Sunday, July 23, 2006

Marechera's Poetry.

Reading the Intellect (1).

In Camera Lucida, Barthes refers at some length to the studium, which is what the critic likes to do, make a sweep of someone’s work, draw themes, then include or exclude photographs, depending on whether they fit or not. The critic likes or dislikes, according to this streamlined view. Poetry criticism has this same problem. The critic of poetry creates certain themes, Romanticism, pastoralism, surrealism, the Movement, and poetry becomes a reading in relation to something else. This approach allows critical authority. For poets, the quest is to find the (mythical) voice that allows the poetry to become recognisably theirs: poetry springs from a unified consciousness which hallmarks the work: Eliot is immediately recognised as Eliot. Such poets write with authority, in control of their voice.

But do they? I look at Marechera and question all I have ever been told. Is he uneven, sloppy in his diction, careless in his imagery, lacking refinement…or does the failure come from me?

Here is “Smash, Grab, Run” from 1979-80, one of the few published poems—it appeared in West Africa magazine. As I cannot assemble any studium around it (Am I unable? Or do not wish to do so?) all I can do is experience it.

Smash, Grab, Run= The title puts the poem in the context of the Brixton Riots. Already there is a problem, these were in April 1981, so the poem is later than stated.
The title suggests what happened (from a White middle-class point-of-view, as reported in the press: widespread looting by uncontrollable Blacks).

Let the minutes unleash
The bullets Brixton wishes
=this is not “slip the dogs of war”, but something more deadly. Time brings about desired violence. Time is as much apart of the war to come as the police dogs brought to Brixton. Time—like the minutemen of revolution—is ready, has been prepared for this. (Historically, this was true, for Brixton was waiting for the moment).
Barbed wire is the ivy on my walls=ivy-clad tradition (as at Oxford), that middle-class dream of the house with ivy growing, a countryside retreat, is a spiked reality in the inner-city.
Acrid cordite like mist in autumn
Dissolves the harsh street into pellucid cameos
=anti-Romanticism whereby Keats’ “season of mists” becomes unnatural. Mist dissolves streets, yet people become shining and hard profiles. Violence, though it thins social order, thickens identity.
Think how the striking truncheon outpaces thought=a statement that mocks: action is quicker that thought, yet the invition is to think. Is this the weakness of the liberal when faced with (police/social) brutality?
How the burgeoning Molotov cancels discussion=for the first time, Molotov cocktails were used on the UK mainland. Burgeoning? Spring-life. An April poem, after all. The violent retaliation is budding, alive, more natural and effective than discussion?
And for just this once in my black British life
Exploded the atoms of me into atoms of power=not the nuclear family and social order, but the nuclear mind. The power released through violence against oppression becomes empowerment.
Let each viewfinder’s instant exorcise
The pictorial myths complacency devises
=viewfinder, gun-sight, in a fraction of time, drives out the found visions that society easily manufactures. Mental focus. Mental terrorism.
Each hurtling brick aimed to smash this enchanter’s glass
Aimed to loot the truths for so long packaged in lies
="Smash, Grab, Run", now operates within a new context: the looting by the Black mind of individual truth.
I am the hundreds of putrid meat in English prisons
In derelict houses, in borstals, the millions of condemned meat
Who let the grim minutes unleash their canned grime
=grim/grime, inscape (out of Hopkins)? Rather an anti-inscape for the mind is drawn into humanity, not nature, and is pulled into intellectual horror and fragmentation, not beauty and spiritual order. Grim minutes? Grim reaper, Death. canned grime=sealed and mass-produced black identity? A moment of intellectual terror(ism)/the poem/offers a focus/aim that destructs the social experiences offered to the Black individual who is seen as meat/flesh/not mind.

The diction, the idioms, the allusions and the syntax are brilliantly unstable.

A Marechera Cocktail.


Unsane said...

There is something I am looking at these days, and that is the idea that the Western mindset functions on the basis of categories. Whatsoever cannot be neatly slotted into one theoretically knowable category or another is deemed to have no existence. This is what I meant on my blog about Western a priori reasoning. Actually there is a funny section in Marechera's book, The black Insider, where this paler than pale white female academic asks him what sort of a black writer he is. She offers four possible alternatives: "Those are the categories, I think."

eshuneutics said...

a priori: before the fact (from reason). Blake's Urizen (You reason). Hence his dislike for teachers who transmit a priori thoughts to kill of innocence. I understand it more now after your commentt.

Jennifer said...

Got it! And thank you for the Blake and More references.

eshuneutics said...

I got it....eventually!

Unsane said...

