Reviewed chapter outlines


5 May 2008

1. Introductory chapter:

A. Who was Dambudzo Marechera: his historical context, his early life and upbringing, his giftedness.

B. His identity as “a shaman” – a metonymic term in some respects, given Marechera’s Modernity. Yet there were traditional aspects to this classification, too – spiritualist resonances that Marechera’s aesthetics plays upon.

(I have already collated notes for this chapter.)

2. Chapter on The House of Hunger.

This chapter looks at the “shamanising” process that the writer underwent. Shamanic initiation breaks down the conventional structure of character, and enables one to undertake “soul journeys” in the realm of “nonordinary” reality. The outcome of this process involves opening the doors of the imaginary and being able to nurture the soul through a heightening experience of fantasy.

Draft completed 25 April 2008

3. Chapter on The Black Insider

The chapter looks at the author’s exiled life in Britain, as a vagrant, after he was no longer allowed to be there on a student visa, having been expelled from Oxford for disorderly behaviour. He revised a version of this novel in 1979, during the time of the interim colonial/majority rule government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia (1979-1980). The author’s state of limbo patterns that of the national government of his homeland. He reflects upon his status as an intellectual (a definitively outsider status in either Rhodesian or Zimbabwean terms). He reflects upon the possible need for a warlike response. He engages on a soul journey to retrieve missing parts of his self, whilst acknowledging that interpellation by a different society creates numerous selves that one might not realise are being created. Finally, he prophesises a showdown between two parts of himself (the warrior and the intellectual), as he feels that war may be inevitable given his emotional state of seige (he was put in jail as an illegal immigrant). The same emotional dynamic is possibly reflected on the stage of state politics, with the “abandoned Arts Faculty (representing the intellect) under seige by the militia. Oddly, this reflects an actual scenario that was almost played out in 1980. The Rhodesian forces planned to attack sections of the University of Rhodesia (including the visual arts building) in order to remove Mugabe’s forces from power if he won the election in 1980. (This same scenario has present day resonances with regard to Mugabe’s intention to sabotage state elections – and perhaps indicates the degree to which his mindset was formed by the right wing colonials’ notions of how to win an election. The legacy of this mindset would have been something that a very sensitive psyche would have been able to base predictions upon. An almost exact replication of “Operation Hurricane” as it was planned but did not take place, is featured at the end of The Black Insider.”)

Draft completed 29 February 2008.

4. Chapter on Black Sunlight.

This chapter looks at a soul journey into the realm of “immanence” a la Bataille. The destruction of the conventional, everyday self through wilfully embracing a condition of immanence leads to an anarchistic adventure (or nightmare!) The result is a kind of transcendence of self, through an embrace of the spiritualisation of suffering.

Draft completed Dec 2007, with additional amendments May 2008.

5. Chapter on Marechera’s poetry.

A. Throne of Bayonets

B A Portrait of a Black Artist in London (Choreodrama).

This chapter looks into the possibility of shamanist vision. In the case of “Throne of Bayonets”, the writer adopts a prophetic role, admonishing the nation of Zimbabwe in much the manner of an old testament prophet.

In “A Portrait of a Black Artist in London”, the writer is violently hostile against British society, which he sees as being racist. He speaks from a number of different subject positions: his interpellated self (the self that sees himself as racists seem him), the resentful self (the self with a chip on his shoulder), and a 15 year old female character.

In “Throne of Bayonets” his perceptions of hypocrisy in politics are well honed (insights that could be applied to the Zimbabwe of today – eg “viking socialism”.) His tone is overall that of a lover, admonishing the sins of his beloved.

In the choreodrama, however, he seems to want to use sexuality to violently bring together parts of the unconscious and conscious mind of his readers. Is it a shamanistic move to destroy the sensibilities equivalent to transcendence without a cost that he attributes to his host nation?

6. In chapter 6, I will look at a play, called The Alley. It’s a pantomime, in Beckett-style, about a white and black tramp, which have both fought each other during the war. It is in this play that Marechera is most tender toward the suffering of black and white women – whom he sees as the ultimate victims of the war of liberation. This is where Marechera’s own shamanistic insights into the nature of suffering come to the fore against patriarchy as a social system representing itself as a social ideal:

RHODES [a black male]: Your daughter, Judy, is right there with [my sister, behind the wall]. I can see them. They are kissing.

ROBIN [a white male]: My daugher kissing who? Be careful what you say. She was a pure, innocent, beautiful young thing until your comrades did things to her and slit her throat.

RHODES: She’s kissing Cecilia. They are very much in love with each other. What you did to both of them left them with nothing but sheer disgust for men. For this world. [Pauses. Looks away]

The author also examines what is in Lacanian terms “the Real” – which is to say the underlying nature of war trauma that has been superficially overwritten by official versions of history.

7. In the final chapter I will look at Mindblast, particularly the journal entry published in this limited edition collection of works. Here he talks about his life on the streets of Harare, writing in the pubs during the day. His physical condition declines, but he still manages to survive, driven by his need to “give without limit”.

