Friday, October 26, 2007

Black Sunlight: Speculation.


In the world of criticism, there is a type of critic that bears a love-hate relationship to their chosen area of specialism. Pound criticism is fraught with such critics, people who are tantalised by what they read, but frustrated that the act of reading will not yield what they seek to find, even when they do their best to find perverse meanings amidst obscurity. In his poem “Christmas 1983”, Marechera jokes about the security officers sitting beside him at the bar:

…the man on my right
And the man on my left
Are both listening to what I have not said
Which their itching handcuffs would have me say…

Such a comment could just as well be a comment against the shackles of literary criticism in the hands of critics who want to find evidence of what they want to hear and manage to detect intentions in the slightest authorial cough. David Pattison has such a relationship with Marechera.

In his essay “The search for the Primordial I”, Pattison suggests that Black Sunlight is a product of schizophrenia, of many voices originating from a personality disorder. It is his view that Marechera has a hermetical view of identity. Marechera, in his view, does not seek an identity that rests upon self-awareness (as with Carl Rogers). Nor does he seek an identity based on individuation (as with Carl Jung). He quests for a self that is unattached and prior to any meeting with the Other, a sort of paradisal Adam-like self before Eve, or satanic Colonialism. In this state, identity has not been encoded, and like a child in the first stages of reading, the self is rapt in decoding its self-centred world.

I am not sure that what Pattison suggests really exists…though he attributes this lack of existence to a failing on Marachera’s part—a lack of literary control and order. Negative existentialism such as Jasper's postulates something like Pattison’s idea of self. It is a self that is the quintessential outsider, a self which at its best can alienate its alienation and can exist neither here nor there. But it is hardly an ideal, a return to the primordial integration. Beckett would term this the Belacqua fantasy, an exile that is an exile from the social self, a withdrawal that brings a loss of energy and total disconnection. The primordial self does appear in positive existentialism, in the hands of Buber, who sees a different world. In his view, the self is enriched by the original I-Thou and whole communion. But the I-Thou (unlike the I-It) exists only in relation to the Other.
If Pattison’s idea has any source, it would be in quasi-science, in alchemy, not a source he would want to readily acknowledge. In alchemy, there is a stage of return, a growing back into the womb, usually figured as an old Saturnian man receding backwards towards Mercurial youth. This return is a return to the androgyne, to revolution (rather than evolution), to a point of infancy that transcends gender. Essentially, it is a concordia discors, a unity that contains all the seeds of discord. Throughout Black Sunlight, there are curious echoes, almost parodies of hermetical states. So, the brother-sister incest in the novel translates the transgressive relationship of Soror and Frater in alchemy. And Blanche Goodfellow’s deflowering, in which the seed of a whole tribe is poured into her (or not, since she persuades the community to use condoms!) stands as a sublime joke about the seeds of discord within unity, the many in the one, the white rose of alchemy. Rather than show schizophrenia—Marechera’s many disturbed voices are no less disturbing than Beckett’s (and he has had no such medical claims levelled at his writing)—Black Sunlight reveals a transgressive narrative that is about how a text disseminates meaning and identity is a revolutionary state beyond social order and within the individual. The writer who is an insider must be an outsider and vice versa.

9 comments:

Unsane said...

Interesting take. Perhaps, though, the key to identity is the constant return to contingency and immanence. There is something in the African consciousness -- at least in mine and I expect also in that of Marechera -- which sees in spontaneous outbursts and in the randomness of life's events, the hand of the divine at work. To return to these things constantly, as Marechera does, is to reinvoke, through memory, a sense of the divine. So, one encounters onself anew in this way, and is revived.

I actually think that Pattison is reading his own bourgeois ideology into Marechera's story, on the other hand. Purity is a bourgeois motif. It relates to the separation of public and private spheres which took place as an outcome of the bourgeois revolution (eg in France in 1789).The term, "bourgeois", is not rhetorical, but is meant in this precise sense of the separation of public and private realms of being. I think that Pattison approaches Marechera with the perspective of a bourgeois ideologue: he believes that one should seek (at least in terms of one's appearance in the public realm) to make oneself pure by various means such as suppressing, sublimating, and sweeping under the carpet various aspects of one's animal and contingent identity (above all sexuality!). Marechera, in BS, does in fact do the opposite. What does this mean apart from the fact that he sought to do the opposite and achieved that which he sought? But to Pattison, this achievement is a sign of quintessential failure to appear pure in the public eye. (Pattison goes so far as to suppose that what he considers to be desirable or even normal -- the purification of one's public self-- is what Marechera's implicit subjective goal was or ought to have been. This is to assume far too much, for they shared neither social class nor cultural backgrounds.)

