Nietzsche, Bataille, Marechera — comparing shamanisms

The immense task of a contemporary shaman is to use all means available to discover how to survive a huge historical crisis that has ended up wounding his or her psyche. A modern shaman is generally one who has lived through sudden historical changes. The wounding of these changes compels deep and thorough investigation into the world as well as into the structure of one’s psyche. The urgency and personal nature of this quest ultimately produces its fruit: profound insight into the nature of reality as well as access to means creative means of self-expression that are not available to those who haven’t had to look so deeply.
A shaman is a wild person and so a socially marginal one – although not by virtue of his or her original nature, but based on a return to Nature, through shamanistic initiation. He is not civilised, in the narrow sense by which Nature and Civilisation are seen to be at odds. Rather, he uses knowledge of Nature in order to enhance and prolong his own life, and to endure Civilisation. Thus one can compare Nietzsche’s and Bataille’s shamanism, as imparting very different strategies for shamanistic survival, on the basis of knowledge that has been obtained more or less in shamanistic ways (that is, via an ecstatic experience).

Looking at it in this way, Nietzsche took his shamanism towards patriarchy and towards master race domination, which Bataille’s approach managed to correct — but not in time to save Nietzsche’s reputation. Survival of a shaman is based upon the ability to innovate a solution to existential dilemmas as they present themselves. The paradigm that Nietzsche chose — that of transcendence — gave him fewer options for creative innovation in solving life’s problems as compared to the one opted for by Bataille.

To transcend the body is to risk social and psychological rigidity, as one departs further and further from the source of psychological nurturing. Aiming to enhance one’s feeling of power (equated with a sense of intoxication) was an alternative means by which Nietzsche expected to gain a sense of revivification for his mind and body. Yet to descend into the body — as Bataille did — was to descend into this base, and to be nurtured by the very source of Being, itself.

Marechera’s shamanic solution was to perpetuate his inwards survival in a way very similar to that of Bataille, in opting for immanence rather than for transcendence as a method to draw in vitality. It was a risk, but a calculated one — since the dregs of society provide more exposure to the raw substance of immediate reality than do those who live aloof, respectable, and above the thronging crowds. His capacity to live homeless, on the streets, was certainly reflective of his capacity for shamanic innovation.

He had the capacity to dissociate, if need be, and the well developed inner self knowledge that would enable him to know best how to distract himself with entertaining stories. Yet to live in such objectively desperate circumstances for too long would deplete even an experienced shaman’s inner resources. Thus the practical limits of everyday life represent a realistic limit to the fundamental shamanic principle of trying to influence reality to the point that it bends to one’s requirements.

Nietzsche had already gone too far in trying to perpetuate his own survival when he tried to develop a system of gender relations that would have robbed women of their agency. He was not able to perceive that this approach no longer was in line with his original principle of transcendence, but represented a descent towards a pre-Oedipal (very early childhood) type of arrangement of male symbiotic union with women, as in the psychological situation of the mother and child.

To make women into symbiotic “part objects” for the sake of masculine supremacy — which would have been the consequence of his approach, when generalised socially and politically — would have compromised the shamanic masculinity, by making of it a kind of childishness and dependency. For the pre-Oedipal structure of relationship, whereby one is nurtured and the other gives the breast, is a quintessential example of extreme immanence.

Far better to aim for immanence and nurturing to begin with, as Marechera and Bataille actually did. At least each of them were shaman enough not to remain at this level, but to utilise their experiences of immanence in order to develop their creativity and schemes of thought.