ethical groups all have essential qualities.   Zionists are crazed and wrong and Palestinians are noble.   That’s just how they seem to our naked eye.  Or, vice versa:   school teachers are leaching off our system and business men are here to help.  That, too, is visible to the naked eye, if one is brought up with the “right” forms of conditioning — that is if one has a pure, religious heart and fears the economic bust.

Just as being aware that the sun rises in the morning is not the same as commanding it to rise, being aware how the mind creates divisions does not mean that one applauds them.

For instance, much has been suggested, in the past, that Georges Bataille, who engaged with the psychology of fascism and understood the psychological states involved in it, must necessarily be a “left fascist” himself.   After all, why study something, unless one in fact is the object one is studying?   If one is not lifting up the sun with one’s eyelids, why claim that the sun actually exists?

I have Michael Richardson to thank for pointing me to Georges Bataille’s shamanism, at least in the sense that Richardson conceives that Bataille’s emphasis on “facing death” was shamanistic and that it was Bataille’s intent to cure himself via this method.

Another trope of shamanism is boundary crossing:

[S]hamans are men in some cultures, either men or women in others, and biologically male transvestites in still others. Some Inuit cultures are especially well-known for their association of shamanism with cross-dressing. If we wish to think about this in terms of symbolic classification, it seems quite logical that crossing one symbolic boundary, that between the sexes, should be made to “stand for” another symbolic boundary-crossing, the bridging of the gap between humans and the supernatural. [David Hicks, quoted by University of Waterloo]

Whereas I’ve heard it mentioned, in a class at university, that Georges Bataille engaged in cross-dressing, to learn about the other side of consciousness he was repressing, I have been unable to trace any written references to this effect.   That is to my regret, for it makes entirely logical sense that Bataille would have engaged in this kind of experience, given his other shamanistic proclivities (documented by me elsewhere).

Dambudzo Marechera, whose writing I’ve also pointed out as being shamanistic, was a  quintessential boundary crosser:

Hell is crossing the railway line

In dark mood on a dark night

This railway line would have been between differently segregated parts of town, in racially segregated Rhodesia.

Crossing boundaries gives us access to experiences we have earlier avoided, but without being aware of our avoidance thanks to the operation of the primitive parts of our human brains.

Shamanistic crossings thus undo the boundary-making that our lizard brains have formulated.   Transgression breaks through the code of primitive thinking, and expands our minds.

There’s nothing necessarily primitive about breaking down primitive unconscious processes, even though the means themselves may seem strange and dangerous to us.   “Watch out!” Primitive lizard brain warns us.  “Boundaries of identity are there to preserve you.  Breaking them down will be dangerous to your health!”

Still, the shaman must be master of the lower mind: This isn’t fascism,  this is the denial of fascism; its undoing.

The trope of re-training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shamanistic learning: my stages of progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Savagery, perversion, shamanism

From Lacan (but actually from Wikipedia):

—The pervert [is one who] disavows castration; he perceives that the mother lacks the phallus, and at the same time refuses toaccept the reality of this traumatic perception.

 Therefore, a “pervert” in Lacanian terms is clearly someone who may well be culturally Japanese, for he or she holds that  “nature” still has meaning, relevance and, indeed potency. Such “a pervert” (in my terms, a shaman) engages with that meaning and potency in nature in a shamanistic fashion, which is deemed “perverse” by the Judeo-Christian ideological establishment defined by Freud (Judaism) and Lacan (Catholicism). 

Judeo-Christianity, a distinctly Western way of structuring thought, opposes and pathologizes naturalistic sensibilities, whilst maintaining that “castration” ought to be accepted as defining sanity.


 Marechera sayeth:

To be able to read and write is […] only the first downward step towards the first circle where black fires rage inconsumably. Candide’s experience of the world is the nearest we can get to the series of cerebral shocks which await the savage who is earnestly in search of culture. ‘There is nothing here but illusion, and one calamity after another.’ The experience is not unlike that of one organism living on and at the expense of another. (p 33, The Black Insider).

What, though, is the “organism” that lives on at the expense of another, if not “civilisation” that lives on at the expense of our innocence and our naive “savagery”?

According to what I have just read this morning about Lacan:

Castration’ […] is the moment at which we become human beings, for the Law makes us ‘parle-etre’ or speaking beings. Language from then on structures our desires: language comprises the Symbolic Order. We figuratively must ‘be told’ what we feel and think through the big Other, the arbitrarily and socially-constructed matrix of words, which is the active functioning of the Symbolic Order.

Reading and writing are strong motifs of Civilisation and of being civilised. In European civilisation (such as the France of Lacan), “language” itself stands for the term ‘civilisation’ — probably because to speak is to give one’s obeisance to the social necessities of one’s existence as commanded by some complex dominating structure of power or ideological hegemony. In African societies, however, it is possible that “language” has some equivalence to nature, rather than being totally determined by the history of civilisation itself. For Marechera, then, it is not ‘language’ but reading and writing which contradict one’s natural state of being and put one in the outer circle of Dante’s Inferno.


 I read that Lacan considers that males are those whose desires are determined by seeking power through acquiring. Women are those whose desires are determined by seeking power through a mode of being.

Modes of being and acquiring are both features of lack — since coming to be civilised (and hence human) and coming to be castrated are the same thing, both caused by a sense of lack (which can be read as a deficiency in our emotional — and no doubt economic — independence as isolated, non-social organisms). Becoming civilised, then, does actually imply a calamity — castration! (that is — to be “civilised” one must accept one’s absolute dependency on others, paying the price that is required: that is, sucking up to dominant orders who promise to run things ‘in our best interests’). 

Lacan holds that society turns us into “men” or “women” depending on the exact manner of the boomeranging of our desires (which can go in only two possible directions when we are still children). What about the resolute savage, though? Is there not a third direction for our desires ?

If one is already born into a late form of civilisation, one could say desire boomerangs off the mother, due to her limitations to fulfil one’s every wish. Perhaps even if one is originatively savage (which is to say that one already lives beyond the limiting structures of the bourgeois nuclear family, which would restrict a child’s immediate options for being powerful to what would be approved by mummy and daddy), desire necessarily boomerangs off the mother to other sources of interest. Yet, the savage’s desire boomerangs on to the immediately fascinating aspects of the natural environment, which are imbued with animistic powers. 

The savage, henceforth, finds limitless fascination in the natural environment and with regard to the “adventures” it offers. It is as if the savage child exchanges one teat — a female human teat — for another. He or she finally embraces their true destiny — which is to emotionally feast on the abundant pleasures offered by the natural landscape. 

He will continue to face life with joyful abandon — unless inducted into reading and writing. These represent calamity as they stem from a European hegemony of culture, which (given that this represents “civilisation” itself) requires one to be castrated. 

Since the above is the normative dynamic of civilisation in relation to nature (the force of one necessarily castrates the pleasure of the other — only more so than perhaps thought, because the former is also a hegemony) — one wonders why, under any circumstances, “the savage” should be “earnestly in search of culture.” As I have said, the natural situation of the savage is definitively NOT one of lack — which should therefore preclude such seeking. 

Why is this savage “earnestly seeking” culture? — Perhaps because nature has already been taken away from him, in his particular instance. In any case, the more he seeks, the more he lets go of the possibility of returning to nature, and to its consolations. Thus he faces one calamity after the other, being aware of what he has left behind, but being unable to return to it — whilst falling more and more into the centre of hell in his miserable search for “culture”.


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.