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.