J

eshuneutics said...

"I actually think that Pattison is reading his own bourgeois ideology into Marechera's story..." This would appear to be the crux of so much, the reading "in" of assumptions that Marechera wants "out". I note you say "divine" at work and not "God". Alchemy was primarily a spiritual quest--as Jung saw it, one that set about creating a center that opposed a Christocentric universe. So often, alchemy is read as a Christian gloss: Jung's own middle-class standing did not permit him to make too much of the heretical nature of alchemy. One of Buber's main thrusts in his famous existentialist book on the I-Thou was uncontrolled immanence, confrontation by the "divine". His work has an occult tone to it, but is the opposite of such a stance since occultism presumes the ability to cause communication with the divine. I found the article you forwarded interesting. It was a distillation of much--nothing new to a hermeticist. But what was new was the African slant i.e. the Dogon. Alchemy is Classical and European and not enriched by African pereceptions (or female African perceptions!)I puzzle what an hermetic reading of BS might look like!

Unsane said...

I can tell you that the introduction of the "blackened faces" of the selous scouts was somehow able to arouse my own entrenched superstitions. This has more to do with immediate folklore rather than with any long term mythology or tradition. Yet this particular corps of soldiers was profoundly feared. The Rhodesian army played up the levels of superstition by using as their mascot a hyena -- a notoriously bewitched animal in african folklore. Marechera is describing a nightmare here, which permeates the bones.

BronzeBuckaroo said...

The post and the discussion between you and Unsane is so interesting that I am at a lost for words and maybe a little intimidated. I am certainly learning!

Rather than show schizophrenia—Marechera’s many disturbed voices are no less disturbing than Beckett’s (and he has had no such medical claims levelled at his writing)—Black Sunlight reveals a transgressive narrative that is about how a text disseminates meaning and identity is a revolutionary state beyond social order and within the individual. The writer who is an insider must be an outsider and vice versa.

Here, I love your final words in the post.

eshuneutics said...

Unsane...you have my pondering--"animal identity". I think I need to give more thought to Marechera's short stories, especially the ape in the mirror. What does this have to do with the alchemical ape (of Thoth) or theories such as the Signifying Monkey? Hm.

eshuneutics said...

That last sentence felt like it ought to have been the first. Insider/Outsider, these were related terms for Marechera. Because he refused identity poetics i.e. refused to write only what had a social context and relevance, he was deemed an outsider: outside the African way of writing. By accepting that the African writer could have a self and inner life distinct from the social context, so he alienated himslef from his African tradition. But by alienating himself from alienation, he created new possibilites for art. If he had thrown himself simply into the self-position, he would aligned himself with colonial literature. Only by developing an Insider-Outsider relationship could he stand against the colonial opressor: Unsane keeps banging (rightly) about his political-psychological stance, that is to say, how his most personal utterance resonate with social vibrations. I still haven't understood this adequately--it is an alien way of thinking. But that is point: like Brecht, Marechera uses alienaton stategies to take the reader beyond his/her comfort zone, so as multiple images of identity can be viewed. Marechera was fascinated by the insect's "compound eye". Why? because it allows precsion of vision and a multiple perspective.
There is so much to learn from this Insider-Outsider relationship.

BronzeBuckaroo said...

I'm reading. I am understanding! I like! :-)

Unsane said...

I think that my latest introductory blurb to my thesis gives -- or at least suggests -- a much better idea than Pattison's of Marechera's overall outlook, based upon my psycho-historical perspective of his life.

Too much Western metaphysics in Pattison's view all up. We ought to assume that Marechera's writing in BS and elsewhere did refer to aspects of his own psycho-historical reality.

Eshuneutics said...

Unsane, I could not agree more.