I can be a bit abstract at times...the point is that I have been feeling around for a way to articulate certain things which I feel Marechera and I might well have in common. I think he also found the West a little deadening ...indeed I am still baffled by his shooting plates and saucery at the chandeliers and various British liberals' heads. Apparently he was miffed by their "hypocrisy", which is understandable somehow, and yet I'm not sure exactly how he would have understood them to be hypocrites. So, in some ways, I am inclined to try the issue of categorisation on for size. Was it being given the wrong sized suit to wear that infuriated Marechera? He complained that the British were trying to turn him into an Uncle Tom -- another image which has me baffled. How can one turn another into one who is mindlessly compliant? Why would (presumably, in this instance) liberals do this to a person whom they were not trying to harm? My whole idea is that there is a culturally-based epistemological crossing of wires, some wrong assumptions being made, because of actual cultural differences. Not that assumptions are "mere" assumptions -- these can be and often are damaging, if uncorrected.

But just maybe, Marechera felt like he was being squeezed into a wrongful attire with regard to who he felt he was and who he felt he was being required to be. If this is the case, my guess is that he felt he was being negated by the way he was being categorised -- Westerners, I have found, impose categorisations upon the various elements of the world without even realising that they are doing it. (There must be something in the way that Westerners are educated which teaches them thus.) If one has to be first categorised before one can be discussed, then in a way, one can experience the discussion as being rather redundant. The categorisation explains it all: "black writer". What is there left to discuss once this identity has been established as the appropriate one relating to a person? Black writer = subsidiary to Western white writers. Can the meaning of the term still be examined despite the overwhelming effusion of symbolic resonances which flow out of the very term itself? This term opens the door to a world of predetermined meanings, as ideas of white versus black clash, producing a crescendo of positive feelings about helping the less fortunate and radiating warmth out from the hottest intellectual radiant sun unto the peripheries: black writers. Here, metaphysical categories make the actual content of whatsoever the black writer should presume to write into irrelevancies. Western metaphysics subsumes all the light due to the very reverberation of its categories. Content goes flying out the window -- especially third world content. Thus Marechera throws saucers at the walls.

Unsane said...

Another aspect which I take to be a scource of cultural differences: "infectionability'. It's a strange word, which Marechera uses in The Black Insider, to suggest the way that good writing should be influential. I think it is also, somehow a cultural trope from Africa or Zimbabwe. If one considers that categories are very much a part of 1st world thinking, then infectionability is perhaps what these categories defend against, perhaps unwittingly. Of course, infectionability is emotional and intellectual. One captures the mood of the other, as well as her gist, and one runs with it, alongside the other. This was what I used to understand in Zimbabwe as true friendship: actually nothing more or less than willingness to infect each other with whatever we were feeling, and to see where that would go. But intellectual categorisation leads to individual compartmentalisation. Capacity for infectionability is lost -- after all I am me and you are you, and we must both operate seperately on the basis of these categories, as we move towards disparate goals.

eshuneutics said...
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eshuneutics said...

No, you weren't abstract, that is ok. "I got it...eventually" meant I am having to look at things differently, sort of upside down. Here's an example. Infectionability--the moment you wrote that I saw disease and wanted to disagree with the metaphor. But there is a positive sense of the word: "infectious laughter". Westerners/I do categorize and it is to do with defence....?????? This was my initial reaction to Marechera. First, something had got under my skin and made me sense. Second,all kinds of reasoning came into play to deny this and create boundaries. (He got through my cultural innoculations, you could say). All I wanted to do was read and fault him, rid myself of the infection. There are a number of medicines here: 1) He is black and does not deserve a real place in the great tradition of white modernism: he can only come so far, like the Slave Owners who said the negro might hear the Bible, but might not learn to read it. 2) He is not an authentic black voice, merely a hybrid tainted with white modernism: Uncle Tom/a "house negro" 3) His poetry is outside my educational experience: Mr Primitive/ a "field negro". Worrying, how the slavery terms sit there in the Western psyche. None of these anti-biotics work, however, so I keep picking up ideas, sweating and worrying. It brings back memories of childhood (like your hospital analysis): I quite liked being ill and not having to go to school because the infections gave me space to think and escape what I was supposed to know. Hell, now you've got something personal out of me. This is very worrying. I must go and find the super-glue for the mask!

Unsane said...

Ah..Okay! Very interesting what you say about the categories and the way they function as stereotypes. Asa systme of defence you say? perhaps against having one's sense of the world's stability (everything in its place) being disrupted.

Actually the metaphor of infectionability runs through marachera's The Black Insider in both positive and negative strains. The location of the novel is set in The Arts Faculty, wherein the intellectuals are all considered to be diseased -- infected with some strain of ideas or another. Well, they are all infected with the "plague" of culture and can do nothing but discuss their ideas whilst there is a war going on outside.