8. Concluding chapter about violence and shamanism (involving psychological insight and heightened creativity).


chapter outline — at the head of the stream

marechera’s the house of hunger

1. It had a different name: “at the head of the stream”. ref to burning in the rain and to “before all human questions began”. Implies a unity “in the flame” or “in a grain of sand” which is explosive – like the big bang. shamanistic regeneration is the reuniting of a nurturing spirit (wanting to give without reserve) with written creativity. It is the magical reformulation of the whole human being, following or avoiding the schisming of self-concept that is Lacanian castration, and that creates a mind-body division and the cultural categories of gender It is also objective detachment – the shaman is “at the head of the stream because he is not subjectively invested in any particular system of power relations, but views each of them with an emotional understanding of the kind of violence they entail.

2. It depicts a process of being shamanised (article on black american culture). The process of becoming shamanised is through wanting transcendence but being unable to achieve it, due to one’s limiting social and material conditions. Thus, a solution defined by immanence is achieved on intrapersonal and creative levels. (If one’s childhood experiences were rich to begin with, then presumably so will be one’s experiences of immanence. This is seen in Marechera’s short stories, which immerse him in Nature, and sometimes to the daemonic point of becoming part of Nature. In other examples of shamanisation, the throwing back is to a different period of historical time.) The outcome of this process gives the shamanised a different basis for culture than the dominant one. In terms of shamanistic insight, one sees both the social system and the signifying limitations of the system of culture, due to violence or the repressive actions of the mind. (Drugs often are key to shamanistic practice.) This is the doubling of vision that pertains to shamanism. Since shamanism is based upon inward self- confrontations based on individualised interpretations of experience (perhaps within the community of the economically disenfranchised) the insights are likely to question the dominant ideology (or provide an alternative way of viewing it). There is also much that is ironically shamanistic about this book – the bird shit on the head is the indication from the natural world that he is marked out as a wise old sage; the X-ray exposes him to an image of his bones (presumably so that he might count them).

Death spaces of signification. The shamanistic initiation and recovery involves succumbing to these death spaces of signification and then somehow psychologically mastering these spaces, so that they are assimilated as a relatively integrative part of one’s consciousness.

The writer’s transformation is shamanistic. Although the writer does not lay explicit claim to this quality of shamanistic potency and practice, the evidence for this renewed basis of identity lies scattered throughout the novellete and short stories. The one who is to become a shaman must suffer the torments of the spirits and must end up mastering the spirits. This applies to the ability to come to terms with the contents of the unconscious mind and to recognise that this is a part of oneself. The torment is the initial irruption of the unconscious mind through pychological disturbances. The outcome is the ability to utilise the unconscious mind as a force of one’s own will and creativity. The need to develop such mastery at the intrapersonal extremes of experience leads to the shaman’s unusual psychological insights.

3. This is also a coming of age novel, and particularly, it depicts the development of the writer (in portrait of an artist fashion). Death and rebirth are rites of passage in traditional religions (Eliade 197 – 202).

Synopsis: The ghetto of Vengere Township is a place of poverty that breeds violence, traditional gender roles, gangs, marijuana (dakka) smoking, low level petit bourgeous business on the brink or survival – prostitution and a photographic service. Its members are mostly proletarian or lumpen-proletarian, but there are infused into this mixture a cultural aspect of Black Nationalism, hippy countercultural experimentation, and an incipient sense of civil war. The one character who stands out from the others in terms of making his career is Harry, who is a police spy on behalf of his colonial masters. His attitude represents the hypocrisy of adopting a “civilised” stance against the backdrop of cultural chaos. The women in the novelette are mostly the victims of patriarchal violence – Immaculate is regularly beaten by the protagonist’s brother, Peter, who is her lover. Julia is a high class prostitute and is associated with the black resistance. Nestar is an old school friend acquaintance and one time crush of the future writer. Her predominant quality, from the author’s perspective, is in her sexual expertise. The author doesn’t trust women. He contracted a sexually transmitted disease after he was pushed to have a sexual experience, and this has fueled an element of misogyny in the author’s character. Rather than the low life represented by attachment to a women within the Township, he longs for an intellectual and artistic transcendence which is not available to him within his present context.

4. Shamanisation can be productive (strength and artistic skill and insight, and the perspectival doubling of du bois and fanon.). The aesthetic and humorous appeal of Marechera’s writing is in the fact that it reflects the perimeters of the psyche and of society – it is “not safe”. In Marechera’s novelette, the violent immanence of reality is portrayed as an inability to transcend (a net thrown over the sky) and thus in the experiential effect of seeing everything “close up” (my incredible face – an explicit closeupness of life). It is in this immanence that the sacred is perceived, and perhaps, more theoretically, it is also from within this immanence that the shaman gets his prophetic powers – perhaps in the twitch of a lip, or an unconscious betrayal of intent that reveals the real motives of a political leader.

