overshooting the mark

I think the reason that THE HOUSE OF HUNGER may be the most accessible of the Marechera books for most people is that the target of criticism — Western colonialism — has become a very recognisable and acceptable target for most people. That said, the novelette, also called The House of Hunger is also aesthetically and conceptually brilliant.

Marechera’s later political and social targets, in his other books, are not so intuitively acceptable and so what he says about them is also automatically much less politically and psychologically digestable.

Marechera — like myself — seemed to suffer from the cultural-colonial illusion that education was the basis for society’s meritocratic system or hierarchy. We see that this is not the case, but still the habit of upping the ante — making our ideas and reflections more intellectual and sophisticated when we are suffering from self-doubt — is colonial to the core. In fact, in most cases, our powers of communication would have been enhanced (speaking to a greater proportion of the majority) if only we took things in the opposite direction and simplified our feelings and ideas. But that approach seems too counter-intuitive to someone who has a colonial education and who therefore believes — despite themselves, and moreover despite the evidence that comes from actual living in the world — that society is a system based on educational meritocracy. Oh yeah!

Violence delegitimises

On a psychological level, exposure to physical violence can serve to delegitimise institutional forms of social power.

I will believe in the legitimacy of social power mechanisms so long as they do not seem to rely upon methods of direct coercion. But once social power reveals itself as needing coercive force to back it up, it is as if the magic spell of social legitimacy is broken — instead of seeing the puppet doing its glorious dance, I start to see the strings controlling the puppet, and finally I see the puppet master him or herself, looming away in those backstage shadows.

Violence delegitimises. Once suspicion has been raised, all forms of coercion are no longer responded to unwittingly, as we are usually inclined to respond to symbolic violence [Cf. Bourdieu]. Instead, we are hyper-alert, and register all forms of social coercion, no matter how subtly designed, as intended to assault.

When Marechera went to Britain to study, he went as one who had learned perhaps one major, profound lesson: That formal procedures for distinguishing one person from another were forms of social violence — which, in his own mind, were delegitimised. That is why it was so easy for him to abscond to Wales in order to avoid immigration officials who would certainly attempt to deport him back to Zimbabwe. In his mind, social forms of right and wrong had been delegitimised by the coercive practices he had experienced in Rhodesia.

Furthermore, he didn’t fear the British authorities and their violence — at least not as much as he feared the violence of the ghetto and (indirectly) the violence of the colonial authorities.

The failed logic of anticolonialism.

Be careful!

The logic of anticolonialism is exactly the logic of those who want to be purer than pure in the face of past history (I’m not sure if this is what Segrest implies, too, but it is my own view.) In other words, the logic of anticolonialism is the guilt complex of those who still feel as if they have blood on their hands! Why are the actual colonisers and their subjects silenced (I mean the ones who lived in the colonies)? Is it because they know too much about the nature of oppression, so they must not be allowed to speak of their experiences? Perhaps they know, too, that a day in the office in a properly western environment can spill more blood (psychologically speaking) than many a month lived out within a colonial outpost. It is not those who were sent out to do your dirty work for you who are the real sinners — it is you, yourselves!

What is alright in the West?

What is right with the West? Well, there is the social security system, without which I would surely have been turned into a very broken woman by now. Reading between the lines of various fragmented pieces of information which have filtered across my way, my father’s extreme misogyny was not an isolated feature within my extended family. On my father’s side of the family, a vicious kind of misogynistic outlook predominates. At least two of my female cousins have been persecuted upon reaching puberty, to the point where they ran away from home and were depicted as “wild” and “out of control”. Now, piecing together the psychology of this matter from afar — I was also depicted as being both “wild” and “out of control” upon my advent of  puberty.

In reality, though, I became an rather introverted around this time — even quieter than I had previously been. The basis of this formulation was completely imaginary. My family noticed my subtle physical development even before I did, and had proceeded to attribute all sorts of evil and malice to the physical state of being. So, I was shy and relatively socially disengaged and was still accused of being wild and out of control. The discrepancy between what I was accused of being and what I was actually like was always palpably obvious to me. Yet, what kind kind of anguish and self-doubt must my female cousins experienced — as they were surely much more socially precocious than I. What hatred made them run away from their homes at an early age?

The persecution I experienced lasted a long time, and did take a toll on my health. I surely would have been driven to madness (or more likely, to a complete breakdown in health) had I had to rely upon my parents for financial support whilst they were intent on viewing me in a hostile light.

It was the social security system of the first world which gave me a fighting chance to live a healthy and productive life despite the third world traditions which led to my victimization.

Alice Miller

Alice Miller

“But here communication will take on a more mature form, free of any kind of exploitation, because both sides have seen through the exploitation experienced in childhood.”

“As a rule, beaten, tormented, and humiliated children who have never received support from a helping witness later develop a high degree of tolerance for the cruelties inflicted by parent figures and a striking indifference to the sufferings borne by children exposed to cruel treatment. The last thing they wish to be told is that they themselves once belonged to the same group. Indifference is a way of preserving them from opening their eyes to reality.”

“The more comprehensive a tyrant’s catalogue of crimes is, the more he can count on tolerance as long as his admirers are hermetically closed off from access to the sufferings of their own childhood.”