Friday, August 10, 2007

Marechera and the Crime Novel.

Black Sunlight opens with a violent conceptual metaphor, FICTION IS A WINDOW. Marechera develops this further by connecting tense and tension. Sentences fragment. Through another familiar metaphor he asserts that FICTION IS A BIRTH. And the first story that emerges concerns an African runner who has seen a white woman for the first time. The narrator, who has just escaped the pitlatrine, but is eventually inverted in the chickenshit, explains (to the reader) that this woman is no other than Blanche Goodfather, whom he met whilst at Oxford University. They spent one afternoon together. The tone of this meeting is set by the “framed print” in Blanche Goodfather’s room (nothing as common as a poster tacked to the wall) which shows Bronzino’s Allegory. The pornographic fondling of Venus by Eros serves as an echo of what the narrator and character have indulged in. Snow “digresses” against the windowpanes, once more establishing the relationship between window and narrative. In a single sentence, the reader is pulled back to the narrator in the chicken shit, then another digression follows. It seems a careless departure, another story pasted in, but it is a carefully placed digression.

Now, the narrator remembers a day with friends. Flies scan every mouthful of sadza. The sun, at noon, directly above the narrator’s head is “burning angrily”. Heat and food are activating the flies. From where he reads, the spectator can see two female figures (Katherine and Marie?) eating and hear a third, Susan, engaged with a client. Implicitly, eating and sexuality connect. Sexual eating provided food for the table. Most interesting, though, is the book that is being read: No Orchids for Miss Blandish.

The book is by Hadley Chase. As a person who learnt to read early, Hadley Chase was a staple diet for the young Marechera. And that metaphor was literally true. In a 1983 interview, Marechera relates how he read Hadley Chase, at primary school age, because reading directed his mind away from hunger. Later on, his reading choices shifted to Orwell, and that might well be significant. Marechera recalls reading Orwell at 15-16, somewhere around 1968, the year in which Orwell published his Collected Essays. The Collected Essays contains a blistering review of Hadley Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish, a novel, which Orwell describes as “a header into the cesspool.” Cesspool, pitlatrine, chickenshit. Orwell disliked the novel intensely, for even though it was well written and a convincing fiction, the novel included violence, rapes, and wrongly praised the “power instinct”.

Subconsciously, what seems a narrative departure, in the mind of the narrator is not so. It is part of the theme that introduces the novel: sexuality and power. No Orchids for Miss Blandish isn’t a throwaway detail, rather an image that connects physical hunger and intellectual repletion. The allusion links sex, violence, sexual power and society to the narrator. These are core concerns in Black Sunlight. The flies whose eyes “glistened with the paranoia of black sunlight” are images of inverted vision: their windows see a world that requires suicidal actions. In some ways, Black Sunlight is a satire on popular crime writing, on a genre which made heterosexual pornography acceptable, yet Marechera's philosophical vision of terrorism and society is of a different order.


Unsane said...

Good connections made with regard to the crime novel. I confess that I did see a vague outline of some kind of 70s adventure novel, but I wasn't sure how to place it. You have made the link!

eshuneutics said...

The more I read Marechera, the more "logical" I find him. That isn't quite the right word, but I don't find the simple he was an anarchist who wrote like an anarchist view.

Unsane said...

Yes, I also find him logical in the overall perspective of the human condition -- just as Bataille, an apparent irrationalist, is actually taking logic to a further degree than the philosophers conventionally do, by asking, "why does the writer stop positing about reality at the arbitrary point that he does? -- For instance: why are grief, (Marechera's "grief underneath" in the last passage of BS), silence and the feelings we have before we are able to articulate anything, excluded, as it were on principle, from the processes and outcomes of philosophising? These are logical questions -- but in terms of the ways that we have come to understand logic, these aspects of life are excluded as subjects of logical enquiry.

Marechera, similarly is hyperlogical. Yet what we are used to taking as most logical is actually an irrationally narrow perspective on the world.

Unsane said...

regarding the fly eyes with 'suicidal visions', here are the last poets, whom marechera might have listened to:

Youth Rage
Abiodun Oyewole-The Last Poets
Grenades in their eyes and death is their prize.
Peace will arise and destroy the lies.

There are bombs standing on the corners of the cities, waiting to explode at the slightest touch.
Baggy shadow street boys stand cocked ready to fire. Their eyes are grenades and the pin is about to be pulled. BOOM!!!
The brother went off. Pressure pulled the trigger and no one could figure out how it happened. What went wrong?

He had a chance. Somebody even loved him, even told him that he was better than most. But he went off. Chains rattled inside his brain and his sky was filled with clouds that didn't even bring rain but just the illusion that something was coming. So he became a gun that he could hide in a jacket and make believe he had an erection all the time. He could penetrate anything. His tongue was a curse, his attitude was a bullet and he'd shoot you down without a second thought. He became G.I. Joe, killing his family, not the enemy. A human gun made and manufactured in the United States of America.

There are bombs standing on the corners of the cities waiting to explode at the slightest touch. Baggy shadow street boys stand cocked ready to fire, their eyes are grenades and death is their prize.

They are warriors looking for a rites of passage. They are young lions enchanted by the sound of their roar. They are diamonds treated like worthless stones. They are rivers with nowhere to run. They are dreams unfulfilled. Desires buried in the remains of an abandoned soul. They are the beauty of spring blinded by the snow storms of winter.

Soon they will see their beauty, their strength, their love and like the rivers flow into sea, they will unite as one. Then our voice will be more powerful than a gun and as we speak we'll get things done.

Grenades in their eyes and death is their prize. Peace will arise and destroy the lies.

(It's got to before it's too late.)

eshuneutics said...

Curious--very much a compound eye vision connecting violence and sexuality.

"So he became a gun that he could hide in a jacket and make believe he had an erection all the time. He could penetrate anything."

Decades of hip-hop in a few lines!

Anonymous said...