One reason why Black Sunlight had so much of an impression upon me was that I read it after a certain point of self-development in knowledge, which had served to trap me even as much as it had served to develop me. Education had got me to a certain point of freedom from arbitrary impositions of guilt and had profoundly developed my self-knowledge. Yet, it was not an instrumental key for success in the world. Thus, I was trapped within the broad and complex corridors of knowledge, unable to use knowledge (being my richest and only resource) to produce that extra quality of success.
My attempt to use knowledge as a rational instrument was limited by the nature of the world and by the nature of knowledge itself. Real knowledge of the world provides spiritual and psychological depth, but there is no correlation between having this knowledge and having public success. Additional qualities are needed — or perhaps the subtraction of some tendencies or personal qualities can help. (Too much integrity, for example, doesn’t always make one a success.)
Black Sunlight opened up a whole amazing field of possibilities for me, because its writing was not staged within the context of an ideology or yet another system of knowledge. It is a very advanced book, in this sense, which caters to those who want more than to be duped by an emotionally convincing presentation of a certain ideology.
There is a sense of honesty in the author’s writing of the characters in terms of what can or cannot be known about them. The author’s sense of the of the impenetrability of their solitude (no matter how expressed), its right to being in itself and without any ideological or rational justification for their rights, has the paradoxical effect of opening reality up (as if by expanding a camera’s aperture) to allow a greater intimacy of experience than would otherwise be possible.
“She was in her own black sunlight” is a phrase which marks the location of this non-knowledge — a respectful skepticism as to the other’s motivations, which allows for the maximum of a non-ideological apperception of reality, and which maximises the ethical sense of another’s freedom to be who and what they are, without imposing the violence of interpretational forces.
“She was in her own black sunlight,” is a phrase which refuses to judge, but rather suspends judgment. Knowledge of the motivation of the other is not required to love. Only an acceptance of their own existential condition of “not-knowing” everything. This is the epistemologically ethical position — as I said, the one that allows the most freedom to the other.
This approach is also the basis for a truer form of knowledge, since it educates one about what it is possible or impossible to know. Knowledge that is presumed on the basis of conjecture separates us from the world, allowing an illusion of transcendence and detachment from the material world, of which we have assumed that we know everything (at least in theory). But this detachment from the world produces a deadening of spontaneous life, just as the attempt to use knowledge as if it were only a positive, instrumental force, deadens one’s receptiveness to that in life which is elusive and that which in knowledge is negative. This kind of approach to knowledge deadens the subject to the experience of one’s immanence within life as a major aspect of reality. (For Bataille, immanence is not purely immanence but rather the experience of immanence undergone by normatively transcendent beings – it is a revitalisation experience of those fallen from heaven into the cool ambrosia of life’s fountains.)
To acknowledge what cannot be known about others or oneself is to become reacquainted with one’s humanity as a contingent being — who does not need to excuse nor make attempts to morally prove herself according to one ideology or another. To acknowledge such is rehumanising to those who have become mechanical machines, mere replicas of knowledge. Marechera’s writing is immersed in precisely this deeper sort of logic about human beings. His writing reveals reality in a truer and more honest way than other books which go beyond what can be empirically known about human experience do.
I’m reading the feminist controversy over THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS, and I’m reading respondents who urge that it is “natural” for boys to want to read books without girls on the cover, and, finally, indeedy I am thinking, “Yes, of course — the western obsession with self-image over almost anything else!”
NO, you are not dangerous if you will not read a book with a girl on the cover — and I’m so sorry that mummy and daddy conditioned you to feel that way. You are actually a cookie-cutter boy, created in the dank factory of western culture. Needless to say, there is no virtue in this. Your predictabilities are already known — for instance, that you will not read a book with a girl on the cover! You are NOT FREE to make your own choices and decision about life — these have already been made for you, on the basis of what is known about your predictable behaviour guided by your interest in your own self image.
And westerners — and indeed, now, you yourself — would have you believe that this is merely being ‘natural’! Ah! Don’t fret, little victim — you have already learned to love your prison of predictability!!
ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES
I would have no problem at all with anybody espousing values which were genuinely in accordance with the counter-definitions given. Indeed, let us see more men who are genuinely courageous and strong! — the world could certainly do with such additions to challenge the refined norms (such as the refined norm of submitting to your boss and going home to take out your humiliation on your wife, for instance!) The problem is that genuine courage is not easy and it doesn’t always pay off, either. This is perhaps the real reason why masculinity is losing influence in the world. Those who argue that others are to blame for this (that is, those other than the men themselves who ostensibly lack masculinity, or genuine courage) are demonstrating an actual reactive cowardice, which is in direct opposition to the values of masculinity for which they would like to be praised. There is something very parasitical about blaming women and others for that which one lacks within oneself. Does one want to attempt to feed off their more vital blood, as a means of sustaining that which one has no other way of sustaining? Is this acceptable?
Marechera’s works are archeological (in Foucault’s sense of the term) works when read from a deep intercultural perspective. His accuracy in depicting his own emotional and intellectual responses to his environments in Africa and Europe make this so. The works need to be read with this autobiographical imprint in mind, and not just loosely as mere stories.
THE BLACK INSIDER.is largely set in London. The protagonist of the book cannot speak to others of one’s “type”, because of ideological obstructions to a real intimacy; the lack of a real intersubjectivity.
In this book, the writer discovers that all is just a posture, an empty gesture, which goes as deep as being an attitudinal stance, not more. The postmodern condition is that of reflective shiny surfaces, with no depth. One cannot ground one’s attitudinal stances in morality, in necessity, in a sense of the permanency of one’s character. They are ungrounded and seemingly ungroundable.
This postmodern condition was of course a novel experience for Marechera. He wrote about it as an outsider who had been immersed into something quite foreign to him. The philosophical reflections in this book all have a sense of the peculiarity of experience, which the author details with a certain attitude of surprise.
The plot of the book is very loose, and yet seems to draw upon a sense of social order which preceded the postmodern condition of post-industrialism. Characters from ancient western society also populate the text, to impart their wisdom and comfort to the black outsider who is now an unwitting insider in a culture of strangeness and absurdity.
As so often with various tropes from Marechera, when considered deeply, there is a sense that he wants to invoke a sense of something chilling. In THE BLACK INSIDER, a trick of light gives the effect of a man walking away from his own shadow. It is an elaborate trick, with different colours of light, which serve to produce this effect. It is a conjuring trick which will serve to dazzle the audience, but which will not affect the material constitution of the subject himself.My theory is that the concept of reification could be of use here. Reification is the way that we are conditioned to think in class society. It reverses the real chain of cause and effect, so that we end up getting everything about the world and its functioning upside-down and backwards. In themselves, ideas do not create realities. Rather, real life experiences tend to spark off ideas (which then need practical and considered implementation if they are to be successful). Our cultural conditioning nonetheless teaches us to see a false reality.
What about the man who steps away from his shadow? Well, as stated, the shadow is but an illusion, created by the screen and some tricks of light. It is not really the man’s shadow, but a distortion, the illusory “appearance” of a projected idea, but without real cause and effect attached to it. What is the man? He is a material reality, who is not tied to to the illusion of the projector and its screen.When he walks away from his shadow, he walks away from the ideas that he represents to the society he lives in. He chooses not to be attached to these ideas (nor necessarily to defend himself explicitly from those ideas). He simply walks away from them, and lives his life independently of whatever that life may represent to others. He walks away from his shadow. For those who believe in the fixedness of the self, who perceive reality as fixed and defined by an illusion? That is the audience who experiences a chill right down to the bones - just because it had complete faith in what it thought it had seen.
This is a story I dedicate to the contemporary proletarian, who is not permitted to express himself emotionally unless he is “being naughty” or has driven himself into excess. Austerity is generally his lot — and he would recommend it not just for himself!
Reynard lost his tail in a trap. Now a fox is proud of two
things –his cunning and his tail. He had allowed himself to be trapped. This
showed his lack of cunning, and he had lost his tail.
He was so ashamed of himself that he could not bear to meet another fox. He slunk off to his den and came out only when driven by hunger. When out hunting, he kept out of the way of all his neighbors. He did not mean that any of them should know of his bad luck.
At last he grew tired of living by himself. He wanted to gossip with his
friends. He wondered whether old Rufus was still running on top of the great
meadow fence to throw the hounds off the track. He longed to hear of the
latest tricks of Fleetfoot’s cubs. They were three of the brightest little foxes
that ever lived. He wished that he could see them at their play.
