Friday, June 01, 2007

The MIndscape of "Black Sunlight".

Black Sunlight was published towards the end of 1980. Its writing is wholly linked to a point after Oxford and before Marechera’s return to Zimbabwe. The manuscript of Black Sunlight was sent to Heinemann (to be 237 in their African Writers Series) in August 1979. This is known because Ann Godfrey and John Wyllie submitted their readers reports in August and September, Pantheon and Simon Gikandi in October and November of that year. In a 1986 interview with the Dutch journalist, Alle Lansu, Marechera discusses the composition of Black Sunlight and its date:

AL: Black Sunlight was for me a rather confusing book. Can you tell me some more about what was in your mind at the time?

DM; Well, it was late ‘79…and I was living in Tolmers Square [London]…There was this slogan which I think is in Black Sunlight …[.]

Marechera re-states part of this to Veit-Wild in another 1986 interview:

DM: When I wrote Black Sunlight, I was staying at what was called the “Tolmers Square Community”. This was a squatter community of about 700 people.

(A Source Book, pp.29, 218).

This is an accurate memory, but from what date?

This memory would not seem to be entirely true. It does, after all, come some 7 years after the period when Black Sunlight was being written. Black Sunlight quite simply could not have been written “late ‘1979”. Working backwards in time, the manuscript to Black Sunlight was with Heinemann in August 1979, in July and June, Marechera was in Berlin, before this, he was in Sheffield, in December 1978, Marechera was re-drafting The Black Insider, which was the genesis of Black Sunlight. In the dark light of all of this, then, it would seem that the composition of Black Sunlight stretched from December 1978 to May 1979. It was begun when Marachera was living in Tolmers Square and finished in the same place, but part of the gestation period included Marechera’s stay in the north of England.

From February to June (?), according to traditional sources, Marechera was an artist in residence (though not much in residence) at the University of Sheffield. The City of Sheffield, of course, offers easy access by bus to the Peak District, one of the most scenic parts of the United Kingdom. So, not far from where Marechera lived in the early part of 1979 is the Peak Cavern, otherwise known as The Devil’s End or more simply, in Derbyshire, The Devil’s Arse. The Peak Cavern was once the home to a community, known locally as an entrance to the Underworld, and is famous today for its limestone structures. Of course, Marechera’s eye doesn’t become a tourist guide to the Peak District/”Devil’s Peak”. Transformations abound. The Blackhall area of the Peak landscape metamorphoses into Black Hall, whilst the Jade Chamber is a wicked piece of wordplay that links a possible rock feature with a Taoist, tantric phrase for womb/THE GREAT CUNT. The description of Devil’s End as “floodlit with pink lights” (BS, p.57) is a fantasy based on the actual floodlights within the Peak Cavern and exactly how they reflect off the subterranean limestone walls. The “MOONSTONE” light that Christopher switches on recalls one of the key rocks from the Peak District (the other being Blue John). And the familiar feature of bayonet structures hanging from the Peak Cavern comes alive in the sentence: “I had been filming eerie teeth of stalagmites and stalactites (BS, p.59). These echoes do seem to suggest that Black Sunlight was definitely spiralling within Marechera’s brain during his time in Sheffield…when “Chris’s YMCA” (BS, p.60) and its tortured underworld began to echo Marechera’s own home at the Broomhall YMCA.

7 comments:

Unsane said...

Very interesting!!!

So, it is like I said: The text of Black Sunlight is so multilayered as to be overwhelming for some people, to the point that, instead of figuring it out, they switch off, and write him off a muddled writer!

Also "Throne of Bayonets"?

eshuneutics said...

Yes, it is like you have said, most certainly so: Black Sunlight is multilayered. I read your provicative and interesting last post on the "connectiveness" of Marechera. Like you, the more I read his work, the more connectiveness I see between him and the novels, between author and the reader. I think of Beckett again: for years, his reputation was guided by the popular image: aloof, socially defunct, insular, mentally unstable. Now, critics are full of praise for his warmth and humour. Beckett's theme was disconnection...so it followed that he had to be disconnected too...the author HAS to show the disease he analyses--odd--would we think that the doctor to the insane was insane? No, we have to be convinced of his insanity.

Unsane said...

Yes. Unfortunately perceptions of one's social status have a lot to do with whether one is perceived as quirky and fascinating or tolerably odd rather than defective and plain mad. When the public or the critics are unable to distinguish between madness and artistic and psychological depth, this is the sign of a falling away in cultural spirit -- either that, or people themselves have gone mad.

Since Flora Veit-Wild shares her opinion in his obituary brochure that Marechera succumbed to schizophrenia, I have been reading stuff about the disease (and by people with the disease). So far, I am very much inclined to think that if Marechera suffered any mental illness (and it appears that he lived close to the edge of this at times), then it was not a bio-chemically engendered schizophrenia from which he suffered, but the more elusive and more common, possibly, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I think this diagnosis makes more sense in terms of Marechera's literary style and lucidity. He is NOT in a mental disarray, but is emotionally attached to his detachment, as it seems to me. I mean this in the sense that his detachment is a theme into which is woven many layers of emotional and aesthetic complexity.

On the other hand, read this write-up on Nietzsche (if you are familiar with the writer), and see how the reviewer overlooks Nietzsche's irony and pscyhological criticism of social superficiality: http://www.successfulschizophrenia.org/articles/nietz.html

eshuneutics said...

Interesting. I read a piece on Gypsy Scholar's site (in the wake of the university murders) which was thinking about the thin line between creative ability and mental disorder. It has been suggested, in the US, that students undergo mental profiling to see if they are fit for university (or likely to become thinkers who are a threat to the establishment). A bit of a problem this one: artists are hardly the most sane people! Mind you, they might be more sane if they avoided academia!

Unsane said...

A problem between distinguishing between "sensitive" and "insane".

Unsane said...

FYI:
http://www.mnwelldir.org/docs/mental_health/ptsd.htm

Unsane said...

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