4 The shaman must suffer and conquer “the spirits” in order to get his unusual powers. Traditionally, s/he is “the wounded healer”. Eliade explains how “initiatory death reiterates the paradigmatic return to chaos, in order to make possible a repetition of the cosmongony – that is, to prepare the new birth. Regression to chaos is sometimes literal – as, for example, in the case of the initiatory sicknesses of future shamans, which have often been regarded as real attacks of insanity. There is, in fact, a total crisis, which sometimes leads to disintegration of the personality. This psychic chaos is the sign othat the profane man is undergoing dissolution and that a new personality is on the verge of birth.” ( p 196). Thus, the profane or ordinary man is reborn into the realm of the sacred. This enables M to make use of, in his writing, revitalised and revitalising social, psychological and intrapersonal and transpersonal (rather than “spiritual” – a term so general it has lost much of its meaning) perspectives.

5. In Marechera’s case, his shamanism is specifically writerly, and requires that he learns to master language on his own terms and not on the terms of the society around him (terms against which he earlier did psychic battle).

6. Language is the symbolic register (Lacan) that he refuses upon adulthood, and thus, refusing reality, succumbs to the stress of everyday living in the slums, and has a psychotic break.

7. The shaman has a more extensive use for language than normative, civilised approaches do. The patriarchal “symbolic register” clearly limits the range of available meaning to that which supports the interests of certain groups over others (eg. in the structural implications of the Lacanian paradigm, masculinity is the norm, so much so that language is masculine and defined by ‘the law of the father”. It would be hard to see how women’s interests could not lack meaning under such a masculine register.) The very way in which language functions, according to this paradigm, makes the shamanistic function necessary – for it is the shaman alone who can communicate the truth about trauma and violence. Only he who through his suffering has realised the limits of language can take control of language in such a way as to express the reality of suffering. Thus the shamanistic use of language is broader and more extensive than a normal polite use of language, since the scope of shamanic language incorporates an additional ontological and epistemic dimension from that of polite society and its discourses – a realm of “death spaces” (to borrow a term from Taussig) and intrapersonal investigation of the meaning of trauma.

Why is [Kristeva] not aware—at least at this point—of the implications of her own argument [in continuing to use the term, “castration”]? Why does she not differentiate between a necessary acceptance of lack and unnecessary constraints? […]Isn’t the very usage of the term castration indebted to a logic still characterized by a confusion of creative potency and phallic power? [p 80 Bettina Schmitz from: Homelessness or Symbolic Castration? Subjectivity, Language Acquisition, and Sociality in Julia Kristeva and Jacques Lacan.]

It seems that the patriarchal system, insofar as it is still the salient organisation system – and in some respects none more so than in colonial Rhodesia and the native tribal society – will produce an internal sense that to be civilised is to be castrated (violently dominated).
It also seems that the Lacanian system of psychoanalysis defines language as masculine; hence conceptually the acquisition of language takes place in opposition to nurturing social relations – I would add that any developmental movement towards language, in western culture, is also towards a situation of mind body dualism; a self-division and lack of psychic wholeness. It is this lack of integral wholeness that the shaman implicitly understands and sets out to investigate. (To the extent that psychoanalysis does the same, finding “death spaces of signification” that counter the sense of an inherent naturalness in social relations, it can also be considered shamanistic.) The “head of the stream” is explosive creativity (see burning in the rain) but without the patriarchy. The shamanistic regeneration is the reuniting of a nurturing spirit (wanting to give without reserve) with written creativity. It is the magical reformulation of the whole human being. It is also objective detachment – the shaman is “at the head of the stream because he is not subjectively invested in any particular system of power relations, but views each of them with the objectivity of perspectival self distancing.

8. Also, the mode of the close-up picture on violence – engenders a spiritual but not exactly transcendent perspective. The creativity stems from the exposure to psychological abnomalities –eg.hallucinations, etc brought on by stress or psychedelics. The strength is in the habituation to violence, the ability to recoil and adapt to the extremes of experience somehow. Shamanistic destructive initiation experiences can be transformative, but there is no guarantee of a positive outcome. Edmund, however, gets transformed into one the the “black heros” that the protagonist/writer seeks.

9. He encounters the spirits through his own mind, depicted elsewhere as a mirror. (The reflection of oneself in one’s own mind reveals images and apparitions that appear to cross over from the spirit world, as if through a mirror. This idea is based on a kind of dualism: Body as matter and mind as spirit.) The author rejects the material reality around him (which is vulgarly “there”) and longs for an artistic intellectual reality in its stead. His longing for transcendence and hostility to his social reality is resolved in his shamanisation, presented on a concrete level as his decision to leave the community.

10. He is able to recover by creating out of his imagination a wise old man who somehow represents an older version of himself. This old man is a shaman-artist-guide, who nurtures the writer’s emotions and creativity in his alienation. This old man seduces his mind with parables and snatches of stories about life – a magical view of life: not realistic, colonial, nationalist nor patriarchal.