He wished to know if the men were still cutting down trees near White-ear’s den. If this went on, White-ear would have to find a new home. It would be hard for her after living in that beautiful spot so long.
If he were to hear the news at all, he must meet his comrades. “How can I bear to listen to their laugh!” he moaned. He had not lost all of his cunning, as you will see. He lay for a long time with his head between his paws. His eyes were wide open, but he was not watching for game. He was thinking.
After a while he jumped up. He said to himself:
“I shall invite all of my friends to come to my home to-morrow evening. I
shall tell them when they reach here that I can not get up to meet them for I
have been very sick. They will all gather about me here. I shall sit upon my
haunches so that no one will ever find out that my tail is missing. As they are
to be my guests, I must be the spokesman. My friends have always thought me to
be a very fine speaker. Many times my advice has been asked. I have given it,
and it paid my friends to follow it. The thing which I shall advise to-morrow
will surprise them, but I feel sure that I can get my friends to follow it. I
will set to work now preparing for the feast.”
Early the next evening Reynard gave a series of strange barks. This was an invitation to his home. The foxes came from every direction and met at the foot of an old oak. Reynard’s den was under this oak. He sat upon his haunches near the door to welcome his guests as they came, but he did not move.
“You all know, friends, why I do not rise to welcome you,” he said. “I have been very sick, and if I move about it gives me a very bad headache.”
Reynard asked his friends, who were standing around him, what they had been doing for the last week or so. They told many interesting stories of how they had escaped from traps and dogs and men. A pile of chickens, turkeys, and ducks lay in sight not far away. As they talked, their eyes often wandered to these.
It grew late. The company became a little restless. At last Reynard said:
“Now, friends, before we take our evening meal, I have something to say for the good of all of us.
“I have been lying awake nights thinking what we could do to free ourselves from the weight of our heavy tails. Spring is here with its rainy weather. You all know
how wet and muddy our tails become. Often I have had to give up a first-class
meal and trot off home, hungry, to stay until my tail had dried. You have had to
do the same. Many a poor fox has lost his life because of his long tail.
“Now, what do you say to having our tails cut off? Think what free lives we
shall then lead. I will cut them off if you wish. The cutting will be almost
painless, I am sure. Now let us have them off in a hurry before supper. After
our feast, we shall have a great dance.”
His visitors were silent for a moment. Some nodded their heads, showing that they were ready to part with their tails. The oldest and wisest fox in the crowd had been looking at Reynard very closely. He was the only one of all that crowd to miss Reynard’s tail. At last he spoke slowly: “Your advice may be good, but before I reply, pray turn yourself around.”
Poor Reynard saw that he was found out. He dared not refuse to do as he was told, so he turned about.
What a shout the foxes gave! Poor bobtail could not say a word. The foxes seized the turkeys, ducks, and chickens, and ran off home with their long tails behind them, and poor Reynard was never again seen by any of them.
(from Fifty Famous Fables , by Lida Brown McMurry)
Women who try to get society’s authorities to help them oppose the patriarchy are usually considered melodramatic and manipulative — more so if they are actually in real danger, and are expressing real responses to that threat. Such was the case with a 20 year old Brit, of Kurdish ancestry who was slain by her father recently.
Unfortunately (and I speak from personal experience), if one is a migrant and doesn’t know the ins and outs of the new patriarchal culture yet, it is even harder than for one who does, to know how to speak to the authorities in a way that will get around their normal, inbuilt patriarchal prejudices.
It is to be expected that most migrants (especially in the naïvety and splendour of their youth) will attempt to speak to their new authorities in a simple and direct way. Regrettably, it would seem that approach is also rarely efficacious. Indeed, if one really wanted the authorities to take seriously the idea that one’s father wanted to kill one, the victim would have to start her speech in a more indirect and elaborate way.
She would have to begin by navigating the violent and hair-raising cultural rocks of women’s presumed hysteria. So, her first strenuous task would be to convince the police officer that she was very, very rational, very in touch with the unavoidable need to be a non-hysterical citizen in her new environment.
She would then have to move on to educating the officer about some of the differences between her own culture (which, despite her new location, still held sway) as compared to the culture that she had now entered. She would have to explain in detail that honour killings were still a real threat to her in the new world — as well as why this was so. She would then have to move on to supply a concrete evidence to prove her fears that she could soon be strangled by her father and put into a suitcase (which actually happened).
It would be best to have something he’d said on tape, or at very least a written copy of his threats, recorded accurately and transposed on a certain date. After this, she would still have to convince the police officer that she was a well-adjusted citizen — happy to be in the new culture and ready to do her bit to serve it. (It wouldn’t serve to her advantage if she showed the slightest trace of maladjustment as this would only serve to boost the basis for a “hysteria” deflection of her plea.)
In other words, if the 20-year-old Kurdish Brit was an emotional superwoman (unmoved by anything that had happened to her), and if she had at least a masters in social science (or a similar field), she would have had a fighting chance at preventing this honour killing, which took her life in Britain recently.
As it stood, (and lacking these credentials),the stark facts of the situation show that survival of the fittest is survival of the fittest —– and this Kurd certainly deserved to die, for that’s what happened.
Is my cynicism about patriarchal society in the slightest bit misplaced?
Ah! Craigie has a new boxing ring in his gym. What delights await us!
From a cultural point of view, I think that those of the west are socially conditioned NOT TO respond to differences that are not related to production values (-- those being the divisions of labour which fuel the industrial economy).
On the other hand, a white teacher in a school in Namibia will have these questions directed at them:
What is it like being white?
Do you wish you had black skin?
Do you think that we are funny?
Would you ever be inclined to marry any of us?
These are probing questions which are intended to engender learning on an empirical level (one watches closely the teacher's reaction in order to gauge the meaning of racial differences).
In western schooling, such questions would be considered unconscionably rude. So, a way of knowing that is expressly NON-EMPIRICAL is required. Unfortunately, the schooling in political correctness often backfires, as one learns on the basis not of being permitted to ask and then observe the reactions of an outsider type for oneself, but on the basis of much more subtle and implied ideas, which, because of their way of distancing the subject at hand, produce a sense of danger or exoticism.
I think that many of the philosophical issues about difference would be greatly alleviated if only an empirical method to social interaction was considered culturally acceptable.
As a kid (3 or 4 years old), I couldn’t stand playing girls’ games. You know, I didn’t understand playing house, or why anybody would want to. I liked active games, like hide and seek, cowboys and indians, and I liked playing with blocks and lego. I remember when the teachers at the preschool tried to forcibly resocialise me — they took me away from doing something that I enjoyed (playing with building blocks, alone) and tried to make me join in with a group of girls, who had set up an invisible “house” on a bed. “Blocks are boys’ toys,” the teacher said. “I will ask these girls if you can join them in their game of house.” So, I was put on the bed, and the girls asked me what role I wanted to play, and I had no idea. They must have given me a role — but then I had no idea of how to play it. It was a very awkward experience for me.
Much, much later, as an adult this experience was repeated for me, when I tried to be a school teacher. It was a very awkward experience for me, as there was no grid of logic to the “game” I was supposed to play. It was like there was something — almost hanging viscously in the air — which I was supposed to grasp, and I could feel it there, hanging like a heavy fog, but it was too thin for me to grasp it.
I’m rather tired still. It’s nice to have Mike back, and being Mike again, after the scare. I feel a little bit at a loss for words, still, but the numb parts are evening out; receiving life-giving circulation again. Hopefully, I will sleep well tonight. I let go all of the past and its concerns to the wind. The wind of the unconscious. That can never leave me.
According to a true story found in the Holy Bible book of Jonah, there is no escaping the Superego in the form of thy God. Nonetheless, I am inclined to wonder, if when the Lord Thy God swallows thee and, if one compels Him, by much leaping to and fro, to spit one forth, does one not therefore become so much more one’s own person, as a result?
I’d suggest that one’s reaction to the situation of being swallowed could go either way. Either one could learn from the experience that one can survive anything at all, and that one needn’t pay obesience to the status quo in an attempt to avoid being swallowed, or one could freak out rather much, and choose to supplicate the greater power in the following, rather negative way:
Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is
better for me to die than to live.
Generally, I’ve been the kind of person who takes the former (lack of obesience-showing) angle. Jonah’s anger is intelligible to me, whether or not I go on to encounter the benificent random shadow of the fast growing gourd.
At times however, it becomes a little difficult for me to distinguish between either of my two hands and field of cattle.
I do look to a deity to make the approximate estimations for me, regarding which is which:
And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore
thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left
hand; and also much cattle?